Randy Schrader knows how to go out on top.
Thirty-three years ago, the stud starting center for Boise State University’s football team helped the Broncos defeat Eastern Kentucky to win the 1980 Division I-AA national championship in his final game. In the process, he collected Big Sky all-conference honors and was named an honorable mention All-American selection.
On Tuesday, Schrader told the Garden Valley School District Board of Trustees that he will step down in June, after helping transform the district in the wake of a crisis.
After three years in Garden Valley, Schrader will leave his position as superintendent, principal, teacher and federal programs director. Although his stay in the mountainous district north of Boise was short, Schrader earned the Idaho Association of School Administrators District Leadership Award last week. He was nominated by a staff that was, until recently, fraught with turmoil and turnover.
“The district has been running well now – it struggled mightily over a couple of years with the things that were going on,” Schrader said. “But now the staff is doing a great job, kids are performing well and you want to leave when you feel good about what you’re leaving behind.”
Since hanging up his No. 55 Broncos jersey, Schrader has spent 28 years in education, working in the Nampa, Parma, Caldwell and Garden Valley school districts. He has coached sports, taught in the classroom, and served as an athletics director, vice principal, principal, assistant superintendent and superintendent.
On Saturday, the Broncos will honor Schrader by having him serve as an honorary team captain for the the Boise State-Wyoming football game. Kickoff is set for 8:15 p.m. at Bronco Stadium, and the game will be televised on ESPN2.
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Inheriting a mess
“Randy came to our school during a shadowy spell between our community and school, and brought back peace to Garden Valley,” said sixth-grade teacher Aimee Grosvenor, in a two-page letter recommending Schrader for the IASA District Leadership Award.
“The teachers lacked faith and trust in any kind of administration,” Grosvenor continued. “Morale was dwindling and any hope to regain confidence was lost.”
Schrader succeeded Superintendent Michael Tomlin, who was terminated and filed a lawsuit against the district, which was settled this year.
During the unrest, the district’s enrollment – now about 230 students – declined by almost 10 percent. Schrader said frustrated parents pulled their children from the district in favor of homeschooling them. Board meetings were contentious and whispers and rumors swirled through the community like an unwelcome mountain thunderstorm.
A culture of change
The first thing Schrader did was focus on mending broken relationships.
“We made a rule,” Schrader said “If you talk about school in the community, now the only things you’re going to talk about are the good things. You’re not going to talk about each other, you’re not going to talk about kids (behind their backs), you will talk about positive things going on in school.”
- Schrader immersed himself in school, writing grants to award wireless tablets to teachers.
- He helped launch a digital academy to combat geographic challenges, the loss of foreign language teachers and the inability to offer many electives. Scheduling limitations also made it impossible for some students to take classes, such as English 4 and calculus, at the same time. Now, 54 of the high school’s 70 students are enrolled in the Garden Valley Digital Academy.
- He brought back a preschool program – even though the state doesn’t pay for preschool. Now, all district 4-year-olds are welcome to attend at no cost to their parents. Ten students are enrolled, and Schrader believes the program will grow.
- Schrader and the staff launched a new academic program that seeks to advance students based not on seat time, but on subject mastery. The goal isn’t to push students to graduate early, but to allow them to earn college credits while still in high school. All high school teachers are certified to lead dual-credit courses. This move predated a mastery recommendation issued by Gov. Butch Otter’s Task Force for Improving Education.
- He brought back an art teacher the district lost and helped put Garden Valley on a course to restore the budget.
“His employees and his students – he just thinks about them first and foremost,” said Lydia Calloway, the district’s director of financial operations and a 20-year Garden Valley veteran. “I can’t even tell you how we’ve changed. You just don’t know where we were three years ago. There just wasn’t any trust.”
Schrader’s commitment doesn’t end when the school day ends. In his first year, he launched a new prom celebration with the aim of saving students from driving 100 miles round trip to Boise for expensive dinners or parties. Now, Schrader distributes a menu selection to students beforehand and donates and cooks steaks during a local celebration before the dance.
“The kids really enjoy it and the cost is minimal,” Schrader said. “I donate steaks, somebody else donates chicken, the kids don’t have to spend money on gas, and it’s well attended.”
Grosvenor said Schrader has bought toys for the playground and provides hot dogs and burgers while manning the grill at parents’ night or football games.
One of her first indications things were changing was Christmas three years ago, Schrader’s first year on the job.
“Because our budget was so empty, there was nothing for the staff – there wasn’t even money to buy turkey or a ham or anything,” Grosvenor said. “He bought a bunch of gift cards (for the staff) out of his own money.
“He’s a Godsend.”
Garden Valley has earned high marks from the Idaho State Department of Education since Schrader took over. During each of the past two years under the state’s new five-star rating system, the K-12 Garden Valley School has earned four or five stars.
Two years ago, five students earned perfect scores on the AP Calculus exam.
This year, the district’s enrollment grew by 25 students, which Schrader attributed to the return of kids whose parents pulled them out for homeschooling.
Last year, 16 of the 20 graduating students went on to college. Schrader estimated that 90 percent of the district’s graduates have gone on to college or military service since he’s been superintendent.
Schrader hasn’t decided what is next for him and his wife, Janalee, but he may seek another education job elsewhere.
“My wife and I have been planning to go on an adventure when our kids get out of school for a long time,” he said.
With his youngest boy set to graduate high school in the spring, the Schraders would like to relocate. He has a license to teach in Florida or Hawaii.
Schrader’s obsession with sandy beaches and turquoise water is no secret. The vanity license plate hanging on his office wall (near his No. 55 Broncos jersey) reads “beachbm.”
His love of surf and sand is even more visible and permanent.
“I like tattoos, I like art, and I had the goal I would have 10 by the time I was 50,” Schrader, 55, said. “I ended up with 11.”
Even though Schrader has more tattoos than many of Boise State’s current players (and more than some rockers playing Lollapalooza) that’s no secret either. Many of his students and staff know that Speedy Gonzales, a parrot, surfboard, tropical themes and his wife’s name are inked on his body.
“I’m the person who always said if I get caught being someone I’m not, I’m in trouble,” Schrader said. “When I’m in school, I’m the same person outside of school.
“Some of the kids think it’s kind of cool.”
Schrader gave his notice this week so trustees and district staff could search for a replacement while he is still on the job. He predicted that a national search would draw a lot of interest, but there are also a couple qualified candidates within the district.
Either way, Schrader said he is happy to show the district’s next leader the ropes and leave a message to his ultimate successor to consider before accepting the position.
“Remember that the mission of a school is to educate kids first and foremost and build quality relationships with everybody,” Schrader said. “School is the No. 1 priority when you start here. If you can do that and build the trust you can accomplish about anything.”