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PORTLAND, Ore. (Portland Tribune) — The Newberg school board has received yet another blow.
Director Ines Peña, one of the three minority school board members, resigned from her post during the school board’s Feb. 8 meeting.
In her statement, first read in Spanish and then translated into English, Peña cited the school board’s “toxic work environment,” the “emotional and psychological abuse” she endured while on the board and the need to prioritize her well-being as the primary reasons for her resignation.
“When I ran for school board back in 2017, I ran because I wanted to see people of color and people of immigrant families in decision-making bodies,” Peña said in the opening of her statement, along with Gandhi’s famous quote, ‘Be the change you wish to see in the world.’
“Though I lost that election, I knew I didn’t actually lose,” Peña continued. “I put myself out there and people knew a Latinax had run for local office.”
Peña went on to discuss the difficulties she faced in the position since filling a director vacancy in 2019.
“This was by no means an easy decision, but it is the right decision for me,” Peña said. “I am worth it. I deserve to leave this this toxic work environment behind. I will no longer tolerate the emotional and psychological abuse.”
She said she will “continue passionately advocating for the equitable educations our students deserve” through other means.
“Our students deserve to be seen, heard and amplified,” Peña said. “Today I reaffirm my commitment to the students. Students, you have shown me that kids are better, more accepting humans than adults. That may sound cheesy, but don’t ever change.”
Peña thanked to many people, including teachers, staff and administrators “who continued to show up and stand up for students” and business owners who “made a statement supporting students” despite the risk to their businesses.
She also thanked her acupuncturist, therapist and directors Brandi Penner and Rebecca Piros.
Peña thanked the conservative majority, as well, saying that she “learned to believe that actions are more important than words” and that they “pushed me to a limit I had never reached before.”
“Now I embrace my power, I honor my existence,” Peña said, adding that she will “continue to live more authentically, regardless of others’ opinions” and “lead by example and show that a good leader knows when to step down to prioritize health.”
Peña had one request for Brown, Shannon, Powell and DeHart, whose “fundamental values” differed from hers.
“If there’s even one drop of respect for me, I ask that you don’t comment on my resignation,” Peña said. “Save yourself the embarrassment of continuing to lie just to be ‘Newberg Nice.'”
Peña ended her statement with a commitment to the “fight” and a quote from Trent Shelton, which says, ‘We are all a little broken but last time I checked, broken crayons still color the same.’
“Let’s keep coloring our Newberg unapologetically with all of our hues, shades, tints and tones,” Peña said. “Gracias, thank you.”
Chairman Dave Brown was the only member of the conservative majority who commented on Peña’s resignation.
“Well, Director Peña, thank you very much for explaining all that and I appreciate all the work you have done for the school board,” he said, later adding, “Thank you for all your service.”
Vice-chairman Brian Shannon and directors Renee Powell and Trevor DeHart did not offer comment during the meeting.
At the end of the meeting, Brown encouraged board members to “write a note” to Peña to thank her for her service.
“Again, I appreciate the time she put in,” Brown said. “We all know it’s a lot of work and you don’t get of credit, you get a lot of hassle, so thanks again to director Peña for being part of the board.”
In response to Peña’s resignation, Piros said she “appreciated working with” her, noting that Peña “brought a youthfulness and a different perspective that have never been aware of before” and gave representation to 21% of the student body.
“She’s been fierce in advocating for all students, and I’m sorry to lose her but I can understand she needs to take care of herself and I respect that,” Piros said.
She added that she hopes “youthful candidates with a different perspective” will run for the school board “because we need to hear from all voices and we need to also have someone who is closer to the graduation age than our current population on the board.”
Penner said that out of all the recent resignations in the district, Peña’s is the hardest one on her.
“In our time serving on the board, you have brought a perspective that had never been heard,” Penner said. “As a young professional, an alumni of Newberg schools, and a Latinx woman, you have elevated student voice and representation in parts of our community that far too often go unnoticed and unheard.”
Penner went on to call Peña a “shining example of what a Newberg graduate should be and expressed gratitude for her dedication and repeated sacrifice “to ensure thorough representation of our community.”
“It has been an absolute pleasure to serve with you and learn from you,” Penner said. “I can always count on you to remind that there are other perspectives, experiences and challenges that as leaders we must consider.”
Describing Peña as “fiercely compassionate, brilliant and a loyal friend,” Penner said that she is “certain this is not the end of your advocacy and I am eager to see what you accomplish next.”
“This is not a goodbye, but until next time, but I know you will continue to create change and build a better world,” Penner said.
High school student representatives Maddi Klink and Rowan Meyers both weighed in on Peña’s resignation, as well.
Klink thanked Peña for “being really welcoming to both Rowan and I when we joined,” while Myers said “you’re an inspiration to our town and your perspective will be very missed at all our future meetings.