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Candidate forum lends insight for questioning voters

KINGSTON — A clear picture is tough to draw through one-minute answers, however, the format allowed voters to get better acquainted with their options for two vacant seats on the North Kitsap School District Board Monday night.

Four candidates stepped into the spotlight at Kingston Junior High with the aim of explaining their platforms and snagging votes that will land two of them in the board’s open seats.

Tom Anderson and Brian Maule, running for Position 1, along with Melanie Mohler and Matt Cleverley, competing for Position 3, fielded questions from a crowd of about 30 residents. The event was co-sponsored by the League of Women Voters and Northwest Options. Eloise Andrus moderated the session.

Candidates got the event rolling with background summaries and aspirations if elected.

In the Position 3, Mohler was the first to speak. Her “Army brat” background moved her around a lot before she settled in North Kitsap. She has now been here for 15 years and has been involved with the district for seven, including the graduation of her son.

“I have a passion for kids and an understanding of where we need to go,” Mohler said.

Cleverley’s background earned him a doctoral degree in law and sent him substitute teaching in three different states. He is also currently guiding his three children through NK schools. His platform stresses the integration of the community into the school, creating unique learning opportunities.

The first question of the night asked what would increase the number of North Kitsap students who continue on to higher education.

“I think we need to improve education and keep kids engaged by helping them see the value in education,” Cleverley said. “If we keep them focused on how it is useful, we will keep them engaged.”

Mohler stressed the importance of communication with students to identify where they might want to go and what they need to do so, adding “It’s on an individual basis, but we need to work together.”

On the subject of alternative learning programs, such as the Parent Assisted Learning program, Spectrum Community School and the Small Learning Communities, the candidates agreed on the importance of the potential relationships which would result.

One question raised at the forum asked candidates how many school board meetings they had attended in the past two years. Mohler couldn’t keep count of the number she’d been to.

“That is a tough one,” Mohler said. “I have been to so many over my seven years.”

Cleverley estimated two but said he has been unable to attend many of the meetings in person due to scheduling conflicts, however, he said he does read the minutes online.

With his final words of the forum, Cleverley suggested that change is good. He thinks the board may need “new energy, new desire and a new way to look at things,” which he said he could bring to the table. He has a boat-full of leadership experience, but not much has been within the school.

“Communication will be the thread of every issue,” Mohler said repeatedly, noting she has an abundance of experience volunteering at many different levels of the district and agreed with Cleverley that, although difficult, change is good.

In the Position 1, Anderson was first to speak. His background includes a Navy career which brought him to the area as well as a teaching career which allowed him insight into methods and curriculum of other states.

Maule’s background has taken him to many public and private schools around the world. He has been working over the last 10 years from his home, managing his own travel agency/consulting business while also wearing the hat of primary caregiver for his young child.

“We are both pro-education,” Maule said of himself and his opponent. “We’ll both fight for what’s best for kids. We have different approaches, but I don’t think either way anyone will lose.”

One of the few issues discussed which the Position 1 candidates opinions conflicted pertained to NK’s alternative education programs.

“The district has very unique programs, but the question is, ‘Are you getting your money’s worth?” Anderson posed. He believes the district needs to take a hard look at how fiscally responsive the programs are and make changes accordingly.

Maule in contrast was in favor of allowing as many opportunities as possible for students.

When asked should the district improve communication with the public, a unanimous “yes” resounded from all the candidates.

Kitsap County’s all-mail ballots were sent to voters last week. Ballots can be dropped off at specific locations or sent to the county auditor until election day, Nov. 8.

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