Outgoing Nooksack Valley superintendent Mark Johnson deflects any district successes over his nearly 30-year run to the dedicated teachers and principals and powerful experience on the school board. The school board members, in turn, say any success in the district is because of the dedicated teachers, principals and Johnson all placing a firm belief in the value of educating students.
“Our belief in the success of all students, we keep that firmly in mind,” says Steve Jones, board president and 30-plus-year board veteran. “There are lots of things that take place in a school district every day, from facilities to buses to sports, but we keep a sharp focus on teaching and learning. We all understand why we are all doing this. That is the important piece and all the extras are great ways to enhance that. We keep teaching and learning and the success of all students firmly in mind.”
As Nooksack Valley transitions from Johnson to current NVHS principal Matt Galley as the district’s new superintendent this summer, Johnson says the board—and specifically the leadership of Jones—will continue to serve the community.
The NV Board has a strong history of experience. Jones has over 30 years of experience, while Randy Wright has been in place for 35 years. Both Mark Olson and Cheryl Thornton have over 20 years of experience. Jason Heutink joined the board in the last few years. Johnson says some people may see the longevity as a negative. “That is not the case with Steve,” he says. “He continues to lead through strong values, connections to the community, hard and timely questions and expectations,” Johnson says. “Some may not realize that Steve was a schoolteacher many years ago. He is also the budget guru on the board, knowing in great detail our district budget.”
“He has seen everything you can see,” says Heutink about Jones. “What makes Steve a good leader in my eye is most of all his experience. I think Steve—and the board as a whole—is pretty encouraging to me because they ask my opinion all the time because I am the youngest and in touch with an age group with younger kids. They want my opinion and they want to know what people are saying and don’t shy away from it. But then having experience behind it makes decisions easier.”
Jones says the experience works because each board member comes to the table with a strong relationship with each other, even while celebrating such a diverse set of viewpoints. “I just think we have an exceptional connection and relationship working ability with our superintendent and administrative team,” Jones says. “The board of directors provides insight and accountability, but we don’t manage the day-to-day operations.”
Jones says the district has had great success in promoting and hiring within, seen over three decades ago by promoting Johnson to superintendent. Galley represents the next step in that history, going from teacher to assistant principal to principal to superintendent. “His excitement, his energy, his experience and connection right here, he has been involved in our work at the district level for some time and it will just again be a seamless transition from Mark to Matt,” Jones says. “He knows our community, he lives here, he knows the intricacies of our population and that will serve him well.”
Johnson believes that move will be made smoother with an experienced board and Jones at the helm. “With the transition to a new superintendent, it will be critical to have strong continuity over the next several years,” Johnson says. “Steve’s experience will be a huge boost in ensuring a successful transition.”
Jones joined the NV Board in 1989, at the time appointed to fill an opening. He’s served since then and chaired the board for about half of that time. “It has been one of the best connections I could have with the community,” he says. “I’ve served on a lot of boards and done a lot of volunteer stuff, but this is near and dear to my heart.”
Jones was a founder of the NV Scholarship Foundation, where he continues to serve, and is on the board of the Opportunity Council.
Jones graduated from Nooksack valley, as did all his children. A son, Brian, serves as an administrator in the Burlington-Edison School District and a daughter, Amanda, teaches at Nooksack Elementary School. A daughter, Jennifer, was once a librarian at Everson Elementary School and all of his grandchildren have attended Nooksack Valley. “This demonstrates that he is very well informed and connected to our schools,” Johnson says. “From all perspectives.”
Johnson says that he can’t imagine a more effective board member in any community than Jones. “In fact,” he says, “I’m convinced that if every school board in our state had a Steve Jones, the children in those districts would be better served.”