Jaci Spross, Hillsboro School District 1J, Position 6 – Candidate Interview
WCD: What inspired you to run for office?
JS: I’ve always been involved in the community, and believe you get what you give. I have done PTA, done state-level PTA, and it was time to go to the next level. And I didn’t like the direction the district was going–there was no equity work, there was not a lot of inclusion and acceptance. It was important that we give our students the opportunity for the best future, and it didn’t seem that this was happening.
WCD: How do your values and those of the Democratic Party align?
JS: Well, I believe in inclusivity, and I also believe that even if there’s a difference of opinion, we can usually find some middle ground, and I find that the Democratic Party is more open to that than the Republican party. That with the Democratic Party, we can agree to disagree respectfully. Helping your neighbor is important. Maths and reading and writing are great, but if the child goes hungry, how does that help? We need a holistic approach to helping our community.
WCD: If you are elected, what is the one specific project or goal you most want to accomplish as board member?
JS: I have to pick just one? If I have to say right now–we have to re-evaluate our SRO program, based on what is happening. I want to see that accountability and that data. In addition to that, looking at our discipline policies and making sure they are restorative. But of course, the main priority is getting kids back into school, but we’re doing that.
WCD: Can you talk a little more about the focus on SROs?
JS: It resulted from the Black Lives Matter movement, and we listened to the community. I went to the rally in downtown Hillsboro, and I just went there to listen, I wanted to hear. We said, okay, let’s do a survey of the community and did a lot of data mining to see were there issues, concerns. The original reason for SROs was school safety. The (Hillsboro school district) bond money provided funds to improve security, like hardening school doors. The SROs have made a big difference in students’ lives, because of the connection they have with the students. I want to make sure it’s a value-added service for the majority of the students, not just a few.
SROs are funded by the city and county–we don’t pay for them. So unfortunately, if we were to pull the program, it’s not like we would have that money to put into mental health instead. SROs are not mental health advocates, that’s not their job. I want to follow the data, and do another survey after the students come back to school. Are they good enough?
I come from a different background. My father is a police officer. I have a different view and experience with police officers than many of my students, and I’m cognizant that that is a privilege. I don’t see a police officer at my door and get fearful. But some of my students do. I want to make sure all of our students feel safe in our schools.
WCD: What are your thoughts about re-opening schools? How do you strike a balance between safety and getting students back in school?
JS: I think we’re doing it. I think what we’re doing is right, and vaccinating the teachers was the right thing to do, because we have to keep them safe too. Our opponents and a lot of parents want the schools open, and we understand that, and we want to open them too. But we have to follow the recommendations and the rules from ODE (Oregon Department of Education). It’s not as easy as “Let’s just open the doors!” That sounds good as a campaign slogan. There are several things that our opponents have said that they will do, that they legally cannot do.
People don’t realize the limitations of actual power that the school board has. We are not all-seeing, all-knowing.
WCD: What are some useful things we could do to make sure all students feel included in the community?
JS: Make space for them. Absolutely, Whether that looks like support of Pride Day, or community groups inviting our LGBTQIA+ students to speak at the Rotary club, to talk and explain their life experience. People hate what they fear, and so if you take way that fear and educate the community, and they meet people, hopefully they realize “They’re just like me, they just love differently than I do.” Schools need to be inclusive club-wise and group-wise. I don’t think we’re ever going to get rid of bullying, but we can see it as an educational opportunity, to teach kids this is not okay, and this is why. And it can also be an educational opportunity for the parents.
WCD: How does the issue of affordable housing affect the students in the school district?
JS: Significantly. People cannot afford to live in the community that they work in, and that’s not okay. There’s no easy answer, but people have to live where they work, especially when you’re low-income and you don’t have a car, or your car is broken down. The stress and anxiety of all that negatively affects our students. I’m happy for the eviction moratorium, but I’m worried about what happens when all that back rent comes due. Is that going to be forgiven? Or is that just delaying the inevitable, and that’s not really a solution either.
WCD: You supported the addition of a Mental Health Director in the school district. Especially with the pandemic and lockdown, can you talk about what the mental health needs of the students are like right now, and how they can best be helped?
JS: Every single person has experienced some sort of trauma throughout the pandemic, and that’s going to show up in different ways when the kids go back to school. Additional mental health support is going to be crucial. We have to make sure we’re meeting the kids how they show up, where they show up and when they show up. It’s important that someone they know at the school asks “What’s going on?” and takes that time with them. That’s going to be imperative, especially when we come back from this. We actually needed the mental health director a while ago. Now, we don’t have a choice. When kids are hungry, they can’t focus on learning. And when they have anxiety or depression, their head is not in the game.
WCD: What is your vision about how history should be taught in our schools?
JS: I think it’s important that it’s fact-based. I do recognize that history is written by the victors, and for us that does mean white men. We do need a culturally responsive curriculum, but by no means should we whitewash. We might not like the history, we might not like what happened, we might not like what people are capable of doing to each other. But we are doomed to repeat what we don’t learn from.
WCD: What is your vision for how sexual education should be taught?
JS: Sexual education–I will scream it from the street corner, it’s so important! We can’t rely on families to educate their kids about sexual health, consent, healthy relationships. It should be taught very matter of fact: Here’s your nose, here’s your elbow, here’s your penis. It empowers our young women, it teaches them what consent is. My daughter spoke about this (in public testimony at a Hillsboro School Board meeting) and I cried. She said “My Mom, here she is. She’s on the school board. She did the best she could, teaching us about sexual health and gender identity.” But I failed, because growing up I didn’t have exposure to different genders and making decisions like that. I messed up and if I did, how many other people in the audience did? That was hard to hear.
WCD: Could you speak to the importance of PACs (school-based Parent Advisory Councils)?
JS: We as a board felt it very important that parents have a voice, so we encouraged the PACS to expand to more schools. Most of our PACs are Latino parents, and we’ve seen the Black families, Native American families and AAPI families form PACs. Some of the parents didn’t grow up here and don’t know how the school process works and don’t know how to navigate that. So the growth from that, I think that’s really wonderful.
WCD: Anything I’ve missed?
JS: I would like to point out one more difference (between Jaci and her opponent). I always have and always will make decisions based on facts and scientific evidence. And that is how we best help our students. I will always listen, always. Maybe we can find a middle ground, maybe we can’t. I want to hear the voices that aren’t being heard right now. And that’s hard. We will keep trying.
Parents are there to advocate for their child, and that’s what they should be doing. As board members, we don’t have that luxury, we have to think of every single student. Especially our LGBTQIA+, our equity students–it’s so much broader.
I’ve done a lot of work and training to learn how to be an effective board member. There is a lot of training and learning about budgets and funding and curriculum and policy, and I can do the work. I can hit the ground running. There’s a lot to do–we have to get the kids back in school, we have equity work to do, we have the bonds, where we have to make sure the money gets used effectively. There’s a lot to do, and I love doing the work, and being the voice for the students.
Learn more about Jaci Spross, Candidate for Hillsboro School District 1J, Position 6, at her campaign website.