Former student and teacher return to run for school board

Gregory Block

With the district school board elections coming up on Nov. 3, a former Redwood student and a former teacher are in the mix for two available four-year terms.  

Robbie Powelson, who attended Redwood for two years, and Barbara Owens, who was a teacher in the district, are trying to bring their perspectives as past members of the Redwood community to the board.

Powelson’s experiences in the district, as well as those of his friends and family, have led him to develop strong opinions on topics such as the diversification of school leadership and student focus.

“It’s fresh in my memory and I still see a lot of my friends and peers struggling with the same issues [that I struggled with],” Powelson said, referring to his time as a student.

In the middle of his sophomore year, Powelson dropped out of Redwood and received his diploma from an online school.

A yearbook photo of former student Robert Powelson from 2009. Powelson is now running for the TUHSD school board.

“That had to do with a lot of the environmental problems in the district, including difficult social circumstances, substance use, and mental health problems,” Powelson said.

His struggles as a student have inspired him to return to the district and run for a leadership position. The key to understanding and addressing students’ needs is creating more student leadership roles within the district, Powelson said.

“I think we need to be inviting more student participation, not just at board meetings,” Powelson said. “The board [should] be more in touch with students, more visible, and supporting students’ goals or aspirations in the district and outside of it.”

According to Powelson, because the district leaders share similar opinions and come from similar backgrounds, all student voices are not always heard.

“Part of it is just paying attention [to subgroups],” Powelson said. “I think a big problem that our district has is that subgroups that aren’t part of the mainstream get left to the wayside.”

While Owens was not a student at Redwood, she taught special education students at Drake and Redwood. She then went to Tam, where she was an advisor to the school newspaper, and returned to Redwood to teach English. She also taught at San Andreas, retiring in 2007.

A yearbook photo of former teacher Barbara Owens. Owens, who taught at all four schools in the district, is returning to run for the TUHSD school board.

“I think my length of experience in the classroom with students and parents and staff really helps a lot because school systems are very complicated,” Owens said. “We have to support staff development, we want our teachers to get better at what they are doing. There are policies that we can help establish that support student attendance and support student engagement.”

Owens shares Powelson’s belief that more student voice and input is important.

“We need to have a dialogue,” Owens said, referring to the relationship between students and school board members. “We need to make sure that we’re asking and that we are there to hear what they have to say.”

The TUHSD is in a transitional period after former superintendent Laurie Kimbrel resigned following her husband’s harassment of a district parent on Facebook. Despite the recent turmoil, both candidates believe that with new superintendent David Yoshihara, the district is headed in the right direction. Part of creating more positive change, though, is by continuing to strive for more student focus, according to Owens.

“A lot of things have gone on in the district in the past that have distracted teachers and professionals from the work that they really need to be doing and they needed to work really hard to stay focused on students,” Owens said. “I want to make sure we maintain that focus on students: student wellness, student well-being, and achievement level.”

The creation of wellness centers in the district is a step toward more student participation, according to Powelson. As a member of the district’s wellness advisory board, he has become interested in increasing student voice in the community.

“I want to learn more about how we can meaningfully engage with those students,” Powelson said. “We should be getting together and talking more in depth about how we can actually raise up those voices in a meaningful way.”

If students are to be listened to, they must be taken seriously, according to Powelson.

“I have a problem that often when the input of students is taken into account, it is kind of tokenized and not taken seriously,” Powelson said.

Both candidates believe that their respective experiences of attending and teaching at schools in the district give them a fresh perspective and allow them to develop a more acute understanding of what the district needs.

“People like myself were voiceless and families like mine didn’t have a say,” Powelson said. “It’s just about empowering people. It’s what it comes down to.”

Powelson’s recent experiences in community-based services have also led him to realize the potential in Redwood’s community, he said. Powelson is a member of the Marin Mental Health Board and regularly attends school board meetings.

“One of the radical ideas I have is I think that most of our students are very competent and if given the opportunity to excel, will do so,” Powelson said. “If we can plug in students into boards and commissions in the county, working on their own projects and supporting what they want to do, then we will have better education and it’s doable.”

According to Owens, her experience in collaborating with teachers and students could help create a more transparent and trustworthy board.

“It’s about the board operating together,” Owens said. “I think it’s about working together, it’s about transparency, it’s about teaching, it’s about trust. Those are my hallmarks.”

TUHSD school board elections will take place Nov. 3. Leslie Lundgren is a third candidate running for one of the four-year terms. Michael Futterman and Matt Nagle are both running for the one available two-year term that Futterman was appointed to in 2014.