This editorial will appear in Tuesday’s print edition.
The races for Federal Way school board took on additional significance last week when Superintendent Tom Murphy, a respected 20-year veteran of the district, announced his retirement.
Murphy will leave in June, making the next school board responsible for hiring his replacement.
Even with less than a majority of the board at stake this election, the outcome is bound to influence the hiring of Murphy’s successor. Voters will want the right people in office to make that pick.
Distinguishing between this year’s candidates is not hard work. The two contested races on the general election ballot pit back-to-basics proponents against sitting school board members who would rather improve the status quo than upend it.
In both contests, we’re endorsing the incumbents. Federal Way schools are generally headed in a positive direction, and the school board members are working well together after past discord.
In District 1, Ed Barney, who works as a job coach, is seeking his third term on the school board. He is a longtime community volunteer and served on the Federal Way Community Council before the city’s incorporation.
Barney’s experience is a plus on a board that has seen a lot of turnover in the last couple of years. He is focused on continuing to improve student achievement and strengthen community involvement.
Barney ‘s challenger, Bill Pirkle, is a software developer who once worked for the school district as a substitute teacher. After his stint there, he wrote a 16-page report suggesting reforms as varied as having students sit in rows “like the old days” to requiring that 50 percent of teaching be done from the blackboard to standardizing curriculum and teaching methodologies. He’s frustrated that the school board has not discussed more of his recommendations.
Pirkle’s positions might resonate with some voters who support a return to traditional education methods, but he would likely wind up as frustrated and ineffectual on the school board.
In District 4, the challenger presents similar views. Steve Skipper, insurance and securities licensing instructor, is mounting his second run for school board. He first became concerned about the school district a decade ago when he discovered his daughter wasn’t learning her multiplication tables or how to diagram sentences.
He says the district is not setting high expectations for its students, and suggests, like Pirkle, that the district replicate the strong academic emphasis of its college preparatory school, the Federal Way Public Academy.
Skipper is running against Angela Griffin, who joined the school board last year. She is a regional director of early childhood programs for the YMCA of Greater Seattle. Griffin has a master’s degree in education and was a teacher in California for three years. She also has worked in juvenile diversion programs and at a Boys and Girls Club.
Griffin brings a valuable perspective to the board – that of some with the educational and professional background to provide an independent assessment of the district’s efforts.
She also is a consistent voice for the district’s black and Hispanic children, which represent about a third of the enrollment. We think she deserves election.