In 1973 I walked into Mrs. Armacost’s first grade classroom at Council Elementary School and yesterday, almost 50 years later, in the year 2023, I walked out of my superintendent’s office at Council High School and into my retirement from public education. My education took me from graduation at Council High School (as a state football champion!) to Idaho State University (GO BENGALS!) and then advanced degrees from both Boise State and University of Idaho. My teaching/coaching career started as a New Plymouth Pilgrim in 1994 teaching government/history and coaching football, basketball and track. I added three terms in the Idaho Legislature and two years as Gov. Butch Otter’s education/transportation advisor to my resume starting in 2002. Leaving politics, I proudly returned to the classroom as a Murtaugh Red Devil, before coming back to New Plymouth to teach and then the move into administration with an amazing staff to work with as principal. I was then given the opportunity to return to Council to finish out the last five years of my career, back to being a Lumberjack, taking the dual role of superintendent/high school principal at Council.
Arriving back in Council, I soon realized the devastating effect the Great Recession had on both my hometown of Council and Council School District. Student numbers were cut in half from my graduation in 1984, around 400 down to a little over 200 students K-12. The budget was in shambles with a grand total of $16 left in our accounts after the snowmaggedon winter. Both the elementary and high school were labeled bottom five schools, a reflection of some of the lowest test scores in the state. Grades were inflated, curriculum was outdated and technology was 20 years old and more of a burden than help. Grounds were overgrown with weeds and facilities had fallen into disrepair with trash piled high in both buildings.
With the support of the board, staff and community, we set a very high goal to bring our Lumberjacks back to the top in just five years and I’m very proud to say we accomplished that lofty goal. We rose up from the bottom 5 to now being considered one of the Best Small Schools in the State of Idaho today! Our test scores in both the ES and HS are near the very top of the state, we have new curriculum and new technology in every classroom. We have one-to-one Chromebooks for every student K-12. We have added several electives in the HS, including JH Art/Drama, HS Art, Design & Tech, Yearbook, English Comp, SAT Prep, Sr. Project and Business Computer Apps. With a firm commitment to investing in our foundation, we were one of the first schools in the state to offer an on-sight pre-K program at our school to prepare our 4 year olds for kindergarten. We even went a step further and started a preschool program to get our 3 year olds a good start and offer any special services needed. All free to our parents.
We also worked hard to bring back Lumberjack pride and rebuild our athletic programs. We added strength training in our class schedule which has helped our athletes tremendously and kept them healthy. We added some great coaches to our staff. Our efforts paid off. We have gone from zero state appearances six years ago, to every sport going to state this year, winning multiple state top 4 finish trophies in basketball, first ever state trophies in volleyball and first ever state championship in girl’s basketball! Lumberjack pride is definitely back!
We have also added several security features to protect our students and staff with 32 cameras in both buildings, new doors with secure FOB entrance systems, secure vestibules and a new intercom at the elementary. We were able to accomplish all of this with an amazing team of teachers and support staff. And that $16 has grown to over $750,000 now in our forest funds/maintenance/facilities accounts! Our grounds are beautiful and our facilities now include new football bleachers, a new bus barn on campus, new parking lots and a Lumberjack gymnasium to be proud of with new floor and bleachers.
All of the hard work to bring our Lumberjacks back to the top of the state in both academics and athletics has not come easy. As the Superintendent/HS Principal I had to make some tough decisions that were not popular and not easy. If you want a great school and great education for our kids, you have to make decisions based on the question, “What is best for our kids!”So I have had to let go teachers and support staff who were not best for kids. I have had to discipline students, suspend students and athletes who were not following the rules and were not doing things the Lumberjack way. Those people in the community who wanted what was best for our kids and our school have supported my decisions and continued to support me as their leader. I will always be eternally grateful for that support.
But there are members of our community who have not supported these efforts and have repeatedly attacked our school, our teachers and me personally. When they didn’t like me defending our school and teachers, they went around me and started complaining directly to the board. They have made up lies and perpetuated rumors that were damaging to my career and hurtful to my family. These people are the worst segments of society, social media parasites who feed on the negativity and take joy out of spreading lies and filth.
When I was directed by the board to deal with a difficult personnel matter, I did what I was told and then turned the matter over to the board and the district attorney. I have not been involved since, yet have taken all the blame. When the board did not come out and publicly support me in February, or any time since, I knew it was time for me to consider resigning/retirement. The decision to resign was 100% mine. I was not forced to resigned, asked to resign or threatened with legal action to resign.
When I got here 5 years ago, I told the board that I would stay and turn this school district around as long as I had their full support and nothing less. For 4 ½ years that is exactly what I got and why we turned this school district around. Sadly, over the last four months that is no longer the case and it is time for me to move on.
I did what I came to do. I’m proud of what we have accomplished. My Lumberjacks are back on top where they belong. And as I look over the last 30 years, I have some great memories. To all of you students, athletes, teachers, parents, friends and family from New Plymouth to Murtaugh to Council, my political friends and my Bengal brothers who have supported me over the last 30 years…………..THANK YOU FOR EVERYTHING………………….and if you know me, you know my retirement will be spent in the mountains of Idaho, chasing deer and elk and catching a fish or two…………..you are welcome to join me……………… if you can find me!