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Former Tigers Return to Teach in Hometown

When Leland Powell graduated from Mountain Home High School in 1965, he was good and ready to leave the self-proclaimed Hub of Elmore County.  "I couldn't wait to get out of this hick town," he said.

But Army life in Miami, New Jersey and Vietnam convinced him that he wanted nothing more than to move back to Mountain Home.  He finally did return, and has taught at the high school for 29 years.

Like Powell, more and more homegrown teachers are returning to Mountain Home schools.

About 30 of the school district's approximately 290 educators -- more than one of every ten -- are Mountain Home alumni.  Additionally, Board of Trustees Jim Alexander and Luise House, Assistant Superintendent of Schools Tim McMurtrey, East Elementary Principal Connie Donahue, and Athletic Director Jeff Johnson are former Tigers.

Deputy Superintendent Doug Johnson handles human resource issues for the district.  He calls the recruitment of Mountain Home alums "exciting."  He's excited for two key reasons: the quality of the teachers is very high and they are easier to retain than many young teachers are.

"Young people who have gone through this system are pretty darn well prepared and they are returning to us as very effective teachers in the classroom," Johnson said.  "Those who have grown up here understand that we have a great quality of life.  If they've decided to have a family, grandparents living in town may prove to be a big factor in keeping these teachers around."

"Everything isn't brand new to them (alumni) and I see many of them working hard to push things farther to keep improving our schools.  That is really exciting." Johnson said.

Brenda Raub admits she never expected to find herself teaching in Mountain Home.  She imagined working as an artist in a big city office building in Boise overlooking the Grove for a few years.  I loved the view, but I didn't love the job.  I love this job," said the 2000-01 secondary teacher of the year.

"You can make a difference in a smaller community.  It's great to know the family members of so many of my students.  We can all work together to do the best we can for these kids."

Raub says she hears the same complaints she made in her years at Mountain Home High.  "Kids are bored. I tell them the remedy is all in your head -- you just have to do your own thing and make your life more interesting."

As a rambunctious student, young Tim McMurtrey probably could not guess that the principal's office he visited so often would one day be his own.  When he headed for the University of Idaho, he couldn't leave Mountain Home behind quickly enough.  Armed with a degree in education, his new wife, Cheryl, begged him not to seek work in this hometown.  The couple ended up in Twin Falls, and McMurtrey came to the sad realization that he could make more money at his summer job -- selling shoes -- than he could as an educator.

So when he applied for a teaching job in October, after almost all positions were filled, he took what he could get -- Mountain Home.  "I interviewed on a Friday and started Monday.  As I'm driving away leaving Cheryl with the three kids and a house to sell in Twin Falls, I remember her saying, 'Did we even discuss this?'"

A few years later, when McMurtrey had his administrator's certificate, he searched for a job up north.  When one came open, he said Cheryl urged him to consider a job in Mountain Home first.  "We knew the school system here, the kids were comfortable, and it helped having my parents here.  This place just fit." McMurtrey recalled.

Small towns are filled with irony.  When McMurtrey was offered the principal's job at East Elementary, he had a chance to work with two of his favorite teachers, Jeannie Alzola and Sandy Brown.  It was a little unnerving at first, when Alzola would grade his notes to staff.  "She continued to correct my spelling, long after I was her student."

Superintendent Dr. Jerrie LeFevre says the teachers are not returning to Mountain Home because they can't find jobs elsewhere.  "These are fine teachers.  I think their return shows that they value the education they received here as a good all-around education that enables our graduates to do whatever they want to do in life.  They want the same for their own families."

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