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School board members tell why they do what they do and how districts have changed over the years in the county.

DESIREE BERGSTROM/MADRAS PIONEER - From left to right, Kevin Richards, Jamie Hurd and Laurie Danzuka make up three of the five members of the 509-J School Board, along with Courtney Snead and Tom Norton. 
January is School Board Recognition Month, and with multiple districts across Jefferson County, there are a lot of board members working in the name of education.

"Our school board members spend countless hours of unpaid time working to provide the best possible education for our students," said 509-J Superintendent Ken Parshall. "They also serve as the corporate board of directors for one of our community's largest employers. Celebrating School Board Recognition Month is one way to say thanks for all they do."

 

509-J board

Kevin Richards has been on the board since July 2019 and said the biggest reason he ran was because he wanted to give back and serve the community.

He grew up in Madras. Though he lived away from the area for a decade before starting a family, he said, "I'm pretty fond of Jefferson County and the community." He said he wanted to come back and raise his family here. With the school board, he wanted to provide guidance and help to steer the district in a positive direction.

Outside of the board, Richards is a farmer, growing carrot seed and other vegetable seeds, Kentucky blue grass, peppermint oil, alfalfa and grass hay across about 700 acres in the county.

He said that in the short time he has been on the board, he has been really focused on learning and observing, as well as getting up to speed with what is going on. While he hasn't been on the board too long and he didn't have a whole lot to do with it himself, he has really enjoyed watching the revitalization of the career and technical education program take shape in the district.

"I was a big participant in that as a student," he said, adding that he is excited to be observing the program come back as a leader.

"I have really been encouraged and it has been really fun to see how much community members care," he said.

Jamie Hurd, the current chair of the board said, "The schools are the heart of our community, and if they are thriving, our community will prosper." That was a big part of her motivation for running in the first place.

"I want to invest my time into something I really value. Our youth are our most valuable resource, and if we nurture and grow them in a positive direction, they can become amazing humans," she said.

The former wildlife biologist, who said she "retired to take care of different wildlife," namely her three sons, has been on the board for two and a half years.

Over that time some of the highlights for her have been the passing of the Student Success Act, gaining a broader understanding of the school system and staff roles, the advancement of AVID and Professional Learn Communities in schools and the development of local native language and culture curriculum for the entire district, as well as the opening of the 21st Century Community Learning Center.

"During my time on the board, I have seen a significant amount for funds come into our district. We have had millions in grants, and now we are looking at a bigger investment with the Student Success Act," she said. "These dollars have allowed the district to make big investments into staff development and resources that are helping to drive district success forward."

"These resources are very impactful to a historically underfunded system," she said.

Hurd speaks highly of the other members of the board.

"My fellow board members are gold," she said. "These individuals volunteer countless hours that often go unseen. Each one of them are so passionate about giving our students the best, and it shows with their commitment. They have a diverse background that brings a strong community-based knowledge to the board room, and I wish everyone could witness their hearts for the students."

"Jefferson County has truly chosen amazing individuals to represent them," she said.

Longtime board member Laurie Danzuka, who has served 10 or 11 years for 509-J, said she ran for the board when she couldn't find anyone else to run. At the time she was serving on the tribal education committee and another tribal member who had been a longtime board member wasn't going to run again. Danzuka was looking for someone to run to fill the open seat and make sure there was tribal representation.

She said she wasn't having much luck finding someone to run, and her uncle suggested she run — so she did.

In her time on the board, Danzuka said that the "long-awaited" new school in Warm Springs was a big highlight. She said it was nice to see the combined effort with the tribe happen and be completed on time and on budget. "It was just a lot of hard work," she said.

"My 'why' has always been the kids in the system," she said.

Danzuka said a lot happens behind the scenes and a lot of people don't understand what it takes to provide education to the 3,000 students in the district — especially a district with such a unique layout.

Other members of the 509-J board include Courtney Snead and Tom Norton.

Culver School District 4

To celebrate their board this month, Culver culinary students will be preparing a dinner for the board before their meeting on Jan. 16, and some of the classes from throughout the district have prepared videos of appreciation for them as well.

Board member Scott Leeper has served for 19 years, raising four kids in the district.

"I ran for the board basically because I was urged to. Our first child was in kindergarten, but I really didn't have a clue how the school functioned," he said. "But I was very concerned about the high number of kids in his class."

After all those years on the board, Leeper said "getting a bond passed to upgrade our buildings was definitely a highlight. It was a long process but worth every bit of it."

"Another highlight would be moving Ms.(Stefanie) Garber to the superintendent role 10 years ago. Her leadership has built trust back with the staff and community, and I feel like it has made us better as a district," he said.

"Things have changed a lot in the last 19 years. Of course, there has been staff changes and going to a STEM model for our district. Then there has been the Department of Education and testing requirements that I believe have really failed school districts statewide," Leeper said.

Aside from serving on the board, Leeper has worked for what is now Helena Agri-Enterprises, formerly Round Butte Seed Growers, for about 18 years and also serves as the president of the Culver Athletic Booster Club and as a volunteer firefighter with the Jefferson County Fire District No. 1.

"Healthy schools involve community involvement, and volunteering with our wonderful schools as a board member helps our community, and I have a desire to see our school and community thrive," said Mike Knepp about what motivated him to run for Culver School Board in the first place.

A member of the board since 2013, he said, the "passing of our school bond and seeing the improvements to the learning environment" were also big highlights. He Another highlight has been watching students become leaders in the community.

In his time on the board, he has seen the Culver schools embrace STEM learning, the construction of a new elementary wing and the school grounds and facilities receive some needed improvements.

Lindsay Cloud, Seth Taylor and Bob Buckner also serve on the Culver board.

Education Service District

Another piece of the education puzzle in Jefferson County is the Jefferson County Education Service District board, which encompasses the school districts of Ashwood, 509-J, Black Butte and Culver. The district provides help with things that the districts within it don't always have resources for — from administrative business to support to technology and school improvement programs.

The board includes Dani Cowdrey, Jacob Schwab, Daniel Petke, Kathleen Marston, Marie Glenn, Jamie McLeod-Skinner and Joan Starkel.


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