Laurie Danzuka, a long-serving board member of the Jefferson County School District, has been named the 2021 Oregon School Board Member of the Year by the Oregon School Boards Association.

The association, which provides advice, training and services to all 197 Oregon school districts, honors one school board member each year with the distinction.

Danzuka, a member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, was honored by Jim Green, the executive director of the school boards association. A surprise celebration was held during a board meeting Monday night at Warm Springs K-8 Academy.

The meeting also fell on Indigenous Peoples Day and was opened with a prayer and song from members of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.

A drum circle and singers also performed to honor Danzuka and the holiday recognized by the school district and a growing number of governments across the country.

Green said Danzuka was nominated by her board, and highlighted the countless hours Danzuka spent planning school district events and bridging the diverse communities within the school district.

“The work you have done is amazing,” he said.

Danzuka was tearful by the surprise celebration.

“It’s an endless job, and it’s been an honor to to serve the communities that we live in,” she said. “When people ask me why I want to do this work, lots of time I don’t have an answer, but in the end the answer always ends up being because it’s what’s best for kids. And at the end of the day, that’s what every parent wants, every grandparent wants, every teacher wants.”

Danzuka also recognized Jeff Sanders, a former Jefferson County School Board member, who encouraged her to step up when he was ready to step down from the board. The position has traditionally been held by a tribal member. Sanders, a member of the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs, also served on the state and national school boards. He also recognized Danzuka and the rest of the board on Monday night.

School district staff, board members and others in the public recognized her for her work in the schools and throughout the community.

Danzuka, 50, was first elected to the school board in 2009, and she was reelected to her fourth term in May. She works as the cannabis project coordinator for Warm Springs Economic Development Corp. Her niece and nephew both graduated from the school district. She also has a niece who is a freshman in high school and a grandson who is in first grade.

The school district credited Danzuka for successfully increasing the district’s graduation rates from some of the lowest in the state when she first joined to above the state average.

“She accomplished this by helping prioritize learning strategies such as professional learning communities and (Advancement Via Individual Determination) AVID,” the school district said. “She also worked on expanding (Career Technical Education) CTE programs and pushed for standardized curriculum across all schools to help students have universal understanding of essential standards.”

Danzuka played an instrumental role in helping the district pass a bond measure in 2012 that funded the construction of the Warm Springs K-8 Academy, Performing Arts Center and the football stadium at Madras High School.

She has worked with the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs to oversee the inclusion of Native American language classes in schools. Three Native American languages are taught in the school district and work has also been done with the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs to develop a local-native history and culture curriculum taught across the district.

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