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Veteran of the U.S. Air Force is among several new North Marion School District board members

COURTESY PHOTO: KRISTIE BUCKLAND - After biking 60 miles, Kristie Buckland arrived at the Eielson Center in Alaska's Denali National Park several years ago.Editor's note: This story is the first of several introducing new members of the North Marion School District Board.

One of the latest additions to the North Marion Board of Directors is a former U.S Air Force Major with a Ph.D. and seven scientific publications to her name. 

But the community mostly knows her as Kristie Buckland, a married mom of a 10th-grader and a fifth-grader, who began her term on the school board on Dec. 14, 2020. Buckland is relatively new to town, arriving four years ago, yet she and her family came to the area for its school community. Buckland is already devoted to local schools.

"I believe in the idea of public school and public school excellence," Buckland said.COURTESY PHOTO: NORTH MARION SCHOOL DISTRICT - Kristie Buckland

After her husband retired from the military, she and her family moved to the area from Fairbanks, Alaska. Buckland accepted a job at Oregon State University's North Willamette Research and Extension Center in Aurora as an assistant professor, extension specialist of vegetable and specialty seed crops. 

Although her career as an educator and researcher has brought her to North Marion, her career in the military took her worldwide. She earned a bachelor's of science in aeronautical engineering from the U.S. Air Force Academy and served in the Air Force for 10 years as a pilot. Based in California, she flew cargo planes as far away as the Middle East and taught pilot trainees. Buckland obtained the rank of captain during active duty (honorably discharged in 2007), advancing to the rank of major after 18 months in the reserves. 

Following her military service, Buckland pursued a master's of science in plant science and a Ph.D. in plant science from Utah State University, soon after making her way to OSU. OSU Nursery Researcher Lloyd Nackley recalls how Buckland's honesty and passion for education shone through the day he met her.

"She's genuine," Nackley says. "Some people don't really demand your attention, but she was like, 'Hey, I'm speaking about this!' And I could tell that she cared. She seemed really knowledgeable and familiar with farming and agricultural science. I thought she was somebody who cared and was also qualified and skilled." 

Why volunteer on the school board?

Buckland says she ran for a school board seat because her parents were educators and administrators who showed her the value of public schools for a community's children. Her experience in education includes not only being a pilot training instructor but also leading classes as a graduate research assistant and, while in Alaska, working for a year as a high school tutor for the McKinney-Vento Program that serves children experiencing homelessness.

"I had contemplated running for a school board seat before, but the timing wasn't right, so when the vacancy came up last winter, I felt like this was the time," said Buckland, who grew up in Michigan, the third child of two sisters and one brother.

In addition, it was good timing. Her family had moved every couple of years, depending on where the military stationed her husband. But since the family was here long term, she knew she could volunteer on a school board — depending on the voters. Buckland ran uncontested. Although she's just joined the board and knew her parents often had to work weekends, she now has an up-close view of the school staff's devotion.

"I knew that there was a major time commitment, but this is a whole new level of respect," she says.

As a school board member, her tasks include adopting the budget and curriculum and establishing policies for the good of the community (focusing on academic achievement for all students) that the school staff then implement. Because she is a local leader, people have been turning to her for emotional support as COVID-19 has rushed through the community, causing people to lose loved ones and their way of life, with closures, social distancing, and supply shortages. However, Buckland says this is a strong, united community.

"We'll get through it," she said. "We'll get through it.

Local schools are tops

With such an impressive background, Buckland could have settled anywhere. But North Marion had something extra.

"Part of the reason why we moved here and then chose to send our kids to North Marion was because of that small community atmosphere," Buckland says. "People know each other, and you know other people's kids. Having that sort of community to support you as you raise your family is important."

Local schools also offer great opportunities, she explains. A student might not land a spot on an athletic team or even a competitive club at a larger district. However, at the small high school she attended in Michigan, Buckland could play sports year-round — basketball, volleyball, and track. She's glad to have that same chance for her children.

"Larger high schools might have more resources on paper — several different clubs, sports or AP classes — but, in reality, an individual child doesn't get to enjoy all of that because there are so many other students," Buckland explains.

She said it's important students gain confidence and leadership skills on those athletic teams and clubs, along with so many friendships. In fact, attending student sport events is one of the things that she missed the most when her family was in quarantine.

"I love watching sports where I know the kids," Buckland says. "I would take a high school game over an NBA game any day. There's something about doing it for the love of the sport with your friends."

Through the eyes of a scientist

What drew Buckland to the area were the strong schools and closely knit communities, and the richness of the soil.

"You can grow anything here," Buckland says. "When people who work in horticulture come to this valley, their mind is blown by the diversity of crops that are grown. There are few places in the world where you can have that experience, so I felt lucky to come work here. The growers and the community are amazing."

Buckland would know. She's an expert, with scientific publications including Managing Soil Fertility and Health for Quinoa Production and Weed Control in Organic Systems in 2018 the publication Soil and Tillage Research.

"I still do quinoa research here at OSU, but the history of that crop throughout the world is fascinating," Buckland notes. "I was at a scientific meeting where people from different countries were shouting at each other over quinoa because it has such a complex and rich cultural history in various countries."

Nackley, her co-worker at OSU's North Willamette Research and Extension Center, says that Buckland has been an asset at the center's farm, a leader in the field, and an advocate for others. She speaks up for smaller programs and new faculty who may want more a place to store a tractor or a desk to call their own but don't know how to express that. Moreover, she brings fresh eyes to the work and to the community.

"As an Air Force pilot and an Air Force instructor who then went back to school for a Ph.D., that's pretty remarkable," Nackley says. "She has a lot of great experience with management, leadership, education, and outreach. There are so many transferable skills. It's just a unique perspective."

To share a story on the North Marion School District, email Communications Specialist Jillian Daley at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..


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