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D91 superintendent reflects on his over four-decade career in public education

Education

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Superintendent George Boland at the groundbreaking ceremony for Dora Erickson Elementary School. | Courtesy Idaho Falls School District 91

IDAHO FALLS — After more than 40 years in public education, Idaho Falls School District 91 Superintendent George Boland is calling it a career.

Boland announced in early December that he plans to retire at the end of the 2020-21 school year. In a way, Boland is retiring after what some might describe as having come full circle. He attended District 91 himself and graduated from Skyline High School, the same school his two daughters also attended.

In 2006, he was named the superintendent of District 91 and went on to become one of the school district’s longest-serving superintendents. But public education wasn’t always on Boland’s radar. He was originally pursuing a career in athletic training.

“My first degree was in pre-physical therapy and then I decided to go back and get a teaching certificate,” he explained. “Then I went to work at Billings Senior High School (in Montana) as an athletic trainer and teacher.”

Boland did that for five years before leaving for the University of Oregon, where he had a graduate teaching fellowship lined up. He earned his master’s in athletic training, and over that period of time, was a volunteer for the United States Olympic Committee where he worked with the 1984 men’s field hockey team.

It wasn’t until he later accepted another teaching job in Billings that he realized public education was the job for him.

“I was at Skyview High School (in Montana), and one of the associate principals there convinced me that I should go into administration, so I started taking some classes in administration,” he said.

His family relocated to his hometown in 1991 when he was offered the assistant principal position at Idaho Falls High School. He became the principal of Skyline High School in 1995 and in 2002, he joined the district office as Supervisor of Educational Services.

“As I got into teaching and did that more and more, I saw that’s a career where you have the ability to really have an impact in individual student lives,” Boland said. “In administration, that compounds your ability to have that impact … you’re a leader within a building that has the ability to impact teachers that teach students.”

Boland when he was principal of Skyline High School with a former student, Rachelle Wilhelmsen, who now works at AH Bush Elementary School in District 91. | Courtesy Idaho Falls School District 91

Countless students felt his desire to make a difference. He recalls a phone call he received from a student who had delivered her baby and asked if he could pick her up from the hospital because she had no way to get home. Boland and another teacher picked her up and helped the student get situated at home with her newborn.

He also remembers helping a student who failed sophomore English three times get on track to graduate. After the student received her diploma and walked off the stage, she threw her arms around Boland and said, “Thanks for making this possible.”

“That’s one of the things that tug at your heartstrings and sticks with you over time,” he said.

Throughout his career, he said he’d been impressed with the perseverance some kids have to find a way to be successful even when faced with obstacles.

“At times, that serves as a reminder to adults that we have to continue to persevere on some things (and) that it might take a career before you see meaningful change,” he added.

In fact, change is something that Boland said public education is “very resistant” to. That’s why one of his challenges during his career has been trying to ensure the educational system meets all students’ needs.

During his time in District 91, Boland has been instrumental in upgrading facilities, including major improvements to the auto program based at IFHS, shifting ninth-graders to the high schools, the creation of D91’s Compass Academy and encouraging investments in technology infrastructure and technology.

“Superintendent Boland’s dedication to the educational excellence of the students, teachers and staff of District 91 is unequaled. He is very well respected by his peers, colleagues and the community as a whole and he will be sorely missed,” District 91’s Board Chair Lara Hill said in a news release. “Even in challenging times, George takes a thoughtful approach to lead the district forward with diligence and grace. The impact he has made on the district is immeasurable.”

He said he wouldn’t have been able to fulfill his job to the fullest without other people’s help.

“(I’m thankful) for the opportunities to work with them and hopefully accomplish some things that made the lives of those that we worked with better,” Boland said.

Boland during a district board meeting. | Courtesy Idaho Falls School District 91

Boland visiting Compass Academy during its renovation. | Courtesy Idaho Falls School District 91
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