The 2021 local district elections were held during a pandemic. We asked all of the candidates for Eugene School District what that was like.
Judy Newman: [00:00:10] Hi, I’m Judy Newman and I have with me, my two granddaughters Luna and Elora. Luna is a sixth grader and Elora is a fourth grader and Zeke is also joining us. He’s a first grader, but he won’t be part of the interview. He’s going to be listening to us. Okay. Take it away.
Luna: [00:00:33] What was it like running a political campaign during a pandemic?
Judy Newman: [00:00:39] It was really different than the first time I ran all the forums and house parties and meetings were virtual. And I really missed the energy of being in the same room with people. When you’re on a virtual zoom or any other kind of platform, you don’t get the whole experience of being in the same space in a three-dimensional way to experience what they’re feeling, how they’re relating. So I really miss that. And even my campaign meetings, everything was virtual and all of us have a lot of screen time – hours already for work and you could be all day at work on the screen. And so then it was hard in the evening to also be on the screen for camp campaign events. The flip side of the whole thing is it might’ve allowed more people to attend. It made it easier for people to not have to get in their cars and travel and who might have kids at home and it might be dinner time or bedtime. So I think maybe we had more participants because it was virtual.
Luna: [00:01:36] All right. What were your favorite parts of the election campaign?
Judy Newman: [00:01:42] I think my very favorite part, whether it’s virtual or face-to-face, is talking to people. I really liked talking to people and hearing what’s on their mind about education. It’s always interesting to me what’s important to them and that’s important, I think, for a school board member to be hearing. The energy engagement of our community is really something that is, pretty special.
There were so many people that were interested and have opinions and want to be involved, and sometimes we have very different opinions, but I think that’s important to make a healthy democratic community. And most importantly, everyone is feeling educating kids is super important for the community and that’s pretty wonderful.
Luna: [00:02:26] Did you have any least favorite parts?
Judy Newman: [00:02:30] A lot of the forums, you only had two to three minutes to really introduce yourself. And it’s really hard to talk about issues that are important to you or the many things in education that are important and try to really distill it all down to two to three minutes. It’s become soundbites and you can’t really get into the complexities of all of it. So that was hard.
I thought it also is hard to be talking about yourself because when you work on a school board, when you work on a team, it’s a team effort and it’s not all about you, but here you are the candidate running a campaign. And so talking about yourself, I think, is also hard.
And, oh, two other things. One is, I feel like there is a lot of engagement, but there was a lot of polarization. I think we’ve all been experiencing that in our community and in our country, people have very clear sides and they just take a side and it’s hard for people to sit down and listen to each other. Do you guys find that yourself sometimes?
Luna and Elora: [00:03:35] Yeah.
Judy Newman: [00:03:35] And so I like to have the conversation and learn from each other. And the very last thing is fundraising is hard for me. You have to fundraise to run a campaign and it is not my favorite thing to do.
Elora: [00:03:47] What messages did you hear during your conversations with voters?
Judy Newman: [00:03:53] One of the things I heard the most was the importance of getting kids back to school safely, that everyone was really concerned with education and getting kids back to school, but how to do it safely. And then how to support kids when they’re back in school, how do you make them feel welcome? Make sure that you get everyone’s needs met, whether they be social-emotional, mental health, academic, or just being around other kids, being, getting some social time and then making sure that everyone felt safe. It’s really different coming back to school with face masks and being six feet apart from people and following all these new rules. So that was important.
Equity and safety in schools was another really big topic. People wanted to know how we were going to work on making sure we had schools that have anti-racist policies, how we were going to address that, how we were going to look at discipline curriculum, hiring diverse teachers. So that was another big item.
Reducing useless tests. A lot of people have strong feelings, and I would agree that we shouldn’t do too much testing, especially testing that is not a good use of kids’ times or instructional time or is not helpful to teachers or parents to provide quality education.
And what is the role of school board? What does the school board actually do and how do you work together and what decisions do you make and how much power do you have? That was another thing I got asked a lot about. Those were the big ones, I’d say.
Elora: [00:05:26] This is not your first campaign. What takeaways can you share from this year’s experience?
Judy Newman: [00:05:33] I would say that this year it felt more polarized than it did last time. And I would say the biggest lesson I learned and what it’s important to do is to stick to your own message. And I feel it’s important to not get reactive or get defensive, but really be opening to open to listening and lean into hearing what people have to say. And always remembering why you’re running for school board and just make sure that’s front and center. And in my situation, it’s all about kids, my own grandkids, but also the community’s kids.
Luna: [00:06:10] Is there anything else you’d like to add? Anyone you would like to thank?
Judy Newman: [00:06:14] Yes. I would say running a campaign is a team effort. It’s really challenging. You can’t run an effective campaign without a team. So I really want to thank my team, which was a large and committed team.
Yes, of course. You have to have a candidate. Yeah. But it takes so many people to really help you get elected and to really believe in you. And so I just think that I want to thank everyone that worked hard for me, and I want to acknowledge that I’ll do the very best I can for our community, for kids, for parents, for teachers, for staff, and make sure we have quality education that’s equitable for all.
John Q: [00:07:01] Judy Newman of the Eugene School District Board of Directors was interviewed by her grandchildren: Luna, Elora, and Zeke.