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Long-time Sunnyside School Board director faces challenge from Nuestra Casa founder

With 28 years of experience under her belt, Sunnyside School Board Chairman Joanne Kilian is facing political newcomer Sister Mary Rita Rohde as a challenger for the Sunnyside School District Director #2 seat. The women will face each other in the November General Election.

Both women say they want to see the district continue on its path to get more parents involved in their children's education. Both say they want what is best for the district's more than 5,000 students.

Kilian, a farmer's wife and a Methodist lay minister, said her tenure on the Sunnyside School Board has been exciting and always a learning experience.

"I want to stay involved in the changes we are seeing in the district," Kilian said, adding she was pleased with the recent state reports showing the district's test scores are increasing. "It just goes to show that all of the teachers and the district's hard work is paying off," she said.

Kilian has served the Sunnyside School District as a board member since first being elected to position #1 in 1977. "I'm still very interested in what's going on," she said.

For many of her 28 years on the school board she served as the district's legislative representative, visiting with state lawmakers and helping to champion the Sunnyside School District's needs in Olympia.

"Everything the legislature does impacts our schools," Kilian said.

As chairman of the board, Kilian has guided the district through the hiring of several superintendents, the building and remodeling of several of the district's schools and the implementation of many educational reforms, including the No Child Left Behind Act.

Kilian, who joined the school board when her own children were still in high school, is now seeing her grandchildren graduate from Sunnyside schools. "I'm now hoping to be here to see the completion of Sierra Vista, our new middle school, in 2006," Kilian said.

"I continue to enjoy the challenge and the amazing things which are happening in our district," she said.

"I'm especially excited to see the teachers excited to see results from all of their hard work on the WASL (Washington Assessment of Student Learning) tests," Kilian said.

"Based on their successes in the classrooms, I think our teachers will work even harder for students now that we are seeing results," she added.

Kilian has supported changes to the WASLs, including the testing of monolingual students in their first language.

"It took some convincing, but I'm glad we are able to allow students to take the test in their first language," she said, noting there is still some tweaking to be done to all of the testing standards.

"I want to be around to help with that," Kilian said.

She said one of her priorities is to see changes made to President Bush's No Child Left Behind Act.

"Some states have refused the funding that comes with the act, and maybe we should as well," she added.

"I don't think all of the act's requirements are terribly realistic," she said.

"Why should only one test be used to test a student's progress? That is just some of the interesting puzzles I want to help sort out," Kilian said.

"Also, I think some of state legislators' requirements for our students aren't realistic, but we have to do our best to help children meet the standards and we will continue to do so," Kilian said.

While Rohde is a newcomer to the local political scene, she is no stranger to the world of education. Rohde, who is the founder of Nuestra Casa of Sunnyside, has spent 35 years in the education field, working in the private sector as both a teacher and administrator.

As one of the co-founders of Heritage University, Rohde said she feels her biggest goal is to help parents gain better access to the school system.

"Initially my concerns centered on parents' concerns surrounding the WASLs and the requirements facing their children for graduation," she said.

Rohde, who finds herself an advocate for testing in a child's primary language, also believes that there needs to be a stronger partnership between the district and the parents.

"Communication needs to be of highest importance in achieving that partnership," she said.

"Parents need to be able to know what their rights are and those of their children," she said.

"I believe a real partnership between the parents and the district will lead to the academic achievement we all seek," she said.

Rohde, who began her own career in education as a high school teacher and principal, continues to educate parents at Nuestra Casa, a non-profit agency which targets immigrant women. The agency focuses on aiding women in learning such things as traffic safety and home economics.

As a by-product of her efforts with Nuestra Casa, Rohde has found herself an advocate for the women who want to help their children do better in school.

"I think my background in education gives me a perspective that will be helpful to the school board and its future decisions, " Rohde said.

Since moving back to the Sunnyside community in 2001, Rohde has been active on a number of Sunnyside School District committees, including the recent levy committee and the Vision Alive Team. She also continues to tutor students and is a member of Sunnyside's Promise Class of 2012 project.

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