Tuesday, September 22, 2020
Jamie Vollmer Recounts What He Learned about Education from Blueberries
Wednesday, March 11, 2020


Jamie Vollmer was tabbed to join a group of business people tasked with improving public schools after his blueberry ice cream was named the best ice cream in America by “People Magazine.”

He took his role seriously, hell-bent on convincing teachers that they were the problem—that they  resisted change and that they had no reason to change, being protected by tenure.

If I ran my ice cream business the way you do schools, I’d be out of business, he told them. You need to look to business to learn how to produce a quality product with zero defects.”

As he spoke, he told an audience at the Community Library this past week, he could sense the teachers becoming angrier by the moment. As soon as he finished, a teacher’s hand shot up.

“We are told, sir, that you manage a company that makes good ice cream,” she began.

“Best ice cream in America, ma’am,” Vollmer replied.

“Is it rich and smooth? Premium ingredients?” she continued.

“Super-premium,” Vollmer replied.

“Mr. Vollmer,” she continued. “When an inferior shipment of blueberries arrives, what do you do?”

“I send them back,” he replied.

“That’s right!” she hit him square between the eyes. “We can never send back our blueberries. We take them—big, small, rich, poor, gifted, exceptional, confident, frightened, brilliant, abused. We take them with ADHD and we take those for whom English is a second language. We take them all. And that is why school is not a business. It’s school.”

Set back on his feet, Vollmer told the audience, he realized he had to look at schools differently. And, since, he’s come to understand that schools are subject to the whims of the legislature for funding, that the one-style-fits all model of public education does not work for all students and that no one can agree on what the final product of an educational system could be.

Vollmer explained that in 1785 Thomas Jefferson designed the school system we still use today. He wrote then that the purpose of public schools was to “rake the genius from the rubbish annually.” That worked well for a society that required legions of laborers. Today the opposite is true as there’s little demand for laborers and much need for students who are technological wizards, who can think out of the box and who can work in teams.

School need to change, creating curriculums that make sense for the 21st century, he said. But they can’t change without the culture changing. They need their community to offer a clearly articulated vision of what it wants or needs from its schools.

Blaine County School District Trustee Lara Stone took two days off work to attend all seven of Vollmer’s presentations. She had read his book, “Schools Cannot Do It Alone,” a few years ago. And, she says reading it changed her perspective on public schools and their role in community.

It even provided the catalyst for her to run for the school board in November 2019.

“Mr. Vollmer explained that never before has a country tried to educate every child to their highest potential. Yet we must because in today’s economy a mere 11 percent of jobs are available to unskilled workers, down from 77 percent in the late 1960s,” she said. “To have a chance at the American Dream, every child needs to graduate from high school prepared for additional education.”

The good news, Stone said, is that Blaine County teachers are using more creative ways than ever to teach and engage more students.

“Our school system used to fail so many kids. The high school dropout rate in 1964 was 38 percent. Today, Blaine County School District’s graduation rate is 90 percent—and striving for 100 percent. Astonishing progress in my lifetime,” she said.

Stone said she and other board members would love to hear the community’s thoughts by email, phone and during meetings.

“Mr. Vollmer shared his message that public schools cannot succeed without the support of their communities. The first step towards earning that support is engaging the community in a conversation—with a capital C.”

Those who wish to get involved can start with a workshop on the Blaine County School District’s proposal for a plant facilities levy on March 16. The Finance Committee will unveil its levy proposal at 5:30 p.m. Monday, March 16, at the Community Campus.


Blaine County School District trustees agreed to revisit the calendar for the next two years at Monday's school board meeting.


Just a few days following Jamie Vollmer’s presentation, Blaine County School Superintendent GwenCarol Holmes announced her resignation. Holmes told district staff in an email Monday that she will step down at the end of her contract on June 30, 2021.

Holmes has been embattled throughout much of her time as superintendent. A district survey released to the public in February showed that 71 per cent of parents and staff members were dissatisfied with Holmes. A citizen’s group presented a petition to remove her this past year, saying she was disconnected from parents, teachers, staff and community members, that she disdained public feedback and that she silenced teachers.

Trustee Rob Clayton filed a tort claim alleging he was bullied and slandered by the district. And former human resources director Shannon Maza settled a claim out of court.

Holmes succeeded Lonnie Barber in 2014.










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