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Polen sees her service as an extension of parenting
As a parent of four children, Naomi Polen always saw the importance of being involved with their education.
Polen would volunteer at local schools, meet teachers and inquire about the process.
“I’ve always been one to feel like you can’t complain about something until you’ve walked in their shoes,” she said.
Polen, 45, decided to go further with that mentality in recent years. She joined the Community Budget Review Committee, which makes recommendations regarding where levy money should be allocated.
In February 2008, Chuck Mayhew resigned from his District 3 post on the South Kitsap School Board. Polen, who is running against former board member Chris Lemke for that position, was appointed to the position in April 2008. The post serves Burley, Long Lake, Mullenix and Olalla.
“I got into it because I want to be a part of what the school board is doing and understand it a lot more,” Polen said. “I really enjoyed the time I’ve been here and there’s a lot I’m really looking forward to accomplishing with the baord.”
Polen initially wondered whether her lack of a college degree would be an issue. Fellow board members Keith Garton (Western Washington), Patty Henderson (St. Francis Hospital School of Nursing), Jay Rosapepe (Kansas) and Kathryn Simpson (Washington) all have degrees, but Polen does not see that as an issue.
“The teachers have the educational background,” she said. “It’s OK for us to bring in our own trait as school-board directors.
“I really believe you don’t have to have the degree to be qualified. You have to have the intensity — the desire to learn, which I have. You also have to make the time and commitment.”
A Southern California native, Polen and her husband relocated to Port Orchard in 1995, where they independently build homes. Polen said the majority of houses they construct are Lindal Cedar Homes.
After graduating from high school, Polen said she went directly into the banking industry. She went through banking operational, managerial and loan classes through her work in that field. She handles all the contract paperwork for her business and is “very pleased” that it has remained successful even through a challenging economy.
Perhaps just as significant an obstacle was being appointed to the school board and immediately thrust into a search for a new superintendent. In June 2008, the board appointed Dave La Rose, who previously served as assistant superintendent for school and family support in SKSD, to replace the retiring Bev Cheney.
The board interviewed representatives from the Cascade Consulting Group, Northwest Leadership Associates and McPherson and Jackson to perform a nation-wide search for candidates. But several members of the board felt LaRose should be considered as a candidate before they spent as much as $40,000 on consultants.
That decision drew criticism from community members and some educators, mostly because LaRose was the only internal candidate considered, while others felt the district should have looked at outside candidates, as well. Cheney was located through that process when she was hired from the Washoe County School District in Reno, Nev., in 2001.
“I think it wasn’t as community friendly or acceptable,” Polen said. “Dave has worked really hard to bridge those gaps.”
Polen heard those criticisms from her constituents and was the lone member of the five-person board who did not approve LaRose’s appointment. She instead abstained.
“I felt I needed to make a stand,” she said. “I was against the process we took. But I was so glad we chose Dave and I think he’s done a great job since then.”
If Polen were on the board the next time the district needed to hire a superintendent, she said she would push for an open application process.
INVOLVEMENT WITH SCHOOLS
Polen and her husband are parents of four children. Barbara, 25; Ashley, 19, an honor student at South Kitsap High School who now attends Pacific Lutheran University; Crystal, 18, a student at Northwest Aviation School; and RJ, 14, a ninth grader at Marcus Whitman Junior High.
She said her involvement with schools stems from her own childhood experiences.
“I lost my father and brother,” Polen said. “I was kind of raised as an only child. I really love to get out there with kids.”
She home-schooled Crystal for a year when she was struggling with learning and saw children within SKSD’s Explorer Academy and other institutions “coming in the same clothes every day.”
“They really are suffering from neglect,” she said. “It breaks my heart. I want to see a way to get around that and help these kids. I want to see them get help.”
Polen is mentoring a junior-high student in the district through the Peer Assistance Leadership Program. She said activities might range working through homework to playing basketball with a student who “definitely is in need. It usually is a student without a stable adult figure in their life.”
LaRose said he likes both candidates — he is not endorsing either one — and has enjoyed working with Polen.
“I’ve found her to be very child-centered and very dedicated,” he said. “She inherited a great deal and was quite the student in getting up to speed. Her focus is the students and being very committed, connected and open with the community.”
She said she will remain active within the district even if she is not re-elected. Among the 6,133 votes in the Aug. 18 primary, Polen received 1,949 (31.8 percent). She trailed Lemke, who received 2,758 votes (45 percent). Gail F. Porter also had 1,170 votes (19.1 percent), but is ineligible because she moved out of District 3.
Polen did not purchase signs to put up around the community because it says “nothing” about a candidate, but changed her mind when friends implored her to post them.
“I guess it’s worth the money to get the signs,” Polen said. “They just want to recognize your name when they go down the list, which is a shame.”
Polen and her colleagues have been busy working on incorporating Policy Governance as a management model in the district. The Policy Governance concept was developed by John Carver to help board of directors to decide on “ends” rather than “means” to achieve its goals.
It also establishes limitations on managerial “means” for its chief executive, LaRose, and delegates achieving its ends to him.
Polen believes Policy Governance will help the board focus on student achievement and not get as bogged down in details, such as the “lawn mower at the junior high, or dishwasher at the high school.”
“Right now I think it’s a very proactive board,” she said. “I think we’re very cohesive together. I think this board is excited about what we’re doing.”