03 March 2021
Ashley Espinoza, 34, was already sitting on more than a dozen local boards when a seat opened up on the Bethel School Board last month. Still, she felt it was her next step and decided to apply.
"It was almost like Las Vegas neon signs pointing to me and I'm a big person of faith as well. So obviously, this is my path, and I'm going to embrace it … knowing that I do have the tools and the resources to be active in this role," she said.
On Jan. 28, Bethel School Board selected Espinoza to be the new board member to fill the open board seat set to expire in June. The seat was vacated early by former board member Dawnja Johnson.
The board received eight applications, said Board Chair Greg Nelson, but through the course of interviews during a special meeting, it became obvious to the board that Espinoza was the best choice to fill the seat.
"Since I've been on the board we haven't had that many candidates, usually it's two or three … Because there were six of us, there was the chance of a tie, but it didn't go that way — it was pretty obvious right away. She floated to the top very easily," he said.
Espinoza has two children in the district, which was a big reason she decided to run. One of her children is on an individualized education plan (IEP) .Watching him and her other son go through their own unique education paths and challenges opened her eyes.
"School board was actually probably the last place I thought I would participate only because, you know, parents are scary," she said. "I know what I would do for my children, I know you know how important it is that we advocate and that we support, but I think that when you're a parent, you can be really narrow-visioned sometimes in what is best for your child without thinking holistically."
Being part of the Lane Workforce Board, Espinoza started to see how connected education is to all aspects of life and wanted to get involved.
Beyond this, Espinoza is also on the leadership council of the Oregon Community Foundation, FOOD for Lane County board of directors and Lane County's Poverty and Homelessness Board employment committee.
She also prides herself on work done within her community as a Latina. She's co-founder of networking group Latino Professionals Connect, works with Grupo Latino de Accion Directa, and is an appointed commissioner on the Commission on Hispanic Affairs through the governor's office.
"(Bethel) is the most diverse neighborhood in our community and so being able to be that representation that people have been wanting, but also … I know that I have the qualifications and the skills," Espinoza said. "So it's also really nice to be able to represent the Latino community."
Right now, the board is in the middle of searching for a new superintendent to replace Chris Parra, who will retire at the end of this school year. This is a crucial job for a school board, as the superintendent is the board's sole employee.
"She's jumping right into the fire," Nelson said of Espinoza. "I mean, most new board members really don't have to walk into an ongoing superintendent search and try to figure out what's going on — talk about coming into something cold."
It's been a lot to jump into, but Espinoza said she looks forward to bringing her experience and connections in the community to the board.
"I challenge the status quo, I bring representation," she said. "I want to be the voice in the room for those that just aren't at the table or haven't obtained power yet. I want to be that voice and not just for underrepresented and marginalized (groups) but for all folks."
The board seat is up for election in May. As of Friday, Espinoza was the only person who filed for the position.
Contact reporter Jordyn Brown at firstname.lastname@example.org or 541-246-4264, and follow her on Twitter @thejordynbrown and Instagram @registerguard. Support local journalism, subscribe to The Register-Guard