The two candidates for the Olympia School Board’s Director District No. 2 seat have quite a bit in common.
Joellen Wilhelm and Jessica “Jess” Revelas grew up in other areas of the country, earned degrees at The Evergreen State College and are active volunteers in their children’s schools.
And both say if elected they’ll bring a much-needed parent perspective to the five-member elected board.
But they differ on top issues, community involvement and professional background.
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Wilhelm, 38, works part-time from home as a nonprofit consultant and grant writer. She and her husband, David, a pilot, have two children, ages 3 and 8. Their oldest is a third-grader at Madison Elementary School.
Wilhelm has a bachelor’s degree in environmental communication from the Ohio State University, and a master’s degree in public administration from Evergreen.
She said she’s always felt passionately about education.
“My mother was a teacher — she taught for 30 years,” Wilhelm said.
If elected, Wilhelm said she will fight to make sure Olympia School District teachers receive competitive pay. She also wants to push the district into enhancing its art and music offerings.
Wilhelm said enrollment growth, class-size reductions and planned projects that will be covered by the district’s proposed bond measure on the February ballot will also be big issues for the school district in the upcoming year.
Wilhelm said she chose her top issues after visiting all the schools in the 9,800-student district.
“I’ve learned that we have really great schools,” Wilhelm said. “It was reassuring as a parent. … And we have passionate administrators and teachers.”
But during her school visits, Wilhelm said she also heard about gaps that need to be addressed, both in terms of equity and in achievement. For example, Madison Elementary, which has 260 students, according to the state Office of Superintendent of Public Instruction, doesn’t receive funding for a full-time principal. Wilhelm wants all schools, including the smallest ones, to have full-time principals.
“Every school has something to advocate for,” she said.
Wilhelm’s volunteer experience includes helping establish the community garden at Madison and serving as its coordinator with Garden Raised Bounty, being a member of the Olympia Food Co-Op board of directors, and serving on the downtown Olympia YMCA advisory board.
Revelas, 45, is a stay-at-home mom who was a public interest environmental lawyer for several years.
She has served as president of the Options Community Council at Lincoln Elementary School the past two years. Her husband, Gene, is an environmental consultant, and they have a 7-year-old daughter and an 11-year-old son who attend Lincoln.
Revelas also has two adult stepchildren.
Revelas has a bachelor’s degree from Evergreen with a focus on environmental chemistry and a law degree from the University of Oregon in Eugene.
She said she was encouraged to run for School Board by parents and staff members at Lincoln; she also was endorsed by School Board member Allen Miller, who has been elected to the post twice since 2008 but opted to not seek another term.
“I decided it would be a good thing to do — representing kids, and representing alternative education and those values, and working on equity issues,” she said.
If elected, Revelas said she will push for the district to reexamine the number of tests and assessments that are conducted in schools. Some are required by the state or federal government, but many of them are optional and are putting too much pressure on teachers and students, Revelas said.
“I think it’s about finding a balance,” she said. “… It really is hurting the kids that need the most help.”
Revelas also wants the district to increase its funding for counselors at schools and step up safety measures. She recently attended the school safety presentation by Jesus Villahermosa, and said she felt it was empowering to teach kids what to do during an emergency. But she said she believes the Olympia School Board can do more to ensure students are safe and protected from gun violence.
“I haven’t looked into the legality of this — I’m sure a zillion people would be upset to hear me say this, but too bad,” Revelas said. “I think we should send home a letter to every family saying please sign here, and take a pledge, that if you have guns in your house, that they’re stored safely and securely … so that no kid in your household can access them.”
Revelas said she also wants to bring more transparency to the School Board. She said she’d like to see it use a consensus-based model for many of its decisions.
If elected, Revelas said she plans to find ways to reach out and get more parent input on the district’s major issues.
She said she would serve as a strong voice on the board. “I’m not afraid to do that,” she said.
MEET THE CANDIDATES
Several Olympia neighborhoods have partnered to host a candidate forum at 6 p.m. Thursday at South Sound Manor, 455 North St. SE, Tumwater.
Both Olympia School Board candidates have confirmed that they will be at the event, which also will feature candidates for Olympia City Council and mayor, and the Port Commission race.
More information on the Olympia School Board candidates:
Joellen Wilhelm: electjoellenwilhelm.com
Jess Revelas: jessforolympiaschools.org