Voters have the chance to choose three members of the Oak Grove Unified School District board in the Nov. 3 election.
In the running for a pair of four-year terms on the board are Brian Jacobs, Erin Lagourgue, Lesley Jones and Robbie Woosley. Candidates for a two-year term as a trustee are Hannah Kallok and Rahine Patel.
Pick two for a four-year term
Brian Jacobs enters the race as an incumbent with around 17 years of trustee experience. He joined the board before his kids arrived in the district and they have since graduated from the schools, while Jacobs rose to president and secretary of the board multiple times.
“When I was looking at making the decision to run for trustee again, one of the things that really drove me to decide to do it again was that I bring the historical perspective that no other trustee can bring,” he said.
Jacobs said he could bring a long-term perspective looking at how the district solved problems in the past. The key issues he sees facing the schools are securing a healthy, safe environment for kids to return to, quality distance-learning in the meantime and making fiscally responsible decisions.
“I am concerned with COVID that there may be financial difficulties on the horizon,” he said. Jacobs said he wanted to make data-driven decisions to support students learning in multiple different environments and maintaining a reserve so any potential cuts would not reach the classroom.
As a trustee, Jacobs said he helped authorize providing computers and purchasing hotspots for students struggling to get online for class.
He said, “Before our students return to school, our priority is absolutely that their education during this distant learning is adequate, addressing all of our students’ needs, addressing our families’ needs and that we’re certain that all of our students are able to access their education.”
Jacobs’ private practice as a clinical social worker taught him how to work with groups of people, see their humanity and boost what others bring to the table, building an understanding of finances by managing small businesses, he said.
Erin Lagourgue said she’s had nothing but positive interactions in the Oak Grove Union School District — just not always positive experiences since the pandemic began.
“If somebody would have asked me last year if I had any desire to be on the school board, I would have said no,” she said.
Lagourgue decided to go for it after some of her children’s teachers asked her to run, she said, familiar with unions and SCOE as board president of WillowSide Mutual Water Company. A former police officer, she also works as a private investigator.
“I’m outspoken. I don’t really hold my tongue, but I think I’m fair, and I’ll listen to everybody and be equitable,” Lagourgue said. Her philosophy is to serve the students, families and the community in that order, she said.
She the biggest issue facing the district was distance learning. “That is hands-down, I think, the hardest for every person. There are those children who are just really thriving with distance learning,” she said. “I don’t have those children.”
Lagourgue said returning to the classroom could be another big adjustment, state and nationwide. “I think there’s going to be some mental health that needs to be addressed. I think there’s going to be a lot of children that are going to be playing catch-up.”
She said a high turnover of superintendents presented a challenge to the board, the superintendent and the teachers to work together for the kids.
“You know, everyone has a different viewpoint. I see things one way, somebody sees things a different way and somehow we have to come to an understanding. I think that that’s going to be one of the bigger challenges, just working with everybody,” she said.
“But I also believe within that same breath that the teachers are the ones who know our students best because they work with them every day,” Lagourgue said.
Lagourgue was endorsed by the Oak Grove Union Elementary Educators Association (OGUEEA). She said she was interested in preserving the district’s support for the arts, music and science she said attracts so many transfer students.
Lesley Jones said she was also asked by teachers to put her hat in the ring, as an alumna of Oak Grove Elementary, Willowside Middle School and El Molino High. She returned to the area to raise her kids now enrolled at the district.
OGUEEA has endorsed Jones. She presents a background in finance as a chief compliance officer, ensuring firms comply with government regulations and policies, and prior company board experience.
Priorities start with the students’ best interests, Jones said, but she wants teachers to be represented, too. “You know, I feel like they’re the experts.”
Returning to OGUSD values like hands-on learning in arts, science and a bouquet of extracurriculars motivated Jones to run for trustee, in addition to her eagerness to serve the community she grew up in.
She said teachers asked her to run because they felt the schools were sliding away from that culture, and inconsistencies stemming from administration turnover did not help.
“And the kids are getting a little Zoomed out,” Jones said. “Their attention sitting there looking at a computer screen for hours is waning. And my concern is that they’re considering these electives and not joining them, and a lot of the poor teachers spent all this time preparing this music or P.E. or whatever lesson and then only two kids are showing up for the Zoom call.”
Jones said as a board member she would want to boost music, arts and P.E. programs, and explore whether they could be integrated into a more dynamic core curriculum to keep instructors working and students engaged.
“That’s one of the goals of Oak Grove, too, is that we’re trying to encourage our kids to go out and do things, be out in nature and not just spend a lot of time in front of the screen. So, it’s a little challenging during COVID to do that,” she said.
Incumbent Robbie Woosley described herself as “basically a community member at large.” Prior to joining the board, Woosley said she was an active parent volunteer in the schools. She and her children are OGUSD alumni and she’s lived in Graton all her life, she said.
“Being on the board isn’t easy because what I’ve always thought about things is different when you’re on the business perspective of things, and I want everybody to have a good understanding,” she said.
The loss of social interaction between students, their peers and teachers in distance education troubles her. “You don’t hear laughter on the kindergarten playground these days,” Woosley said.
She continued, “Before, community that used to live around the school knew when the kids had recess, knew when these kids had P.E. That’s not the case anymore.”
Woosley said she wants to reach out to older generations neighboring the schools, who might not understand kids playing in the street needed to be kids, especially now that recess on campus is a thing of the past, or at least temporarily.
“So, it’s kind of a challenging time to be a child, and I really want to do my best for these children to make the grade. So they can be successful, so that they can live in this new and upcoming world they are going to be embarking in, and having the knowledge to do it. And be safe,” she said.
Woosley said the district needs to follow experts in higher education and state and local leaders, and support teachers and stakeholders while adapting to unprecedented events in education.
“It’s kind of hard. I mean, it’s different. It’s different than the last four years that I’ve served on the board, but we still have business aspects to embark upon, to run,” Woosley said.
Pick one for a two-year term
Hannah Kallok joins the race to give back to the community that raised her. A parent of two in the district, Kallok also serves on the board of directors for the Graton Green Group, a nonprofit organization working to establish a community park in town.
Over fifteen years of restaurant experience prepared Kallok to think on her feet, multitask and prioritize, work with people from all backgrounds and listen intently, she said.
“I’d say that’s definitely one of my strengths, is that I’m a listener. So, I really want to bring those qualities to the ward of Oak Grove, of just being a listener and a collaborator and a great communicator and somebody that’s really dedicated to this community, the families here, the teachers here,” Kallok said.
Being a strong listener has helped her build bridges between people, she said, being familiar with many parents, teachers and kids both enrolled in the district and those who’ve moved on from the schools but remain in the community.
Endorsed by OGUEEA, Kallok said she wants to be an advocate for teachers and families during distance learning and to preserve Oak Grove as “a place where teaching the whole child has always really been embraced” and where ecology, kindness and stewardship of the environment is important.
Kallok said she had to fight against the incredible cost of living in Sonoma County to stay in the community where she grew up. She said her family would not have been able to stay in the county without partnering with Habitat for Humanity for affordable housing.
“Also, being a woman of color who comes from a family that doesn’t have a lot of money, I don’t think the color of your skin or your socioeconomic background should deter you in any way,” Kallok said. “And I think it’s really important to have equal representation on the board and also in classrooms, in the way that history is taught.”
Kallok said there were conversations she thought needed to be had in safe spaces to make good on the Oak Grove vision of celebrating diversity, as many become more aware of systemic inequities because of the Black Lives Matter movement. Making sure history is told accurately would help connect the lessons to what is happening today, she said.
Incumbent Rahine Patel joined the board a little over a year ago when the board hired her to replace the previous two-year trustee who left mid-term. She said she is absolutely eager for the full experience as a board member.
“I mean, we’ve had some things I’ve addressed in my short term, my one-year tenure on the board. I feel like there’s still a lot more to be seen and learned.” she said.
“I think it’s, again, not understanding that piece of what’s involved in the process prior to being a board member, just being able to come to the board and hopefully be a board member having an unbiased, nonpartisan view,” Patel said. “To be a voice for all stakeholders, not just to be able to view just one aspect of the story, [but] rather having a holistic view.”
The number one priority for Patel is ensuring students continue to have a quality education through distance learning, as a parent of an enrolled student and an alumni of the district.
She said she wanted to review data from assessments conducted throughout the year to identify and capture any loss of learning children could be experiencing in the shift to distance education and communicate with parents who might not understand how the board works. This could potentially involve tailoring education to each child’s unique needs, according to Patel.
Maintaining a responsible budget that won’t graze children’s education is also key, she said. Her experience in the financial services industry and having a degree in business administration with an emphasis in finance equipped her to manage a budget, she said.
Patel said she wanted to ensure “that all of our children receive that quality education and are equipped with skills to be well-rounded individuals. As we know, their education impacts their future.”