Oregon School Board Member of the Year is helping close the achievement gap
The Warm Springs K-8 Academy offered a particularly poignant setting Monday for awarding the 2021 Oregon School Board Member of the Year to Laurie Danzuka.
The Jefferson County School Board chair was instrumental in getting the school built in 2014 on the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs Reservation northwest of Madras. The school, an intergovernmental collaboration between the Tribe and the district, helps engage Native American students in both their culture and their education and creates a community gathering place.
OSBA Executive Director Jim Green presented the award to Danzuka in a surprise ceremony during a school board meeting, although she was a little suspicious when the meeting started filling up with colleagues and friends.
Danzuka, a Tribal member, said it was touching to be honored among her community members in the treasured school, and it was extra special that it was also Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
Danzuka is the fourth recipient of the award. Winners receive a commemorative keepsake and a year of free OSBA event registration and are enshrined on a plaque in OSBA’s Salem office.
Danzuka has served on the board since 2009. The 2,800-student district around Madras, which includes the reservation, is about a third each Native American, Latino and White.
Colleagues say Danzuka is a relentless voice for all students, and the district has seen mighty growth in graduation rates during her time.
In 2009, the district’s Madras High School had a 61% graduation rate, with a 43% Native American rate and 69% Latino rate. In 2018, Madras High School had risen to nearly 91%, with an 81% rate for Native Americans and 93% for Latinos. The state average was 79%, with 65% for Native Americans and 75% for Latinos.
“Erasing the achievement gap among our historically underserved students is a key issue for OSBA,” said Green. “Laurie Danzuka exemplifies the way school board members embrace that mission.”
Danzuka’s colleagues say she works every day on education issues and supporting students.
Danzuka’s nomination form named more than a dozen committees she is involved with, including the Oregon Department of Education’s Central Oregon Regional Educator Network, the Oregon Indian Education Association and the Oregon School Board Members of Color Caucus. She is a regular attender at conferences for OSBA and the National Indian Education Association.
Jefferson County Superintendent Jay Mathisen said he and Danzuka’s fellow board members benefit from her ability to apply past board trainings and district experience to current situations.
Mathisen became superintendent this year, and he said Danzuka has been invaluable. He said they communicate multiple times most days, and he appreciates her deep respect for the different roles of the school board and the superintendent while being an extremely active board member.
“I can promise you that if every other board had a Laurie Danzuka, it would be a better board,” Mathisen said. “Almost daily I have been impressed with her ability to listen, think, problem solve and act. She’s a doer.”
Mathisen values her ability to act as a connector between the school district and the Tribe. Valerie Switzler, the Tribe’s education administration general manager, agrees. Not only has Danzuka pushed to include Native languages and culture in the district’s curriculum, but she also gives Native American students a role model who looks like them, Switzler said.
“It’s nice to sit down with somebody who not only recognizes the importance of the education for our children but also recognizes that we come wrapped in a special package,” Switzler said.
Fellow board member Jamie Hurd said the board nominated Danzuka because so much of her work and dedication for all students went unseen. She said that Danzuka, despite having a full-time job and raising children, attends nearly every school sporting event and student performance.
Danzuka said she felt obligated to attend because the community had supported the building of new facilities but also because she remembered what it felt like to have a parent unable to attend her events. She knows it’s not the same as having a parent show up, but she wants children to know they have an adult there who cares.
Hurd said she is inspired by the way Danzuka builds relationships, especially with teachers.
“I have an appreciation of teachers, and I think they need to know that,” Danzuka said. “We make decisions that affect teachers, and they need to know we care about them and their well-being.”
After being presented with the award, Danzuka repeatedly praised the work of everyone in the school district.
“Laurie is one of the most humble servant-leaders I know,” Hurd said. “She’s a servant to the children and the greater community, and often that means she is putting everyone else before herself.”
- Jake Arnold, OSBA