When asked what she sees as the top priorities for the Salem-Keizer School District, Danielle Bethell is quick to dole out anecdotes about interactions with parents and potential constituents along with her answers.
In part, it’s a reflection of how she would seek to do business differently if voters elect her to the Salem-Keizer School Board in May.
“I think I have a different lens to look at things through as a mom and a business owner. I have access to the emotional things going on and I have a good filter for those things and decide if they need to go to the school board or if it’s something that can be worked out through relationships at the level of the district staff,” Bethell said. “Because I’m so involved, people feel that I’m approachable and, regardless of the state of emotion, they reach out.”
When one constituent reached out to ask why McNary High School wouldn’t be installing a turf soccer field as the school undergoes major renovations, she saw in it a rebuke of the current trajectory the district is on in providing equal opportunity.
“We, as a school district, unfortunately feel that everybody is equal and every school should look the same. I think that competition in life is healthy and it’s a conversation I want to have. We’re turning it into a regime where everybody gets the same things without the same amount of effort,” she said.
Bethell said the district is so large – the second largest in Oregon – that “red tape” interferes with getting to solutions.
“There is a cabinet of only nine administrators (Superintendent Christy Perry) interacts with to set the tone the for the 7,000 other employees. The school board has to be partners with the cabinet and any time there is a zone issue, the board has to be working with cabinet members to resolve it,” she said.
Adding more administrators is not a solution she would advocate for, but she would like to see them held more accountable.
“The administrators might be the smartest one when it comes to the book, but they’re not when it comes to balancing the emotion that comes along with my community,” she said.
Asking questions when needed and warranted would be her strategy when it comes to the issues she hasn’t encountered before, but that applies to recent decisions the school board has made as well. She singled out a 10-year memorandum of understanding to continue funding, in-part, the Career Technical Education Center in Salem. The school is a public-private partnership.
“I believe in the initial concept and what (Larry Tokarski) is trying to do, but it’s one guy telling the district what it needs to do and the district isn’t asking many questions. Why are we committing to one organization and one concept for 10 years when we don’t do that with our kids in the schools we have now,” she said.
At the end of a four-year term, Bethell said there are two things she would want to accomplish: “Give teachers direct access and control back in their classrooms and an administration that stands behind them in doing that.”