Verde Valley Forum participants talk pre-K through 12 education

Dave Lykins, Dr. Penny Hargrove and Dick Dahl

Dave Lykins, Dr. Penny Hargrove and Dick Dahl

VERDE VALLEY – Saturday, eight Verde Valley education leaders will participate as a panel to discuss how to strengthen Pre-K through 12th grade education in the Verde Valley.

The 2017 Verde Valley Forum is put on each year by the Verde Valley Forum for Public Affairs (VVFPA), a non-profit, non-political organization of volunteers committed to addressing current and long-range issues facing the Verde Valley communities, as well as facilitating an educated consensus through the forum process.

Topics include the following:

-The current state of pre-K through grade 12 education in the Verde Valley region;

-Strengthening pre-K through grade 12 educational outcomes in the Verde Valley region;

-Increasing stakeholder interest, engagement and collaborative relationships to strengthen Pre-K through 12th grade education in the Verde Valley region;

-Improving the amount and methods of funding pre-K through grade 12 schools in Arizona.

Verde Valley Newspapers spoke with a few of the panelists, as well as Dick Dahl, past-president of the VVFPA, to better understand the area’s pre-K through grade 12 educational concerns.

Q: What is the current state of Pre-K through 12 education in the Verde Valley region?

Steve King, president of the Verde Valley Forum for Public Affairs, and superintendent of Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District: “The best thing going on in education today is recognition that learning cannot be done in isolation, and that children have many needs that have gone unaddressed and which can impede learning. I think we are seeing a shift away from a strictly standards based, data driven approach to education, and a return to recognizing it is the whole child we serve.”

Dr. Penny Hargrove, superintendent, Mingus Union High School District: “I think education in the Verde Valley and Arizona is currently in a transitional stage, transitioning from an assessment-based accountability system to a student-centered/whole student approach. We are becoming more focused on teaching our students how to learn, how to cope, how to treat others, and how to become productive and successful adults. We are more focused on identifying our students’ talents, interests, and aptitudes so that we can prepare them for post-graduation learning. Not just preparation for a four year college. It could be an associate’s degree, technical school, four-year degree, the military, or world of work.”

Dave Lykins, superintendent, Sedona Oak Creek Unified School District: “Our region is represented by strong community schools with hard working and talented staffs. The collaborative efforts of the superintendents demonstrate the need of ongoing partnerships.”

Karin Ward, superintendent, Beaver Creek School District: “The Verde Valley’s school districts do a phenomenal job with the little money they get. From gifted to special needs and all in between, teachers work diligently.”

Dick Dahl, immediate past president, Verde Valley Forum for Public Affairs: “We are indeed fortunate here in the Verde Valley Region to have so many dedicated teachers who willing to work at or near poverty level. But our schools are increasingly faced with the dilemma of teacher turnover that is endemic throughout most of the state of Arizona.”

Danny Brown, superintendent, Clarkdale-Jerome School District: “I think we have a very talented pool of educators in the area from our classified folks to teachers to building and district-level administrators. Most of the districts are considered small, rural districts. One of the challenges for us is to ensure our voices are heard in the state legislature. What may work for big districts in the Valley doesn’t always work in rural Arizona. What I have experienced in my short tenure here is great communication and collaboration between folks in the various districts in the Verde Valley.

Q: Do you have any ideas on how to improve the amount of methods of funding PreK-12 schools in Arizona?

King: “I think that the only way to do this is to educate our citizens on the benefits of a quality education system, for them both personally and as a community, and to engage them in an active and informed role.”

Dr. Hargrove: “Honestly, it is very easy. Fully fund the school funding formula. The challenge is that the state would need to increase or find additional revenue.”

Lykins: “Vote for new legislators who support and understand the necessity of a strong educational model and how that is directly tied to a strong economics and a well trained work force.”

Ward: The challenge is the general fund that is allotted to legislation to create budgets is cannibalized by tax credits and voucher systems. The money we should be getting into the general budget is being deleted. It doesn’t benefit the general population. If that is going to continue to be the trend, then we need to find ways to fund education.”

Dahl: “State of Arizona needs to look at options other than our present taxing system for increasing the funding for our schools. Arizona is one of the very few, if not the only one, of the western states that does not levy an excise tax on its exported resources. 

“And last, but certainly not least, we need to elect more state legislators that are not beholden to vested interests and who are committed to making our state a national leader in providing all of our students with a quality education.”

Brown: “Priority shifting of funds at the state level is critical. For example, we spend an awful lot of money on the prison system. A philosophical approach to making education a top priority needs to happen at the legislative level. 

“If our government officials are so against raising taxes, then we need to find other ways of increasing revenue. Perhaps we should put a moratorium on future tax cuts.”

-- Follow Bill Helm on Twitter @BillHelm42

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