Dowagiac names new school board member

Published 11:00 pm Wednesday, September 13, 2023

DOWAGIAC — Dowagiac Union Schools’ new board member is no stranger to the community.

The board of education voted for Jeff de Varona to be appointed to the seat vacated by Brent Brewer, who resigned last month after his arrest for a domestic dispute.

The council hosted the interviews in the middle school cafeteria, while streaming them live on Youtube for the public to view. Candidates were de Varona, Dominique Charles, Rayann Franco, Jane Phillipson Wilson, Carol Schmidt and Randi Taggert.

The board asked each member nine questions, with the majority of the interviews being 10 to 15 minutes in length. After the interviews were concluded, the board members chose the top two candidates moving onto the final round, before choosing the board member. The entire interview process lasted approximately two hours.

“We have an excellent new board member, I’m very impressed,” said DUS Board President Ruth Ausra. “We’re excited to have him… he’s a hometown boy, you know? He’s got kids in our school district, he has the experience I think that we need with his education and I just think he’s going to be a real great asset. We had so many good candidates, it was hard. But I think he’s gonna be wonderful. He will be very helpful, especially in the superintendent search. We’re up against that, now.”

A Dowagiac graduate with children in the district, de Varona earned a degree in Computer Engineering from Michigan State University. He spent several years working in the private sector as a hardware/software engineer before transitioning to education, including several years as a teacher and academic coach at Niles New Tech and currently at Purdue Polytechnical High School in South Bend.

“In addition to deep connections with the community that I care about, I think my background as an engineer and in education can be a wealth of experience with collaboration and problem solving that I think could benefit the board,” he said.

de Varona said he wants to help the district retain students while increasing its enrollment by investing in athletics and career and technical education opportunities.

“Keep Dowagiac kids in Dowagiac and to entice others to come to Dowagiac because of the great things we’re doing,” he said. “Continuing to improve athletics because let’s face it, that’s a driver of enrollment. I think expanding career and technical education opportunities is a big thing and seeking out grants to fund those opportunities. We need these kids to be college and career ready. We can’t be the ones limiting their choices. When they’re through with DUS they need to be career ready and college ready.

“We’re preparing students for jobs that might not even exist yet,” he added. “They need to be able to approach problems from different angles and those skills are what need to be driven.”

In addition, de Varona said he believes that a school board trustee is a link between the district and the community.

“Gathering input from the community and making sure their voices are heard,” he said.

Love for his community is what inspired de Varona to pursue the vacant board position.

“My family’s roots in Dowagiac go way back. I love this community… I could’ve worked anywhere and I chose to come back here and have my kids attend DUS because I love this place. I can’t really imagine being somewhere else.”