District evolves with board member’s help

McKnight leaves Farmington School Board after 13 years

by Jennifer Chick
Sun Thisweek

During her 13 years on the Farmington School Board, Julie McKnight has watched the district evolve from a small rural district to a larger, more urban district.

Julie McKnight
Julie McKnight

“It was a transition and not pain free for some people,” she said.

When McKnight joined the board in January 2011, the district was just entering that transition. McKnight ran for the board not because there was an issue she was passionate about, but because she believed it was important to be involved. She had been a member of her children’s school parent council for almost five years when people began encouraging her to run for School Board. McKnight’s mom had been a School Board member, and her kids were the fourth generation to graduate from Farmington.

She came on the board at a time when the district’s financial situation was precarious. She said the district was operating with the mentality of a smaller district, but those processes were becoming too complicated as the district grew. However, the district found its way through that period. McKnight credits much of the district’s growth and success during that period to former superintendent Brad Meeks. And she was pleased to be a member of the board that hired Meeks.

“He did so much for this district,” she said. “The list is so long. One of the best decisions that any board did was to hire him.”

Meeks brought in a finance director and human resources director who helped the district build trust with the administration, McKnight said. Teachers began believing that the School Board was informed, and teacher negotiations improved.

“We are in a so much better place,” McKnight said.

Tim Burke is another school board member who will be retiring at the end of December, and he did not see Meeks as the visionary McKnight described. Meeks and Burke often butted heads, and in 2011, Meeks resigned mid-contract in a plan agreed upon by the board and Meeks. Still, McKnight believes Meeks helped the district during his tenure.

“I will never not recognize what we accomplished in that tenure when Dr. Meeks was here,” McKnight said.

She was concerned who would next fill the superintendent spot but has been happy with the board’s decision to hire Jay Haugen in July 2011.

“He can be a visionary in a different way,” McKnight said. “I think Jay is good for the community. He is very present. He is very social. I think with his vision, we will do good things under his guidance.”

As she leaves the board, McKnight takes 13 years of experience with her. McKnight was on the board when the district decided to realign its elections with that of the city, making her second term five years instead of the four now set forth. She said at her last full board meeting in December that it was surreal to finally be leaving the board.

“Besides family and friends, I’ve never committed to anything for 13 years,” she said. “If I could rewind the clock and change anything, I would still do this again.”

Now Julie Singewald will be the longest-seated board member with four years on the board. Though this will bring fresh perspective, McKnight said it will also leave a void of information. McKnight has told the current and new board members to call if they have questions or concerns. If the board is eager to learn and takes the time to understand, McKnight said they will do fine. However, with budget challenges looming, it will be a trying time for the board.

McKnight said she was still excited to see teachers share new discoveries and tools with the board, but after 13 years, it was time for her to step down. She will continue to help with Farmington’s annual community festival Dew Days.