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02-20-12: Meet Puyallup's newly elected school board directors
02-20-12: Meet Puyallup's newly elected school board directors

With the search for a new superintendent and major education initiatives under way, Puyallup’s newly elected school board directors have hit the ground running since taking their oath of office in December.

Chris Ihrig, Pat Jenkins, and Dane Looker are the newest members chosen to govern the ninth largest school district in the state. Each of them received the majority of votes cast in the November General Election.

The three directors join President Greg Heath and Legislative Representative Pat Donovan on the five-member school board.

Chris Ihrig

Chris Ihrig begins his four-year elected position after having already served the past two years on the board. Ihrig was appointed in 2009 to fill a vacancy created when Kathy Afflerbaugh resigned.

This year, Ihrig takes on the additional role of board vice president. Directors unanimously elected him to the post during their annual board reorganization in December.

The long-time Puyallup resident brings 25 years of experience in human resource consulting. Ihrig is chairman and CEO of EDGE, a business management and human resources consulting firm in Tacoma. His work focuses on helping companies nationwide build high-performance organizations.

Before joining EDGE in 2010, Ihrig served as vice president and general manager of a human resources consulting group based in Bellevue, and director of capacity development, senior human resources generalist, and internal strategic consultant with World Vision.

He has been an active school district volunteer over the years, including serving as a member of the school district’s Bond Oversight Committee, Career and Technical Education business and marketing advisory committee, and Spinning Elementary PTA.

Ihrig also volunteers as a guest speaker in the district’s Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) classes. “I enjoy spending a few moments in conversation helping students get energized about themselves and their futures and talking about living up to their potential,” he said.

In the community, Ihrig has volunteered with Washington Special Olympics, served in a Rotary Club, and coached youth sports. He continues to coach baseball through the Edgewood Athletic Association.

One of the district’s strengths, he said, is a rigor and accountability concerning the use of financial resources. This is even more critical, he said, “during these unprecedented economic times.”

“It’s the reason we have had nine perfect audits, and it’s the reason we have had good policies and procedures,” he said. “The more complex the system, the more rigor it requires.”

Other strengths include a focus on academics, high-caliber staff, and the ability to serve a broad population of students, ranging from those who are highly capable to those with special needs.

Ihrig cites several challenges facing the district, including balancing a budget with diminishing state and federal resources, hiring a new district superintendent, and helping the community feel included and engaged in a complex organization.

“Hiring a new superintendent creates a unique opportunity for us to ask, ‘What are the things that we are going to measure and be accountable for?’ We can be really clear on what those things are. What does success look like? I think our organization has the capacity and a tremendous opportunity to look at that.”

Ihrig describes his leadership style as a collaborator who is inclusive, works as a team, equips people to be at their best, and is passionate about his beliefs. “If I believe in something, I will go after it,” he said.

He and his wife, Kris, have lived in downtown Puyallup for 21 years. They have four children, including one in college (Emily) and three who are enrolled in Puyallup schools — Gabe, a junior at Puyallup High; Anna, a ninth grader at Kalles Junior High; and Alec, a fifth grader at Spinning Elementary.

Ihrig has a bachelor’s degree from The Evergreen State College and a master’s degree from Regent University.

Pat Jenkins

Pat Jenkins may be new to elected public office, but he is a longtime community volunteer.

The Rogers High School graduate has been a parent volunteer the past two years with his alma mater’s dance team. He has also served in past years as the president of the Maplewood Elementary PTA, a volunteer with the Woodland Elementary PTA, and a volunteer with reading programs and school activities in the various cities he has lived.

His civic involvement includes serving on boards or committees of social agencies, a park district, a state corrections facility, and a chemical dependency treatment center.

The new board member brings 30 years of experience as a professional journalist, including the past 16 years as a newspaper editor in Washington and Hawaii. He has been editor-in-chief of The Dispatch, a community newspaper in Eatonville, since August 2010.

Jenkins spent his early years in Lakewood and moved to Puyallup in fourth grade. He attended Karshner and Fruitland elementary schools, Aylen Junior High, and Rogers High.

Throughout high school, Jenkins said he had a passion for politics. He was chosen sophomore class president and senior class senator.

His first run for the Puyallup School Board came when he was 19 years old. He campaigned, garnered several thousand votes, but lost to incumbent Vitt Ferrucci.

After taking two years of classes at Green River Community College, Jenkins was hired as a sports reporter at the Pierce County Herald, which has since been renamed the Puyallup Herald.

He served as a sports editor there, as well as at a Montana newspaper, before returning to Washington to become news editor of a computer magazine. Several years later, he became editor-in-chief of the Port Orchard Independent newspaper.

Over the next two decades, Jenkins served as editor of a variety of community newspapers in both Washington and Hawaii and became a newspaper publisher during two of those years.

He and his wife, Laura, live near Woodland Elementary on South Hill. His adult son, Rich, also lives on South Hill and his daughter, Dawn, is a Rogers High senior. Jenkins said his children have received an excellent education in the district, and serving on the school board is one way he can give back.

Dedicated employees, a small-town community atmosphere in a large school district, and diverse communities that make up the 55 square miles of the district are all strengths to be proud of, he said. “Puyallup doesn’t have a big-district feel where kids seem like numbers and parents feel like they are disconnected,” he said.

Jenkins identified several challenges facing the district, include creating a balanced budget in the difficult economy and, most immediately, hiring a new superintendent.

Regarding the state’s budget woes, he said, “We have to do everything we can to keep our current level of instruction intact.”

He is optimistic about the superintendent search, saying the public will have “ample opportunity” to express what qualities they want to see in their new leader. “I have every expectation we will find someone to continue the successful course we are on.”

Jenkins describes his leadership style as someone who works as part of a team and encourages open communication. “I like people to know where I’m coming from, and I want to know where they are on the issues.”

He added, “I have a curious mind, and I’m not afraid to ask questions.”

Dane Looker

Dane Looker is a third-generation Puyallup High School graduate who wants to give back to a community that has served his grandparents, his parents, him, and now his children.

Looker graduated from Puyallup High in 1995 and lives near Waller Road Elementary. He grew up in the district, attending Waller Road Elementary, Aylen Junior High, and Puyallup High.

Like his father and brothers, Looker excelled in high school sports, most notably in football. He won numerous accolades, including All- State honors.

After high school, Looker went to Western Washington University for two years and played on the school’s basketball team. He transferred to the University of Washington, where he played football and was drafted into the National Football League (NFL).

His nine-year professional football career includes playing for the New England Patriots, St. Louis Rams, and Detroit Lions, primarily as a wide receiver. He also spent a season with the NFL Europe League and led Berlin to a World Bowl title before retiring in 2009.

During his football career, Looker mentored younger players and participated in several charitable events that raised money and awareness for specific causes.

He read to children in libraries and inner-city elementary schools in St. Louis, did public service announcements for the National Council on Alcohol and Drug Abuse, and chaired an annual fundraiser for childhood language disorders.

Since he retired from football and returned to his hometown, Looker has helped coach the Puyallup High football team and Rogers High boys basketball team.

He has also been active as a parent volunteer and helps in the classroom twice a month this year at Woodland Elementary, where his two oldest children are enrolled.

When his children were at Meeker Elementary, he volunteered with the school’s PTA and Watch D.O.G.S. program, which encourages fathers and other male role models to help on campus.

Looker said a strength of this school district is its ability to unite the community. “Schools are the glue that holds the community together,” he said.

Dedicated staff members are another strength and one that he witnessed first as a student and now again as a parent.

“When I’m in the buildings, I see how much people care about the educational and personal well-being of our students.”

One of the district’s biggest challenges, he said, is to encourage students who are apathetic about school to be successful. “We have to make them believe there is greatness in their future,” he said.

Looker said it is vital that community members feel they have a voice in what happens in the district, including the upcoming selection of the district superintendent and the ongoing study of major district initiatives, such as grade configuration and secondary grading practices.

His leadership style, he said, is to be an effective listener, a voice for the community, and someone who works well on a team.

Looker has a bachelor’s degree from University of Washington. He and his wife, Amy, have four children: Isaac, a second grader at Woodland Elementary, Shae, a first grader at Woodland Elementary, 4-year-old Lawson, and 5-monthold Tate. His wife teaches science and math at Aylen Junior High.