As a political candidate, I identified three priorities to address if elected as Gila County School Superintendent -- the high school drop-out rate, the academic achievement of K-12 students, and the resources needed to support education.
Since taking office two years ago, additional issues have been identified. And, the initial priorities are far more complex in reality than they appear on the surface.
To make progress in meeting the educational needs of Gila County citizens, I have come to understand that there must be widespread commitment to the following:
- Improving the breadth and range of educational opportunities and options for students of all ages.
- Facilitating collaboration among interested parties to leverage existing resources to meet educational, vocational and workforce development needs.
- Developing partnerships and securing additional resources that support strong educational systems and economic development throughout the county.
The facts speak for themselves. Here is a short list of issues Gila County must address with respect to education:
- Our county has had one of the highest drop-out rates in the state for many years.
- Academic achievement levels of K-12 students generally lag behind state and national norms.
- Teacher salaries are lower than in the Phoenix area, making it difficult for local districts to attract and retain teachers.
- Drug and alcohol use, as well as complex family situations, are barriers to student learning for many of our youth.
- There is a lack of youth-oriented activities throughout the county.
- Young people leave our communities to seek employment and higher education opportunities elsewhere.
- Our communities struggle to attract new businesses and industries that support economic development.
- Our community college operations and offerings are viewed by some as excellent and by others as less than satisfactory.
- Financial resources are limited in our small and rural county.
In recent months, I have attended many meetings and engaged in activities and conversations throughout Gila County where the purpose is discussing issues and concerns about education and finding ways to address identified needs. Based on these experiences, the following observations are offered for your consideration.
- Adequate and appropriate vocational and workforce training are identified countywide as key elements of economic development and stability.
- There is a need to identify how the county, our schools and the community college can acquire and use technologies to partner in providing specific coursework, as well as for other general purposes, such as communicating or conducting a meeting simultaneously at multiple locations.
As a step in that direction, school district and community college administrators have been invited to participate in a meeting -- guided by IT staff.
To make progress in meeting the educational needs of our citizens, we must be committed to improving education for students of all ages in all of Gila County.