If Jerrall Haynes learned one thing during the last six years, it’s that public school districts don’t exist in a vacuum.
The message was reinforced during the last two years, when Haynes led the Spokane Public Schools board through one of the most tumultuous, controversial periods in recent history.
“Before joining the school board, I thought that the decisions I made were primarily and strictly for schools,” said Haynes, whose six-year term ends Wednesday.
“But then I realized that some of the most successful decisions were made with the broader community in mind,” Haynes said last week.
That was harder than it sounds. The challenges and opportunities came in waves during Haynes’ two years as board president.
Nearly all of them had the potential to divide and polarize. That made for a wild ride, yet Haynes never let go of the reins.
Haynes and his colleagues confronted pestilence, racial strife and deep political divisions. At the same time, they chose a new superintendent, moved ahead with a racial equity policy, approved new boundary changes and made the difficult move to build a new stadium downtown.
Working with former Superintendent Shelley Redinger and Board President Sue Chapin, he wrestled with the contentious issues of staff layoffs, discipline, curriculum and sex education – all while attempting to balance an annual budget of almost a half-billion dollars.
“I’m most proud that our staff and our community have allowed me to walk along these very controversial times to make major shifts to make our school district move forward,” said Haynes, who was hired this fall as the city of Spokane’s first civil rights coordinator.
“We wanted to try to make sure that our students had everything they need,” Haynes said.
That effort was rewarded last spring with a record 90% graduation rate.
“That’s really what I’m most proud of,” Haynes said. “We didn’t get to 100%, and I’m always going to wonder what we could have done to reach that.
“But we’re going to continue to push to get much higher, and I think the district is set up in a beautiful way to succeed,” Haynes said.
Haynes was quick to credit fellow board members Mike Wiser, Nikki Lockwood, Jenny Slagle and Aryn Ziehnert. He also thanked Superintendent Adam Swinyard and his staff for laying the groundwork while navigating the pandemic.
But while Swinyard and the district worked behind the scenes, Haynes was the face of the district during some of its toughest moments in the last two years.
After the passage of the capital bond in 2018, Haynes acquiesced to the advisory vote that showed most voters wanted to keep the stadium in northwest Spokane.
He stuck with that position for more than a year, yet was able to pivot this spring when the Downtown Spokane Partnership floated a proposal for a downtown alternative.
The proposal was a lightning rod for criticism on social media and emails that scorched Haynes’ inbox.
“A million and one of them,” Haynes said last spring.
And while there’s no report card for school board presidents, Haynes always got high marks for listening .
Working behind the scenes, he met with all the concerned parties, allayed the fears of most board members and brought it home.
He showed more finesse later in the year, as critics blasted the new boundary proposal. Patiently, he worked with the district and other board members to approve the new boundaries.
Much of the criticism revolved around equity, which stung because Haynes said he’s tried to fulfill the district’s motto of “Excellence for Everyone.”
For six years, Haynes made it a point to visit all schools, but especially those in northeast Spokane.
“What I love, is that he comes to school and immerses himself in what we do,” said former Rogers High School Principal Lori Wyborney. “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?’ ”
Haynes is also the first man of color to lead the Spokane school board, and that resonated as well.
“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,” Wyborney said.
That means a lot to Haynes, too, but his passion transcended age and race.
“I love helping people, and whether they realize that I’m helping doesn’t matter to me,” Haynes said.
Haynes would be the first to admit that he had some growing up to do when first elected to the board at the age of 26.
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.”
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