Gateway: Opinion

Activist reflects on tenure on Peninsula School District board

Peninsula School District Superintendent Chuck Cuzzetto administers the oath to interim board member Jerry Gibbs during a July 23 meeting at the district’s headquarters.
Peninsula School District Superintendent Chuck Cuzzetto administers the oath to interim board member Jerry Gibbs during a July 23 meeting at the district’s headquarters. Special to the Gateway

Gig Harbor resident and community activist Jerry Gibbs is a tough guy.

You have to have thick skin and some courage to stand up to Pierce County when you file a referendum to block construction of its $127 million government headquarters in Tacoma’s South End. And you need guts when the County sues you to block the challenge.

But Gibbs, who’s also a cancer survivor, recently felt the great weight of responsibility on his shoulders while serving as an interim board member in the Peninsula School District. Sworn in at a July 23 meeting, Gibbs finished his tenure with the school board last week.

Gibbs’ four-month tenure was a special time for him, he told me last week over lunch. He wanted to walk a mile in board members’ shoes coming in, and really pay attention to the building maintenance challenges the district has faced recently. It’s something that was right up Gibbs’ alley; he worked for 38 years overseeing various facets of a nuclear power plant.

“Having that access was eye-opening,” he said. “Conditions of some of our buildings are worse than I (first) thought.”

But while walking on roofs and chatting with maintenance superintendents was second nature for Gibbs, he especially felt the weight of responsibility when it came to other issues that weren’t maintenance related, like when it came time to vote on the district’s transgender policy, which put in place a district-wide set of procedures to accommodate transgender students. Before the vote, Gibbs did his homework, talking to lawmakers in Olympia and researching other districts around the country that already had or were considering similar policies.

“I’m all in on whatever I sign up for,” Gibbs said.

He ended up voting in favor of the policy, much to the chagrin of some in his social circle.

“I got a lot of heat from some in the conservative community,” Gibbs said.

He also felt a personal connection to current events after the October shooting at Umpqua Community College near Roseburg, Oregon. The shooting brought school security to the front of Gibbs’ mind — mainly beefing up security measures around the district. The school board moved quickly to take measures to provide greater security on campuses, installing buzz-in intercoms and bringing in a security consultant to do a district-wide assessment.

“If you are willing to go all in with ideas, you get people to listen to you,” he said. “An activist needs to take ownership. What I get involved in, I take ownership in.”

While the district has its challenges in the coming year — mainly hiring a new superintendent and rebuilding a foundation of trust with a community that voted against a bond and levy — Gibbs believes the new board has a good grasp on the issues.

“Building maintenance has got to be made a priority, and I believe the board has that message,” he said.

While there is a long list of other activist-related tasks on Gibbs’ mind at the moment, he didn’t rule out running for a position on the school board in four years.

“It does interest me,” he said. “I’ll definitely be staying engaged.”

Tyler Hemstreet: 253-358-4150, themstreet@gateline.com, @gateway_tyler

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