The Greater Albany Public Schools Board of Directors issued an apology Monday to two community members after pushback on its recent process to fill a vacant seat.
“As chair of the Greater Albany Public Schools Board of Directors, I would like to begin our meeting by acknowledging the imperfect process we used to select our new board member,” chair Jennifer Ward said.
The board, which saw one of its members retire and one voted out in May, was tasked with filling a third seat left vacant by the resignation of Micah Smith. During the appointment process, the board reviewed eight applications blindly — meaning applicants' names were not initially included — and ranked potential board members based on the information included in their application.
The board met during a work session to discuss its thoughts on the applications and to learn applicants' identities, ultimately opting to select four candidates to move onto the interview round.
Javier Cervantes scored third overall in the blind application review but was not initially selected for one of the four interview spots after his name was revealed and board members raised questions about his political beliefs and professional qualifications.
New GAPS board member Eric Aguinaga said he attended an immigration rally Cervantes spoke at earlier this year and didn’t like Cervantes’ take on “federal police.”
Board member Kim Butzner said she was unable to glean from Cervantes’ application exactly what his position at Linn-Benton Community College was. “For all I know, it could be working in the admissions office,” she said. “I couldn’t tell from this that there was a highly skilled, educational aspect other than being an advocate.”
Cervantes serves as the director of the Institutional Equity and Student Engagement department at LBCC and reports directly to the president of the college.
Butzner eventually suggested that Cervantes be included in the interviews because he had the third-highest score.
During that interview process, Cervantes addressed interview questions before using his remaining time to speak to the comments made by board members on Aug. 5.
“My life has been about quantum leaps,” he said. “My parents came here with nothing so they could give me and my sister everything … to call into question my professional qualifications; even if I did work in the admissions office, I love them — that’s disparaging to them and I have their back. I don’t work in the admissions office. I reported to the president of our institution. If I’m on a job search and they google by name and they look at the newspaper, what do you think they’re going to find? Your deliberations.”
Cervantes requested that the board apologize in writing.
Applicant Miriam Cummins, who was not part of the interview process, also addressed the board about the appointment process, taking issue with another statement from Aguinaga asserting that Latino representation already existed on the GAPS board.
Ward acknowledged the concerns raised by Cervantes and Cummins in her statement on Monday.
“The process was intended to reduce bias as board members reviewed applications,” Ward said Monday. “This certainly was not the result felt by our two Latinx candidates, Javier Cervantes and Miriam Cummins. Each have come before this board to share their specific concerns, and we acknowledge the harm caused by comments made by board members during the selection process.” Ward also addressed an incident during an Aug. 15 meeting in which Aguinaga attempted to stop Cummins from speaking to the board about the appointment process.
“This harm was compounded when a board member, contrary to board policy, interrupted candidate Cummins during public comment at our most recent meeting,” Ward said. “We value our Latinx students, families, and community members. We want to hear your voice. We recognize we have work to do as a board and as a district, and we are committed to beginning this work immediately. The board apologizes to Mr. Cervantes and Ms. Cummins and hopes that both continue to engage in the important work of our schools.”
New superintendent Melissa Goff also assured the community that GAPS supported its Latino community, reading a statement in both English and Spanish after Pat Eastman won appointment to the board on Aug. 15.
“Our diversity strengthens our district,” she said, noting that students should see and hear themselves reflected in the district’s staff and community partners. “If you are a student, any student, you and your family are welcome, heard and valued by me, your school and our district. We are fortunate to have you.”
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