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CV board member Keith Clark seeks fourth term against Anniece Barker

Central Valley School Board member Keith Clark faces a challenge from Anniece Barker.
Photos courtesy of the candidates
Central Valley School Board member Keith Clark faces a challenge from Anniece Barker.

Voters in the Central Valley School District have a chance to make significant change to their local school board this election cycle. Three new candidates, two of them mothers with children in the district’s schools, are challenging three long-time incumbents. Today, we focus on the race between board member Keith Clark and Anniece Barker.

Keith Clark is a veterinarian who, with his wife, raised their seven children in the Central Valley School District. Clark says his foray into school politics began when he was dissatisfied with his children’s education.

“My initial was math, the math curriculum. Didn’t like it, didn’t think it was doing what we needed it to do," he said.

He got involved and was elected to the board. Clark says, within two years, the district changed the math curriculum. That was 12 years and three terms ago.

He notes the district recently upgraded its math instruction again.

“We’re hearing good things about it. It’s more applied. Teachers are excited. You go into the buildings and kids are building things and doing things to understand math, which, I think today’s youth, they want to know why and how and apply it," he said.

That excitement doesn’t necessarily translate into success. The state superintendent’s office reports only 44% of students who took Washington’s standardized math test in 2022 met the standard. Clark notes the circumstances of that test were unusual. Students took it in the fall, rather than in the traditional spring time slot, and they took it just a few weeks after returning from summer break.

“I think we have to take that score and dig into it as to what it’s really telling us. Is there work to be done? Yeah, there is and I think we need to have different measures, a variety of measures of how we assess those things. I don’t know that it’s telling the whole story," Clark said.

District officials are optimistic the latest test scores will show strong improvement.

So while there’s work to do there, Clark believes Central Valley has done a fine job adapting to serve students who aren’t college bound. He’s proud of CV’s vocational and technical education program.

“Our community is needing plumbers, electricians, linemen, welders, all these things, and so there are different pathways now. I think that’s an exciting thing is how to tailor these pathways," he said.

One complaint about the current board is that its communication with the public, particularly in the early days of the pandemic, was poor. Clark acknowledges there were gaps. He says the administration and board have learned lessons and corrected them.

“We have made a big effort to be out there to engage people. It’s an ongoing struggle though. How do we meet them where they’re at and how do we get that information to them? I hear what they’re saying. We’re working on it. But I think we also have done some good things," he said.

One of the people concerned about the board’s performance is Anniece Barker.

“I think it’s pretty apparent to most people that the problems and the challenges that are our students had 10 years ago, 20 years ago, five years ago, are different than the problems and challenges that our schools face today," she said.

"And while I am grateful for the service that has been given by these long-standing school board members, I think we need to be willing to let those sit on the board who are facing these challenges right now.”

Barker owns a small cake making business. She has four children in the CV district. Her first foray into school politics came in 2020, when she helped to gather signatures for Referendum 90. That measure allowed the public to vote on whether the state should require a comprehensive sex education program to be taught in public schools. That inspired her to become more active at Central Valley.

“I think that there’s good things happening in our district. But I became really concerned when I learned that only 50%, roughly, of kids in our district are reading at grade level," she said.

She says she has a child with a reading disability, so that’s an area of interest for her.

“If we have a deficit in reading, we see that that trickles down and affects all the other education for our kids," she said. "Half of math is reading. Science is reading. History is reading. So starting at those basics really will help bolster that ability for our students to have high comprehension, high critical thinking skills.”

Barker says she looks forward to analyzing which subjects are taught and for how long and emphasizing a more focused academic experience for students.

“I don’t see my opponent asking a lot of those questions or seeking to fix those issues. And, as a mom and having skin in the game with kids going through these struggles right now, I can bring a perspective of that parent," she said.

Barker says that day-to-day experience is valuable.

“If we actually look at the five highest ranked districts in Washington state, we see that they have very young boards and they are high functioning school districts. It doesn’t necessarily lead that just because you’ve been on a board for a very long time makes it the most effective leadership," she said.

The Public Disclosure Commission says that, as of November 1, Anniece Barker reported more than $13,000 in contributions, most of them individual contributions, and about $9,000 in expenditures. Keith Clark reported he had raised about $16,000, some of it from labor and Democratic Party sources, and spent about $11,000.

One of the Northwest's most seasoned reporters is returning to his SPR roots. Doug Nadvornick will be heard frequently on KPBX and KSFC reporting on local news.