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Award recognizes outstanding volunteers who make a difference in their communities

PMG PHOTO: HOLLY SCHOLZ - Laurie Danzuka received a congratulations hug from Jeff Sanders during the school board meeting in Warm Springs Oct. 11.

Inspiring. Selfless leader. Dedicated. A straight shooter. Those are some of the words used to describe Jefferson County School District 509-J Board Chair Laurie Danzuka.

In an emotional surprise celebration, Danzuka was presented with the 2021 Oregon School Board Member of the Year by the Oregon School Boards Association during the 509-J Board's regular monthly meeting Monday evening, Oct. 11.

"She was nominated by her board, and we get applications from all over the state. Your application rose to the top," said Oregon School Boards Association Executive Director Jim Green, who traveled from Salem to present the award.

The meeting was held at Warm Springs K-8 Academy on Indigenous People's Day. Several members of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs were in attendance to not only perform prayers and songs but to celebrate Danzuka, a fellow tribe member.

Green commended Danzuka's work in the community, the countless hours she spends attending school district events, bridging the communities within the 509-J School District, and the work that she does on behalf of the tribal community.

Danzuka was first elected to the school board in 2009. She is the district's longest-serving current board member and has served as the board chair four times. She is a member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.

"I actually might be speechless," Danzuka laughed after Green announced the news. "I would like to recognize Jeff Sanders. Mr. Sanders served on the school board. He gave a lot of time and years to the school board. When he was getting ready to step down, he encouraged me to step up."

Sanders, who served on the 509-J Board for 22 years, said Danzuka has dedicated her life to the children, and he's proud of the work she has done for the community.

COURTESY PHOTO: JEFFERSON COUNTY SCHOOL DISTRICT 509-J - Laurie Danzuka was recently named the Oregon School Board Member of the Year for 2021."We work together as a community to make sure that the success of our children comes first before our individual recognition or the things that we do," Sanders said.

Danzuka said Sanders has been a strong supporter of her board work, and she noted her fellow board members who work beside her. She said it's an endless and sometimes tough job.

"When people ask me why I want to do this work, lots of times I don't have an answer, but in the end, the answer always ends up being because it's what's best for kids," Danzuka said.

During the meeting Monday, 509-J Communications Coordinator Joey Prechtl presented a video of board members, Danzuka's family, and others who spoke of her leadership skills and dedication to the community. Others addressed her in-person.

Tom Norton Jr., who served on the board with Danzuka, called her a selfless leader and a community servant who always asks what is best for all kids in the district.

"If we had more leaders like Laurie, I think we'd be in a lot better spot. She brings people together, she inspires," he said.

Over the past 12 years, Danzuka has been instrumental in advocating for the diverse students in 509-J. Danzuka's dedication to serving students and the 509-J community stems from her personal, professional and volunteer experiences. She volunteers her time tirelessly and serves in multiple community roles. She has served a vital role with a number of organizations including: Warm Springs Head Start, Warm Springs Education Committee, Oregon Indian Education Advisory Committee, Central Oregon Regional Education network to name a few.

While serving on the board, Danzuka has successfully worked to increase 509-J's graduation rates from some of the lowest in the state when she first joined to now being above the state average. She accomplished this by helping prioritize learning strategies such as professional learning communities and AVID. She also worked on expanding CTE programs and pushed for standardized curriculum across all schools to help students have universal understanding of essential standards.

PMG PHOTO: HOLLY SCHOLZ - Laurie Danzuka, left, and Valerie Switzler greet each other with a fist bump during the Jefferson County School District Board meeting Monday night. Switzler, the manager of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Education, Culture and Heritage Department, and several tribal members attended the meeting, which also recognized Indigenous People's Day.Danzuka played an instrumental role in helping the district pass a bond measure in 2012 that funded the construction of the Warm Springs K-8 Academy, Performing Arts Center, and the current football stadium at Madras High School. She has also overseen the inclusion of Native language classes while working hand in hand with the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs. Now, three native languages are being taught in the 509-J School District and work has also been done with the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs to develop a local-Native history and culture curriculum that is now being taught across the district.

Danzuka was re-elected to her fourth term on the school board this year. Her current four-year term ends June 30, 2025.

The Oregon School Board Member of the Year award recognizes outstanding volunteers who make a difference in their communities. OSBA selects one school board member each year from the 1,000-plus school board members in Oregon's 197 school districts. Nominees are considered for their advocacy efforts, leadership and support for student achievement.

509-J Communications Coordinator Joey Prechtl contributed to this article.

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