Friday, April 22, 2022

Richardson Echo's May 2022 Voter's Guide

Welcome to the Richardson Echo's first Richardson Voter's Guide.

Early voting starts April 25, 2022, for three Richardson ISD trustee races in single-member districts. This academic year saw the resignation of Superintendent Jeanie Stone, controversies over public health, concerns over books, defenses of teachers, Social-Emotional Learning, and issues of diversity.

I restarted the Richardson Echo a few months ago. For those few who read the first incarnation, you will remember that I stuck pretty much to the news. I reviewed election outcomes but didn't endorse candidates. Since I declared this go-round would be more opinion-based, you get my opinion on these Richardson ISD School board candidates.

Since it is my first set of endorsements, I should introduce something about myself. Unlike the esteemed and honorable Mark Steger, I currently have children in RISD. Given the differences across the district, my family's experiences (and no family really) should not be considered universal. So while those experiences inform my decisions, they only form a minor part of these recommendations.

Speaking of Mark Steger, the format of my endorsements might look similar to his. That is purely coincidence. I began writing this before Mr. Steger published his recommendations.

Who am I? I served on the most recent RISD Strategic Planning Facilities Committee and did so at the urging of two trustees. (more on that below.) I also served on the most recent RISD Bond Steering Committee that recommended a $750 million bond. I have also served on various boards and committees within the City of Richardson and on neighborhood association leadership for over a decade.

I attended all of my school years at RISD. I have lived within the RISD for a total of about 50 years. I have seen many controversies or issues. I saw one short-time superintendent use the position to move into consulting (in my opinion.). I saw a proposal to close a neighborhood elementary school in favor of an "alternative school." (It failed.) I have seen a lot.

My focus in these recommendations is on trustees who can serve all the children across RISD. I think the best trustees have a grasp of current challenges and who understand the vast and differing backgrounds of students and their families. I also believe that trustees who would consider differing points of view are essential.

I have read the questionnaires, watched forum videos, and done what I could to research the candidates. I also looked at fundraising and whether candidates made public statements outside their campaigns.

I want to start with two beliefs about the RISD and schools.

What the RISD has accomplished over about 60 years is remarkable, and sometimes we take that for granted. It started as "the desired of the desirable places" in the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Then the change happened. Suburban sprawl outgrew Richardson, and the number of homes that no longer housed school-aged children grew. The RISD began to rot in the early 90s through the mid-2000s. Then the community on all levels transformed it, took up its challenges, and is now healthy again. Is it perfect without things to fix? Undoubtedly not, but many districts of their geographic size have gone down a path to degradation, never to return. We should remember that.

When thinking of school districts and education, I believe that "Education is broad, but grievances are narrow." I have often seen people with a grievance (which is often legitimate and concerning) take that grievance to the politics of a school board race. Those efforts usually do not end well because the "Education is broad" aspect is left out.

The Richardson Echo's May 2022 RISD School Board Trustee Recommendations.

Richardson ISD District 2: Vanessa Pacheco

Richardson ISD District 4: Regina Harris

Richardson ISD District 5: Rachel McGowan

Richardson ISD District 2

Vanessa Pacheco -- RECOMMENDED

Ms. Pacheco covers the bases in that she has the will to serve all students within the RISD. That seems to be a priority for her. All candidates can say that, but her answers demonstrate a deep commitment.

She was the only candidate to state support for past Superintendent Dr. Jeanie Stone. She also stated support for Social and Emotional Learning (SEL). Besides merely holding these viewpoints, she is willing to say she does and does not hide behind political euphemisms or try to dance a fine line not to lose votes. This straightforwardness is refreshing, and other local elected officials - both RISD school board trustees and city council members should learn from it. We need more of that.

Her answers are sensible and broad. She has a grasp of the issues, and several responses imply she understands the limits of trustees.

Eron Linn 

In full disclosure, I have a personal history with Eron Linn. As I pointed out above, I served on the Facilities Strategic Planning Committee for the RISD and the Bond Steering Committee. Eron Linn was one of two trustees that encouraged me to consider joining the strategic planning committee. (The other is former trustee Dr. Kristin Kuhne.)

I must also disclose that I endorsed Eron Linn (before I restarted the Richardson Echo as this blog) when Vanessa Pacheco was his opponent in 2019. After the past three years, I have changed my mind. While much of what Mr. Linn has accomplished is positive for the RISD, it is time for a new District 2 trustee. 

2019 Endorsements from Eron Linn's
Campaign Website. Captured 04/20/2022

Most disappointing is Mr. Linn's record during these stressful times, such as with COVID, the tenure of Dr. Stone, and other "culture war" issues.

When asked at a candidate forum, "Do you believe that the former superintendent resigning in December was best for Richardson ISD?" I would regard Mr. Linn's answer as a non-answer. He said he supported her, but his answer was vague at that. Of all the people who should be able to forthrightly and without ambiguity answer that question, it should be a sitting Trustee who cast a vote to hire her and accepted her resignation.

Mr. Linn seemed to resist the expansion of protections during the height of the COVID epidemic. He was a skeptic of various policies during the pre-vaccination period of the epidemic. 

Screenshot of Mark Steger being
blocked on Twitter by Eron Linn
Source: Mark Steger

I believe an elected official should be able to stand some criticism. As you can see from the screenshot, Mr. Linn blocked Mark Steger on Twitter. As someone who personally knows Mr. Linn, I find this disappointing. An elected official's interaction with the public can be used to set a standard and this does not look professional at all.

Lastly, I think many of Mr. Linn's answers on questionnaires and forums reflect more of a sense of political expediency than they do a straightforward stand. Being a leader entails taking risks. Sometimes that risk is saying what your opinion is rather than hedging bets in safe political language. That risk should encompass what the candidate believes is the truth and let the chips fall where they may.

I have served on many boards, including non-profits, and as president. I knew at times that the organization was better off with change, and in those cases, I chose to step aside, including when I was president. Sometimes change helps an entity more than experience. In the case of RISD, this is such a case.

I believe a different trustee in District 2 best serves RISD and all of its students.

Sherry Clemens -- NOT RECOMMENDED

A good friend of mine is fond of saying, "If someone tells you who they are, believe them." I did just that, and I can find no evidence that Ms. Clemens has a focus on the broad interests in all children of RISD.

Ms. Clemens gained some attention for a comment she made at an RISD school board meeting where she discussed what she believed was the inappropriateness of certain books one of her children was reading.

It turns out the district agreed. The RISD acted quickly. You would think the RISD would have earned some credit and gotten a thank you. Parent spoke. District acted and agreed. Concerns are being addressed. Not so much, apparently.

Her comment went a bit viral, and as a result, Ms. Clemens later appeared on a podcast. During that podcast, she said, "My biggest fear is that if all Christians leave the public school, then the public school then becomes 100% indoctrination.... on the agenda they want. Then in 10 years, you've got a whole decade of kids - a whole generation of kids - ... they are only hearing one side. Instead of me fighting and taking these books out of these kids' hands, that's at least helping some kids maybe not be exposed to as much."

There is a lot of disturbing commentary in that passage. First, the RISD is a district with vast and diverse backgrounds of students. They speak dozens of languages. They are from dozens of ethnic and racial backgrounds and practice as many if not more faiths. She implies that people of other religions are subject to indoctrination without Christianity. Besides the fact that Christians are diverse and disagree with each other (including her), people of different faiths and none should find her comment insulting.

This comment implies censorship and fighting. She is fighting to take books out of kids' hands. That looks a lot like censorship to me. She also fails to note that her grievance did not require a fight but a district that listened and acted. Maybe the details are not perfect, but credit is due where it is due.

Lastly, she contradicts herself in troubling ways. In a questionnaire on the district's Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) efforts, she stated that content should be a "neutral curriculum and free from social and political opinions." Given the more extended passage above, it does not sound to me she is in favor of the "neutral curriculum" she says she favors.

My family shares something in common with Ms. Clemens. My wife and I have two adopted children from Asia. One is a special needs child. I come to a very different landing spot based on those experiences than she does.

Recall my belief, "Education is broad, but grievances are narrow." I am not seeing a broad vision from Ms. Clemens.

For these reasons and others, I do not believe Sherry Clemens will represent the interests of all students. She is, therefore, not recommended.

Richardson ISD District 4

Regina Harris -- RECOMMENDED

Regina Harris is precisely what the RISD needs and needs now. She is unopposed, and I recommend her nonetheless.

Further, I recommend that Regina Harris be appointed as board president no matter who wins the Board of Trustees. She has shown her professionalism, demeanor, and caring for students are more than up to the task.

Richardson ISD District 5

Rachel McGowan - RECOMMENDED

Anyone not living under a rock knows these haven't been regular times for school districts. That fact makes Rachel McGowan the best candidate suited for the job.

After watching Rachel McGowan, examing her record, and reading her questionnaire answers, she would be a formidable candidate in regular times. She maintains her straight answers and demonstrates her knowledge of the district under these difficult times is even more impressive.

She is also committed to her answers without trying to be all things to all people. Her answers in a mere two sentences put the emphasis on Social and Emotional Learning and books back into the professionals, and she supports parents in bringing up issues to teachers and librarians. The nuance here is that she, rightly, does not put herself up as a gatekeeper.

Her list of endorsements is eye-opening. I usually would not give much thought to endorsements. However, her list includes many past trustees who have made various difficult decisions for the RISD.

To mangle a Star Wars quote, "This is the trustee you are looking for."

Kile Brown

Mr. Brown is an accomplished and well-meaning candidate for RISD School Board Trustee. I do not for second doubt his sincerity.

That said, he is not what Richardson ISD needs at this time. He lists his service at Wilshire Baptist Church and his degree from West Point. These are impressive and not to be dismissed. What is more critical is direct involvement with RISD.

For our next Superintendent, he says, "We should hire an Executive Search firm soon." Wrong answer. I will bet that current trustees have already gotten contacts from qualified candidates waiting to submit their resumes. Being Superintendent of RISD is a huge deal. A search firm can do nothing to bring us someone who does not already know about the RISD.

In his defense, he did say, "Hiring the best superintendent is the greatest need in our school district." I am surprised that other candidates did not say this. He is right that this is the most immediate need.

He gives one of the best answers of all candidates in the Richardson League of Women Voters Survey when it comes to books. He gives thoughtful answers about racial issues, Social Emotional Learning, and other topics. Every answer he gave was thoughtful and appeared sincere.

In the Dallas Morning News survey, he lists former RISD Trustee Justin Bono as a top contributor and as the first endorsement on his campaign webpage. My impression of Justin Bono is that he was Lake Highlands focused to the detriment of other district areas, including those in need, especially north of I-635. People north of I-635 cannot vote in District 5, but this raises my eyebrow. I won't expect others to agree with me, but this is a bad look for Kile Brown.

I sincerely hope that Kile Brown gets directly involved with the RISD because I believe he can contribute much.


Ms. Stell's questionnaire answers are generic and provide no evidence of an involved community member. She has opinions on things. I do, too, but I know that I am not the right person for the RISD school board.

She directly connects weak standardized test scores with too much Social and Emotional Learning. She provides no evidence this is true. My daughter is in RISD and goes through the same curriculum. I see nothing in SEL that detracts from her academics. It seems to me this is a "just so" excuse to object to Social and Emotional Learning rather than a serious argument backed by research.

I could repeat much of what Mark Steger wrote in his critique of Ms. Stell. I noticed many of the same things while reviewing the same material over the past two weeks. The reader can decide if the fact two observers independently saw the same issues have value, but I will not repeat similar points.

Jan Stell is not recommended.  

If you see any errors please email at the address you should find elsewhere on this page. 

Early voting starts April 25th and Ends May 3rd. Election Day is May 7th. Dallas County residents may vote at any polling location.


  1. Do you have a recommendation for Dallas College District 3? Thanks

  2. Since you served on the RISD bond committee, were there any thoughts on addressing minority vendor participation in building the new schools?