Reading tutor Max Margolis is seeking a seat on the Portland school board representing schools in the district’s Southeast neighborhoods.
He is one of three candidates on the ballot for the Zone 6 seat held by Julia Brim-Edwards, the only incumbent seeking reelection. Caterer Libby Glynn is also running.
The winner of the race will take office along with two new board members come July.
The 2021 campaign comes at a time when families and employees in Portland Public Schools are charting courses for post-pandemic education. The state’s largest district was among the area’s last to open for in-person instruction.
Portland Public Schools will offer among the fewest classroom hours to students of the 14 largest Portland-area districts, an Oregonian/OregonLive analysis found.
District officials have pledged to prioritize Black, Indigenous and other students of color in their budget proposals and programming on the tail of the pandemic, just as they promised to do in previous years.
The school board has the final say in Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero’s spending plans.
The Oregonian/OregonLive sent a survey to every candidate who will be on May’s ballot. Here are Margolis’s answers, edited for length.
Name: Max Margolis
Seat you’re running for: PPS Board of Education Zone 6
Occupation: Reading Tutor
Education: Bachelor of Arts Political Science Ohio University Athens, OH
Do you have children who attend or attended Portland Public Schools? If so, please provide details: Yes, I have a daughter who attends a PPS middle school.
What inspired you to run for the board?
During the severe snowstorm in February, I read an article in the Oregonian laying out the process for running the school board, then shook off my pandemic malaise and launched my campaign.
The secretary of state’s audit of PPS resonated with me because it mirrored my family’s turbulent experience. Seeing how defensively the board responded to the audit and the review reImagine PPS, now the district’s “North Star,” made me upset.
The district office is on a vision quest while our students get inadequate services and families relocate or enroll their kids in private schools.
Did you have any previous involvement in PPS, either as a volunteer or member of an advisory council or committee? If so, what were your duties?
I was the vice president of Vestal Elementary PTA.
I led a successful effort to have PPS Facilities and Maintenance remove deteriorating and filthy carpeting from our second and third-grade classrooms. PPS did a fantastic remediation job with new tile flooring and paint in the classrooms.
I attended a series of District Boundary Advisory Review Committee (DBRAC) forums and spoke in support of reestablishing Roseway Heights as a middle school. From 2003-2006, I directed an after-school drug prevention program at Jefferson High School where 9th and 10th-grade students produced movies and documentaries with filmmakers from NW Film Center.
How much time do you envision yourself setting aside for board duties every week?
As a rookie joining the board, I envision my first 90 days will be an intensive onboarding process to familiarize myself with PPS’s organizational apparatus.
After that, being a board member will be part of my healthy lifestyle. I thrive with routine. For my board duties, I will devote 10-20 hours a week to preparation, participation, and reflection.
Preparation entails studying the board packet materials and listening to constituents’ concerns, 6-8 hours of participation in meetings, and my daily morning 3.5-mile walk promotes a healthy and quiet mindset to reflect on issues facing the district.
What are the two most pressing issues facing Portland Public Schools and why?
The two most pressing issues facing PPS are the achievement gap and reconfiguring school services and capacity post-pandemic.
Think of the achievement gap as a giant hole with thousands of students stuck in it. The district appears more interested in shaping and gauging public opinion about the structure, origin, and meaning of the hole than lifting the stranded students.
The COVID-19 pandemic has altered the education landscape, the board will play an integral role in supporting an effective hybrid system that provides safe classrooms buttressed with engaging remote learning.
PPS must explore the viability of expanding its virtual academies.
How will you hold the superintendent accountable?
The superintendent has the largest executive team, 17 members, in the state.
His team must create a student-focused strategic plan that delivers an excellent and equitable school experience to PPS students.
Students and teachers are evaluated; the superintendent will be, too. In concert with the board team, I will ensure my priorities of raising PPS students out of the achievement gap, increasing school extracurricular activities, and improving PPS’s website are included in the performance evaluation.
Ongoing and consistent communication, along with quarterly update reports, will demonstrate that accountability and transparency are common practices in overseeing the district.
How would you rate the performance of the Portland Public Schools board’s response to and handling of COVID-19-related developments so far? What would you have done differently?
I give the PPS board high marks in their response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In meeting this moment, the board held open discussions on COVID-19, supported the development of Comprehensive Distance Learning, oversaw a successful bond measure, and approved the hiring of additional social workers to help students transition back into the classroom. In terms of quibbles, the middle school hybrid schedule is an unenticing glorified study hall.
This has been a very difficult year, I am thankful and impressed with the entire PPS community for demonstrating resilience, kindness, creativity, and dedication throughout this pandemic.
How will you engage with the community?
Community engagement is crucial to understanding the past, ongoing, and emerging issues facing the district.
I will be straightforward, collaborative, curious, accountable, and honest. I will provide the community with accurate information regarding the school district’s goals, decisions, and policies. Community engagement requires flexibility.
The board should consider moving some board meetings to the morning hours to increase engagement.
I will be available to listen to and respond to the community’s concerns. However, I will not use social media to discuss PPS policies, because social media is antithetical to healthy discussions. I will respond to emails and phone calls.
How will you engage historically underserved families?
PPS’s Student Engagement and Partnerships department is charged with providing “student-centered, family-focused and partnership-driven with culturally specific services to support ” to underrepresented families.
This department should provide the board with effective strategies and insights on engaging underserved communities.
I believe most families, privileged and underserved, would prefer that the district deliver quality education services over having to participate in board process and policy discussions. I am service-orientated, so my focus is on helping PPS provide an equitable and excellent educational experience to students from underrepresented families.
How will you balance the interests of students and teachers as represented by their union should those interests be at odds?
Our students’ safety will always be my No. 1 priority.
Any union policy that prioritizes a teacher’s job and retirement over the safety and well-being of our students will need to be renegotiated.
In 2018, PPS released an extensive report documenting its 32-year failure to protect students from Mitchell Whitehurst, a predatorial teacher, despite numerous student complaints. I trust this is a lesson learned for the district and the union.
If teachers and students are pursuing different interests, then the system has failed. I will always listen to the concerns of teachers and students to ensure a harmonious learning environment.
How will you handle disagreements with fellow board members?
In my professional life, I have worked with adjudicated youth, delivered thousands of drug prevention presentations to high school students, and facilitated contentious public safety community meetings, so I’m comfortable with disagreement.
The PPS board should have lively, frank, and open discussions to make sure the district is fulfilling its mission. An effective school board embraces disagreement as a natural and healthy way to reach compromise, understanding, and enact sound policies.
As a board member, I will follow meeting protocol, listen to competing points of view, share my perspective, demonstrate humility, and respect the majority vote.
Portland Public Schools, like other districts, has largely discontinued interim and year-end standardized testing to measure students’ reading, writing and math skills. Do you agree with that decision? When would you want such testing to resume?
I agree with the decision. Everybody should be focused on reacclimating students to the new hybrid model, not on taking tests.
If schools are operating at full capacity this fall, I will listen to our educators and district administrators regarding the timing of resuming testing. In the interim, teachers will continue, as always, to develop and track our students’ reading, writing, and math skills.
What metrics will you be watching as a board member?
PPS is the largest school district in the state with an enormous and complex bureaucracy with over 60 different departments.
As a board member, I will be watching the percentage of students that meet or exceed language, math, and science standards, school enrollment & catchment data, school capacity percentages, graduation rate, student attendance rate, and hiring demographics.
A critical function of my job will be to help the board and Superintendent distill complex data sets into a transparent, compelling, and comprehensive narrative that communicates the district’s successes, challenges, limitations, capacity, and goals to the public.
What strengths would you bring to the board? Why, essentially, is it crucial the voters choose you?
I believe my perspective, humor, experience, and work ethic will help the district deliver a better education experience to our students and better outcomes for our community. We need to move on from having a corporate lobbyist “just doing” things to our schools.
I am a sound alternative to an entrenched board member who peddles clout, swoosh, and political connections, while our students get lost in the achievement gap and vision statements. Our students deserve authentic and independent leadership. I am the right choice for our district!
Campaign website: www.maxmargolis.org