Wendy Moore had the urge to move out West. Her husband loved to hunt and fish and she wanted to teach in a rural community surrounded by mountains.
From her home in South Michigan, she started surfing for jobs in western states.
Up popped Genesee, Idaho.
Nestled near the Clearwater and Snake River, world famous for steelhead and salmon fishing and access to outdoor recreation.
Moore’s first trip to Idaho was to interview for the Genesee School District‘s superintendent position. Trustees asked her to deliver a presentation on rural Idaho, a task to educate her about Idaho’s history and traditions. “That was a smart request on their part because I learned a lot — I learned I wanted to live in Idaho,” Moore said.
After a rigorous interview process and days of deliberation, the job was offered and accepted.
“I was lured by the beautiful landscaping and swayed by a community that highly values education,” Moore said.
The first day the Moores arrived in town, kids from the football team visited and welcomed freshman son Josh to join the team.
“I couldn’t believe it — so special,” Moore said. “It’s a very supportive community.”
Fast forward six years
Genesee is today one of the highest performing districts in Idaho.
- 100 percent graduation rate in 2014, highest in Idaho.
- 84 percent go-on rate, highest in Idaho.
- Well above the Idaho average on SAT, ISAT and elementary reading and math scores.
While much of the credit goes to Moore and her staff, the community is exceptionally well educated, successful and supportive. Genesee is a bedroom community between Moscow and Lewiston, surrounded by institutions of higher education.
Residents are 97 percent white and the poverty level was as low as 17 percent six years ago when Moore first arrived and rests at about 24 percent today, still one of the lowest in the state.
“You don’t come here to hide because everyone will know your name,” said Moore.
Nearly 30 percent of the Genesee’s district budget comes from local property taxes. Garden Valley and Horseshoe Bend, districts with similar enrollment, collect 11 percent and 4 percent from local taxes, respectively.
“We wouldn’t survive without levies and we wouldn’t be as successful without this supportive community,” said high school principal and athletic director Kelly Caldwell. “It’s not one magical ingredient. It’s a combination of the community, highly effective teachers and supportive leaders.”
Moore has her own tricks for success
Moore, superintendent and elementary principal, learns the names of every child in her school. Administrators make daily investigations into students who do not show up for school. And they act within hours, not days.
“Everyone here is focused on the same high expectations,” said Genesee trustee Susan Rigg. “We expect a lot and we know they can do it.”
Genesee has not gone to a four-day school week, a popular trend among smaller districts. More than 40 percent of Idaho’s districts have moved to a four-day week; nationally, only about 1 percent have made that transition.
Moore said there isn’t a financial need to make the move, and she’d rather see kids in school.
“Our students are very involved, not just academically but we also have a high participation rate in activities,” Caldwell said. “Some might be shocked at our data but for us, it’s a culture and an expectation.”
Staffers send out a “climate survey” every three years to parents and students.
Every student will get a shirt on the first day of school this month that reads PRIDE, standing for positivity, respect, integrity, dependability and excellence. Students designed the shirts.
“We promote a lot of student-involved activities,” Moore said.
Also on the first day of school, students are assigned a color and “color teams” assemble across grade levels and meet, greet and participate in team activities. The color teams are promoted throughout the year.
“We make sure everyone has someone to talk to if they have a problem,” Moore said.
She may be the most approachable. Moore said she would never give up her elementary principal job because that’s the best way for her to stay connected to kids. She greets them — by name — every morning. She regularly hosts ice cream socials for small groups so she can get to know students better.
She conducts “PRIDE assemblies” where students are rewarded and singled out for good behavior or performances.
“Wendy is fabulous,” Rigg said. “She’s a positive force plus teachers know Wendy allows them to be creative and try new things. We’re very lucky to have this administration.”
Moore also takes on statewide leadership roles and is this year’s president of the Idaho Association of School Administrators.
“It’s been a joy watching her grow and take the lead,” said Rob Winslow, executive director of the IASA. “She’s come a long way and she’s really done well.”
Moore said she relishes the statewide role because she can stay current on issues and share information with her district and with other North Idaho education leaders.
“One of the best things about Idaho is the accessibility of lawmakers,” Moore said. “They send out updates and they’ve always made themselves available to me and listened.”
One of the only bad things about Idaho, according to Moore, is the hilly road system.
“I can’t get my palms to quit sweating when I get behind the wheel,” she quipped. “It’s a 7 percent grade to get anywhere from here.”
Wendy Moore’s resume
- Served as an administrator in public education for 14 years, 11 in a dual role as superintendent/elementary principal
- 11 years teaching experience
- Owns two master’s degrees in K-12 administration and leadership and counseling
- Holds administrative certification in Idaho and Michigan
- President of the Idaho Association of School Administrators
For more information on Genesee and to compare student performance between districts, go to IdahoEdTrends.org, a data center with the most recent and publicly available data on all of Idaho’s schools and districts.