Jeff Blaser was a fruit farmer in Emmett. His wife and little kids washed, picked, boxed and sold 20 acres of apples, plums, pears.
Blaser also was a police officer, coach, student club adviser, teacher and assistant principal.
Now add superintendent to his resume as he moves into that role this summer in the Cascade School District.
This will be the first time in his long and varied career he has had the lead role.
“I’ve never been the top guy — except I’m a dad,” said Blaser, the father of four.
But he said he wanted to step out of his comfort zone. “(I’ve) had my eye on working in a small rural Idaho school district.”
Mission accomplished. After spending 10 years as an assistant principal in the West Ada School District, he is leaving Idaho’s largest district and city to move to one of Idaho’s smallest and most rural districts.
“I was on the phone the day they posted the job,” Blaser said. “This is a fantastic community.”
Why the move … and why now?
Blaser has long been an outdoorsman, in love with hunting, fishing, hiking, rock climbing, skiing and biking. He’s also an expert marksman. He and his family have driven through Cascade countless times on the way to North Idaho’s playgrounds.
Blaser grew up in a small town on the Oregon coast and met his wife at Northwest Nazarene College. He eventually graduated from the University of Idaho and returned to the Treasure Valley to teach in New Plymouth, Caldwell and West Ada.
He helped open Rocky Mountain High School and settled in there over the past 10 years. During his time there, he started a marksmanship club. Students came to him wanting to learn to shoot. He’s grateful to then-Superintendent Linda Clark, who granted permission to start a club that has grown and flourished. The students practice at the local gun club and have advanced to competing in — and winning — tournaments.
“He’s always looking at what is best for students,” said Rocky Mountain Principal Mike Hirano. “He is very caring and works well with students.”
A break from teaching
Blaser’s father was a teacher and administrator and his grandfather was a law enforcement officer. He got the bug to try both.
Midway through his teaching career, Blaser switched professions and joined the Meridian Police Department.
He spent time as a school resource officer, patrol officer, SWAT team member and motorcycle officer for special events. He was a member of the motorcade that escorted President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney when they visited Idaho.
“What a thrill,” he said of the experience. “I have a hundred stories to tell.”
His unique experience in education and law enforcement makes him a bit of an expert on school safety. He’s not against training and arming teachers in schools but said he would prefer resources be used to develop a partnership between law enforcement and education. “I really value the resource officer program,” he said.
Blaser has extensive training in hostage rescue situations and public terrorism and he has been taught how to neutralize threats. During a training where they re-enacted a hostage situation in schools, Blaser realized he belonged back in education. West Ada welcomed him back.
“West Ada offers so much professional development to staff, it was a great place to learn and observe,” said Blaser.
The Blasers’ next great adventure
He and Marla, also a teacher, are moving to Cascade. Their last of four children graduated high school in 2015.
“Now that our kids are grown and gone, we feel a tug to share our gifts and time in a new way,” Marla said. “We have often dreamed of being a part of a smaller, rural community.”
Blaser has never run a school district — or even a school — and has never worked for a school board. He admits he has a lot to learn.
“They will see the best me every day,” he said. “I can’t ask any more from everyone else.”
He said he’ll start by building trust and working to use data to produce measurable results. “I’m a data guy,” he said.
In recent years, Cascade’s enrollment has declined from about 250 to 200 — the result of employment shifts and families moving, transferring students to other districts or opting for homeschooling. Blaser says he’s still learning about the community, and hopes to build a culture where families will want their kids to be a part of the district.
“Leadership drives culture and culture drives behavior,” Blaser said.
Marla doesn’t just plan to go along for the ride.
“I love to work alongside Jeff. We are best friends, which makes a move like this exciting and fulfilling,” she said. “I am excited to meet the folks in Cascade, share a meal, attend school events, help out wherever I can.”