ARLINGTON — When Jeff Huleatt was considering a run for the Arlington School Board more than 16 years ago, the superintendent at the time tried to sweeten the pot.
Linda Byrnes told the local dentist he’d be in a position to not only sign the diplomas for his children but he’d also have the chance to personally hand them out at graduation.
“That tipped the balance,” Huleatt said.
Since then, he’s signed theirs’ and more than 5,500 others.
He won’t catch up with his long-time colleague member Kay Duskin, who served on the board for 20 years and signed 7,000 diplomas or thereabouts.
Huleatt and Duskin attended their final school board meeting earlier this month, capping a stretch of dramatic growth and change in Arlington schools. Neither ran for re-election this fall.
“Words cannot fully express the positive impact that Kay and Jeff have had on our students and staff,” Superintendent Chrys Sweeting said. She credited them with helping the district through tight budgets during a recession and helping make the district stronger academically and financially.
Duskin, who grew up on a 360-acre wheat farm in Eastern Washington, moved to Arlington in 1974 with her husband, David. He’d grown up in Arlington and returned to practice law.
Duskin would volunteer in schools and was part of a district-wide committee studying building needs. At the time, things were getting pretty desperate, after years of failed bond measures. The old Arlington High School was not only aging, it was too small for the growing enrollment. The space crunch was most evident in the crowded hallways between classes.
“You were like a salmon going upstream,” Duskin said. “I’d plan my visits to the high school between class so I wouldn’t have to deal with the hallway.”
It became so dire school district leaders were considering a year-round calendar and other measures to stagger the number of students on campus at any one time.
Duskin, who started on the board in 1999, remembers the relief she and others felt when voters finally approved a $54 million bond measure in 2000. She’s proud of how the district was able to leverage the money to build a new high school that better serves students. With state matching money, it also built Haller Middle School and Pioneer and Presidents elementary schools.
Later, during Duskin’s tenure, the district was able to lease a larger and more modern building for Weston High School, an alternative high school campus.
It was a building that the bond didn’t cover that perhaps best defines the grassroots nature of the district at the time. As volunteers, Duskin and Huleatt were part of the five-year campaign to get the Linda Byrnes Performing Arts Center built on the Arlington High School campus. Duskin spent many hours with Jeff’s wife, Cindy, at 7 a.m. meetings along with a small army of other volunteers brainstorming ideas to raise money. The group brought in $2.5 million to match district money to finish the $6.5 million project.
“We nickeled and dimed our way,” Duskin said.
Duskin rattles off programs and improvements the district has made during her time on the board, including the Stillaguamish Valley Learning Center for home-school families, student-led presentations at school board meetings, an Air Force JROTC program at the high school as well as robotics competitions.
Huleatt, who grew up in Lynden, was a testament to perseverance when it came to his own education. He attended the University of Washington for one year before leaving school for five years to earn money and get married. He then returned to UW and earned a degree in microbiology. From there, it was dentistry school.
“The thing I enjoyed most about serving on the board was that we all, the administration, teachers and staff, we all had the same goal,” Huleatt said. “We all put the students first and foremost.”
Duskin and Huleatt both say the hardest school board decision they ever had to make was closing Trafton School.
The white two-story schoolhouse was built in 1912 for $3,792.93. It replaced the Trafton school built in 1888, which burned down on the same site.
Trafton Elementary closed in 2010. At the time, it was considered the oldest continuously operating schoolhouse in the state.
Shutting it down was a controversial decision. Public hearings drew hundreds of people, including students who sang songs and carried “Save our School” signs. Parents fought to keep the school open by signing petitions and starting a group called Keep Trafton Alive.
Administrators decided the district couldn’t afford to maintain the old school for day-to-day use. Trafton served 135 students in kindergarten through fifth grade.
Huleatt lives out that way.
“I drove by Trafton every day,” he said. “It tore us all up but that’s just what we had to do. It was by far the most difficult thing in the 16 years on the board that we had to do.”
These days, Huleatt, now a grandfather of three, looks forward to performances at the arts center.
Duskin continues to volunteer in a kindergarten class at Presidents Elementary and the high school.
One place she’s unlikely to be on Monday nights is the school board meeting room.
“Now I get to watch Monday Night Football,” she said.
Eric Stevick: 425-339-3446; email@example.com.