The Ashland School Board on Tuesday voted unanimously to appoint Southern Oregon University Board of Trustees secretary Sabrina Prud’homme to fill the school board’s position No. 2 vacancy, concluding a five-week search that began after John Williams resigned from the board June 12.
Prud’Homme’s term will begin Aug. 1 and she’ll be up for re-election, should she decide to run, in May 2019.
“It’s extremely humbling, so I think at first it was just like ‘Wow, what a tremendous honor,’" said Prud’Homme, whose daughter recently graduated from Ashland High School and whose son is entering kindergarten. “I appreciate very much the confidence of my — I guess, now — board colleagues to be able to make that vote and to choose me. I certainly wouldn’t envy their position in having to make that decision, but I certainly appreciate the confidence.”
Prud’Homme beat out two other applicants: Kamilah Long, the manager of capital campaigns and leadership alliances for the Oregon Shakespeare Festival; and James Jarrard, a former liaison to the Advanced Research Projects Agency and a former federal school system representative at the Department of Education’s Center for Education Statistics.
The search for Williams’ replacement included two public Q&A sessions, face-to-face meetings between the remaining four board members and the three candidates and, Monday afternoon, public interviews with the candidates.
Tuesday’s vote, which began at 1 p.m. at the district office, lasted about five minutes. Board director Jim Westrick opened the meeting with a brief summary of the process. He was joined in the front of the conference room by fellow board members Deneice Covert Zeve, Eva Skuratowicz and Eric Strong.
“So this is the final chapter here in what’s been a very long and I believe public, transparent process,” he said, a statement that drew applause from a group of about 20 spectators, most of whom were on hand to support Long. “Again, I want to reiterate what I said yesterday: this is really awkward, because we have three candidates who are all extremely qualified, who showed us yesterday in their interviews that they would all bring a very unique, wide-ranging set of skills, of experience, of perspectives, and any one of them — and all of them— would be a great addition to this board.”
Later, each board member filled out a “ballot,” a small, pink piece of paper on which each of the candidates’ names were printed. The board members were instructed to put a check mark next to the name of the candidate they thought should fill the seat. If one candidate did not receive at least three votes, Westrick explained, the board would discuss the decision again before conducting another vote.
Anticipating a series of votes, Westrick printed out four sets of ballots prior to the meeting, but one set proved adequate. The ballots were passed on to board secretary Jackie Schad, who announced the results.
“We have a unanimous vote, and it’s for Sabrina Prud’homme,” Schad said.
Afterward, Long, the only candidate who attended the meeting, thanked the school board for making the process public and said that she was there “in the spirit of Nelson Mandela.”
“My quote will be, ‘I never lose — I either win or learn.’”
Asked if she would run for the seat in 2019, Long, whose initial press release announcing her candidacy called for the board to “commit to prioritizing equity in our school system,” said it’s too early to say.
“I don’t know that answer,” she said. “At this time, I hope this is a sign for people in the community to really think about candidates going forth for the position and what the board will look like in the future. So I would love to be amongst those candidates, or be a supporter of another candidate who supports the needs and the wishes of the community.”
Prud’homme said she couldn’t make the meeting because she was working and learned of her victory via a text from Long. The two are friends.
“I think (Monday) when we sat in the interview process it was very apparent that they couldn’t have made a bad choice,” Prud’homme said, “and so I think all of us probably walked away thinking, ‘well, if they don’t chose me then we know the district will be in good hands because these are all good applicants.’”
Prud’homme worked as the manager of communications for a food manufacturer from 2008 to 2012 before moving to Ashland in 2013. Before that, she was the assistant director/special projects at University of Nevada Las Vegas for six years. Prud’homme, who received her bachelor’s degree in English literature from California State University and completed graduate coursework in communications at UNLV, has also worked as the community relations manager in Los Angeles for Weingart Center Association, the largest homeless service agency west of the Mississippi.
Asked why she sought the position, Prud’homme said, “I have a vested interest ... I live here in Ashland, I’m a taxpaying citizen, but more importantly I have a child who just graduated from the high school and she had some wonderful teachers and some tremendous experiences there. And I think when you’re a parent of any child you also see some of the places where you say, ‘Oh, this place or that place in the school could be strengthened.’"
Prud’homme also noted her strong belief in public education.
“The vast majority of really smart, intelligent people that you come across every day are the products of a public school education,” she said. “Education was always No. 1 in our household — that’s sort of how we parent. So to be able to be involved in a governmental leadership level to me is something that’s very exciting.”
In a statement regarding the board’s vote released Tuesday afternoon, Zeve, the board chair, said Prud’homme’s experience on SOU’s board was a key factor in the final vote tally, a view Westrick echoed when asked to explain his own reasoning.
“Because of Sabrina’s experience as a board professional with the SOU board of trustees, she already understands the intricacies of public meetings laws and the opaque boundaries between governance, oversight and operations,” Zeve was quoted as saying in a press release. “There is a steep learning curve, but because of her experience, we believe Sabrina will be able to hit the ground running.”
Joe Zavala is a reporter for the Ashland Daily Tidings. Reach him at 541-821-0829 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @Joe_Zavala99.
(Aug. 4: Story changed to reflect that Sabrina Prud'homme completed graduate coursework at UNLV but does not have a master's degree from the university.)