R-C Neighbors: Jim and Laura Parsons are dedicated to education
When you met Jim and Laura Parsons, you immediately become old friends. Or at least that’s the way you feel after just a few minutes in their company. Outgoing and personable, Jim and Laura have an infectious humor and ready smiles. But when the subject of their careers is brought up – they are all business.
Jim is the superintendent of schools in Alpine County, Calif., and Laura is the reading specialist at C.C. Meneley Elementary School. Both are dedicated to quality education for children, but with the difference in school districts their modes of implementing their goals can often be vastly polarized.
Laura teaches in a multi-track year-round school. She loves the diversity that a large school with many students can create, yet there are one or two drawbacks that she jokes about.
“I have color-coded my life,” said Laura. “I’m not on a specific track with teachers and students – I am full time. So it’s always a memory game, trying to remember which classroom a student is in, who is on track or off track or maintaining a schedule.”
Alpine County only has 200 students enrolled in its schools, and according to Jim, the population is spread-out all over the place. This requires a fair amount of logistical creativity.
– “Little House.” “The schools in Kirkwood and Bear Valley are K-6 with a K-8 school and two community day schools in Woodfords,” said Jim. “The K-6 schools are like ‘Little House on the Prairie’ – one teacher for all grades. And there are a lot of students who work in the ski industry. They work and do independent study. The needs of our population require that we be flexible.”
According to Jim, the Alpine County School District includes a high percentage of special education students.
“So we have a lot of programs for very few kids, but that’s what you do in education -you meet with the kids where they are,” said Jim.
Jim and Laura met while they were both teachers at Desert Sun, a coed, college preparatory boarding school in Idlewild, Calif. In addition to teaching, they lived in the dorms with the kids and became their surrogate parents.
“But they did things to us that they would never do to their parents,” said Jim.
“Like short-sheet our beds,” said Laura.
While at the school Jim and three other teachers formed a band. Their name was changed by the school’s underground newspaper.
“They were called Willy and the Pigs,” said Laura as she tried to contain a smile.
“We were pretty good,” said Jim. “We even played at weddings and community events, but when we started getting paid for the work, I bowed out. There ought to be one thing in our life you don’t get paid for.”
Jim jumped into administration when he was appointed headmaster of the school.
“For 9 years I lived with four telephones,” said Jim.
“And more pranks,” said Laura.
They both chuckled when they remembered when, after they were married, some students hung a speaker in the chimney of their cabin. It was wired to the dorm and at 2 o’clock in the morning sound effects were piped into their home.
“It wasn’t hard to figure out who did it,” said Jim. “All we had to do was follow the wires.”
“I remember thinking, I’m too young for this,” said Laura. “But in reality, the school was a lot of fun.”
– Moving on. When it became time to raise a family, Jim and Laura left the boarding school and Jim became the director of curriculum for the Selma Unified School District in Fresno.
“The school district was about the same size as Douglas County School District and I enjoyed it,” said Jim. “But when I read about the job in Alpine County, it sounded like it was written for us, and Laura and I decided we needed to go back to the mountains.”
Jim’s position of superintendent of schools is an elected position. California allows for an elected superintendent for each county, and an appointed superintendent for each district within the county. However, Alpine County is fairly unique in that it has only one school district. Therefor, theoretically, there could be two superintendents, one elected and one appointed, for the same school district.
“There are only five counties in California where this could happen,” said Jim. “But I like working with a small school district. I can run a private school on the state’s money.”
Although Jim and Laura love backpacking in the mountains by their Markleeville home, the last few years has seen a sharp decline in their recreation.
“I’ve been lobbying in Washington, D.C. for education issues for the last three years,” said Jim. “That sucks up a lot of time.”
And they have spent a considerable amount of time involved with both sets of their parents.
“It’s been an eye-opening experience,” said Laura. “As your parents age it makes you realize what you’d like for the rest of your life. But parents are invaluable. It’s all worthwhile.”
Jim and Laura have one daughter, Maren, who will be a junior at Douglas High School. Jim said that for relaxation and fun, he plays mental games with her – to drive her nuts.
– Part-time poet. “I read my cowboy poetry to her,” said Jim. “She begs me to read it to her friends.”
Maren rolled her eyes at her father.
Jim has written a collection of more than 80 poems. He teased about someday being invited to the Cowboy Gathering in Elko.
“Or maybe someone will be foolish enough to publish them,” said Jim. “Stranger things have happened.”
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