District Needs An Open Superintendent Search

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The Payson Unified School District continues to grapple with the most important decision they are likely to make this year: Picking a new superintendent.

We hope that they will make the process as open as possible — even if it gets a little unwieldy.

At their last meeting, board members debated whether to set up a large screening committee to get input from as many as 27 community and educational leaders on the applicants. The board will consider the ratings of the applicants from each of the committee members in winnowing down the field to a few finalists.

Those two to five finalists will then appear at community forums, where anyone who is interested gets to hear from the candidates and maybe ask a few questions.

Board member Barbara Shepherd expressed some hesitation about such a public process, especially asking so many people to provide advisory ratings of the applicants.

She has a good point. Obviously, the board remains responsible for this decision and cannot hand that duty off to a committee.

Moreover, involving lots of people in screening applicants poses certain complications for the applicants. However, we see a great benefit in asking a large group of community leaders to provide input in a decision that’s likely to dramatically affect the future of this community.

The superintendent will play a crucial role in the district’s ability to recover from its assorted budget traumas — and the dissension they inevitably caused. Moreover, the new superintendent must forge a relationship with a new university, cope with burdensome state regulations and reforms, heal the divisions among the faculty, take advantage of the growth that a university here will ensure and cope with continuing budget woes.

That means the superintendent must continue to build on the deep support this community has long given its schools, as evidenced by the donations that support most of the sports and extracurricular activities.

An open, inclusive selection process can give the new superintendent a chance to begin building that support.

Cooperation, not competition for college and university

The Gila Community College board sounded a welcome note of harmony last week when talking about the brilliant opportunities offered by the plan to build a four-year university right next door.

Every board member expressed support for bringing a four-year university to town — and for forming a close partnership with whichever university ends up building next to the GCC campus off Highway 260.

That open expression of support makes a lot more sense than the qualms and quibbles the board had expressed about the Rim Country Educational Alliance’s plans for phase one of its campus and the spinoff facilities.

Now, the board seems eager to embrace the great opportunities students will gain if the university and the community college work together in harmony.

For starters, GCC appears eager to investigate building on some of the relationships with community colleges that the state’s three public universities have built elsewhere.

In Safford, ASU and Eastern Arizona College have formed a partnership that will allow students to earn a four-year degree with a mix of EAC and ASU classes without ever leaving the EAC campus. Elsewhere, partnerships between various community colleges and both Northern Arizona University and the University of Arizona have made it possible for a student to take more than half the classes they need for a degree at community college prices instead of the much steeper university rates.

But we hope that the partnership between GCC and the university next door will go much deeper than those models.

We hope GCC students in both Payson and Globe can take full advantage of the virtual learning facilities the new university will develop — not to mention the ability to tap into the GCC and ASU libraries and other resources through wireless connections anywhere in town.

Moreover, we hope that GCC will become a full partner in the university’s vital and creative public-private partnerships. Most of the land the Alliance is acquiring will host things like a solar cell assembly plant, a research park, an incubation center to commercialize new technologies and other projects. GCC should find creative ways to offer the vocational training that employees of any of those businesses and high-tech industries might need.

Finally, we hope that GCC and its university partner will make sure that local high school students get a head start on their degrees — and have access to some of the marvelous learning technologies the university will bring.

So we applaud the new, forward thinking emphasis of Gila Community College and its determination to cooperate rather than compete with the university next door.

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