Good things happen for a reason, though Jerrall Haynes couldn’t see it through the snowflakes.
A newly minted airman from South Carolina, he arrived in November 2010 for his first assignment at Fairchild Air Force Base.
Two days later, the snow began to fall.
“And it didn’t stop for what seemed like a month, and I wondered why anyone would live here,” Haynes said. “For a year I didn’t give Spokane a chance.”
Five years later, at 26, Haynes had “fallen in love with the place.” Then he took that chance and, in a stunning upset, was elected in 2015 to the Spokane Public Schools board of directors.
Two years into his term, Haynes’ commitment to his new community was tested again. By then a staff sergeant in the Air Force, he faced reassignment to a base in England and a premature end to his time on the school board.
“So I had to make a choice,” Haynes said. “I prayed on it and talked to a lot of people, but Spokane felt like home. Even though I loved serving my country, I chose Spokane over the Air Force.”
Now he’s the board president of the second largest school district in the state. Despite being only 31, he’s equally at home in a budget meeting and on the playground.
Servant leadership, Haynes calls it, and he’s done plenty of both.
“What I love,” said Rogers High School Principal Lori Wyborney, “is that he comes to school and immerses himself in what we do. He doesn’t call me a week in advance and say ‘Hey, I’m going to be there’ – he drops in and says, ‘What do you want to do?’ ”
Together, they “explore the good stuff we like to showcase, and the not-so-good stuff,” Wyborney said.
Challenges abound at Spokane Public Schools, where the five-member board wrestles with the contentious issues of staff layoffs, discipline, curriculum, sex education and more – all while attempting to balance an annual budget of almost a half-billion dollars.
“I put in a lot of time, because I understand the impact it can have on people’s lives,” said Haynes, who takes special pride in the district’s rising graduation rate and the passage in 2018 of a $495 million capital bond that will move sixth-graders into new middle schools and ease overcrowding.
“Spokane is growing, and it’s about finding creative ways to grow and alleviate the pressures on the educational system,” Haynes said.
A dozen years ago, Haynes’ talent for servant leadership was borne from necessity, not design.
After his parents separated, he and three siblings were raised by their mother Sabrina in Summerville, South Carolina. Haynes saw the need, working hundreds of hours to help build the family’s Habitat for Humanity home.
With his father out of the picture, the paternal void was filled by grandfathers, uncles and Haynes’ older brother, Ricardo. His teenage years were defined by family, faith and football.
“They raised us to be people who can make it anywhere,” said Haynes, who still punctuates his answers with a “Yes, sir” – which has more to do with his upbringing than seven years in the Air Force.
A standout sprinter and running back, Haynes enrolled in fall of 2007 at the University of South Carolina to play football.
However, he made the decision – an immature one, he admits now – that the game had given up on him.
“That wasn’t the case,” Haynes says now. “I had given up on it, and it forced me to find out who I was as a person because until then I had identified myself with sports.”
Dropping out of college after a semester, he found purpose in the Air Force. At Fairchild, he was named Airman of the Month and the 92nd Air Refueling Wing’s Honor Guard Airman of the Year.
Deployments to the Middle East and Central Asia allowed Haynes to “fall in with some very intelligent people.”
Back home, community involvement began with Habitat for Humanity and Pop Warner football in Cheney. Later, he coached freshman football at East Valley High School and currently operates a fitness gym.
In the spring of 2015, “Someone suggested I run for public office, and at first I wasn’t interested,” Haynes said. “I began to looking through the positions that were available and Spokane school board member jumped off the page instantly.”
So Haynes jumped in – then finished a distant second in the primary to incumbent Rocky Treppiedi, who’d been on the board since 1999.
However, Haynes gained the endorsement of the teachers’ union. He also sought to broaden the definition of a high school education.
Referring to the school district’s “T-2-4” motto, which stands for technical, two-year and four-year colleges, he said, “I can represent the T and the 2.”
Though trailing on election night, Haynes later pulled ahead to earn a six-year term on the board.
Joining the board was “humbling,” Haynes admitted. “But what I’ve learned through leadership is that no matter your age, as long as you bring the right things to the table, people will listen to what you have to say.”
Haynes also was a good listener. He credits former board members Sue Chapin and Deana Brower for their guidance.
When they departed last month, the new board elevated Haynes to president. That too was humbling.
“I never thought I would be the most senior person on the school board,” Haynes said.
However, he’s still closer in age to the seniors at Rogers than most of his colleagues on the board.
That means a lot to Wyborney.
“For 475 students of color at Rogers to see that a man of color can reach that place of authority, and that it’s something for them to reach for, that’s really cool,” she said.
That means a lot to Haynes, too, but his passion transcends and age and race.
“I love helping people, and whether they realize that I’m helping doesn’t matter to me,” Haynes said.
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