A voter drops off a ballot on Saturday, October 31, 2020 in Forest Grove. Photo: Chas Hundley
Two candidates running for the Portland Community College Board of Directors open elected seat for the Zone 7 position, which encompasses far west Washington County and parts of northwestern Columbia County, have a similar passion for guiding people into careers through a community college education but differing experiences in life and work.
Both have gained support and endorsements from local elected officials and current and past PCC employees and board members.
Neither candidate -- Reiko Mia Williams of Portland, principal of Sabin Elementary School since 2016, former assistant principal at Rosa Parks Elementary, and former manager of family and community engagement with Portland Public Schools, nor Kristi Wilson of Hillsboro, the city of Hillsboro’s workforce development manager -- ever before held elected office.
Williams has extensive experience in education -- not only as an elementary school principal, but as a former teacher and recruiter of underrepresented students at Portland State University, an advisor and counselor to PCC students, and a collaborator with community leaders in the research, development, and implementation of a strategic plan for engaging families with PCC.
She also holds two master’s degrees -- one from 1994 in social work from the University of Maryland-College Park, and another from 2011 in education leadership from Howard University in Washington D.C. Williams said she also currently completed all of her coursework for her Ph.D. in educational leadership and is in the midst of writing her dissertation on African-American single mothers and how they communicate the value of education to their children.
“I’ve lived in Zone 7 in the same house for the last 26 years -- I can walk to the PCC Rock Creek campus from my house,” Williams said. “During those 26 years, I’ve built strong relationships throughout the community. Having served in various roles in schools and building partnerships between K-12 students and community colleges, where a plethora of opportunities exist for folks but many don’t realize it—I know where those underleveraged partnerships exist in Zone 7 and I will use my experience and existing personal and professional community network to help the current and potential students from that area realize their potential at PCC.”
Wilson, whose application for the Zone 7 position says she holds a bachelor of arts in psychology from Portland State University, said she originally finished high school and found employment as a utility field worker for the city of Hillsboro, but after a couple of years in that position she wanted to go back to school to expand her life's options.
“I always said I could dig a ditch but I couldn’t put together an Excel spreadsheet,” she said. “I didn’t have a lot of skills other than construction and I found it daunting to find educational opportunities while working seven days a week. Then, I discovered that PCC had flexible courses through night school, and it took about three years but I completed my associate of science degree, transferred to Portland State University, and finished my bachelor of arts in psychology. And because of that my career really advanced and I owe a lot of that to PCC.”
She believed in the power of her community college education so much that for the last 12 years she worked with a variety of PCC recruitment programs that have impacted the futures of many students, Wilson said. A notable program Wilson spearheaded is the Hillsboro Youth Advisory Council, which creates educational opportunities for first-generation, low-income students, according to her campaign website.
For two candidates who never have held public office, each has attracted some heavy-hitting endorsements from groups and individuals.
Notably, current Zone 7 board member, Alexander Diaz Rios, who is stepping down because he moved outside the zone’s jurisdiction, has become Williams' campaign manager, she said. Williams’ website also shows endorsements from Democrats of Washington County, the Asian Pacific American Network of Oregon (APANO), the Northwest Oregon Labor Council, UFCW Local 555, PCC Board Vice-Chair Tiffani Penson, former PCC Board chair Kali Thorne Ladd, Sen. Chuck Riley (D-Hillsboro), Sen. Lew Frederick (D-Portland), Rep. Wlnsvey Campos (D-Aloha), Rep. Janelle Bynum (D-Clackamas), Washington County Commissioner Nafisa Fai, Beaverton Mayor Lacey Beaty, and elected officials including Forest Grove School Board Director Narce Rodriguez, Tigard-Tualatin School Board Director Ben Bowman, and Oregon American Federation of Teachers President Jaime Rodriguez.
By comparison, city of Hillsboro employee Wilson lists on her website endorsements from the PCC Federation of Faculty and Academic Professionals, PCC Board member Denise Frisbee, former PCC board member Deanna Palm, Rep. Susan McLain (D-Hillsboro), Rep. Janeen Sollman (D-Hillsboro), two current elected officials from the Washington County Board of Commissioners, Chair Kathryn Harrington and Commissioner Jerry Wiley, former Metro President Tom Hughes, Hillsboro Mayor Steve Callaway, Forest Grove Mayor Pete Traux, five of seven Hillsboro city councilors and one former councilor, and four members of the Hillsboro School District board.
Wilson said seeking endorsements from individuals and organizations is new territory for her since this is her first time seeking elected office.
“I’ve been working and living in western Washington County for two decades now and I have a very strong network of supporters and others all the way down to the youth I worked with through the city of Hillsboro’s youth workforce development program,” she said. “I think my endorsements speak to my history and my track record, which I’m very proud of.”
Williams explained that obtaining endorsements from organizations is a process similar to writing a grant application.
“You have to do some writing where you answer a series of questions, then you have to go before their panel for the endorsement interviews, and then they meet and make a determination,” she said. “It’s a pretty detailed process but the panels felt that I was the right candidate at the right time for them to get behind to fill the Zone 7 position. I really want to win this race so that I can turn attention to low-income and first-generation individuals seeking a college education so they can live their best life for themselves and for their families.”
She also said that Washington County is the most diverse county in Oregon with people of varying needs, and she feels very strongly about the options available at the college to everyone in Zone 7 and the entire PCC system.
“I care about everyone having access to opportunities to improve their lives and the lives of their families,” Williams said.
Wilson said the measure of success for an individual’s life is no longer marked by the completion of a four-year degree.
“I think 20 years ago, the pendulum swung very far toward saying a four-year degree is the measure of success, but I feel like that’s not the case for everyone anymore," she said. "I think certificates of completion, associate's degrees, and community college, in general, is valuable and in some cases even more valuable than a four-year degree.”
The PCC Board of Directors consists of seven members elected by zones to four-year terms. Board members govern the college, including hiring the president and other staff and faculty, and policies regarding the college’s operation.