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CV school board member gets challenge from physical therapist

Longtime Central Valley School Board member Cindy McMullen faces a challenge from Jeff Brooks.
Photos courtesy of the candidates
Longtime Central Valley School Board member Cindy McMullen faces a challenge from Jeff Brooks.

The makeup of the Central Valley school board could be much different in 2024. Three newcomers are running against long-time incumbents in this month’s election. We start today with Cindy McMullen and Jeff Brooks.

Cindy McMullen began her time on the Central Valley school board in 1987. She served 24 years, took four years off to serve on the state Board of Education, then came back to C-V and is finishing her eighth year. McMullen, an attorney by vocation, has outlasted several superintendents.

“Dick Sovde, Wally Stanley, Mike Pearson, Ben Small. I’m on my fifth superintendent," she said.

That fifth superintendent is John Parker.

“One of the things that’s great about Central Valley is how steady we are and how consistent we are and folks who are taking care of the district and our kids," she said.

McMullen says Central Valley provides good opportunities for students at all rungs of the academic ladder. She says she’s especially proud of its programs that prepare students for technical careers and the military.

McMullen says Central Valley is a much different district than when she first began to serve, more urban and suburban, less rural. It has several new schools. She says the next board needs to reassess some of its older facilities to ensure those students have the same learning opportunities as those in the newer schools.

One of the district’s biggest challenges, she believes, is sharing its good news at a time when parents and others are noisily and aggressively protesting against CV and other school districts.

“Our number one task is to make sure that the community knows that we are here, not to indoctrinate for any political or religious reason. We are here to educate our kids so that they can have the future they choose," she said.

McMullen is the longest serving community member on the board and says that experience is a big help to the district.

“I’ve learned a lot about K-12 education, not just locally or even at the state level, but I’ve been very active in advocacy at the federal level. I know the impact of all those different rules and regulations and the dollars that come and how you can spend them," she said.

Jeff Brooks wants to retire McMullen and the two other incumbents on the ballot and replace them with people who have new ideas. Brooks is a physical therapist and 31-year resident of Spokane Valley. He says he didn’t intend to run until he met with friends who voiced their dissatisfaction with the district’s decision to move to virtual learning during the COVID pandemic.

“When I looked at what was going on in the schools and the direction they were going, I just couldn’t not come into this thing and at least have a voice," he said.

Brooks says there is a growing dissatisfaction with the district hierarchy, from parents and from teachers who he says are trying new ways of reaching their students, only to be shut down.

“I’ve heard this probably 10, 11, 12 times now, just knocking on doors and I meet teachers. When I was at Valleyfest, at different places, teachers telling me they’re just so frustrated that they’re not able to teach to the students’ needs. They’re only allowed to teach the curriculum that’s been put in front of them," he said.

Brooks believes the district is slipping when it comes to academic excellence. With the ’22-’23 state tests, about 55% met the state’s language arts standards, 51% passed the science test, 43% passed the math test.

“One of the reasons that I feel that I’m able to do this job is because I’m so strong in the math and the sciences. Being trained as a physical therapist and before that as a nuclear engineer, I thoroughly understand mathematics, science, the biologies, things like that. I want to bring that strength onto the board and into the district itself," he said.

Brooks wants the district to go back and adopt the methods of teaching that worked in the past and not jump at the latest trends in curriculum.

He says, with a lackluster academic record and a potential new school levy that could increase the local taxpayers’ share of funding the district, re-electing McMullen would not be a good decision.

“We’re spending a lot of money to educate our students, but we’re only getting this. If she’s going to talk about her years of experience and her track record, the numbers, they don’t add up," he said.

As of October 30, McMullen had raised more than $12,000 for her campaign and spent about $9,000. Most of her money is from individual contributions, but also some from labor and Democratic Party organizations. Brooks has raised about $6,500, mostly small contributions, and spent less than $2,000.

Doug Nadvornick has spent most of his 30+-year radio career at Spokane Public Radio and filled a variety of positions. He is currently the program director and news director. Through the years, he has also been the local Morning Edition and All Things Considered host (not at the same time). He served as the Inland Northwest correspondent for the Northwest News Network, based in Coeur d’Alene. He created the original program grid for KSFC. He has also served for several years as a board member for Public Media Journalists Association. During his years away from SPR, he worked at The Pacific Northwest Inlander, Washington State University in Spokane and KXLY Radio.