Who planted the seed? I’m not sure but I grew up eager to go to school. We lived in Salt Lake City and there was a white picket fence around our front yard. I remember swinging on the gate there, greeting the neighbor kids on their way to and from school. I could hardly wait to be one of those students. And when I got to go, I was so disappointed when I didn’t get to learn to read right away. Things to look forward to.
I finished high school in Provo looking forward to going to college but a mistake in the school’s office meant that my college application didn’t get to the school I hoped to attend. I had a job as a Girl Scout camp counselor for the summer, so I headed off planning to come home and find a job to save up for college. One day at camp — we had been out for an overnight — a girl came running to find me followed by a guy in a suit. He had come to offer me a scholarship to Westminster College and needed to know right away if I’d accept the offer. I was “over the moon”; the opportunity to attend college was a dream come true!
Over that summer, my family moved to Pocatello while I made plans to become a college student. A part of that college adventure was meeting a handsome University of Utah guy who was soon to become a Naval Officer. We got married after my sophomore year, but my intent to finish college remained. What began as a probable four-year stint became almost 27 years of many moves. I was able to complete my Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology in Connecticut and then parenting began. Both boys were in elementary school in Southern California when I was asked to be the PTA president for their school. What a wonderful opportunity to get an inside view of the working of a school and to be a partner in education!
Then in 1981, it was a return to Connecticut, where my husband was to take command of a submarine and I was headed to Yale Divinity School to complete an MDiv. There, I had the opportunity to work in several churches before we were transferred to London, England. That experience provided a different look at education. I had long believed education was both an opportunity and a privilege, an important underpinning of democratic government, but I saw evidence of the role of class and privilege abroad.
Returning stateside to Rhode Island, with both of our sons in college, I began to see some other concerns, especially through folks in the churches I served. At one point, in conversation with a friend, I asked if there was anything that might help a school assess what was working and what might be improved, and she mentioned a tool being developed by a Lutheran insurance group. I explored it and shared it with some parents there, but I believe cost was a factor.
Then, in 2000, I was called to serve as pastor at First Congregational UCC in Pocatello. Shortly after my arrival, I saw in the newspaper that a local group was using that very “survey” and was making a report to the community on their findings. I was very excited and attended that meeting. Eventually, I became involved with that group, Healthy Pocatello/Healthy Youth. Through that experience, I met numerous people who have been involved with making a positive difference for youth here in Pocatello. One of them was John Rauker, a real pioneer in providing possibilities for kids who weren’t succeeding in a regular school setting.
Thus began my interest in serving on the local school board. It has been an incredible experience learning about the increasing requirements for our schools, but also the selfless and dedicated teachers and staff who serve our students offering them an increasingly diverse education.
My journey on the school board began in 2006. There was a steep learning curve to become aware of all the requirements of a trustee as well as working alongside our then new superintendent, Mary Vagner. Back when I was involved with the PTA, I had gained deep appreciation for the work of teachers, which included their every day care and devotion to a classroom of students and their individual needs and abilities. Watching teachers work and help their students thrive was truly inspiring.
Observing a whole district at work, from those ascertaining the tools that best help teachers like textbooks and teaching skills to those who transport and feed our children every day, has made me appreciate the incredible work each one of them contributes to the whole.
I have also been encouraged to gain a new level of understanding by being part of the Idaho School Boards Association, serving as a regional chair. ISBA offers school districts useful training resources to better equip board members for their work on local boards as well as help in advocating for their local needs at the state Legislature. Working together has allowed me to see new ideas from other educational leaders across Idaho, as well as understand the significant challenges faced by some of our smaller neighboring rural districts.
The work of school districts and their boards is always a work in progress as we seek to provide what is best for our students. That work is certainly not a “one size fits all.” I think of our goal to address the Career Technical Education program with more class options and better facilities. Past accomplishments and future goals lead me to celebrate the work we’ve done as a board, as well as what is in progress. The new facilities at Pocatello High School will greatly enhance opportunities for learning. Implementing the five-year plan for athletic facilities across the district will help extend their use and provide a host of opportunities for our children and our community. As a result of this project, we can all look forward to the premier track and field, soccer, football, band and other activities from surrounding areas that will be drawn to our community for events.
We have been through quite a season as a board and not just as a result of the pandemic. The challenging decisions we have faced have been in an effort to do what is best for our whole district, for students and staff alike, and I am very grateful for the opportunity I’ve had to be part of those conversations.
Janie Gebhardt has served on the Board of Trustees for the Pocatello-Chubbuck School District 25 for 14 years. She serves Zone 2. She and her husband, Larry, have lived in Pocatello since 2000. She earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in psychology from the University of Connecticut; a Master of Divinity from the Yale Divinity School; and a CAES from Boston College. She was ordained in 1985 and has served churches in Connecticut, Rhode Island, Idaho and Utah.