School Board President Interview
Meet School Board President Dane Looker
Posted on 08/04/2016

Puyallup School Board President Dane Looker wears many hats. He is a board member, parent, volunteer, community resident, and is married to a teacher.

Having served on the board for more than five years, Looker was recently asked to talk about the role of the school board, reflect on past accomplishments, and provide a glimpse of things to come for the Puyallup School District.

His longtime family roots in Puyallup serve him well as a member of the school board. Looker is a third generation graduate from Puyallup High School, where he excelled in high school sports.

After graduating in 1995 he attended Western Washington University for two years where he played basketball. He then transferred to the University of Washington to play football.

After college he was drafted into the National Football League (NFL) and played professional football for nine years. During his career he played for the New England Patriots, St. Louis Rams, and Detroit Lions as a wide receiver. He also spent a season with the NFL Europe League before retiring in 2009.

Dane Looker and family

In 2011, he returned to the area with his wife Amy and their children. As he considered where his son would attend school, he also considered where he could volunteer his time. “The school board came up and I decided if we were going to invest in public education and put our children in the schools, I needed to roll up my sleeves and see if I could contribute,” said Looker.

Dane Looker with children

 

He is the father of four children, with three currently attending Puyallup schools and the youngest in preschool. His wife is a teacher at Kalles Junior High and coaches girls’ basketball at Rogers High School. Looker is a volunteer football coach in the district.

Dane Looker Collage

He has been a member of the school board since November 2011. He was reelected in November 2015 to serve a four-year term.

The role of a board member

Dane Looker did not join the school board with any personal agenda. He said being a member and having a greater understanding of procedures has provided a different perspective on how the district is run.

The role of the school board is to provide oversight. They review district policies to evaluate them and make sure they align with the strategic directions and state and federal mandates. They envision the future of the school district’s educational program and formulate goals, define outcomes, and set the course for the district.

The board evaluates the superintendent’s performance based on progress made towards the strategic directions.

The biggest misconception is that board members dictate policy. They are not responsible for staffing and personnel issues. “Our role does not include getting too far into running the district,” he added.

Looker said he likes the feedback he receives from the public, including the public comment during the school board meetings. “I like to know what the public is thinking. The board wants to hear from them. They have a right to express their views,” he said. He added that the board members are also community members, parents, and active business people, and that helps them understand. 

“We want to hear from the Puyallup community the ways they think we can improve,” he said.

The number one way board members communicate with the public is through email.

In addition to attending school board meetings twice a month, two of the five board members meet with the superintendent prior to each board meeting to plan the agenda. Looker said board members also meet individually with the superintendent each month to go over current issues and initiatives. Three or more members of the board cannot meet together without a public meeting notice. 

The board receives an email update every week from the superintendent’s office which includes schedules, legislative concerns, and information about meetings and activities that have taken place.

Accomplishments

Shortly after joining the board, Looker sat on the interview team to hire a new superintendent for the district. It is the most important contribution he has made as a board member, he said.

“The decision to hire Dr. Tim Yeomans as superintendent has been a game changer. Yeomans’ leadership style to ‘serve the district’ has transcended his vision,” said Looker. “It’s never about him. It’s always about others.”

Looker said the strategic direction focusing on instruction and learning, set shortly after Yeomans was hired, has united the staff in their mission to serve Puyallup students. The strategic direction reads ‘Improvement of Instruction, Student Growth, and Achievement.’

“When everyone is focused
on student learning,
they can clearly define their role
and know what the goal is.”

The district leadership team views their role as ‘serving the district.’ As a result, staff are at ease doing their job, and interactions with administration are smooth. “They know their mission and the expectations are clear,” he added.

The voter approved November 2015 School Construction and Facility Improvements bond was a significant milestone. As a result, the district will build a new elementary school, replace Firgrove, Northwood, and Sunrise elementary schools, and remodel and expand Pope Elementary. “We are so thankful to voters for passing the bond to expand our capacity in our elementary schools,” said Looker. Enrollment growth in Puyallup schools is expected to increase by 1,600 students in the next five years.

Fiscal responsibility is critically important to the school board, and many steps have been taken in recent years to control costs, maximize state and federal match dollars and grants, and to improve efficiency.

Refinancing the 2004 school bonds for lower interest rates saved taxpayers more than $23.2 million over 13 years. Recently, due to the high bond ratings the district received, the overall cost of borrowing for the 2015 bond was 3.36 percent which is an impressively low rate.

All district buses are now on a deprecation schedule, resulting in significant savings. The transportation department has reduced costs by purchasing more efficient buses and eliminating buses that were fully depreciated.

The transportation system changes were huge. Dr. Yeomans’ handling of that shows his fiscal wisdom, according to Looker.

The 1:1 Empowering Puyallup initiative to provide each student in grades 4-12 with a technology device will have a significant impact on student learning for years to come. “As a board member we love to see those technology pieces in every hand. We also want to ensure there is a support system in place and that it is done the right way. As a Puyallup parent my children will be given one, and I will be able to watch it unfold first hand,” he said.

One of the most significant initiatives that Looker is particularly proud of is the Puyallup Online Academy and Puyallup Open Doors programs to allow students alternative pathways to graduate. He reflected on a moment in time when fellow School Board Director Chris Ihrig asked why students were choosing to transfer out of the district and the reasons others were choosing to transfer in to Puyallup. The board wanted to know how many and why. Ihrig asked if the district could do some analysis and bring the information back to the board. 

As a result they put initiatives in place to offer opportunities that would bring kids back. “This was not just eye opening to the board,” said Looker. “There are many different reasons, but to bring them back with Online Learning and Open Doors and offer them opportunities to graduate is a great success.”

Looker is pleased with the district decision to move ninth graders to high school athletics. “When you look at it theoretically it seems like a great idea and seems like it would work, but you don’t really get to see it applied until you sit back as a parent or an uncle,” he said. He cited an example of a ninth-grade girl who went to state playoffs in three different sports at Rogers. “When you see the ninth graders excel and you see it applied, then you know that we made the right decision,” said Looker.

When Superintendent Yeomans was hired in 2012, we assessed the district and came up with the major initiatives we needed to look at. Now, four years later, those boxes are checked.

“Thus far I have not seen a policy or change we made with a negative outcome and hope to stay on that path,” said Looker. 

Looking forward

Moving forward the school board will work with the district to determine the most important use of district resources. Looker said they want to maximize the use of time, energy, and resources. He said this may involve narrowing the focus and choosing a certain amount of services and doing those very well. 

“We have a certain amount of resources that we can allocate to a certain amount of programs. We have to make sure that where we are allocating, we do it very well,” he said.

"I want kids to have
post-secondary opportunities
and a passion for something
they learned in school."

Preparing students for a post-secondary career is a high priority. “I want kids to have post-secondary opportunities and a passion for something they learned in school. It can be automotive, music, sports, debate, or something else—whatever it is that’s going to spark that passion and make them pursue it. My hope is that they find their passion here and then pursue that in the future. Whether its college, a trade, or military, we are not just focusing on college but post-secondary career opportunities,” he said.

As the board looks to the future, they know the four high school model is not sustainable to support the growth happening in the district. They are currently looking at how the district can make room within the current schools as the overcrowded elementary students begin to transition to secondary schools.

Pride in Puyallup

Growing up in Puyallup and raising his family here has given School Board President Dane Looker a sense of pride in the community and the education system. He is confident the Puyallup School District provides a warm and welcoming environment and a positive learning environment.

The focus on student learning is improving graduation rates and preparing students for post-high school success. Progress for students attending all-day kindergarten is showing great improvement in early learning.

The caring and positive teachers make lasting impressions on students. “I am married to a teacher. I see firsthand how they impact kids and the struggles that they go through,” he said. He talked about the challenges teachers have to ‘level the playing field’ for students, and how attendance can impact learning.

One significant change in Puyallup since Looker graduated is the diverse population in Puyallup. “Demographics have changed considerably in a very positive way. Shaking hands at graduation you see the diversity in our district. Our kids are fortunate to experience the different cultures,” he said..

Looker will be an active member of the Puyallup community for years to come. His oldest child will start junior high in the fall. He wants to remain on the board long enough to “shake my kids’ hands at graduation.”

“Our district is doing an incredible job of making sure we welcome each and every child that walks in that door,” said Looker. banner logo