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Newly-elected Portland school board members means more diversity and representation

One board member said this is the first time ever that there will be three Black members on the Portland school board of eight.

PORTLAND, Ore. — School board races in the area have received a lot of attention this year, especially in regards to diversity and representation.

The school board for the state's largest district, Portland Public Schools, just got a lot more diverse.

Three school board positions were up for grabs. Julia Brim-Edwards was re-elected, but there were two newcomers: Gary Hollands and Herman Greene.

KGW News spoke with Brim-Edwards on the phone. She called the election "historic and groundbreaking" and added, for many years the board has had just one person of color. 

Currently, Michelle DePass is the only person of color on the board. She identifies as Black and Latina. She said she is multi-cultural, Spanish speaking, and is from Central America. 

Brim-Edwards said after this most recent election, it’ll be the first time ever that there will be three Black members on the board of eight.

Greene spoke to KGW News about his win this week.

“It's kind of surreal, said Green." It's exciting. At the same time I’m hopeful for what tomorrow's gonna look like for our kids."

He said at first, he was telling other people to run for the school board.

“Then somebody said you’re doing a whole lot of encouraging other people. Why not you? Then it just clicked and it was like, ‘why not me,’" he said.

"Representation matters, period."

Greene said right now it's imperative there's representation for people of color.

“They need to be able to see themselves in places where they're going to be making decisions about the changes and transformation that's going to happen within their community,” he said.

Kali Thorne-Ladd is the executive director of Kairos PDX. The nonprofit does a lot of policy work at the state level and focuses on educational equity as well as closing achievement gaps for historically underserved kids.

“Representation matters, period,” said Thorne-Ladd.

“Having representation on our school boards is extremely important especially given that so much of decisions that impact schools happen at the local level,” she said.

Thorne-Ladd said she hopes people pay more attention to school board races and support diverse candidates because elected board members impact the trajectory of the educational system in schools.

“Having school board members that understand the complexity of different populations of children who historically have not been served as well as they should be in schools I think is critical to helping our schools be better,” she said.

Helping kids realize opportunities

In addition, Thorne-Ladd said when kids see themselves reflected in decision-making positions, it can be game changing.

“It opens up the world of possibility," Thorne-Ladd said. "It's hard to imagine doing and being something when you never see anyone like you do and be those things."

“At a very young age, as early as 6th grade, 7th grade, you have children canceling out opportunities in their brains because they don't see representation, so I think it's critical,” she said.

Now, even while Greene is celebrating diversity and his win, he’s also setting his sights on what he can accomplish for his community.

“It's not enough that I get in the position, that's not enough. What matters now is what I do while I'm in the position,” said Greene.

Greene said one big topic he would like to focus on is making sure kids are ready to move into their next phase of school. That includes students who graduate high school. He said while every child should have the option to go to a four-year college, that may not be the best choice for every child. He said he hopes to put more focus on opportunities in different trades for students who are interested.

Gary Hollands sent a statement saying, "Portland Public Schools serves a culturally and ethnically rich community. But you wouldn't know it if you look at who works or serves at PPS. We need to make sure PPS reflects who we are across the whole school system from the boardrooms to the classrooms. I am looking forward to representing all kids who attend Portland Public Schools."

Both Hollands and Greene will begin their positions on the Portland School Board on July 1st.

This week, the Beaverton School Board also saw three newly-elected women of color.

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