photo by Charlie Kanzig
photo by Charlie Kanzig
Following a vote at the July school board meeting, Jay Wilkins took over the position of school board chair for the Sisters School District after three years of serving on the board.

Wilkins, who moved to Sisters seven years ago from the Portland area with his wife, Vanessa, and daughters, Skylar and Sydney, was enticed here by his friend Bill Rexford who taught at Sisters High School at the time.

“Bill was obviously a big fan of the school system and really talked it up so we moved out here for what Sisters offered as a school district and community.”

Immediately upon arrival, Wilkins got involved in the drive to pass the local option, which had failed for the first time in the previous campaign.

“Fortunately it passed with flying colors shortly after that,” said Wilkins.

Wilkins volunteered to help with the passage of the bond levy for school improvement and helped with the next local option campaign as well.

“So, I was pretty heavily involved in the funding side of things for the school district right from the get-go,” he said.

In 2016 he ran uncontested for a seat on the board.

Wilkins believes — though it is “hard to prove quantitatively” — that “we have the best district employees (dedicated, caring, competent, passionate) as well as the best community engagement, and the best students and families” in Oregon.

He quickly added, “That is not to say we don’t also have many areas where we could improve.”

Wilkins sees the board’s focus in the upcoming months including rolling out and implementing the new mission and vision that members of the board, community, and schools have been working on over the past two years.

“The successful implementation of the body of work that comprises the mission and vision is our primary focus because it represents the community’s input, the school employees input and even the students’ input,” he said. “It is a wonderful document that reflects the things that have gotten us to where we are and the areas where we need to go.”

Additionally, more attention is being paid to ensuring the district is addressing the social/emotional needs of the student population and finally, work continues to improve communication at all levels in the school community.

Funding schools is where the rubber meets the road, and Wilkins understands paying for schools has been a constant challenge in Oregon. “To meet this challenge, we must allocate the limited funds in the best ways possible to achieve the desired results,” he said. “I think the district does a good job at this, but it can also be better. Getting ahead of the Student Success Act process with an engaged budget committee will improve this process for even better results.”

Oregon’s lawmakers approved the Student Success Act in May, which added $200 million to the state school fund for the 2019-20 academic year. The SSA will be more fully implemented the following year to the tune of an additional $1 billion in the school fund.

Wilkins also noted that the board’s role is to support school Superintendent Curt Scholl, as well as to hold him accountable to implement the collective goals the board has set with him.

Wilkins explained the school board’s function is three-fold. “We approve the budget (along with the budget committee), work on policy, and manage the superintendent,” he said.

Being a board member in a small community can be a challenge because the schools are such an integral part of the community, according to Wilkins.

“You are dealing with two things that are very important to people: their kids and their money.

“This is where having clear lines of communication in both directions is key,” he said. “When people have ideas or concerns we must help them access the right people and know the proper lines of communication for those issues to be heard. In my opinion we should always be working to improve communication. We can never over-communicate.”

Wilkins clearly understands the importance also of the community partners the Sisters School District enjoys. “Where would we be without groups like Sisters Folk Festival, Outlaw Aviation, Roundhouse and the Science Club and other volunteers?” he asked. “Sustaining those relationships and being open to and seeking out others is vital to us.”

The other four school board members include Jeff Smith, Don Hedrick, Amanda Clark, and Nikki Gregg. Contact information is available on the school district’s website at .