Genesee resident will represent Idaho public schools next year

Jennifer Parkins plays with her dog Thursday north of Genesee. Parkins has lived in the Genesee area for many years and is a trustee on the town’s school board.

Jennifer Parkins has helped develop the direction of the Genesee Joint School District for the past 10 years, but now she will be responsible for representing the interests of all Idaho public schools for the next year.

Parkins was elected president of the Idaho School Boards Association last month.

Since Parkins, a 52-year-old who lives outside Genesee, serves on a small school district board, she said the last couple years she has been working hard to learn about large school district issues.

"We don't want any losers in education," Parkins said. "So you don't want to run education that's going to hurt some district."

Serving on the Genesee school district board is a role she doesn't take lightly.

"It's not a meeting every month," Parkins said. "It's something that you have to feel really compelled to do and knowing that you make a difference."

Parkins said schools do not fail from bad teachers or poverty.

"Schools fail when there's no direction, when there's no vision from the board, where there's not a culture of greatness, really," she said. "You have to believe that you can do great things in your district or you won't."

Parkins said developing school policy and culture starts from the school board.

"I think in all of our little communities, the schools are the center," she said. "They're the focus, and it's what brings us all together."

While education is a huge part of Parkins' life, healing people was her everyday job for almost half her life. She worked as a recreational therapist for 23 years, including 20 years working in the St. Joseph Regional Medical Center psychiatric unit. The unit started in 1992 - the same year Parkins started working at the hospital.

"It's something that's so critically needed," she said of the psychiatric unit.

As a recreational therapist, Parkins used recreation as a tool to promote healing. She said she taught wellness, stress management and relaxation classes to her patients and tried tapping into their interests so they could use those hobbies as coping skills.

Growing up, Parkins said she knew she wanted to help people, and she eventually learned recreational therapy was the right career path for her.

Parkins has lived in Idaho all her life, except during her first two jobs out of college, which took her to Montana and Oregon. She then settled in at the Lewiston hospital.

"In Idaho, what do we do all the time? We recreate," she said. "This is what we know how to do well. I could do this job and teach people how to have a healthy life."

It has been six years since Parkins left her job at the hospital, but she has remained plenty busy.

"I have always thought you should get the most out of every day, and I think if you have something to give, you should give it," she said. "I think that is different than busy."

She works at Plaid & Pearls Bistro & Gifts in downtown Genesee and works here and there with her husband and children cleaning carpets in the area. Their business is called Nature's Pride Carpet & Cleaning.

Their peak business time is a few weeks in August, when the family and some friends clean more than 500 apartments in Pullman before college students return for the fall semester, Parkins said.

"It's kind of fun, actually," she said. "We all work together as a family, and we kind of have a good time with it. It's kind of weird."

Garrett Cabeza can be reached at (208) 883-4631, or by email to

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