by DOUG NADVORNICK & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & T & lt;/span & hree of the five Spokane school board seats are up for grabs this fall. The board's longest-tenured member, Christie Querna, is running for an abbreviated two-year term. Sue Chapin, who was appointed to the board earlier this year to replace state Rep. Don Barlow, is seeking a six-year term. And two men are vying to replace Barb Richardson, who is stepping down from the board.

Position 1: Chapin/McClure

Sue Chapin had worked her way up the school volunteer ladder when the board named her to replace Barlow. The registered nurse had been a parent-teacher group president, was named the district's outstanding volunteer in 2005 and served on several districtwide committees.

"When my [two teenage daughters] were little, they were my whole frame of reference," says Chapin. "Now that I've served on some of those committees and on the board, I see the whole spectrum of issues and the needs of all kids."

Chapin believes her daughters have received "phenomenal educations" in the Spokane schools, but she thinks there's room for improvement, especially in ninth and tenth grades.

"We've done so much work in elementary and middle schools. We've put a lot of emphasis on college preparatory classes, but we need to work harder with those kids early in high schools. We need to engage them or they check out," she says.

When freshman-level sports were on the chopping block this year, Chapin and the board voted to keep them. "We know kids who are engaged in extracurricular activities stay engaged in school."

Kitara McClure has come a long way from her days as a homeless 16-year-old single mother in Chicago and Alabama. She found refuge in school.

"My mother said I'd never graduate from high school, but that just motivated me," says McClure. "School was a place I felt safe and where I could get a free lunch."

She graduated with her high school class, attended college in Iowa and then entered the Army, where she says she studied nuclear, chemical and biological engineering.

Eventually McClure made her way to the Inland Northwest and married. She's now a mother of four. She studied cosmetology at Spokane Community College and became SCC's student body president. "I got the chance at SCC to debate at the United Nations," she says.

Now she works in SCC's Multicultural Student Services office. She's also a motivational speaker in local schools, sponsoring events for young people and getting them involved in public service projects.

"Kids in gangs and poor families can be leaders and entrepreneurs. They just need mentors. I show them how they can succeed," says McClure.

Position 2: Douthitt/Keller

Robert Douthitt (pronounced Dow-thit) first considered running for the school board "about 12 to 15 years ago," but he was busy with his work as an attorney, handling tax and business-related matters. He also owned the "Great Clips" hair salons, which he says he sold two months ago.

Now Douthitt has the time and the interest to serve as a school board member.

"I've been doing my homework, reading everything I can, and I've called all the teachers I know to ask their thoughts about the major issues they're facing," says Douthitt.

He says his legal work in finance would help in addressing "major problems" in school funding at the state level. At the same time board members will be working with legislators on those, they'll be engaged in a search for a permanent superintendent.

"We need someone with strong organizational and administrative skills, someone with a clear vision about curriculum and someone who can generate strong public interest in our schools," says Douthitt.

David Keller's family roots are in education.

"My parents were both teachers," says Keller. "My dad was a chemical engineer and head of the math department at a junior high school in Harrisburg, Penn. My mom was a special ed teacher."

And although Keller didn't become a teacher, he taught airmen in the military; he ran several units in the Air Force and Air National Guard before retiring as a lieutenant colonel in 1985. His major interest is in management, something he says would serve him well as a school board member, especially when it comes to working with legislators on school funding issues in Olympia.

"I know a lot and, at the same time, I don't know a lot" about education, he says. "I don't have a close intimate relationship with the school district and maybe that's a good thing."

Keller's interest in running was piqued when he heard about the current board's decision to reduce funding for elementary school librarians. "For them to cut libraries without any crashing reason doesn't make sense," he says.

Position 3: Querna/Leute

School Board Chairwoman Christie Querna had planned to retire after her second six-year term ends later this year. But when Superintendent Brian Benzel announced his retirement last spring, Querna changed her mind. She worried that with Barb Richardson also leaving her seat and two relatively new members, the board needed her experience as it searched for a new leader.

"We wanted the new elected board to choose the new superintendent," so the current board picked Associate Superintendent Nancy Stowell to serve as the acting head. Soon the board will choose a consultant to conduct a national search.

Querna considers herself "a big picture" board member whose major interest is in curriculum. She's a former teacher and school volunteer who puts working with legislators on school funding issues and keeping the district's academic programs strong as two of her top issues.

"I'm very proud of our district," she says. "Anyone who comes to our schools will get a good education and learn to be productive in a pluralistic society."

Norbert Leute (pronounced Loot) decided to run for a school board seat out of frustration. Leute, a substitute teacher in the district, says he was called into an administrator's office one day and told that five schools had complained about his work in their special education classes and that he would no longer be allowed to teach special ed. That experience, in which he says he wasn't given specifics that would have helped him defend himself, soured him on the district. He decided to file for a school position as a means to get his story out.

"This is my soapbox," he says, "and if I'm elected, I'll work to make sure that people who have problems with the district have a place to complain without retaliation."

Leute says many children in special ed classrooms aren't getting the academic help they need. As a board member, he says he would be an advocate for those students.

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