Q&A: Snoqualmie Valley School Board Candidates

Judith Milstein and Linda Grez are running in the only competitive school board race this fall

Linda Grez and Judith Milstein are running for the Position 2 seat on the Snoqualmie Valley School District Board — the board’s only competitive race this election cycle.

With the Nov. 7 General Election fast approaching, the Valley Record reached out to both Milstein and Grez with a series of questions about their experience and priorities. Below are their responses. (Responses have been edited for clarity and brevity.)

Basic info:


Occupation: Paralegal, Athira Pharma / Owner of PropEle Electric Boat Motors

Education: St. John’s College, Bachelors in Liberal Arts

Previous Elected Experience: Si View Metro Parks Board, 2012- 2019


Occupation: Part time at FTRS LLC

Education: University of Texas, Bachelors in Applied Learning and Development, Elementary Education

Previous Elected Experience: None

Tell us about yourself and why you are running for school board?

Grez: I am passionate about education and effective, transparent local government. Educating our youth is an investment in the future and a cornerstone of our democracy. Transparency and accountability are necessary to create a functional trust between the School District and citizens.Two terms with Si View Metro Park District taught me how well local government can serve its citizens.

I’m a proud parent of a 2023 Mount Si graduate. I thrive on volunteering and making a difference in our community. That led to a 2022 Rise and Shine Volunteer Award. I’ve served on important District projects (the High School Visioning and Design committee, and interview teams) My vision is to continue the academic progress our District has made in learning and bring the district into modern transparency practices in finance and decision-making. We have to ask difficult questions to identify improvement opportunities, make progress and make meaningful changes.

Milstein: I have two kids attending Mount Si High School and have been involved in their schools for the last 10 years. I am running because I am passionate about ensuring all kids in the Valley have the high-quality education they deserve. I appreciate all the wonderful things about SVSD and I believe there are always ways we can improve.

My husband, Marc, and I have lived in North Bend for almost 17 years. Since leaving a Senior Manager role at T-Mobile USA when our daughter was young, I have worked part-time for my dad’s small business. I will bring my years of volunteer experience and as a parent in the school district to this new role. My temperament and measured approach to solving issues also make me the right candidate for this election.

If elected, what would your top priorities be?

G: My priority is to continue pursuing academic excellence and growth for all students. Providing the best possible educational opportunities to our students is job number one, but how we go about it is complicated. Each and every student including those who have different needs deserves to receive what they need to be successful and thrive. The District’s budget determines what can be offered to each student. As our population grows there will be many challenges to how to best serve our students. We need to create partnerships between the District and families to jointly plan strategic improvements and objectives. Our Strategic Plan is due for revision and we have new post-COVID issues including mental health struggles to deal with. School Board Directors can set policies to encourage all of this.

I believe honest dialogues are critically important to the continued improvement of our public schools. How do we leverage the strengths of our district’s many families? The challenge is complicated: we parents are busy raising our kids and working and can’t attend every school board meeting even if we wanted to. But what is going on really affects their students school life and learning. I like what Issaquah School District does – they provide short readable summaries of what’s going on so parents can stay informed and involved. We can make it easier for parents to follow what’s going on by providing written transcripts of board meetings, not just audio recordings that require an hour or two of listening to find the part you are interested in.

I will work to create policies that provide more transparency and information to families and taxpayers about the District and create a 2-way dialogue opportunities including on the budget and operations spending so parent input and perspective are able to help direct priorities.

M: My top priorities will be improving student outcomes, addressing the SVSD facility needs for the next 25 years, and ensuring our graduates are prepared for life after high school whether continuing education or entering the constantly evolving job market.

How are you currently involved in the district and community at-large?

G: I am currently transitioning out of my term as President of the Mount Si HS Band & Orchestra Boosters. In 2023 I completed a two-year term as President of the Snoqualmie Valley PTSA Council, and have been past presidents of Twin Falls Middle School PTSA, Twin Fall MS Music Boosters, and North Bend Elementary School PTA. I also had a leadership role in the Mount Si HS Drama Boosters.

I am currently on the board of local nonprofits JazzClubs NW and the Si View Community Foundation.In 2022 I won a Rise & Shine Volunteer Award.I was appointed to King County’s Citizens’ Elections Oversight Committee and served from 2021 to 2023.

I was elected to two terms as a Commissioner of Si View Metro Park District (2012-19). I spent 7 years volunteering as a ‘Big Sister’ mentor volunteer (Big Brothers/Big Sisters of King County). I was also a past Chair of King County WA Conservation Voters.

M: I have been an active volunteer for the last ten years in our school district with eight years in PTA leadership including as President and Treasurer at both North Bend Elementary and Twin Falls Middle School and as the parent representative for the North Bend Elementary Learning Improvement Team from 2015-2020.

Currently, I am a proud four-year mentor in a local elementary school with Empower Youth Network. For the last two seasons, I have served as the Treasurer and board member for the Mount Si Wildcat Volleyball Boosters. This fall, I began assisting with the PTSA CARE Closet at Mount Si High School. I also volunteer for the Snoqualmie Valley Food Bank delivering food weekly.

What do you see as the biggest challenge facing the school district over the next four years? Why are you qualified to handle this challenge?

G: Our District population is growing and changing and the District itself has to mature as an organizational structure and grow along with it. The school board can set ambitious targets for organizational maturity and effectiveness. We aren’t a ‘small-town’ district anymore. The District should adopt a ‘growth mindset’ to identify its opportunities to improve.

As the world becomes more polarized, and inequities have increasing negative effects, public schools will be relied on to provide the cornerstone of our representative democracy and teach our students to live successfully in a very diverse and pluralistic society. Meeting these challenges will be more easily achieved if we encourage everyone to share their valuable ideas and contributions. We’ll need more open engagement with our families to benefit from their insights, technological expertise and ideas. In order to contribute and participate fully, they will need to have visibility into how the District operates, which is limited now. Working on our next Strategic Plan will be an important first step for the larger community to come together and discuss our objectives and goals.

M: With the combination of declining enrollment, inflation, and COVID-relief dollars ending soon, there will certainly be difficult decisions to make during budget planning in the next few years. The School Board’s job is to represent the community’s vision and values for our students and align the budget to support that vision as best we can. Budget cuts are never easy and require open and honest conversations with the public. I will always work to minimize impacts to students’ education and overall experience in our schools.

In conjunction, the District and School Board are also planning for the next bond. Transparency and open dialogue will go a long way to gaining the community’s trust to ensure a thoughtful bond for buildings passes the first time.

I will use my professional experience with data driven decision-making to evaluate and advocate for areas that least impact our students. I am very approachable as an involved parent with two high schoolers and am in a good position to hear directly from the community regarding spending priorities and concerns.

Generally, do you support the direction the current school board has taken?

G: The school board has done many things well – prioritizing hiring of great teachers, excellent principals and administrators and excellent new facilities.The District can improve in transparency and accountability.

Making the District’s programs, priorities and budget more transparent will be the first step in opening a dialogue with the community. There are ways to connect us using modern methods to let parents know the big picture long term issues in advance. Supplementing the massive and coded spreadsheets of the District Budget with a narrative form in words explaining what it contains would allow families to understand how our money is spent. Families have no opportunity to see what is in or out of the budget each year aside from viewing very high-level powerpoint presentations that don’t provide enough detail to understand. We don’t know until the school years starts if programs have been cut back or changed due to budget changes that happen in late August.

In addition, the District’s handling of the sudden termination of prior Superintendent [Lance] Gibbon, the post-termination communications mistakes in making personal attacks on his professional reputation, the large financial hit of $600,000 from the settlement, and the selection process of the successor Superintendent have left widening gaps in trust with our families. These mistakes will take time to recover from. The sooner we open up transparency and honest communication channels the sooner will heal from these incidents.

M: Overall, I support the direction of the SVSD School Board, and I believe there are always improvements we can make. Thankfully, the school board had the vision and gathered community support to add Timber Ridge Elementary School and rebuild Mount Si High School, a now world class facility, through the last bond. The district and board partnered in a very challenging financial environment to balance the budget for the upcoming year. My impression is the Board spends conservatively, and I support that approach. I appreciate the Office Hours sessions with the board and superintendent. I would like to see the Board even more accessible to hear from the community moving forward. Let’s work to hear from more families that maybe haven’t been as connected or involved in the past.

As a district, with community input, let’s reaffirm what our priorities are, what really matters most to guarantee all students graduate with the skills they need. Identifying those key areas with measurable goals in the Five-Year Strategic Plan holds leaders accountable for results and only happens when our most important goals are revisited regularly in public.

Some research has shown the COVID-19 Pandemic caused significant learning loss for students – and in some instances exacerbated existing inequalities. What can the school board do to ensure all students recover and graduate with the skills they need?

G: The School Board can continue to support district administrators in their efforts to assess what changes will be required to reconnect with students and re-energize them in school. They can create policies and budgets to support additional and continuing mental health resources for students and in analyzing test and classroom assessment data to show us where the ‘gaps’ are which need to be filled to bring students back to meeting standards. There will likely be an extended time of recovery as some age groups seem to have had an especially difficult time with remote learning and loss of socialization. This means we will potentially be providing special services and support for several years. The school board should listen to the mental health professionals advice and recommendations.

M: The school board’s job is to ensure our educational professionals have the resources and training they need to support our students. I believe our District leaders in partnership with teachers are the most qualified to determine what that recovery roadmap looks like.

They are the subject matter experts and in the best position to overcome learning loss. As a school board director, my role would be to monitor our progress towards measurable goals that demonstrate student improvement in the key subjects. Some possible steps to recover from learning loss, include: individualized follow up plans for student gaps, tutoring, summer school offered, more phonics training to help students especially struggling to read at grade level, and more interim assessments to check our progress. It’s important that families know and understand where their students have learning gaps. A partnership between our schools and our families is crucial to get kids back on track academically and prepared for career, college, or other additional education after high school.

If the district were given a $1 million grant to start a new program or initiative, what would you use it for?

G: First, I would ask District academic teaching and learning department staff for advice – they are very knowledgeable and insightful. I might also ask which age bands seem most negatively impacted from the pandemic and whether additional funding could make a significant change in their academic classes. If they did not have a specific recommendation for use in classrooms, I might suggest the money be used for free afterschool activities clubs or intramural ‘no cut’ sports and outdoor games and clubs.

M:I would use this money to pilot some alternative education programs that might better meet the needs of families in the Valley. Not all students are suited for the long academic days, especially at high school. How can we keep those students enrolled and connected while providing a quality education that might be different than the traditional model? For example – more Outdoor Education opportunities, growing our Parent Partnership Program, new career-ready training programs, etc. I’m also interested in exploring how AI fits in our classrooms. Our students, particularly in the upper grades, need to know how it works, how to use AI effectively as well as what AI’s limitations are. AI isn’t going anywhere, and I think we must adapt soon for the benefit of our students’ futures. It’s exciting to consider the possibilities!


Unopposed Candidates: Rene Price (Position 3), Ram Vedullapalli (Position 5)

Ram Vedullapalli (left) and Rene Price. Courtesy photos.

Ram Vedullapalli (left) and Rene Price. Courtesy photos.

Rene Price and Ram Vedullapalli are both running unopposed in their bid for the school board. Vedullapalli is the current school board vice president.

Residents should have already received their ballots in the mail. Ballots need to be postmarked or in a dropbox by 8 p.m. on Election Day Nov. 7.