Jill Zurschmeide, Tigard-Tualatin School Board Position #4 – Candidate Interview
By John Maelan, Washington County Dems Communications Team
A Tigard-Tualatin School District school board member for sixteen years, Zurschmeide possesses extensive experience and a deep understanding of her district. She was first elected to the board in 2007 after volunteering in classrooms and on committees. Since then, Jill has served several terms as board chair and vice chair. The district has noted many remarkable achievements during her long tenure, including an all-time high graduation rate, an expanded two-way language immersion program, and the elimination of “pay-to-play” fees, allowing students from all income levels to participate in sports as well.
Oregon school board positions are non-partisan. However, Jill has notable endorsements from groups such as Stand For Children, the Washington County Democratic Party, and the Clackamas County Democrats.
WCD: You’ve been on the school board for just over fifteen years. In that time, what accomplishments stand out in your mind?
JZ: Oh, wow, so many. The two-way immersion program comes first to my mind. Our program starts in kindergarten, with a cohort of kids of mixed language backgrounds, and we teach those students in both English and Spanish. We start instruction primarily in Spanish and then transition into more English over the years so that both groups become not just bilingual, but biliterate. Our first cohort is now in the tenth grade, and they have an amazing grasp of both languages and have formed many close and diverse friendships over the years.
WCD: And who came up with this idea?
JZ: Teachers at Metzger Elementary school first proposed the program to the school board, and I was a huge proponent of it. We expanded it to Bridgeport Elementary school the following year, and as those children grew up, we expanded it first to middle school and finally to the high schools. When they graduate, those students will earn an Oregon Seal of Biliteracy.
WCD: That’s great. And bilingual employees get paid a bonus at most companies these days so the kids will be better off. Any other accomplishments?
JZ: Well, I’m also very proud of the School-Based Health Centers we have established Tualatin and Tigard High Schools. It used to be when a child needed to see a doctor for a checkup or a minor injury, they’d lose a school day — and parents would lose a day of work to come to the school, pick up their kid, and take their child to the doctor’s office. Now, we have medical staff on site so that the student can literally walk down the hall to their appointment, get treated, and then get back to their classroom in less than an hour.
WCD: Cool, all of that sounds good. But why are you now running again? What do you have left to accomplish?
JZ: The next thing I want to do is revive the free breakfast and lunch programs that we had during the pandemic. Perhaps the one good thing to come from Covid was that the federal government waived restrictions and provided extra funding so that districts were able to provide no-cost meals to all their students. In addition to simply feeding hungry kids, this one act also eliminated the stigma associated with kids who were on a “welfare” meals program — and it brought kids closer together. A second grader told me that during Covid, she made friends at mealtimes with other children she wouldn’t otherwise have known. I think everyone can see the value of providing universal school free meals. Other states are already implementing it; I think Oregon should, too. Funding must come from state, federal and local sources to make it work sustainably.
WCD: So, a work in progress?
JZ: Definitely, and one that I’m passionate about.
WCD: Good. Now, nationwide, a lot of school boards have struggled during their meetings with disruptive persons who halt proceedings while shouting conspiracy theories. What are your thoughts on that?
JZ: Well, everybody has the right to attend our meetings. Our meetings are always conducted in public for this exact reason. We do provide a forum for people to speak their minds and we do listen. But if a person is abusive or is preventing us from doing our work, we have the right to ask them to leave. We have some fantastic school resources officers who can escort members of the public out if it comes to that. But we’ve been fortunate in TTSD not to have had too many disruptions like that.
WCD: I’m glad you and the board are on top of things. However, the question must be asked, why not your opponent Greg Horner?
JZ: Good question! The problem is, I can’t really answer that because I don’t know him. To my knowledge, he’s never come to a school board meeting, has no working knowledge of the schools, has no degree in education, and doesn’t have any children in the district. This job requires a detailed working knowledge of our schools and, as far as I can tell, he simply doesn’t have it.
WCD: I get your point. So, before we wrap this up, any final thoughts?
JZ: I never seem to have any final thoughts because there’s always another one right after it. That being said, I would like to continue with the great work we are doing for our kids. I love these kids. I love this district, and I know my community pretty well. Every district has some problems, but I know where those problems are, and I look forward to having the opportunity to solve them.
WCD: And I wish you the best in your reelection. Thank you for your time.
JZ: You’re welcome.