‘I’ve had a calling;’ Jim Everett leaves mark on community, schools

(UPDATED, 1:40 p.m., Monday, to correct name of collaborative school project in West Ada district.)

Jim Everett says he wants to keep his retirement plans open-ended, but he plans to be more visible and more outspoken — at the Statehouse and on the opinion page.

And he says — in his typical good humor, yet with a straight face — that he might even get arrested for it.

Not that Everett hasn’t been opinionated before. In his 28 years as CEO of the Treasure Valley Family YMCA, Everett has proven to be a community leader, particularly on K-12 education issues.

YMCA Jim Everett1
After moving from Michigan, Jim Everett made Boise his home — and, for 41 years, he made the Treasure Valley Family YMCA his career. “I’ve had a calling. I’ve gotten paid for it, but I’ve had a calling.” (Photo by Andrew Reed, Idaho Education News.)

Boise Superintendent Don Coberly lists the Y as among the district’s most valued partners, alongside City Hall and the United Way. State Rep. Hy Kloc has come to rely on Everett’s counsel while making the case for a state pre-K law. Under Everett’s watch, the Y is partnering with the West Ada School District on an ambitious school and community complex — just the Y’s latest collaboration with West Ada.

For Everett, partnerships are a way of spreading finite dollars, and reducing the competition for resources. And early education just strikes Everett as a smart investment, whether he views it from a business perspective or from his point of view as a grandfather. “I don’t want less for my grandkids, but I want more for other kids.”

A reluctant pre-K provider

After working 41 years with the Y, Everett’s a familiar face to most all of the nonprofit’s members. The name tag he wears at work is probably unnecessary, but definitely no frills — bearing only the Y’s logo and his first name. No last name. No title.

With that kind of humility, he discusses his foray into early education.

“I don’t pretend to be an early childhood expert,” he said recently. Yet the Y jumped into the void in the late 1970s, launching a latchkey program. Its successor — Guided Discovery, a part-time preschool — now serves several hundred children.

YMCA Jim Everett
As an early education advocate, Jim Everett says he is encouraged by the increased discussion of pre-K in the Statehouse. But the retiring CEO of the Treasure Valley Family YMCA is discouraged by the overall tone of the debate at the Statehouse. “We’re less willing to talk and reach across aisles.“ (Photo by Andrew Reed, Idaho Education News.)

Everett subscribes to the research supporting early childhood education. He believes, from a dollars-and-cents standpoint, that early education offers a community its best possible return on investment.

But at the same time, he says, the Y doesn’t need to be in the pre-K business. There are a lot of other things the Y could do with its resources, if the state steps up.

Consequently, Everett has sided with Rep. Hy Kloc, a Boise Democrat who has spent the past two sessions trying to convince legislators to fund a pre-K pilot bill. (The House Education Committee has introduced the pilot bills, but the bills have never made it to the House floor for a vote.)

Kloc says it’s been invaluable to have an early childhood provider in his camp — guiding him on the issue, without telling him how to approach it. One valuable lesson Kloc picked up from Everett: Be prepared for a long fight. “Jim doesn’t give up.”

As the Y has continued to grow its pre-K offerings, the number of states funding their own early childhood programs has grown as well. Now, Idaho is one of only six states without a pre-K program. Always optimistic, Everett believes the momentum is moving toward pre-K, with more and more “high-level dialogue” about the merits. From Everett’s perspective, it’s past due. “We’ve got a lot of room to catch up.”

The power of partnership

Partnerships run deep throughout the Y’s community portfolio. Such as the pool at the West Boise facility near Hewlett-Packard’s campus — run by the Y, but owned by the City of Boise. Such as an all-day summer academic program at Boise’s Lowell Elementary School, launched earlier this year.

“He never hesitates to just pick up the phone and call,” Coberly said. “Jim is just going to take the most direct route to providing services for kids.”

Sometimes, that route takes the Y and its partners in new directions. The Y is one partner in an intricate collaboration to build a new elementary school on the south side of Meridian, near Eagle and Amity roads.

If all the pieces come together, West Ada’s new Hillsdale Elementary School would sit alongside a new library and a YMCA campus. The school district has its share of funding in hand, from a voter-passed bond issue in March, and the school will open next fall. However, the Meridian Library District goes before voters in Nov. 3 with a $12 million bond issue, and the Y is raising $20 million for its share of the project.

Despite the question marks, Everett remains hopeful, and committed to the model. He said he’s been floating the idea of a collaborative campus for years, before it finally took. “There aren’t enough dollars for everybody to do their own things in a silo.”

The Hillsdale project builds on several other partnerships between the Y and West Ada. The Y has provided a host of of before- and after-school, preschool and summer programs geared toward working families — filling a void the state’s largest district could not meet on its own. At West Ada’s  Cecil D. Andrus Elementary School, a collaboration with the Y and the city of Boise allowed the district to build a new grade school and acquire less property on its own.

That project gave the Hillsdale project its genesis, Superintendent Linda Clark said.

“(Everett is) absolutely key to this, because he’s a trusted, proven leader in this community,” she said.

Life after retirement

Everett’s retirement date is open-ended. He expects to step aside sometime later this year, but the timetable will partly be up to his successor. Longtime Y executive David Duro was named CEO last week; he will begin on Nov. 16 and Everett will work with him during the transition.

Everett is also taking an open-ended approach to retirement, although it’s hard to envision him slowing down. At 63, he competes in triathlons and still rides his bicycle to work most days.

Everett does expect to be active in the community, perhaps in different ways.

He knows there are letters to the editor he might write now — ones he couldn’t have written as CEO of the Y. He expects to be at the Statehouse next legislative session, when “Add the Words” advocates press lawmakers to cover sexual orientation and gender identity under Idaho’s human rights law. Everett says he’s never even received a speeding ticket, but he says he’s willing to be arrested alongside Add the Words protesters.

But he’s not sure he’d want to parlay his community profile into a run for office. “I don’t know if I’m thick-skinned enough.”

His immediate retirement plans are more low-key: traveling, reading and spending more time with his grandchildren. Everett says he’s fighting his own tendencies, but he doesn’t want to overcommit. “I’m going to try to be disciplined enough not to do that.”