May 2021 Salem-Keizer School Board candidates for zone 7: Liam Collins, left, and Maria Hinojos Pressey

On May 18, local voters will select four new members of the Salem-Keizer School Board. Although candidates must live in the district they represent, voters get a say in all four races.

Salem Reporter sent all 11 candidates the same questionnaire in late March based on reader suggestions and major issues facing the board and district. We’re printing responses from candidates over the coming days, organized by zone.

This year, the races have drawn two slates of candidates backed by political action committees. They are Community for Salem-Keizer Schools, organized by liberal and progressive groups including farmworker union PCUN, Progressive Salem; and Marion + Polk First, a conservative group largely funded by Oregon Right to Life.

The races also have several contenders not backed by either group. We’re noting in our Q&As whether candidates are part of one of these slates for added context for voters. For an overview of these groups, their funding sources and interest in board races, see our prior coverage here.

Zone 7 represents north Salem, including North Salem High School. Two candidates are running for the seat currently held by Paul Kyllo, who is not seeking re-election.

Liam Collins, 46, is a vehicle acquisition manager at Enterprise Holdings and a foster parent. He is part of the Marion + Polk First slate.

María Cecilia Hinojos Pressey, 26, is the operations director for PCUN, Oregon’s farmworker union. She is part of the Community for Salem-Keizer Schools slate.

Responses to each question from all candidates are printed below. Candidates are listed in alphabetical order by last name.

How long have you lived in the Salem-Keizer School District? 

Collins: 28 years

Hinojos Pressey: 3 years

Do you have any children currently in the district, or children who have graduated from the district? If so, please list their current grade(s) or graduation year(s).

Collins: 3 Foster Children in the district. Currently 2 Freshman at McNary.

Hinojos Pressey: I have a young daughter who will soon be attending preschool in Salem-Keizer.

Please describe any previous experience with K-12 education or issues. This could include paid or volunteer work in schools or with youth, work in a related organization, or service on committees, boards, task forces, booster clubs, etc. Please include the year(s) for the work or service.

Collins: My wife and I have been foster parents for the past couple of years for teens. I am also the son of a retired teacher.

Hinojos Pressey: I have spent my career serving families in crisis with young children, first as an advocate for survivors of domestic violence in 2019 and now as Operations Director of Oregon’s farmworker union since December of 2019, where I have led a disaster relief effort over the last year for families struggling with the challenges of the last year. All of these experiences, plus frequently assisting my mother in her work when she was an educational assistant, have shown me the importance of supporting parents and students.

Describe one volunteer circumstance where you held a leadership position and used that position to accomplish a specific goal. We are looking for information on not only previous leadership but effective leadership to share with readers.

Collins: I manage a large team that handles logistics in my work and have done so for about a decade. I would not be employed in my current role if I could not accomplish specific measurable goals that are set for me or by me.

Hinojos Pressey: I am proud to serve on the Cherriots Board, where I have the privilege of helping oversee a multimillion-dollar budget to help serve working families across our area.

I also am currently serving as a member of the Cherriots DEI committee. I am bringing my voice to this work towards ensuring Cherriots is an equitable organization, dedicated to serving our diverse community and ensuring its accessibility for both our riders and staff.

What one issue motivated you to run and how would you address that as a board member?

Collins: The foster kids I have seen have all been either falling through the cracks or in danger of that happening. All kids need to be told that they can succeed and given the tools to succeed. The school board has clearly become too political and has lost it focus on making sure all the kids in Salem-Keizer receive the education that they need and deserve.

Hinojos Pressey: Even before seeing parents and their kids struggling with our schools being closed this past year, I knew many parents who felt like they couldn’t get their concerns heard by our district. This, along with wanting the district my daughter attends to be the best it can be, motivated me to run for the school board. Every child needs a good education. As a board member, I will be fully committed to seeking out all student and parent voices and making their input welcome at our board meetings. I will personally visit schools and community members to hear their first-hand experiences in schools, and I will press the District to do the same. I will insist on interpretation and translation services when needed, to improve communication.

The past year of online school has been challenging for many students and families, both academically and from a mental health perspective. Is there any particular result of the pandemic in schools that you would focus on as a board member?

Collins: We need to give all the students the ability to return to the physical classroom full time, five days a week. Most kids need that type of structure to do well. We also need to learn from the pandemic. There are kids who are doing better with the remote learning environment. We don’t need a one size fits all system, we need a system with options that work for all our kids and allow each of them to learn grow and be connected.

Hinojos Pressey: I will never forget the day last year when my daughter wanted to meet some new kids in the neighborhood and play with them, and I had to tell her that she couldn’t. Students thrive from social interactions with their teachers and each other that just can’t happen remotely. I will focus on social-emotional health so that children are ready to learn. That’s why I believe it is so important for us; while following the science and direction from doctors and public health officials, to fully reopen our schools as quickly as we can do it safely.

The board has a specific policy to consider underserved, diverse, and marginalized individuals and groups when deciding school policies (often called the “equity lens”). How do you see that policy fitting into decisions you would make as a board member?

Collins: It is critical that we consider how each policy will affect every student in the district. Each policy should actively help all students to achieve more and feel connected to the larger community both in school and the outside community.

Hinojos Pressey: I am a proud Latinx woman and a parent to a daughter who will be a student of color in Salem-Keizer schools. Standing for all students, including our students of color and other marginalized communities, is very important to me. Every policy has to be considered in the light of helping all children, or we will keep losing more children. The equity lens is the only way to raise graduation rates and to help more students succeed.

What do you see as the school board’s responsibility versus the superintendent’s? What changes, if any, would you make in the governing documents outlining that relationship?

Collins: I see the school board working with the superintendent to set policy and goals to improve the education and connection of the students. The superintendent is the education expert and the superintendent’s expertise should be utilized in making policy. The school board ultimately needs to set the policies that meet the education goals of the community and the superintendent then needs to implement those policies and report the results of the specific plans that the superintendent puts in place. Depending on those data driven results that can mean expanding or changing or even scrapping plans if they are not having the desired effect. The board then holds the superintendent responsible as the voter will at the same time be holding each board member responsible.

Hinojos Pressey: I have learned from managing large budgets in my job and as a Cherriots board member that one has to take responsibility if you are going to be in charge. While of course, the superintendent is in charge of the day-to-day running of the district, voters trust the school board to ask hard questions about every part of how our schools are functioning, and to make sure there is accountability wherever and whenever it is needed. Our responsibility is to represent the community’s voice and to do that, we have to spend time in the community, reaching out and listening.

Many Salem Reporter readers have told us they’re deeply concerned about the growing partisanization of the school board and the involvement of special interest groups in recruiting and funding campaigns. What should readers know about who your supporters are, including PACs? What skill would you bring to the board to help bridge divides among board members?

Collins: Readers should know that I always listen to both sides before making decisions and prefer hard data to back up any decision I make. The goal of schools is to educate all students. Last I checked that is not a political issue and that is my number one goal.

Hinojos Pressey: The school board is a nonpartisan position, and on the board, I would work to represent all students and families. I am proud to be supported by Salem-Keizer teachers and active parents in groups like Stand For Children. I have raised money for my campaign by asking friends, family and supporters to donate, so I can communicate with voters.

My work with families in crisis has taught me how to talk to people in difficult situations, and I would bring that experience to bridging divides on our board. Being in a bi-lingual, bi-cultural family helps me to understand more perspectives.

Do you agree with Superintendent Christy Perry’s recent decision not to renew contracts for school resource officers? Why or why not?

Collins: I have seen no data from her office that indicated the contract should not be renewed nor any plan to keep kids safe without the school resource officers. Of our four foster kids who have a variety of racial/ethnic backgrounds, not one teen voiced any concern and in fact two were friends with SROs and wanted to become cops themselves. One of those SROs went 20 miles

out of his way and worked a couple hours longer than normal for one of those teens in crisis. We need those types of people in our schools.

Hinojos Pressey: I believe in listening to our communities, and ensuring that they are always at the forefront of the decisions we make in service to our communities. As a mother, I understand the fear many families have when sending their children to our schools, especially during these tumultuous times. I also know that I will work hard to ensure our schools are safe places for all of our students and their families. Knowing that many in our community have reservations about our interactions with the police, I believe we should invest the money previously spent on SRO’s to ensure our students are receiving adequate mental health support, and other interventions to ensure we’re creating a safe environment. That being said, nothing is preventing the upstanding members of our police force from coming into our schools when they are needed.

New board members will join incumbents to consider changing the district’s election system to draw voters from specific zones instead of across the district. What is your view of this approach?

Collins: I agree with the effort to pursue public comment, gather data, and see if there is a more equitable (and hopefully cheaper) way to run school board elections. I also agree with the board’s decision to not change the process during this election, which might have unduly favored those who already know the process, since I’ve never run for office before.

Hinojos Pressey: I am proud of having communication with our entire district. We have had situations where the zone itself did not elect its representatives. I would support the change to zoned voting, to ensure we create fair and equitable elections, with equal opportunity for all members of our community to participate in these elections.

Contact reporter Rachel Alexander: [email protected] or 503-575-1241.

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