The Rev. Jan Bolerjack knows she has big shoes to fill in her new role on the Tukwila School Board.
The board appointed Bolerjack on Aug. 22 to the District No. 2 seat vacated when Steve Mullet died on July 23 of a heart attack.
“I keep a picture of Steve in my car or on my computer, so that I remember what he brought or what he gave and those great big shoes,” Bolerjack, pastor at Riverton Park United Methodist Church, said. “Sometimes I feel like I have to have six pairs of socks to fill those shoes. … I am not going to be able to fill those shoes, and yet I am going to do my darndest.”
Bolerjack said she didn’t know Mullet well but had talked to him at a playground build day at Cascade View Community Park in early July.
“He and I spent about an hour unwrapping cellophane off of the web (playground toy) and we just stood there and talked,” she said.
Bolerjack had been thinking about running for the school board, and when the position opened, she applied. She was the only person to apply for the opening and will serve the remainder of Mullet’s term, which ends in November 2019.
“The schools are really important to me and they do a great job here,” she said. “I wanted to be involved in that. … I talked to several people in the area. ‘What do you think? Could I be a good fit? Could I be helpful? Do I have the right skills and temperament?’ They kept saying, ‘Yes. Yes. Yes.’”
Bolerjack is no stranger to Tukwila schools. For the past several years, she has been as a substitute teacher a couple of days a week, primarily at Cascade View Elementary. As a school board member, she won’t be able to continue to substitute teach.
“That’s hard because I love being in the classroom,” she said. “In the school board role, I’ll get to sneak into the classroom, too.”
Her familiarity with the schools will help her in her new role, Bolerjack said. She also has experience working with homeless children, for whom the church provides shelter, and is on the city’s Human Services Advisory Board.
“I have worked a lot with the social workers in the district around the kids,” she said. “I have a certain awareness about food instability and hunger, what it is like for these kids to eat OK at school during the day all week and then not on the weekends. I think I have a sense of what it is like in the classroom for the teachers and the stresses that they are faced with when they don’t have enough personnel support, when they don’t have enough other teachers in the room.
“Some of our kids are really high-need kids, and this not a school district where you can do a cookie cutter, one-fits-all (approach). We’ve got kids coming from all different angles, all different stresses, all different learning abilities, more so than I have seen anywhere else. I get the sense that the school district really does want to cater to the individuals and offer an equitable education no matter where our students are.”
Bolerjack plans to listen to people in the district and get to know their needs.
“I am not taking sides,” she said. “I am not taking the teachers’ side or the students’ side or the community’s side or the superintendent’s side. It all has to work together. It can’t be one over the other. In some ways, you want to say it is all about the students. Well, it is all about the students, but if your teachers aren’t able to work with the students, then what good is that?”
The support of her church staff allows Bolerjack to serve in the community.
“I feel like I am in a really lucky, lucky position here in that this church has supported me in being in the community,” she said. “We are in the place right now where we have a really big staff because we have been able to get grants and funding from outside. … I can step aside and know that everything is still going to be done. I am not taking it on as an extra; I am taking it on as part of my job.”
Changes on the board
School board member Mary Fertakis has stepped into the role of president, the position that Mullet had when he died.
In November, the school board will get three more new members on its five-member board, as Fertakis, Ricardo Frazer and Alicia Waterton have decided not to seek re-election.
Edna Morris and Ubah Aden will face off on the Nov. 7 ballot for the District No. 4 seat held by Frazer. Tracy Russell will run unopposed to replace Fertakis in District No. 1, and William Gillispie was the only candidate to file for the District No. 3 seat held by Waterton.
Board member Dave Larson’s term runs through November 2019.
Bolerjack said the turnover on the board presents opportunities for change.
“It means we might be able to do some things differently. That is good,” she said. “Just getting on board with the technical stuff will be difficult, but the vision stuff is going to be really fun.”
The new members will have to rely on Larson’s experience, Bolerjack said.
“I will be more experienced than the three that come on, but just barely,” she said. “It is going to put a lot of pressure on Dave, both to educate us and to keep that level keel. … I have no doubts he will be able to do that if we can catch up and catch on fast enough.”