Newly elected Medford School Board member Brian Penland, right, became interested in the school board after watching his mother, Peggy Penland, during her 13 years as a member of the board. - Mail Tribune / Jim Craven

Big shoes to fill: Penland follows in mother's footsteps

His mother discouraged him from running for election to the Medford School Board, but 24-year-old Brian Penland did it anyway.

Brian Penland, elected to the board Tuesday, now has the distinction of being the body's youngest member on record and the son of its most active member, Peggy Penland, who did not run for reelection. Her last day on the board is June 30.

"I think I really became interested in serving on the board just seeing what my mom did, all the interesting things she got to do working with the state Legislature," said Brian Penland, a group counselor at the Jackson County Juvenile Department. "At the same point, I'd like to get involved in politics and thought this would be a good place to start."

During her 13 years on the board, Peggy Penland has worked the halls and the phones of the state Capitol to advocate for schools. Several times, she went to Washington, D.C., to help give a voice to Southern Oregon schools. She has communicated closely with Medford City Council and Jackson County government officials to address issues affecting schools and reported back to her fellow board members.

She spent 20 to 25 volunteer hours a week handling board matters, studying legislative bills, lobbying for schools and communicating with officials, lawmakers and educators.

She also served on the Oregon School Boards Association for nine years and two governor-appointed commissions dealing with education quality and teacher discipline.

She said she retired from the board because she felt it was time to give others a turn in the leadership role, but she was reluctant to hand the torch to her son.

"I tried to talk him out of it," she said. "I believe a school board member needs to be involved, in the City Council, in county commissioners, in Salem and in the community. He is starting a new career, and I'm worried about that."

She frets colleagues will expect him to have the same level of involvement in the board and the state Legislature as she has had. She worries constituents will blame him for votes she cast on the board.

Her son said he is eager to start the job and affect the lives of students in a positive way, but acknowledged feeling a hint of intimidation about his mother's board record.

"I have some very big shoes to fill," Brian Penland said.

He said he has gravitated toward leadership ever since attending Howard Elementary School when he joined student government. Later, he participated in Southern Oregon Drug Awareness while a student at North Medford High. He resumed serving the anti-drug organization two years ago. His mother has also served on the SODA board.

"I have always been interested in being a leader, taking charge and figuring things out," he said.

The interest came partly from observing his mother's actions, he said.

"She showed me you can't affect change just at the local level," he said, as much of what happens is a ripple effect from actions at the state and federal level, he said.

For instance, the federal No Child Left Behind Act dictates how the district hires teachers.

"The highly qualified teacher requirement in that act is a problem," Peggy Penland said. "We can have a teacher who is highly qualified and has been teaching for years but doesn't meet the federal requirement because they don't have enough credits in one subject."

As early as the fifth grade, Brian Penland and his sister, Lindsey, 22, accompanied their mother to the capitol to watch her lobby.

Both Brian Penland and his mother attended and graduated from Medford schools, giving them an inside perspective of the system.

"I had a great time while going to school in Medford," Brian Penland said.

"My goal would be that everyone has as good of a time as I had.

"I'm looking forward to knowing the work I'm doing is going to help kids succeed in school and then, later in life."

Reach reporter Paris Achen at 541-776-4459 or

Correction: Brian Penland will serve as a member of Medford's School Board. The headline on an earlier version of this story referred to another board and spelled his name incorrectly.

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