County Superintendent Proud Of Record

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This year's race for county school superintendent pits incumbent Linda O'Dell against Debra Tapia-Blair, once-principal of Globe Education Center and once an employee of O'Dell's.

O'Dell opened the school, along with the Payson Education Center, to fulfill her pledge of reducing Gila County's traditionally high drop out rate.

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Gila County Superintendent of Schools Linda O'Dell explains her thoughts on the needs of students.

Other accomplishments include the GED testing site O'Dell opened in San Carlos -- one of five she has opened since becoming county school superintendent in 2005.

She also doubled the number of class hours for juveniles in detention from four hours to eight, another effort to improve academic achievement for all students.

Tapia-Blair did not return repeated phone calls requesting an interview.

O'Dell is a Republican, but believes that education is non-partisan.

"I am an educator first and I will always be an educator," she said.

"There are some people who will vote for a person because they are a particular party. On the flip-side, I believe my work stands for itself because of the work that I've done -- not because of the party I do or don't represent."

In 2005, O'Dell beat the 18-year incumbent, Armida Bittner, by running on a platform of increased student achievement, communication and resources.

"I knew that there were a lot of drop outs, and that was one of the things I ran on," O'Dell said.

She has fundamentally altered the make-up of her position and the county's educational opportunities by opening the two alternative schools, which function as a net to catch under-achieving students.

She fought opposition at the outset, since not all county officials were pleased with the thought of more schools. O'Dell persevered with the project, but her assurance wobbled when controversy enveloped the schools.

After announcing they would close in March, O'Dell realigned operations and decided to reopen this fall.

The rough time polished O'Dell's tenacity. "I am a far more confident person in my decision-making," she said. "Telling the truth and doing the right thing is, for me, how I operate -- even with drama and issues that emerge."

With changes to the regional school district's administrative structure -- mainly a new regional school district superintendent -- O'Dell can focus anew on the changes she wants to make at the county level.

She wants to recruit and retain teachers, rework the county schools' Web site -- www.gilacountyschools.org -- to improve communication, and is opening a technology room upstairs from the Payson county schools' new office at 719 S. Beeline Highway. Two part-time specialists will work there to keep the district technologically savvy.

She's incoming president of the Arizona Association of County School Superintendents, and past small schools administrator for Maricopa County Regional Schools.

Also for Maricopa County, O'Dell was executive director for special services.

She earned a PhD in education administration from Northern Arizona University, a master's of education from University of Arizona, and a bachelor's in education from Arizona State University.

Education, for O'Dell, encompasses all learners -- from traditional students to non-traditional students, adults and teachers.

She has collaborated with surrounding counties to offer training to math and science teachers, and found grants for their professional development.

She wants to start a list of specialized special education teachers, available for contract if a school district should need one.

The county superintendent of schools advises and oversees each district within the county, including their elections and finances. They also collaborate with other county agencies to educate juveniles on probation or in detention, and adults in jail.

"I'm very proud of what we've done," O'Dell said. However, "there's more for me to do; I'm not done yet."

When asked what career she would have chosen if not education, O'Dell said, "I am a teacher at heart."

She explained her service-oriented nature and said that while once upon a time she may have pondered a career in law, education suits her.

"What I want on my headstone is ‘she made a difference,' and that's what I'm about."

The primary election is Sept. 2 and Nov. 4 is the general election.

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