Leslie Harbaugh is running for a second term as a Peninsula School Board director. When she ran for the position in 2015, she cited her experience as an involved parent and volunteer. “This district is my wheelhouse,” she said at the time. That background continues to inform her approach as a board member.
Harbaugh moved to Gig Harbor with her husband and then preschool-aged daughter 16 years ago from Richmon, California., a diverse city not far from San Francisco. Her husband’s work is in Tacoma, but they were drawn to Gig Harbor. To get a sense of the community they visited parks before they decided where to settle. “There were so many kids and parents in the parks in Gig Harbor, and the parks in Tacoma were pretty empty,” she said. Her decision was clinched when she read about the quality of the local schools.
"Public education... is the greatest equalizer and the best way to ensure a strong citizenry."
Her daughter attended Artondale Elementary, Kopachuck Middle School and Gig Harbor High School, and is now a sophomore at the University of Washington. Harbaugh was involved with schools from the beginning. Her most valuable experience, she said, was with the Parent District Council. As a representative she attended monthly meetings with district staff where the members got reports on enrollment, budget and curriculum. Parents then talked about their experiences. “It was so helpful to hear from parents at the middle and high school level,” she said. It expanded her perspective on such issues as curriculum integration across grades.
“I’m passionate about public education,” Harbaugh said. “I could talk about it for hours. It is the greatest equalizer and the best way to ensure a strong citizenry. The schools are at least as important as fire and police departments.”
Harbaugh is proud of where the district is now and for voters passing the first capital bond in the district since 2003 last February. When asked about what challenges the board will face in the coming four years, she said the challenges of the last four years were quite different from what she anticipated when she ran for office in 2015.
That said, she thinks the board will need to deal with legislation at the state level to assure adequate and stable funding for education. More locally, the board will focus on a whole-child approach to education. “We’ve always focused on strong academics,” she said. “But mental health, social-emotional health and the different paths students may take after graduation are all important.” She said that improving the counselor-to-student ratio will help but it will take more than that to best support the students. And, she said, placing equal value on technical and academic paths following graduation will be a priority.
Growth and overcrowding in the elementary schools will roll up to the middle and high schools and will need to be dealt with. Transportation and infrastructure will be ongoing challenges. She said that Interim Superintendent Art Jarvis has helped the board prioritize based on the needs of the students and to communicate in a way that the community understands.
In addition, the board will be hiring a new superintendent. Art Jarvis was hired as an interim superintendent in 2018 when Rob Manahan left to take another position and has agreed to continue until a search is concluded. Harbaugh is optimistic about a new search. “The board has a good eye for talent,” she said. “Our staff is stellar. They have a heart for what they do, and it shows. I love our district. I love our kids.”
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