Judy Richards is passionate about education. Nearly any conversation with the longtime local, state and regional leader will show that. And so it was fitting that she recently received the Golden Bell Award, presented by the Wyoming School Boards Association, for her many years of service to education in Wyoming.
She received the award November 15 in Casper after being nominated by Lovell School Board chairman Bruce Jolley with a supporting letter from former Wyoming State Supt. of Public Instruction Judy Catchpole. She was also honored at Monday night’s Lovell School Board meeting.
“It’s pretty humbling, it really is,” said Richards during an interview Tuesday. “It’s really something to be honored for something you love to do. I loved every minute of everything I did. I was just doing things I loved.”
Richards has an extensive record of service. She served as a School District No. 2 board of trustees member for 16 years, first elected in 1998 and serving through 2014. She served as chairman for seven years, as well as vice chairman, treasurer and as a member of numerous committees.
She also served on the Lovell School to Career Committee, the Big Horn County Library Board (1992-95) as a member and chairman and on the Lovell Friends of the Library board.
On the state level Richards was appointed to the Wyoming State Board of Education by Gov. Jim Geringer in 1995. She served one six-year term and rose through the ranks to become secretary for two years, vice chairman for one year and chairman for two years. She served two stints on the Wyoming Education Planning and Coordination Council and on the Wyoming Early Childhood Development Council from 1997 through 2001.
A great supporter of the University of Wyoming, Richards was appointed to the UW Board of Trustees in 2001 and served on the board through March of 2007, including secretary for two terms and president for two terms.
She served on the UW College of Education Advisory Committee for many years, most recently as an honorary member, and she served two years on the MAP test advisory group for the Dept. of Education. In addition, Richards served on the Milken Educator Awards Committee for Wyoming from 1997 through 2001.
On the regional level, Richards served on the board of directors for McREL (Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning) from 2001 through 2014, serving two terms each as chairman, secretary and treasurer. McREL is a multi-state laboratory that creates research-based programs and curriculum for schools to use for best practices in various areas of instruction.
“When Bruce started listing all of those things, they were just things I enjoyed doing,” she said of Monday’s school board recognition. “Some said, ‘Do you want to do it?’ and I raised my hand.
“I learned from every organization I was involved with. I like being around people smarter than I am and learning from them, and I did learn from a lot of smart people.”
Richards said she has enjoyed being a part of the process to constantly work and be a part of innovations in the ever-changing world of education.
“I learned a lot about how to teach children, and when it works, it’s great,” she said. “The McREL Research people really listened to what we (on the board) had to say. Education is ever changing.
“The neatest thing is to see a kindergarten student go to school and years later stride across with a diploma. It’s really awesome to see the growth in those kids. I hope people realize what an incredible school district we have here. I would put it up against any. We have great people.”
Praise for her service
In his letter of nomination, Jolley praised Richards as “at the top of any list when it comes to an individual that has made so very many contributions to the State of Wyoming’s education system,” adding that she “set the standard for a high octane school board.
“Excellence was the standard and the outcome of her efforts,” Jolley wrote. “(Her) pursuit of fairness and vision of high expectations (was) reflected in a positive district culture, student learning, fiscal responsibility, advocacy for public education and sound policy and legal leadership.
“Judy spent many years in the pursuit of making a difference for kids, and she was successful, a guiding light to many…She has a genuine love for kids.”
Catchpole offered similar accolades.
“In my book, Judy exemplifies what an education leader is all about—service to others, education, hard work, vision, dedication, pride, spirit, recognition and family,” Catchpole wrote. “She represents the best of Wyoming! Judy has spent her life working to improve education for all kids in Wyoming. I know of no other person who has served a local school board, the State Board of Education and the University of Wyoming Board of Trustees. She was able to carry an important education message to communities, fellow board members and state leaders.
“Judy’s natural leadership abilities, personality, work ethic, problem-solving skills, friendships, strong desire to improve education for all, and her great love for children have made her a strong influence in all Wyoming education circles.”
Richards is a strong believer in the Leadership Governance practices implemented in School District No. 2, noting that the collaborative system improves decision-making, improves camaraderie, helps board members understand different points of view and improved communication at all levels.
“Decisions and discussion are not the same if you don’t network with one another,” she said. “The board changed for the better once we implemented Leadership Governance. One of the things I saw was the coming together of the leadership in the (three) buildings. They worked as a district, not as individual schools. That made a huge difference in our district. We have some amazing teachers.”
The process helps the board develop ideas for governing the school district and set duties for the board and superintendent, after which “we get out of the way and let the people in the classroom do their job.
“We set the vision, mission and goals and provide the financial aspect of it and let them do it,” she said. “We don’t micromanage.
“It’s all about doing the best thing for our kids. Their success is our success. There’s a whole world out there for them.”
By David Peck