Friday, 24 May 2024

Putting Students First: Kelseyville Unified welcomes new board member

Beniakem “Beni” Cromwell, the newest board member for the Kelseyville Unified School District Board of Trustees. Courtesy photo.

KELSEYVILLE, Calif. – On Thursday, March 21, the Kelseyville School Board appointed Beniakem “Beni” Cromwell to replace outgoing board member John DeChaine who is moving out of the area.

Beni (pronounced “ben-eye”) is the proud father of three Kelseyville High School graduates and is fully engaged in helping students reach their potential.

His background includes being a social worker at Lake County Tribal Health and facilitating youth groups at various schools around the county, volunteering for youth soccer, and being a tribal councilmember at Robinson Rancheria, where he still serves.

When the Kelseyville School Board position came open, he said it seemed like a good way for him to move from “boots-on-the-ground volunteering to decision-making” where he could make a bigger impact.

He believes public schools are under attack in the current political climate, and by joining the school board he can better support them. Public schools, he said, provide our communities and our nation with common ground, common learning, and common understanding – they help everyone.

Beni is also passionate about helping native youth successfully navigate their two worlds – fully embracing their indigenous culture and values while also being a part of public education to learn skills for their future. His message is one of inclusion and hope, and he lets kids know they can create their own path.

I’m so glad Beni put his hat in the ring for the vacant school board position. He brings a unique and really important perspective to the board, and he can serve as a bridge between Kelseyville Unified School District and local tribal members who may feel more comfortable sharing their ideas and concerns with someone who shares their background and history.

Beni grew up in Sacramento for the first 10 years of his life; then he moved to Robinson Rancheria, his mother’s home, and graduated from Upper Lake High School.

During his time in Sacramento, he said he went to public school, played sports, and had friends from all walks of life. His family lived in an urban setting and did not participate in tribal ceremonies or learn the songs and dances of his people.

But when he returned to Lake County, he became more familiar with his heritage. After high school, he attended Cosumnes River College in Sacramento and then Arizona State University, where he received a bachelor’s degree in sociology.

Kelseyville Unified Superintendent Dave McQueen, at left, and newest Board member Beniakem “Beni” Cromwell. Courtesy photo.

“When I started going to college, I wanted to study communications so I could be a TV or radio announcer for baseball. But then I was introduced to sociology, and it gave me a way to understand and communicate about different cultures. It put me on a new path,” he said.

In 2012, after living in Arizona for several years, he returned home and began immersing himself in learning how to help other tribal members overcome not only the challenges of current trauma such as living with poverty, violence, and substance abuse, but also the generational trauma of having a culture torn away. He is especially interested in helping youth.

He said he has always been inspired by the quote, “Be the person you needed when you were younger.”

He said he did not have the best male role models as a child, so he strives to be one for his nieces and nephews, for the students in the youth groups he facilitates, and for native youth.

He does his best to live up to his own high standards, to finish what he starts, to set goals and achieve them so he can show these children that they can accomplish whatever they choose to accomplish.

To that end, he was honored to be a part of changing State Bill 164 to incorporate low-income tribal students enrolled in the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, so they could join other low-income students in receiving priority registration in public post-secondary education.

Having gone to college and learned the language of academia, he can communicate the needs of his tribe to lawmakers and other influential groups. He has also developed a curriculum to share.

He is also part of a committee that has brought trauma-informed curriculum to three of the five local school districts during their instructional day. This committee has brought the needs and concerns of local tribal members so people can build common ground as a foundation of trust.

Beni will serve the rest of John DeChaine’s term, and so will be up for re-election in 2020.

Please join me in welcoming Beni to the board when you get the chance.

Dave McQueen is superintendent of Kelseyville Unified School District.

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