The latest installment of our series of interviews with school director candidates across Pennsylvania brings us to the Perkiomen Valley School District.
Russ Larson is running for school director in the Perkiomen Valley School District, located in Montgomery County. He is a registered Republican and a healthcare professional.
Why are you running for the school board?
“I am running for school board director to institute a fiscally responsible approach to prioritizing our school district’s needs and wants, in addition to elevating academic outcomes for all students. Instead of reacting to what’s pressing at the time, I’ll work to shift our mindset to pause and discern what really matters. Instead of forcing the implementation of every idea and forcing the execution of those things without careful planning, we’ll learn to prioritize and understand the tradeoffs in what we choose to do and not do, and once we’ve decided our priorities, we’ll remove obstacles to make execution easier.
“Living in the Perkiomen Valley School District is expensive. Homeowners in Perkiomen Valley pay a higher tax millage rate than 85 percent of the rest of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Additionally, taxpayers in our school district pay higher taxes than 21 of the 22 school districts in Montgomery County. With those taxes, you’d expect our high school to place first, second, or third in the county in academic outcomes. However, we unfortunately rank twelfth of the 22 school districts in the county. I believe that our schools and teachers are great, so what is the explanation? The answer lies in the priorities of our previous school board majority. Their lack of focus on curriculum and student outcomes, along with steering money away from core academics, has pushed our students below the middle of the pack. I won’t be satisfied until our district is above par in academic measurements.”
What are the most important issues facing your district?
“Our number one issue is inequality in outcomes across our student cohorts. Overall, we’re behind other districts, and that’s not acceptable. We need to identify the actual barriers to success, implement remedies to improve academic outcomes for those who are trailing, and figure out ways to motivate those students to work hard.
“A secondary issue is that our board is not providing enough strategic guidance to the administration to help them develop a long-range financial plan. We need to learn how to spend prudently, instead of seeing how much we can spend.
“Third, we’re in the midst of a social media crisis (i.e., distracted students) and a bullying crisis, which are intertwined. We need to study how the best public and private institutions tackle this and apply some of those practices in our school district. It starts with modeling good behavior because students mimic our actions.”
What is your professional background/experience? What skills would you bring to the board?
“I’ve worked in the healthcare industry for 30 years with a focus on customer needs. The cornerstone of my career has been to reduce friction for our customers so they can focus on improving patient’s lives. I’ve hired dozens of college graduates over decades, and as a result, I have fresh insights into what is important to our young people. I understand what makes them ambitious and motivates them to become high-performing adults eager to contribute to the economy. Throughout my career, I’ve employed the voice of the customer to underpin every decision, and I use data analysis to drive improvements and steer our priorities.”
Have you run for political office previously? Have you been politically active?
“I have never run for office before. I’ve volunteered for campaigns as far back as the 1990s, and I’ve been a student of politics since the late 1980s, when I heard President Reagan ask General Secretary Gorbachev to reunify Germany by tearing down the wall. My political impressions were formed when I first read the book ‘The Road to Serfdom.’ I learned about socialism and how government central planners, eager to create social well-being, can only result in a brutal and less livable society. I learned the importance of property rights and how capitalism is the only system of economics that is compatible with prosperity and true human liberty.”
Are you running with other candidates?
“I am running with a slate of four other candidates, under the name Vote 5 for PV. Vote 5 for PV is a group of open-minded, moderate conservatives who are thoughtful on issues and have demonstrated they can vote objectively with their heads with a minimum of subjective opinions and a preponderance of unbiased reasoning. Our slate has extensive business, community and/or educational experience.”
What is the most important role of the school board, in your opinion?
“The role of the board is to collectively find innovative ways to turn the largest number of children into high-performing students and prepare them to enter the economy with ambition and upward mobility and to do so in a fiscally responsible way for the community.”
We contacted the Democratic and Republican committees in Bucks, Chester, Delaware, Lancaster, Lehigh, and Montgomery counties and asked them to share the questions with their school director candidates. Broad + Liberty will post the responses throughout the summer to assist voters in learning about the candidates running in their district. The series is open to any school director on the ballot in November. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information.
Broad + Liberty is a nonprofit media endeavor dedicated to sharing voices and stories that are shut out of other media outlets. @BroadAndLiberty