School board finalists won't rock the boat

None of the five people who may be appointed to the Federal Way School Board next week are planning to rock any boats.

The three women and two men are mostly complimentary about the school district, its teachers and the current board that oversees Federal Way’s public education system. None of the candidates indicate –– at least publicly –– that shakeups in the system are needed. And those who know or have met other hopefuls say nice things about them, too.

But each sees herself or himself as right for the job of helping shape school policies. Hoping to get it after being interviewed by the board next Thursday at a public meeting are:

• Mary Kenfield, prominent in PTA circles.

• Bob Millen, a Boeing engineer.

• Valerie Scott, mother of two young children.

• Michael McLeod, a teacher in the Highline School District.

• And Evelyn Castellar, a businesswoman.

All except Kenfield, who was turned down by voters in her bid for the board three years ago, are first-time candidates for public office.

The appointment will be for the approximately 16 months remaining on a four-year term that Ann Murphy gave up when she resigned from the board in February. Her successor will have a choice of running for a new term in the 2003 election. Each of the candidates have said they would run.

The finalists were selected by the four current board members from among 11 applicants. The choices were announced after the board met Monday in an executive session. The non-public session was permitted under state law that allows qualifications of a candidate for appointment to an elected office to be evaluated behind closed doors.

Interviews of candidates and the selection of one of them must be done in a public meeting, however. That will happen Thursday, starting at 7 p.m., at the district’s Education Services Center at 31405 18th Ave. S. The board will conduct the interviews, with some questions possibly provided ahead of time by the general public.

Mary Kenfield

Kenfield is trying to be appointed to the office she didn’t win in the 1999 election race against Murphy. It’s not a consuming quest, she said, adding that her feelings weren’t hurt by her loss at the polls.

“I didn’t feel I had to win,” she said. “The journey was the part of the experience that was important to me.”

The journey for the school district, she said, should be from “a good one” to its full potential of being “great.” To get there will require “more cohesive” goal-setting by educators and parents to build on “some really great things going on in our schools,” she said.

In a letter of application to the board, she wrote, “I am focused on student success, not politics.”

Kenfield said joining the board would continue her community involvement of the past 20 years, including PTA (locally as a two-term PTSA Council president and at the state level as an executive committee member). She also has been involved in Scouts, the Boys and Girls Club and the Federal Way Symphony, the latter as a board member.

She was born and raised in Puyallup. She has two children still in school and one who is grown. A fourth child died. Her husband, Mike McCoy, is a Tukwila Fire Department firefighter and a member of FEMA’s disaster response team. They’re 14-year Federal Way residents.

Kenfield is a Mary Kay Cosmetics consultant and teaches quilting. She also has worked as a restaurant general manager and in real estate sales.

Bob Millen

Millen isn’t a teacher, but he wants to be able to think like one if he’s appointed to the board.

Teachers seldom attend board meetings, so board members should do more to solicit their input on education issues, perhaps by creating a teachers’ advisory committee for the board or visiting schools and talking to teachers about their concerns, Millen reasoned.

Millen also would be an advocate for students. “I like kids,” said the father of three sons who has been a PTA co-president with his wife, Sue. He has been a Boy Scouts leader and a youth sports coach, too.

Born in Ohio and raised in a Cleveland suburb that he said was similar to Federal Way demographically, Millen went on to earn a degree in oceanography at Florida Institute of Technology. He now works at Boeing in the technical fellow classification, designing data acquisition systems, and has lived in Federal Way for 24 years.

Attending board meetings and serving on school district committees has given him an appreciation of the demand on board members’ time, and he’s willing to make “a complete change” of his personal schedule so he can shoulder the responsibilities, Millen said.

His interest in schools apparently prompted his candidacy for the board appointment. He said “a couple” board members encouraged him to apply.

Valerie Scott

Scott, who moved to Federal Way last November, wants to be sure there are “good public schools” here for her daughters (one 2 years old, the other eight months) when they’re old enough to start school.

“There must be a hundred different ways to teach. I want to leave that up to the teachers. But I want to be sure students learn the basics and also are well-rounded by having the opportunity to participate in music and sports,” she said.

As a board member, she wouldn’t “make a blanket statement about an issue until I know both sides,” Scott said. One such issue is the hot debate over feature movies as classroom material. She agreed with the board’s decision in March to forbid viewing of R-rated films and tighten controls on other movies in class.

“Some movies have educational value, but some teachers took advantage of the situtation,” she said.

The films dispute made her more interested in Federal Way schools. “I want to be sure things run smoothly,” she said.

Scott was born in Utah but grew up in California, attending schools in San Leandro and liking it. “I wasn’t a straight-A student, but I got a lot out of school,” she said.

She student-taught first-graders while earning her teaching credentials and later taught English at a university in Japan. She quit teaching so she and her husband, John, a project manager for Weyerhaeuser, could start a family. She said the emotional involvement with students’ lives made her student-teaching a “draining” experience.

Michael McLeod

The board has “tremendous power” to influence the schools, McLeod said, and he wants to contribute –– but without a particular agenda.

“I’m not trying to fix this or undo that,” he said. “There is nothing I see that needs changing.”

As a teacher (the last four years at Pacific Middle School in the Highline School District), he could give the board an educator’s perspective, however, McLeod noted.

“The other board members haven’t been teachers. At the same time, being a teacher is different from being a board member, so I would go in humbly, realizing I have a lot to learn” about board business, he said.

He said he doesn’t expect any conflicts of interest when teacher-specific issues face the board, nor because his wife, Tanya, works for the Federal Way district as a school psychologist.

The couple, residents of Federal Way for 14 years, have one child in junior high and another who graduated last year from Decatur High School. A daughter who was attending Washington State University died 12 years ago in an automobile accident.

McLeod heads a local chapter of Compassionate Friends, a support group for parents of deceased children. That and his other community activities, including the Des Moines Masonic Lodge, plus work-related duties such as an after-school reading program for students would be scaled back to make time for an anticipated 10 to 15 hours a week of board work, he said.

Evelyn Castellar

“Mom used to read to us every day,” Castellar said, recalling how her mother gave her an early appreciation of education while growing up in Tacoma in the 1960s and ‘70s. “She always bought encyclopedias. Ever since then, I’ve loved to read. I walk a lot and listen to audio tapes of books while I’m walking. I also read at night.”

And if Castellar could have her way, every student in grades kindergarten through six in the Federal Way district would be an avid reader, too –– or at least better than she claims they are.

“If they don’t have a love for reading, they can’t succeed. Sixth-graders should be reading at a very high level.” she said.

Castellar, 48, and her husband, Jose, an egronomist engineer from Colombia, have been married for 22 years and have lived in the Twin Lakes area since 1985. They have no children but have housed foster children.

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