By Nori Juba

Andy High has been an exceptional board chair of Bend-La Pine Schools for the past two years. Over the last seven years the district’s graduation rate increased 14%. Last year alone, the overall graduation rate increased 3% while the rate for Hispanic students increased 10%. Student engagement and connectedness to staff have also increased. The district has worked hard to embed social and emotional learning to address increasing mental health needs. Today there are more school options, more advanced college preparation classes as well as more career and technical course offerings. Targeted investments have been made with strong results to reach out to and support disadvantaged and minority students.

As a former board chair and a member for 12 years, I can attest to the qualities that Andy brings to our community that make him effective. Empirical evidence shows that a high-functioning board-superintendent relationship is one of the greatest determinants of student achievement.

Superintendent Shay Mikalson commends Andy for going above and beyond as a board chair. Andy supports the superintendent’s work while never being afraid to hold him accountable. He understands the role of the collective board, collaborates with his colleagues and reaches out to and listens to a broad segment of the community. He has proactively built relationships with district leaders, union leaders, principals, teachers and other staff members. It was a testament to his leadership that the board, the superintendent and the unions marched together after school at the recent downtown rally to protest the lack of state funding. The district was one of the only few in the state where teachers did not walk off the job.

Limited funding has always been a reality for Oregon schools. One of the greatest challenges and responsibilities for the board is to review and approve the $176 million operating budget and to oversee the $268 million in bond construction. Andy has been the most demanding board member in scrutinizing budgets and led the way to have bond projects audited by a third party. It is the understanding of how and why money is spent that allows the district to find the limited funds to lower class sizes and to add more counselors. No board member would oppose either of these worthwhile goals, but an experienced board member understands the trade-offs that need to be made and what budget initiatives will most benefit students.

With nearly seven years of board experience and as a successful business owner, Andy understands the intricacies and the importance of funding programs and justly paying employees.

Forty-three percent of district students are financially poor and receive free or reduced lunch. Andy grew up dirt-poor in Southern Oregon. He understands the power of education and the challenges that economic poverty imposes on students and families. He has never shied away from tackling the most challenging problems in our community. He has served on committees to address affordable housing, school boundary changes and bond campaigns. Andy does not belong to a political party. He has no political aspirations. Andy will not get dragged into unproductive political discourse. Andy does not seek the spotlight. Andy is not about Andy. Andy is vested in the community. He has three children attending Pine Ridge Elementary and Cascade Middle School. Andy is about what is best for all students.

Seventy-five percent of collective board experience could be lost in this election with four seats open. Current board members (including Cheri Helt, who resigned in January) have 56 years of board experience. Experience matters. Proven leadership matters even more. If you would like to see our schools and students continue to grow and thrive under Shay Mikalson to meet the needs of each one of our over 18,000 students, please vote for Andy High.

— Nori Juba is the former chair of the Bend-La Pine School Board.