Carlos Soriano grew up in a “melting pot” of nationalities and communities in New Jersey, giving the now Klamath Falls resident a familiarity with diversity.
The 36-year-old father of five, one of three new faces to the Klamath Falls City Schools district’s conference table this fall, wants to bring the same equity and diversity to the school board. Board members Dawn Albright and Carol Usher also joined the board this fall. All shared their backgrounds with the Herald and News prior to the Thanksgiving holiday.
Soriano, who was appointed to represent Zone 7 on the board this fall, moved to Klamath Falls with his family in March 2018. Soriano manages the self-sufficiency program at Department of Human Services in Klamath Falls.
“I wanted to get more involved so I could get their input on what they feel their education is like,” Soriano said.
“Kids should be first and any decision, any policy, any monetary decisions that we make should be about the best interests of our kids,” Soriano added.
Soriano brings a diverse background and wealth of experiences to the board.
Born in the Dominican Republic, his parents emigrated to the United States when he was 6 years old. The family settled in New Jersey, where he lived up until attending Boise State University in Idaho.
“I was about a mile away from New York, so every morning I went to school, I saw the Empire State Building,” Soriano said.
“I grew up in a huge melting pot of nationalities and communities and so it was a great place to grow up just because of that diversity.”
Soriano said his philosophy is of equity across the board and viewing decisions through the lens of diversity when making decisions that impact students.
“Are we bringing in more diversity into school admin? Are we bringing more diversity into district administration?” Soriano said. “Bringing a little bit more of awareness of diversity.”
He acknowledges his own ethnicity plays a role in how he can also represent his school district at-large.
“As kids, they look at leaders and say, ‘Does that leader like me?’ ” Soriano said. “And I’ve thought about that throughout really my lifetime.”
Especially since he understands what undocumented students are going through.
“I was an undocumented immigrant until I was 21,” Soriano said. “I knew the struggles of what it is to be in this country.”
At 17, Soriano said he wanted to go to college but his parents broke the news to him that he didn’t have the necessary documents to do so.
“It scared me to death,” Soriano said, adding that he worried about his future at the time.
“I think there is a huge fear of being young and not knowing your native country because you were brought in at such an early age,” Soriano added.
He became a U.S. Citizen at age 21, but he is cognizant of the obstacles faced by young adults who were in a similar situation.
“No matter what background, no matter what situation you come from ... anything is possible if you really put your mind to it,” Soriano added.
Soriano is also the first in his immediate family to graduate from college.
He graduated with a bachelor’s degree in political science from Boise State University, with aspirations of becoming an attorney.
Soriano earned his master’s degree in public administration, and found a role working in banking.
“I put myself through college for the first three years … until I was able to become a permanent resident, I didn’t take advantage of loans or grants or anything like that,” Soriano said.
Soriano added that he loves the diversity of the board members and their variety of backgrounds.
“It’s such a healthy kind of environment to be in and I think we all – even in the short period of time we’ve been around each other – we respect each other,” Soriano said.
“There’s value from each one of the board members,” he added.
Dawn Albright, 57, is representing Zone 4 on the board after garnering the most votes in a write-in campaign this fall.
Albright, originally from Dallas, Texas, moved to Klamath Falls about five years ago.
She admitted she wasn’t planning on running for a position on Klamath Falls City School Board when the ballots went out in May.
Albright hadn’t even opened her ballot when she was called and asked to run for the open post through a write-in campaign. And she’s glad she did.
Albright, a mother of two adult children, said she’s always been interested in people and society.
That’s why Albright spent a decade as a journalist, covering schools, city council, environmental issues and city officials. She later went into real estate there for several more years, and since moving to Klamath Falls, recently got back into real estate working for Fisher Nicholson Realty.
“I have learned so much already,” Albright said, about being on the district board.
Albright said her philosophy on the board is to promote involvement among parents and area residents.
“Being from the big city where I grew up, there’s just different ways of living and ways of doing things and ways of going after things,” Albright said.
“One of my goals, and especially being a representative of the Mills area for the school board … is to try to let parents know and the community in general that they have a voice,” Albright said.
“Get in touch, reach out, speak up if they want to,” she added.
“I care about the world around me. I can’t just go in my house and just live my own life.”
Albright, who represents the Mills Addition neighborhood on the board, started the Mills Neighborhood Association in 2016.
The idea sparked after she read a newspaper article about the neighborhood being among the poorest in the state. The story prompted her to ask what could be done to make some positive changes, and some that might lead to changing its image.
“I just kind of talked to a few people and said, ‘Hey, why don’t we form a little neighborhood association for some pride,’ ” Albright said.
Albright said it was seen by some as a catalyst for even more city government involvement in the Mills Addition, including making some improvements to the neighborhood.
“It kind of took off,” Albright added.
“Enough people have gotten involved that it’s continuing on.”
And while Albright has adjusted her focus to the school board, she’s still focused on promoting positive impacts in the Mills neighborhood and greater Klamath Falls area.
Albright said she’s excited about the Student Success Act and what it will do for the school district to have $2.4 million per year.
“One of the things is that community involvement is supposed to happen … as far as what are the best ways to spend the money,” Albright said.
And that’s something she can come alongside and support.
Carol Usher was voted in this fall to represent Zone 1 on the Klamath Falls City Schools Board.
Usher, 43, moved to Klamath Falls with her husband in 2000. Usher has three children, one of whom graduated earlier this year from Klamath Union High School.
“I’ve had kids going through the school system – I have one out of it now,” Usher said.
Usher said she brings an open mind and an understanding of challenges that parents and their children can face to the board.
She currently serves as a home health nurse through Sky Lakes Medical Center, and has also served on the city school budget committee.
Usher was awarded Klamath Country Volunteer of the Year in 2013, according to a previous Herald and News article.
Usher said she believes it’s important to make decisions that positively impact students.
“As we’re trying to help children and help them succeed at the best level possible for them … there is this huge diversity of our children, our student body,” Usher said. “Some have way greater challenges than mine ever did.”
Usher also wants to bring an approachability to the board.
“I’m trying just to keep an open mind and see what comes along,” Usher said.
“And hoping that people will come and talk to me.”