James Knox’st his life up and until now seems far more interesting than any education policy debate could be, so he could be forgiven for thinking serving on the Queen Creek Unified School District Governing Board as its newest member could be a bit mundane by comparison.
In his earlier life, Knox was a commercial crab fisherman in Alaska that went out with a new captain in threatening and ominous weather on the unforgiving Bering Sea.
One time, his crew was miles off shore when a massive and ferocious storm descended on them.
“I told my buddies, ‘Put your Gumby suits on and loosen up the life boats, this is not looking good,” Knox recalled, referring to the bulky survival suits they had on board.
“We were icing up. We had about 2,500 pots on the boat and we were out there beating the ice,” Knox said.
“I thought for sure the devil had come down to get me.
“After that I said ‘ya know, maybe this fishing bit wasn’t really the best thing for me,’” he said.
As a member of a volunteer fire department in Northern California, Knox helped rescue a family from the Fountain Fire in 1992.
After the Highway Patrol was unable to evacuate several families from a ridge hemmed in by fire, Knox and fellow firefighters rappelled down the side of a mountain from a helicopter and pulled the family to safety to a nearby pond.
“We grabbed some hose, cut it up
and were in the pond breathing
through the hose as the fire went by,” Knox remembered.
Those adventures made working as a roadie for a series of heavy metal bands, including one named Captain Crunch, fade in comparison.
Life did not cheat James Knox in his earlier years, either.
“I was a wild, wild child,” Knox said. “Hanging out with a bunch of bands, touring with them. I was really wild. I was probably not the guy looking back that I would want my sons to be.”
Ironically, it was during his wildest days that his political and public policy views began to take shape.
“I was young and wild and abusing substances and not the person I wanted to be,” Knox said. “I started kind of looking at what I was doing and how people were in that wild sex, drugs and rock and roll community, expecting the government to provide solutions and I remember some of my friends were on food stamps and they were like ‘my stamps are late, I can’t eat.’
“And I was like ‘go get a job. I’m working, you know?”
Eventually, he started to get serious about paying attention to public policy and the purpose for his life in general.
After his exploits as roadie, firefighter and Alaska crab fisherman, Knox started his own computer business and began looking at the government regulations he was having to abide by as an employer and employee, which were costing him time and money.
“I was signing both sides of the check, so to speak,” Knox said. “And realizing as an employee and an employer I am responsible for many families and how taxes really impact us and impact the business and really participating in the whole process of capitalism. It just seemed to me that there were lot of things that needed to be addressed, and if not me, who?”
Knox mostly spent his formative
years in California’s Bay Area and often visited Queen Creek, where he had extended family.
Fast forward through several stops in the U.S., including one in Montana, where he served a single term in the state legislature. There, he said he shepherded 16 bills through the House, mostly on education policy and spending.
After more travel, Knox made his way back to Queen Creek three years ago and settled with his wife and two sons, who are homeschooled.
Knox said he and his wife decided to homeschool their kids for family reasons while he was in the Montana Legislature.
During the Queen Creek school board campaign, he faced criticism for being a homeschooling parent seeking a seat on the public school governing board.
But he believes being a taxpayer is reason enough for anyone to seek a seat on the school board, and being the parent of homeschooled children makes him uniquely qualified to serve.
“I have had a different experience than the average parent because we have had to choose curriculums, I have had to, with my wife’s help, as a team, figure out what works good for one child versus the other. Not all children learn the same way,” Knox said.
Now, Knox is set to serve his first term on the Queen Creek school board, having ousted 13-year veteran and five-year board President Ken Brague.
“The Knox crowd are very well organized,” Brague told the Tribune shortly after the election. “They were very prepared. I showed up to a gunfight with a knife.”
Knox calls himself a conservative
Republican even though party politics are not meant to play a role in school board elections.
“There was no illusion that I was trying to be non-republican or non-partisan,” Knox said. “Truthfully, I think we need to see legislation come forth to eliminate these non-partisan races because it allows for a lot of shenanigans to occur, people to hide what their core principles are.
“I would say, if anything, the nonpartisan races … are much nastier, much more personal because people are hiding under non-partisan and can get away with it.”
Knox has several priorities as a new school board member, which he laid out in a “victory email” after the election.
“Well, here is my game plan, but know I am very open to hearing thoughts from others,” he wrote. “First, I am going to hold a series of listening sessions. I’d love to try and have one before being seated but certainly monthly afterward. I would like to include other members if they are willing to participate.
“A casual setting like a coffee shop could promote an open dialogue between myself and the public without a 3-minute limitation and no feedback, as in the public comment section of the monthly board meeting. The primary reason for this is to LISTEN to the public.”
Second, Knox will also follow up on establishing portable classrooms in the wake of the defeat of a $198 million bond measure.
The district will use $5.5-million it set aside in case the bond failed for two dozen portable classrooms. Knox said this is the way the schools should be thinking anyway, rather than continuing to ask taxpayers to foot the bill.
The third point is to “establish realistic goals for Superintendent Perry Berry,” Knox wrote. “I think we need to set a three year plan saying ‘superintendent Berry you need to sit here and in three years you need to have the average test scores up to 80%.
“You know, right now we’re at 63
and 57 (for reading and math, respectively) and which in my mind is a D- or an F and work with him, help support him in reaching that goal in three years or he needs to be terminating his contract and we can get someone in there who can do this.”
Knox also favors limiting the number of students who can take advantage of the district’s open enrolment policy and said Queen Creek students should come first. He said if the district is allowing in too many students from other districts, local kids suffer the consequences when pressed for space.
Knox is also in favor of teaching a more traditional curriculum.
“There will be no time or place to implement political agendas, CRT (Critical race Theory), SEL (Social Emotional Learning) etc., which address several of the public and parents’ concerns,” he wrote.
Finally, Knox has said he is opposed
to putting additional bonds on future ballots.
“Money is not the answer to anything,” Knox said. “We need to look again at how can we do some creative things and get out of the cycle that we currently are in that tends to be focusing on trying to solve the same problem the same ways that never produced previously.”