May 22, 2024

Whole Community News

From Kalapuya lands in the Willamette watershed

Meet the candidate: Jenny Jonak

10 min read
Eugene school board candidate Jenny Jonak participated in the Community Alliance of Lane County student-led forum May 6.

At the Community Alliance of Lane County youth-led forum, school board candidate Jenny Jonak:

[00:00:05] Jenny Jonak: Hi, my name is Jenny Jonak and I am a mom with three kids in the 4J schools. I have one child who is also in the special education system, so how disabilities are handled, how students with disabilities are given supports in our schools, are really important to me.

[00:00:23] I’ve been a long-time community volunteer. Some of the entities that I’ve served with are Square One Villages, the Eugene Public Library, the Campaign for Equal Justice, which provides legal aid in Lane County.

[00:00:36] I’ve been an attorney for 26 years and I have some of the same priorities that Tom (Di Liberto) had mentioned. I would like to be more proactive in supporting students with disabilities. I would like to see us filling more of our staff positions, so we have reduced caseloads and class sizes. I would like to see more supports in the classroom so students are really able to engage and get the individual attention that they need.

[00:01:03] I would like to see more mental health and social-emotional supports in the schools. I’d also like to have better means of community input with the board when it considers what policies to make.

[00:01:14] Another issue that I would like to see is equity in resources in different areas of Eugene, so that one part of Eugene does not feel that the resources its schools have are significantly different from another part of Eugene. And I, as an attorney, I’ve spent a lot of time seeing the impact of the school-to-prison pipeline. And so one other thing I would like to see addressed is bias in our schools and with our disciplinary systems.

[00:01:42] In the end, what I really want are schools that are safe, supportive, inclusive, and are providing a quality education to all students. Thank you very much.

[00:01:52] Azure (North Eugene): Hello, I’m Azure from North. We are seeing issues with transparency in board members making decisions without listening to our student body or staff. More specifically, students and staff have felt like the district has rushed through new high school schedule without much transparency. The first question is, how do you plan to prevent the district from making hasty decisions where students and staff feel unheard?

[00:02:18] Jenny Jonak: It is really important to have student voice in the decisions that we’re making. And that can take the form of making sure that we’re really considering the input of our student reps, making sure that we are doing surveys, I think, where we’re not getting input, otherwise, making sure that we’re having community forums where policy decisions can, when we’re making important policy decisions, that we’re really getting the input of the community.

[00:02:45] So in terms of how I would try to avoid decisions that seem hasty to parts of the community, I’d like to not see at board meetings, things added to the agenda at the last minute. I think it’s important to have things that are on the agenda provided in enough time that there really is a planned process for canvassing opinion and for considering options before making a decision.

[00:03:11] Also, when a decision’s made, we need to make sure that we’ve got time for implementing that decision and making sure that everyone gets notice of it and enough time to prepare and plan. And so the timeline is really important and that should be part of the decision-making process.

[00:03:27] Azure (North Eugene): Thank you, Jenny. And the second part of this question is: How do you plan to help ease students’ minds with this new transition?

[00:03:36] Jenny Jonak: Sure. So I think part of the first part is, I know at least for me, I always really like understanding the reasoning behind a decision. And so I think making sure that the goals of this new schedule and the reason it came out the way it did is expressed to students and communicated clearly to them is important.

[00:03:57] I would also provide practical explanations of how the new schedule is going to impact students; possible potential conflicts. I mean, some of those may overlap with the existing schedule as it is, but being clear about that so students know what to expect, how it’s going to impact them day-to-day when it goes into effect.

[00:04:18] And then I think also providing this in multiple different formats. One of my daughters is autistic and it’s really important to her whenever there’s something that’s going to affect her schedule, to have it in as many different formats as possible, to have it communicated visually, to have it communicated orally and to really have it done in a practical, clear way.

[00:04:37] So I think making sure that students can really understand how they’re going to be impacted and that the communication is very clear and very accessible would be important. Thank you.

[00:04:48] Azure (North Eugene): Thank you and I’m going to pass it to Hana from South Eugene for the next question.

[00:04:54] Hana (South Eugene): Thank you, Azure. The second question is whether it’s stress, anxiety, or feeling overwhelmed, many high schoolers, including myself, have struggled with mental health. Being at school doesn’t help solve these problems, and in some cases it makes them worse. It is rarely a place that inspires learning, where people feel safe. It is rarely a place people look forward to going to. What will you do to make schools a better, supportive, more welcoming place where people want to go? Jenny, you’re up first.

[00:05:25] Jenny Jonak: So first of all, I want to say that I’m really sad to hear that because that should not be the case. In order to learn effectively, we really all have to be in a space where we feel safe, valued, included, and supported. That’s just a fundamental and it’s important to me that students feel that way at school.

[00:05:46] In terms of what I would do, I am hoping, as Tom says, that some of the things that are sought in the new schedule really do help improve peer-to-peer relationships and time to develop the relationships to have that support in the schools.

[00:06:01] I would like to see better ratios. I would like to see more availability of counselors and mental supports in the schools. So not having a guidance counselor, for example, that has 400 students and no other counselor availability, we need to make sure that this is prioritized so that when we’re looking at those supports in the schools, they’re there.

[00:06:23] I think also getting input from students on, what additional support resources can we put in the schools that will help make you feel supported, making sure that in the curriculum and in what we present to schools. I know Ophelia’s Place has done an anti-bullying curriculum, and it has spoken not just about bullying, but also about the importance of making sure that we all feel accepted, embraced, valued.

[00:06:50] And I think making sure that those values are coming forth in any kind of school setting is really fundamental to making students feel included and welcome at our schools. And that’s what we want to see.

[00:07:03] Hana (South Eugene): Thank you, Jenny. Your next question is from Kailynn, from Sheldon.

[00:07:07] Kailynn (Sheldon): Thank you, Hana. All students deserve to feel safe and have a positive environment surrounding them, but that doesn’t always happen. It is especially hard for trans students and students of color.

[00:07:18] Clubs created in search of community are not met with funds, students of color are not advocated for, and when reports of racism are made, there is insufficient attention from admin or unsatisfactory punishment.

[00:07:31] In addition, many trans students feel more comfortable using gender-neutral bathrooms that are equal to their peers. However, currently most schools only have one and or the bathroom is shared with staff. These bathrooms are often vandalized and generally inaccessible.

[00:07:47] What is your plan to ensure that equity efforts within schools specifically include, advocate, and create community and support for, students of color and trans students? Jenny.

[00:07:57] Jenny Jonak: I would like to see bias data made more available, not just to the board, but it should be public. I mean, this is something where we should not only make it available on an ongoing basis, but we should have an annual report so we can track what the impact is in our schools and how our community is responding to it.

[00:08:15] I think we need clear response protocols for bias incidents because there’s nothing more frustrating than being the victim of something like this. You report it and you feel like there’s no outcome from it. So we need to have some clear protocols that explain what’s going to happen if we do have a bias incident.

[00:08:33] We also need better wraparound supports for victims of hate, bias, and discrimination. I would like to see increased support for student affinity groups. There’s nothing like, we didn’t have this when I was a kid. It would’ve meant a huge amount to me to have an affinity group where I felt like I could just be myself. I could be in touch with other people that understood what I was going through.

[00:08:55] I would like to also echo what Tom said about having a curriculum that includes a diversity of role models from all backgrounds and communities. We should be seeing disability justice advocates in our history books. We should be seeing Asian American civil rights leaders. We should be seeing queer leaders. We should be seeing the whole gamut of humanity because that is what makes people feel included and feel like what they see is possible that’s so important for kids.

[00:09:24] And lastly, I would like to say, I would like to see more input from voices with lived experience in parts of our community that are most commonly victims of bias incidents or marginalization, because they are the ones that know what it is like to live through this and what they need from us to support them through this. Thank you.

[00:09:44] Kailynn (Sheldon): Thank you candidates. I believe Indigo would like to speak now.

[00:09:47] Indigo Amarys (CALC): I just wanted the audience to know that the Q&A feature is on and for our candidates…Azure take it away.

[00:09:54] Azure (North Eugene): Our first question is: I’m in sixth grade and would like to be able to take a Courageous Conversations class and for my teachers to take it too. What can the district do to make these opportunities more available, Jenny?

[00:10:07] Jenny Jonak: I’ve heard tremendous things about the Dunbar sisters and their training, and as a board member of Square One Villages, we have had similar types of training on different issues, and I found that incredibly helpful.

[00:10:20] And the training is more helpful when it is structured in this kind of conversational format where you’re not just talking about issues around racism and discrimination, but you’re also teaching people to be more aware and to have empathy for an experience that they haven’t had and never will have. So that’s really important. I do think it should be a priority for the district.

[00:10:41] As Morgan said, you know what we have to grapple with as school board members is that we shape the policy, and how that gets implemented is usually done at the superintendent-and-down level. But I would love to see more of these types of conversations and trainings happening because that is the way we become more aware of our own blind spots. And until we can recognize those blind spots, we can’t improve, we can’t do better. Thank you.

[00:11:06] Azure (North Eugene): Thank you, Jenny. We’re going to move on from the Q&A to the next segment. So: Hana.

[00:11:12] Hana (South Eugene): Thank you, Azure. And thank you for everyone for answering all these questions so far. We’re now going to move on to our closing thoughts. Each candidate will have one minute to share their closing thoughts.

[00:11:25] In your response, please state one word that represents your purpose for running for school board. You may use the remainder of your time to explain your choice of that word. For example, our word to describe our purpose for this forum is ‘voice,’ to ensure student voices are heard. Jenny, you’re up next.

[00:11:44] Jenny Jonak: All right. I would say my word is ‘equity,’ and that’s because in all of the volunteer work I’ve done and in my personal life, that is a value that really matters to me. I think that public education should be the driver of equity in making sure that our students really have equal opportunities to maximize their potential and be the best that they can be.

[00:12:09] I really would like to see equity play out in our school board policies, both geographically with respect to people from different backgrounds, with respect to marginalized communities. I think that is one of the issues that we grapple with as a nation right now, and I think it’s something that affects us locally as well.

[00:12:27] Hana (South Eugene): Thank you, Jenny. We actually have time for one last question, so I’m going to hand it over to Jun to ask that question.

[00:12:36] Jun (Churchill): All right. You’re only going to have one minute, but what is your view on supporting teacher creativity and innovative curriculum development as a way to promote equity and student well-being, Jenny?

[00:12:47] Jenny Jonak: It’s really important to give our teachers enough autonomy to really take advantage of their strengths and interests and provide creative curriculum. I mean, that meant a huge amount to me as a kid.

[00:12:58] That said, I think it has to be balanced with making sure I that if we’re having, innovative curriculum development, that we are doing it equally across the district. So we aren’t having, for example, some of the more affluent schools that might have more experienced teachers offering a much wider range of innovative curriculum development than some other schools who have space and other constraints.

[00:13:21] So I’m all for it, but I would like to see it to make sure that it really is done equitably across the district.

[00:13:27] Jun (Churchill): Thank you. Thank you to everyone who has attended and made this forum possible. And a special shout out to Indigo (CALC) and our Spanish interpreter, Kenia (Martinez, Any Time Translations). And finally, please remember to vote by May 16.

[00:13:39] John Q: Jenny Jonak is running for the 4J school board.

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