Willamette Week Endorses Julia Brim-Edwards for the May 2021 Election

We aren’t always sure why Brim-Edwards, 59, a longtime Nike executive, wants the often thankless job of Portland Public Schools Board member. But there’s no denying the steadying hand she’s applied to the district.

Think back to where PPS was when Brim-Edwards was first elected four years ago. Then-Superintendent Carole Smith had abruptly resigned after the discovery of lead in the water coming out of faucets and drinking fountains at several school buildings (and WW’s revelation that the district had hidden lead contamination at dozens more). A search for a new superintendent foundered when the board discovered its new hire had exaggerated his qualifications. The board itself was a nest of backbiting and mutual contempt.

Brim-Edwards hasn’t just righted the ship—she’s plugged its hull and bailed the water out of steerage.

Her most important task was steering the selection of a superintendent. She succeeded, leading what by PPS standards was a swift and collaborative process that settled on Superintendent Guadalupe Guerrero, who has so far proved capable. Brim-Edwards oversaw the opening of two new middle schools, championed the rebuilding or renovation of half a dozen campuses and, perhaps most importantly, opened the books on the health hazards in the district’s aging buildings.

Not everything Brim-Edwards touches turns to gold. The pandemic has cast an unforgiving light on the inequities of the district, where affluent, white children are more likely to return to classroom instruction.

COVID-19 has upended every school district in the nation and makes it harder to grade Brim-Edwards’ performance. But compared with when she arrived, PPS looks far more stable and vigorous.

The name “Nike” doesn’t warm the heart of every Portlander, and Brim-Edwards’ role leading government affairs at Oregon’s sportswear giant rankles some observers.

That frustration was aired several times in our endorsement interview by Brim-Edwards’ challengers: Max Margolis, a reading tutor with a background in crime and drug prevention programs, and Libby Glynn, co-president of the Bridger School Parent Teacher Association with a background as a researcher and supervisor for a catering company. Both offered good ideas—Glynn in particular made sharp observations about how PPS treats students with disabilities—but neither offered a compelling rationale for unseating the incumbent.

Brim-Edwards has earned the opportunity to show what she can do once the district is free of the virus. Keep her on the board.

Brim-Edwards’ favorite field trip: A tie between Franz Bakery and the Bonneville Locks to watch the salmon migration.

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