Voters will have choices for the faces to lead the Canby School District in the years to come, as all three open seats will be contested in the May 16 special districts election.
There will be a three-way race to replace Position 1 Director Rob Sheveland, who declined to seek a third term, while one-term incumbents Dawn Depner (Position 5) and Stefani Carlson (Position 6) will both face challengers.
Depner and Carlson, close allies on the current school board, have chosen to campaign together with one of the Position 1 candidates, Lori Boatright, a retired senior service analyst.
The trio’s yard signs and banners have been appearing in and around Canby in recent weeks, and they’ve launched a website, WeDemandExcellence.com, outlining their platform and bios.
Their promises include “NO MORE sexually explicit and vulgar material in our libraries,” a timely issue given the recent removal and reconsideration of more than 35 books at district high schools and middle schools.
In videos posted to the group’s new Facebook page Friday and Saturday, all three supported the district’s action, saying it is not a “book ban,” is being led by parents and follows district policy.
The trio also complains about district performance, citing Oregon Department of Education metrics showing fewer than 40% of Canby’s third-grade students are meeting grade-level expectations for English language arts, and barely a quarter of eighth-graders are performing at grade level for mathematics.
The campaign materials fail to mention, however, that in both of those cases — and all other major ODE metrics — the Canby School District is in line with or above the state average.
And it is unusual for candidates to criticize their own organization’s performance. Two of the three, Depner and Carlson, have led the Canby School District for four years, the same period in which Canby students exhibited their lowest scores in state assessments — primarily due to Covid-era challenges.
“This is unacceptable,” the trio’s website says of the district’s performance. “We will fight hard to promote a curriculum rooted in phonics and methodologies that actually work instead of doing the same things over and over again.”
In Position 1, voters will choose between Boatright and two other district parents: Katie Iverson and JooLin Rice.
Katie Iverson is a Canby High School graduate with bachelor’s degrees in education and bio-engineering from Oregon State and a master’s in education from Western Oregon, a middle school science teacher from 2009 to 2019, and a mother of four in the Ninety-One School community of Canby School District.
She is also a third-generation member of the Iverson farming family of Wooden Shoe Tulip Farm in Woodburn.
“As a parent, I saw firsthand the struggle of navigating online education during Covid restrictions,” she wrote on her Facebook page. “I am thankful for the staff that has worked through the challenges and created a safe, engaging learning environment for my children to thrive.
“However, across all ages, we have deficits that need to be addressed from that time. It is an opportunity for growth and improvement in our schools. That is why now more than ever, I believe it is important for me to give back to the community by serving on the school board.”
If elected, she promised to serve Canby families as “an advocate that will have their best interests at heart.”
“The community that I grew up in has shaped who I am today,” she wrote. “It is exactly where I want my own children to grow up and develop the skills they need to reach their greatest potential after graduation.
“My unique experience allows me to understand multiple perspectives and help unite everyone behind the common goals of a quality, safe and well-rounded education for all our students. As a parent and experienced educator, I will be able to bridge the gap between families and schools to help our students achieve success.”
Lori Boatright is a Columbia High School graduate and resident of Canby for nearly three decades, recently retired after 38 years from the payroll and HR services firm Automatic Data Processing, or ADP, where she worked in various roles including service, training, technical support, and as a senior client experience analyst.
Her children graduated from Canby High School and she now has grandchildren in Canby schools. On WeDemandExcellence.com, she wrote that she wants the best education for them and all Canby students, and that she “strongly believes in the preeminent role of parents in the education of their children.”
“I am involved right now because I don’t like what I see in our schools,” she said in a campaign video Friday. “Our test scores that used to be very good have gone downhill. We are not doing our jobs, somewhere along the road, and we need to do better for our kids.”
In the video, she also spoke to the recent debate over the titles pulled from district libraries for reconsideration, which sparked a lunchtime protest by Canby High School students Thursday.
“There is no book ban,” she said. “Parents are actually involved in looking at these books that are pornography, you guys. And anybody that I show any of the pages of the books that we’re talking about are appalled.
“I encourage you to go out and look at those books to see what we’re talking about, and don’t judge based on what people are telling you because the truth is not being disclosed.”
If elected, she promised to “work tirelessly for Canby’s students and parents” and touted the need for transparency at the Canby School District.
“It is so important that you know what’s going on in our schools,” she said. “I’m running with two women that are really powerful. Dawn Depner and Stefani Carlson are running with me. We all need to be on there to be effective.”
JooLin Rice is an Oregon City High School graduate with a bachelor’s in sociology from Brigham Young University. She is currently a stay-at-home mom and, on her campaign Facebook page, said she “wants to be an independent voice for students and educators.”
“I believe in our kids,” Rice told the Current in an email. “I want them to succeed. It is time to renew our focus, which is the students and educators, so they have the support they need. I am ready to be an independent voice to unite educational needs and the community.”
She said she is running because she has four kids in Canby schools, and she wants all of them to feel supported as they advance through the system. She also values community service and believes the school board is an area she can meaningfully contribute and give back.
“As issues arise, there is a need for new or revised policies,” she said. “I want to make sure we have those in place so we can re-focus on the kids to bridge those gaps of education or inclusion. I am open-minded, respectful, and ready to advocate for those I serve. I am dedicated to working together for our kids.”
In Position 5, Dawn Depner is seeking a second term, challenged by newcomer Mark Bigej, co-owner and chief operating officer of Al’s Garden Centers and Greenhouses.
Depner is a financial advisor, a former director on the Canby Fire Board from 2011 to 2018, and the founder of Operation Snuggle, an annual nonprofit outreach event that made blankets for homeless kids in the Canby School District from 2008 to 2019.
Depner is also a current member of the Canby School Board, elected in a close three-way race in May 2019, where she said she “has been a fierce and tireless advocate for the students and parents of Canby schools” during one of the most tumultuous and unprecedented times in history.
“While the state imposed mandate after mandate, often with no scientific basis, Dawn fought for the rights of Canby kids to be students and not pawns in a political agenda,” her bio on the WeDemandExcellence.com website says.
“It was never easy, but Dawn passionately believes that parents have the right to choose what their children are learning and should have an active role in curriculum. She has always, and will always, be an advocate for parents, students and educators.”
Depner is the mother of six children who attended Canby schools. She said she is committed to “making our schools the best and safest places they can be for all of our kids and will not settle for the mediocre results we’ve seen.”
In a campaign video Friday, she said she has worked to execute parents’ requests for greater transparency, “not just transparency in education, but transparency with books in the library.”
“I don’t believe in banning books in the library, but I do believe that there needs to be a review committee, and I do believe that we need to follow policy before we introduce these books into our libraries and schools,” she said.
“Parents have told me they don’t want their students to be able to see sexual conduct in books. They don’t want to see obscenities in books that the children are checking out at the library.”
The grandson of Al’s Garden & Home founders Al and Ann Bigej and son of the business’s longtime CEO Jack Bigej, Mark Bigej is a Ninety-One and Canby High School alum with a bachelor’s in horticulture from Oregon State. He and his wife, Amy, have five children, all of whom have graduated from or are attending Canby High.
“The Canby education system has served our family well,” Bigej told the Current in a brief voter statement. “As a longtime Canby resident who was raised in this community, I am invested in the future successes of our education system that has served my family well for three generations. My connection to our schools runs deep.”
Bigej has also served as a youth sports coach, on his church finance council and on the board for Oregon Association of Nurseries for more than 20 years and believes he would bring a “well-rounded and experienced perspective” to the Canby School Board.
“As an employer, I know firsthand the importance of an educated workforce,” he said. “Canby students must be prepared to seamlessly transition to a job, training program, classroom, or entry to our armed services. The quality of education they receive is directly connected to their future success and the success of our community and country.”
If elected, he promised to be “committed to working hard to promote academic success and student well-being,” and “listen to and advocate for all of Canby’s students, parents, educators, and leaders.”
“Through accountability, transparency, and cooperation, our community, teachers and parents, together, can make informed decisions to ensure our schools thrive,” he said. “I am committed to being part of the solution that supports our students and staff and creates a successful learning environment where everyone succeeds.”
Finally, in Position 6, voters will decide between incumbent Stefani Carlson and challenger Kelly Oliver.
On her website, Carlson touted that she has “fought passionately for getting back to the fundamentals in education—reading, writing and math.”
Carlson’s victory in 2019 was not without controversy. In March of that year, she told local media that she’d dropped out of the race after her public opposition to a Transgender Day of Visibility proclamation at a Canby City Council meeting upset some in the community.
But when voters gave her a surprising victory (by a margin of 85 votes), she reversed course and accepted the position. In a video posted to the group’s new campaign Facebook page Saturday, Carlson called herself “a bit of a reluctant winner” four years ago.
“I soon realized the need for strong school board members with a strong moral compass and the backbones to go against the flow,” she said.
If reelected, she said she would fight to “restore fundamentals in education” and “work hard to clean up the libraries.”
“School libraries are no place for sexually explicit material, and they need to be cleaned up,” she said. “I don’t believe in banning books, but I do believe in installing appropriate and safe resources in our library that all kids can have access to.”
She also said she would “continue to fight for transparency” and would oppose “woke, Portlandia ideologies.”
“Parents have a fundamental right to know everything that’s happening in their school system,” she said. “They’re paying for it. They’re the taxpayers. I will work hard to bring transparency to the forefront. It’s not only a right; it’s crucial for accountability and for working relationships built on trust.
Kelly Oliver is a McMinnville High School graduate with bachelor’s degrees in physical education and health and a master’s in education from Western Oregon University. She was an elementary school teacher from 1985 to 2019, mainly at Willamette Primary School in West Linn.
On her campaign Facebook page, she said she believes this experience would serve her well on the Canby School Board.
“I spent 34 years of my life waking up every single day thinking about my students and all of their individual needs, gifts and personalities,” she wrote. “And then I’d think about them at the end of every single day. Each class was like a puzzle, filled with pieces that were so different from one another.
“And yet they all fit together! The Canby School District puzzle has been perplexing me for a while now. My friends and family know that I have talked about this for months, so it is no surprise that I want to try and make those pieces fit.”
Oliver said on her campaign website that she has lived in Canby for 38 years and has two children and six grandchildren that have gone through the Canby School District or are still enrolled.
“It has been a true joy to be involved in the Canby community throughout my life, as a young parent, an educator and now as a retired educator looking to give back to the community that has already given me so much,” she wrote.
Oliver said she was inspired to run by the example of her late husband, Wayne Oliver, a well-known civic leader, businessman, coach and legend in the Canby youth sports scene.
“Wayne served the community in so many capacities from civic life to youth sports,” she said. “Our marriage was always busy with meetings, committees, engagements, and the many, many youth sporting events we attended. We enjoyed all of this engagement, and I am ready to step forward and do my own part to lead in his absence.
“When I heard there was an uncontested race for the school board, I felt compelled to step forward and give back from my experience as an educator and Canby resident. It seemed like the time was right and I believe that all civic volunteer opportunities are made better when the citizens are provided a choice.”
After a campaign launch event at the Wild Hare Saloon Thursday, Oliver said she hoped her campaign would help bring the community together to confront the challenges facing students and teachers.
“That’s what it is all about,” she wrote. “It’s about all of us coming together to discuss what’s important, about balancing perspectives, about talking to each other as peers, and identifying the challenges (and the successes) we can find within our school district.”
The deadline to register to vote in the May 16 special districts election or update your voter registration information is April 25 and can be done online at oregonvotes.gov. Ballots will begin being mailed to voters on April 26 and must be returned or postmarked by Election Day to be counted.
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