School Board seat has two candidates as others opt for noncompetitive positions

Ballots were mailed late last week to Sweet Home voters for Sweet Home’s May 18 School Board election.

The only competitive School Board race will be the Zone 8 At Large seat, for the Sweet Home School Board, for which three candidates have filed.

On the ballot, incumbent Jim Gourley will face challengers Dale Keene and Elizabeth Ruck for the Zone 8 seat. No candidates actually filed for the Zone 1 Holley seat, currently occupied by Chanz Keeney, the Zone 3 Foster seat currently occupied by Joe Kennedy, and the Zone 6 Crawfordsville seat.

Ruck, however, stated in a post on her campaign Facebook page that she was “inadvertently” registered to run for Position 8, rather than Position 3, “which is where I wanted to run.”

She is asking voters to write her in for Position 3 (Foster). Attempts to reach her were unsuccessful.

Incumbent Jason Van Eck is unchallenged for the Zone 5 At Large seat, incumbent Jason Redick is unchallenged for the Zone 7 At Large seat, and newcomer Janice Albert is unchallenged for the Zone 2 Liberty seat currently occupied by Jenny Daniels.

Since only one race is competitive this time around, we are concentrating on the Zone 8 election.

However, since Albert is a newcomer to local elections, we have included responses from her.

Janice Albert – Zone 2 (Liberty)

Albert, 66, is a 1972 graduate of Sweet Home High School who moved back to the community from Springfield in 2006 – “the best move I’ve ever made.”

She worked for Springfield Public Schools for 20 years. In 1987 she began working as a classroom assistant, and also worked as a Special Education and Title 1 assistant and as school registrar.

In 2006 she was hired by Sweet Home School District as a Title 1 assistant, Special Education assistant, TAG Secretary and Special Education Secretary.

She retired in June 2020.

She has been active in the Oregon School Employees Association at the local and state levels. She is a member of the Sweet Home Elks Lodge.

Albert has two adult daughters and a “wonderful” son-in-law, who is a teacher at West Albany along with her oldest daughter. She has six grandchildren. Her life partner is Terry Lovely.

Jim Gourley – Zone 8 (At Large)

Gourley, 63, is a lifelong resident of Sweet Home whose family has lived here for generations.

He is a graduate of Sweet Home High School and Linn-Benton Community College, where he completed an apprenticeship program to become a journeyman millwright.

He is currently a School Board member and is a past City Council member and mayor.

He is also active in the Rotary Club, the city Community Health Committee, the Sweet Home Christmas Project and a “community activist.”

Past activities include serving as a Scoutmaster with the Boy Scouts, small business owner, CPR instructor, First Responder instructor, Water Safety instructor, certified rescue diver, a coach and administrator for local and state youth sports, and serving on the Inner Agency on Hazardous Communications Council, the state Emergency Response Commission, Linn Benton Lincoln ESD Budget Committee, and the Oregon Lands Coalition.

He is married to Lisa Gourley; they have four children.

Dale Keene – Zone 8 (At Large)

Keene, 52, is a Sweet Home High School graduate who has lived in the community for nearly all of his life.

His parents have lived here since 1967.

He earned a degree in economics from Linn-Benton Community College and has junior status at Eastern Oregon University, majoring in business administration.

He is currently employed by LBCC as the business operations coordinator for the Benton Center, with previous experience in “many industries” in metal, plastic and wood.

Keene has served twice on the Sweet Home School Board. He was originally appointed to the Position 8 board seat in 2008, then ran and won the position. He has held the board secretary and vice chair positions. He is currently serving as the Crawfordsville School Board member, which was vacant.

Keene has also served on the Linn-Benton-Lincoln ESD Budget Committee for multiple cycles. He has also served as a leader and commissioner for the Boy Scouts, until 2009.

Why do you want to be a Sweet Home School Board member?

Janice Albert (Zone 2): Being a School Board member has always been my goal. Since I was retired and the Liberty position became open, it was the perfect time. Working in education for 30 years, you learn a lot about the system and I want to be involved in the process. I feel communication between all the groups involved is important.

Jim Gourley (Zone 8): I would like to continue to remain on the Sweet Home School Board because it’s so important to provide directions and opportunities for our children. Their success is vital to our community and the quality of their lives. 

Dale Keene (Zone 8): I feel I can still make an impact in the education field in our community. Working in the higher education field for the past eight years has given me a perspective that can help traverse some of the hurdles we see in the education field, especially those associated with transition from K-12 to college or trades.

What sets you apart as a candidate for voters in Sweet Home?

Jim Gourley (Zone 8): My experience and knowledge sets me apart from the other candidates.

As a father, businessman, lifetime community member, having been very active in local politics and a lifetime community volunteer, attended secondary education and gone through a journeyman apprenticeship – I bring that knowledge to our School Board. All of which does make a difference in the lives of our students. 

Dale Keene (Zone 8): I have lived here, built my life here, and truly want to see our children succeed to the best of their abilities, without the over-reach of higher government.

Janice Albert (Zone 2): My 30 years in education has given me the experience to work with administrators, teachers and support staff. I was also a member of Sweet Home School District’s Joint Labor and Management Committee which team taught me a lot about how to work with the administration. It taught me how to work within a group of my peers.

Please describe your view of the role of public school in today’s world and what you think are the particular challenges that need to be addressed in Sweet Home School District.

Dale Keene (Zone 8): I think the original role of the public school was to educate, and teach critical thinking. However, I see so much “indoctrination” in the public school system, that we as a society have created a generation which does not promote the values of freedom and liberty that this society was built on.

The Sweet Home School District has a very good history of teaching the original values, and I would like to see it continue this and to push out some of the more liberal material that we see in the education areas, i.e: Critical Race Theory.

I would like to see more of an emphasis put on the trade classes. Not everyone is college material, and by opening the pathway to the trades, we open the avenues for students to success after they leave us.

Janice Albert (Zone 2): The role of the school district has broadened to include homeless, drug, and unemployment issues. All of these issues affect our staff members and students. With the unemployment and lack of low-income housing we have many more homeless students. It also affects our budgetary issues.

Jim Gourley (Zone 8): During my four years on the School Board our graduation rate has gone up 17%. Students need to have a clear understanding of direction – college, apprenticeships, vocational opportunities in technical schools. They need to be able to graduate with the skills necessary to be successful. Having those skills and a direction is a huge challenge for many of our students. 

What would you consider your primary responsibility/ies to voters as a school board member if you are elected?

Janice Albert (Zone 2): I need to listen to what the Liberty area families want and need. I want to listen to all parties involved in the school system. I want to make the best decisions I can for our students.

Jim Gourley (Zone 8): School Board members need to look at the community as a whole; not just special interests. Each member has a responsibility to vote and lead in the best interest of both the students and our community. 

Dale Keene (Zone 8): My primary responsibility as a school board member is to listen to the voters, and then to carry out the wishes of my constituency to the best of my abilities.

My job is to bring the best education while not breaking the bank doing so. If what the voters want goes against my conscience, then I will gladly step down and let them vote for someone that can serve them in a better capacity.

A lot of school board work revolves around funding. In general, how do you view the district’s performance in this area? If you would like to change anything, how would you do so?

Janice Albert (Zone 2): We have been through some very tough funding issues and I feel our business manager has done well getting us through the tough times. I don’t feel I can say what should be changed until I am more involved with budgeting.

Jim Gourley (Zone 8): Over the last four years our community has finished the high school auditorium; upgraded Foster,  Hawthorn, and Holley elementary schools; as well as the junior high. With no additional tax rate. Which have all been a huge asset to our community. I believe that we can be fiscally responsible as well as staying current on the needs of our school district.

Dale Keene (Zone 8): I think, overall, the district has been very good with the funding. Having sat through many Budget Committees for the school district, we have been in a better position than most other school districts in the state.

What other improvements would you like to see to the public schools in Sweet Home?

Jim Gourley (Zone 8): We still have structural improvements that need to be addressed. Traffic flow and parking also need to be addressed. 

Dale Keene (Zone 8): We have seen various programs instituted over the years in Sweet Home, and we have seen upgrades to the various buildings.

However, I think the biggest improvement that would help the School District would be to update the School Board zones. With so many that are hard to fill, it would behoove us to change the process so that all positions are at-large positions.

Janice Albert (Zone 2): More communication with the community and staff.

In addition to any of the issues already touched on, what do you consider the biggest challenge(s) facing Sweet Home schools? As briefly as possible, how would you address it/those?

Dale Keene (Zone 8): Our biggest challenge is going to be the loss of learning gap that the students have had because of the pandemic.

At the upper class level, I don’t think we will be able to address it, because of the time constraints. At the lower levels, I think it can be addressed with added remedial classes to help students get caught up to where they should be.

Janice Albert (Zone 2): The biggest challenge in the near future is getting our students back in schools in the fall. They need a regular schedule that is face to face. We have to hope that the state will make this possible.

Jim Gourley (Zone 8): The social and emotional health of our children has become a large and complex issue.

This needs to be a high priority. As well as continuing to raise graduation rates. While increasing our work with apprenticeship programs and technological schools to build a broader coalition to help our students to bridge those gaps.

All this raises careers with pathways to higher paying jobs for our students.