School board president hands over the gavel

In an emotional changing of the guard, Verna Rae Oraker, president of the Bremerton School Board and a board member off and on for nearly a decade, surrendered her gavel to Superintendent Bette Hyde and officially stepped down Dec. 13.

She announced in July — well before the November election — that she would not run for a third term, citing “personal reasons.”

In an almost ceremonial fashion, an emotional Oraker handed her gavel to Hyde, who acted as interim head-of-the-board during Oraker’s stepping down and the swearing in of re-elected board member Russ Hartman and newly elected board member and former BSD superintendent, DeWayne Boyd.

New officers were also elected: Margaret Kirk as new president and Michelle White as new vice president. Both were voted in unanimously. Drake Evans volunteered to continue as board auditor.

“I’ve enjoyed my time here,” said Oraker as she handed over the reigns. “It’s been a joy to work with our new Superintendent Bette Hyde for the last six months. Bremerton School District has a great staff — don’t let anyone tell you different.”

Other board members commented on her tenure.

“I first joined the board four years ago,” said Hartman. “To me, it was all brand new, but not for her.” Oraker was sworn in at the same time. “For Verna, it was her second four-year term. She is a ferocious proponent for education.”

Michelle White, in the middle of her first term, also spoke.

“I want to thank you for all the help you’ve given me,” said White, who will be assuming Oraker’s role as lobbyist to state and federal legislators.

Former interim Superintendent Chuck Hall, who ran the district for a year before Hyde was hired last summer, was also on hand.

“Verna took up the leadership role at a difficult time and the district was made stronger by her presence,” he said.

Boyd commented, “We go back a long way, and I appreciate all the contributions you made during the rough times. You were always the steady one.”

Boyd was superintendent while Oraker was on the board during her first term in the early 1990s. Oraker was first elected to the board in 1991. She was defeated by Margaret Kirk in 1995. Oraker ran again, and won, in 1997.

Board members serve four-year terms, but seats are available every two years. Unlike City Council members, the school district’s five board members are elected at large, and not tied to geographical areas within the school district, which is slightly larger than the city.

“Verna, I want you to know there’s life after being a board member,” said former board member Leonard Anderson from the audience. He’d been on the board 16 years, before leaving four years ago. “I appreciated working with you.”

In an interview during the reception that followed, Oraker talked about her tenure and future plans.

“Some of the stuff I’m proudest of are (my efforts) in Washington, D.C. to get our Congressmen to make changes that benefit us here,” she said. “Plus, (I’m proud) of getting the board to work together to bring in a superintendent like Bette Hyde.”

In addition to being a board member, Oraker had worked part-time for the non-profit agency Project Family, before it folded recently. Kitsap Community Resources has taken over many of the smaller agency’s functions and hired Oraker as their new family services coordinator.

Oraker was born and raised in Seattle and graduated from Evergreen High School in the Highline School District. She moved to Bremerton after marrying her husband, Roger, 23 years ago. Her husband is a self-employed property manager.

The couple has three grown children, twin sons and a daughter — all officers in the U.S. Navy. One of the things Oraker said she hopes to do is travel about the country with her husband visiting their children where they’re stationed.

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