School official lands lasting honor
When he arrived at Pleasant Ridge Elementary in 1968 as a fresh-faced teacher, James Meshwert didn’t plan on staying.
He didn’t even have a teaching credential to instruct his new crop of seventh- and eighth-graders.
Thirty-four years later, the 300-student school has grown to four campuses with 2,082 students.
And Meshwert, who figured he’d stay only until the right political job arrived, today joins an elite handful of Nevada County luminaries who have lived long enough to see buildings bearing their names.
At 3 p.m., trustees, parents and supporters of the Pleasant Ridge Union School District will gather to unveil the James Meshwert Administration Building, honoring a man who admits he just couldn’t leave.
“This has been a great place to work,” said Meshwert, 57, who has opened three campuses over his 26 years as superintendent – 10 times longer than the average California superintendent’s stay.
“One of the best benefits of a small school district is that parents and teachers have unfiltered access to the superintendent,” he said. “I’m directly responsible for many of our projects.”
During his tenure, Meshwert’s district has counted as many as 2,350 K-8 students living in the Alta Sierra, Lake of the Pines and north Auburn areas. Escalating home prices have stanched growth of the district.
It’s this — not the threat of reduced state funds — that has Meshwert perplexed.
With the average south county new home priced at $280,000, “it’s tough to generate a new generation of kindergarten kids with those prices,” he said. “One of the challenges is maintaining the quality of our programs with a declining student base.”
The district has thrived during his tenure. Cottage Hill School was recently named a National Blue Ribbon School. All four campuses have been named California Distinguished Schools, and Alta Sierra Elementary recently garnered the county’s highest score on the state’s yearly standardized tests.
“The quality of education has substantially improved, and I think we have better programs and a higher quality teaching staff” since his early days, Meshwert said.
He is grateful, if a bit bashful, about his workplace’s new name.
“I haven’t gotten used to the idea of working in a building that has my name on it. It’s an extraordinary honor, and I appreciate the board and everyone supporting me,” he said.
Pleasant Ridge board President Don Johnson of Alta Sierra has known Meshwert 20 years.
“He’s a real credit to his community,” said Johnson of Meshwert, who serves on the Natural Heritage 2020 Community Advisory Committee and was a founding member of the Nevada County Girls Softball Association.
“He’s always been very meticulous in sharing information with us, and he has the ability to get along and not hold grudges,” he said.
As for the new name of the expanded administration building, Johnson said it was a natural fit.
“Since he has spent most of his time there, I figured it would be more apropos than a library,” he joked.
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