At 40 years old, Robert Lee has spent about a quareter of his life using his educational policy background to help Oregon students.
The new kid on the Oregon Trail School District Board of Directors, Lee previously sat on the Reynolds School District Board in Gresham for three years. He also served the Oregon School Boards Association as the legislative committee representative for Multnomah County for two years alongside his predecessor Terry Lenchitsky, and served on the Oregon Trail's budget committee for three years.
Lee plans to pick up the torch as the champion of career technical education in Lenchitsky's stead after the 30-year board veteran retired from his position in June. He's also a major advocate for programs aimed to assist those from low-income and minority families.
Though he has no children of his own, Lee is determined to provide a better learning environment for local students.
"Like the majority of taxpayers in this district, I don't have kids," he said. "(However), I consider myself that I have 43,000 kids. I am absolutely committed to the public education system and providing services for our kids and families."
Lee has a master's degree in public administration from Portland State University, where he is now an adjunct professor in the Hatfield School of Government. He also works as a healthcare policy consultant.
Lee first got involved with the Reynolds board about nine years ago for various reasons. A friend of his who worked with him years ago as a ski instructor held the seat before him. Lee tells the story of his friend calling him out of the blue to ask Lee to run for his seat on the board. Lee didn't call back, and months later found his friend had passed away from cancer. Lee ran for his seat and won, and found the position to be a good fit.
Growing up in Parkdale, Lee said he himself "had a rough childhood," and through his connection with the school district he hoped to help children of similar backgrounds succeed.
"Not everybody is born with a silver spoon in their mouth," he explained. "I think it's important for school boards to have somebody who can empathize with issues."
With his transition into the Oregon Trail School District, Lee believes his past experience — both personal and professional — will continue to benefit local students.
"A lot of my experience working with other school boards, knowing what they've done (and) working on school policies are resources the board can never have too much of," Lee said.
For him, serving on school boards is enjoyable because of the obvious effect the members are able to have on the students' lives.
"You're able to focus on something that really makes a huge difference in your community on a day-to-day basis," he added. "You're able to actually see how (your work) impacts people. I am excited to be working with such an exceptional team that is focused on the needs of our families and children's academic achievement."