Endorsement: In School Board's 3rd District, Westholm's knowledge stands out
Jon Donahue is a genuinely nice guy who seems to sincerely care about Duluth's schools, especially Denfeld High School, Morgan Park Middle School and Piedmont Heights Elementary School, where his children attend. You may know Donahue from his "Av...
Jon Donahue is a genuinely nice guy who seems to sincerely care about Duluth's schools, especially Denfeld High School, Morgan Park Middle School and Piedmont Heights Elementary School, where his children attend. You may know Donahue from his "Average Guys" public access cable television show or from the outspoken stand he took a few years back when there was talk of closing Piedmont Elementary.
Donahue is running for School Board in the 3rd District. But he entered the race only so longtime educator and retired principal Bill Westholm wouldn't be unopposed, as Donahue admitted to News Tribune editorial board members during the board's candidate-screening process.
While Donahue deserves thanks for ensuring a competitive elective process in this race, Westholm deserves votes on Nov. 8.
"I've got the time, but more importantly, I think I have a lot to give back," Westholm said during his screening. "I've got the interest and the experience."
Does he ever.
Westholm was director of school operations for the district from 2005 through 2007. He was principal at Central High School in the 1990s and was principal at Denfeld High School, his alma mater, for 10 years, from 1995 to 2005. In the 1980s and 1990s he was assistant principal at all three of Duluth's public high schools, Central, East and Denfeld.
After working as a civil litigation attorney, Westholm started his career in education in 1972 as an East High teacher and coach. He taught English and coached varsity football.
Westholm remembers well his days in the classroom and how the focus always had to be on the problems with the buildings rather than on lessons. He recalls having to stick a paper clip in the thermostat to adjust the heat and how the kids by the windows froze anyway, the drapes flapping even though the windows were closed, while the kids on the opposite side of the room boiled. The district's new and remodeled schools allow attention to return to where it belongs, Westholm said.
"I was appalled at what I saw," he said. "(But) now we have some updated facilities, finally, and that was badly needed. Now we can get back to focusing on children and learning, on educating all children," whether they're Harvard-bound or struggling.
Westholm's experience, knowledge and perspective are especially needed in the face of financial difficulties caused by per-pupil state aid remaining flat and by the state's continuing and troubling habit of fixing its own finances by deferring funding to education. Is it any wonder so many districts, including Duluth's, are asking voters for more tax money this fall?
"We need to do the best we can with our resources. It always seems like we never have quite enough. So it gets to be a constant juggling act," said Westholm, who was the third of five generations of his family to attend Duluth's public schools. "My experience hopefully will allow me to lend a helping hand."
His experience can be seized by voters. While Donahue -- who's "trying to restore the voice of the people," he said -- can be commended for running, Westholm can be supported as the better candidate.