Three Teachers On Board - Finally

by Larry Lewin

The school board elections this past May selected two teachers - one retired, one active - to the Eugene 4J and the Bethel School Boards.

Tom Di Liberto, a 31-year veteran Spanish Immersion middle school teacher who retired in 2018, was elected to Position 1 in Eugene with 62% of the vote. He had run previously two years ago in 2021 for a different seat. His victory came in a 3-way race. 

Tom Di Liberto

Curt Nordling, a veteran teacher in the Bethel District, was elected to Position 3. He had to resign his high school teaching job at Willamette High School in order to serve on his school board because of a state regulation disallowing current employees. He will be teaching middle school this fall in Junction City.

Curt Nordling

Additionally, retired music teacher Jonathan Light has served on the Springfield School Board since his election in 2021. He previously served from 2020-- but left his seat in order to be hired by the district. He was just elected Chair of the board last week. He brings 17 years of experience to school governance. So now all three local school districts are represented by teachers -- a historic moment. 

Jonathan Light

As amazing as this may seem, it is very rare to have professional classroom educators elected to school boards. As far as I can tell from my research, they are the first teachers EVER to be serve on their school boards.

And it's about time. They will bring a much needed perspective to their decision making bodies because their experiences in the classrooms include responding to Board policies and practices.

As Tom often pointed out during the campaign, "School board ideas can look good on a Powerpoint presentation during a meeting, but the actual implementation of those ideas in the schools can turn out far different. I wonder, Why didn’t they just ask us? I always felt that some board members just weren’t comfortable asking for input from people who actually worked with students every day. Too much expertise was just left on shelf for some reason.”

Curt of the Bethel School District in NW Eugene, "Being a classroom educator and a parent in Bethel, as well as being the vice president for the local teachers’ union (Eugene Education Association), I had the opportunity to see our public schools from multiple vantage points. Understanding the strengths that a strong public school provides for a community combined with personally witnessing shortcomings in our school systems, drove me to get involved.

Not everyone agrees that this is a good thing. During past campaigns some school board members warned of having a former teacher join them. Their concern was a fear that former teacher union members would skew a board's analysis of the issues. The argument is that the union represents the teachers, and the board represents the students.

As a retired teacher, I disagree with this objection. To me, this is a false dichotomy: teachers needs are not in opposition to students' needs. It is essential that teachers; needs are met, so they can do their important work for their students. Putting it simply: happy teachers - those who love their jobs - are more far more likely to do their jobs better which is what our students rely on.

Expertise matters. Imagine a medical panel without any doctors or a legal body without any lawyers included. This movement toward teacher representation on our local school boards is real progress. Their experiences and perspectives will help analyze, discuss, debate solutions to the problems we face.

To contact any of the three teacher school board members:

Tom Di Liberto

Jonathan Light

Curt Nordling

Meet the Writer

Larry Lewin is a founder of CAPE and works with local School Board candidates in Eugene-Springfield-Bethel.