SUHSD Area 3 candidates are unsure about unification
Siskiyou County voters will choose between two candidates with deep roots in the Happy Camp area when they mark their ballots for the Area 3 Siskiyou Union High School District trustee.
Incumbent George Chambers has represented Happy Camp for the past 28 years on the SUHSD board. Challenger Jay Clark was principal at Happy Camp High for 25 years before retiring in 1998.
Two key issues regarding Happy Camp are the need for repairs at the campus and a recent proposal to have the high school leave SUHSD and form a unified district with the elementary school.
All voters living inside the district boundaries will cast their vote in the election.
Another current issue is bond Measure Q on the November ballot. Measure Q is a $12.5 million dollar bond measure which would give SUHSD schools funds to complete many needed repairs and improvements.
Among the five high schools unified under SUHSD, Happy Camp’s campus may be in the most critical need of repair.
At the last SUHSD board meeting, Happy Camp resident Trista Parry brought forward her concerns regarding the inclusion of Happy Camp in SUHSD. A proposal was made to approve a complete feasibility report investigating the pros and cons of a Happy Camp Unified School District, which would include Happy Camp’s elementary and high school, as well as Jefferson High School in Happy Camp.
Chambers said the issue of Happy Camp unification “pops up now and again.”
The last time was about 10 years ago. “I was absolutely against it then,” he said.
Chambers said he believes there are many benefits of Happy Camp being part of SUHSD, including the “top-notch” administrators, the connection between teachers in district schools, and the many opportunities for the sharing ideas and programs.
“Maybe times have changed,” Chambers said, “but I just can’t see the rationale [for unification]. There is great potential for it to actually to lower the quality of education in Happy Camp... there are many options for improvements to the schools without unification.”
Clark points out that the procedure to create a new district is lengthy. “There are many hurdles to jump over,” he said. “It all comes down to dollars and cents; whether or not unification would be the best thing for all parties concerned.”
After graduating from Happy Camp High School in 1970, Chambers attended college at UC Santa Barbara. He was appointed to the SUHSD board in 1976 not long after his return home. “I’ve been involved [with the board] for a long time,” he said.
Chambers feels that he should be re-elected because of his experience on the board. He said he knows the board members well and feels a sense of continuity with them.
“We have disagreed at times, but things are never hostile,” said Chambers. “We may all have different positions, and when someone takes a passionate stand on an issue, I listen.”
During his years on the board, Chambers said there have been many advances that make him proud, including the expansion of programs at Jefferson High School and community day schools, the improvements to sports fields at Mount Shasta and Weed, and the well maintained school campuses throughout the area.
“The mold [at Happy Camp] generates controversy,” Chambers said. “It’s mostly in the area of the locker rooms, between the ceiling and the roof.” He said that it is a situation that will be dealt with, but points out that in general, each district school is well maintained.
Chambers believes that students of the district are getting a good education. “Overall, the testing data is going in the right direction,” he said.
Stressing the importance of Measure Q, Chambers said, “[Measure Q] will really be the best thing for kids in a myriad of different ways.”
He feels that the Happy Camp unification issue has come at a bad time, since it “adds confusion” to the Measure Q situation.
“People should be assured that Happy Camp isn’t going to pull out [of the district] after the measure is passed,” he said. “‘Q’ needs every vote it can get.”
“It’s a very interesting time to be on the board. There are many major decisions to be made,” Chambers said.
After retiring from his position as Happy Camp High School’s principal in 1998, Clark said he misses the school environment. Though he kept up with the students while continuing to umpire baseball and softball, he wants to be active within the school system.
An educator for 37 years, 25 of those years as Happy Camp High School principal, Clark said, “I know the school as well as anyone could.”
Clark said he is eager to work on the problems facing the district. He believes that the obstacles are many, including the budget crisis, the major structural problems of school buildings, cuts in educational programs, and declining enrollment.
“I’d like to go back and work within the educational structure to make necessary changes,” said Clark, who knows the current administration at Happy Camp High School well.
“Sometimes schools in the district don’t see eye-to-eye,” he said. “We have to look within each school to see what their separate needs are.” He stresses that someone must represent the needs of Happy Camp, and said he feels up to the job. “The board has a responsibility to do what’s best for the kids.”
Clark thinks Measure Q will be difficult to pass, especially in a community like Happy Camp, which has many low-income families. He said, “I understand that it will be hard, but it may be the only way to solve the major physical problems of school buildings.”
“I can walk the halls of Happy Camp High and see kids whose parents I taught,” said Clark. “I’ve been around the schools for a long time... I understand what works with parents, teachers, and kids, and I would be proud to represent them.”