Changing of the Guard for local school district

Superintendent transition smooth and seamless

Julie Larson

Julie Larson

Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District is a smoothly running education system, even during a change of superintendents. Such a change can bring about significant disruption in many school districts. But a change of leadership this year at C-OC barely drew attention to itself.

Julie Larson retired after four years as superintendent and 17 years in the district. Barbara U'Ren, with 24 years in the district, took over July 1.

Both Larson and U'Ren were groomed for years before taking over as superintendent. They were both believers in and shapers of the district's culture and mission.

U'Ren started in the district - the only one she's ever worked in - as a special education aide for one student. Soon after, she transferred to Oak Creek School in Cornville where she became the librarian and went back to school to earn her degree. She became a first grade teacher at that school and started work at Northern Arizona University on her master's in administration. She also taught fifth and sixth grades at Oak Creek School.

The district promoted U'Ren to assistant principal at Dr. Daniel Bright Elementary School in 1995. From there, she moved to Cottonwood Elementary School as assistant principal and then, two years later, served as that school's principal.

When Larson was made district superintendent more than four years ago, U'Ren was promoted to assistant superintendent.

Larson came to the district as principal of DDB, which was the district's newest school at the time. Eventually, she was promoted to assistant superintendent in John Tavasci's administration and then to superintendent.

With 38 years in education, Larson said at the time of her retirement that she loved every minute of it.

"I'm very proud of my 17 years here," Larson said during a retirement interview. "I enjoyed being superintendent because we have a great school district."

Although U'Ren is now the top educator in the district, she continues with her own education. She is currently working toward her doctorate in curriculum instruction.

She says she owes a lot to other people. "I've had fabulous, wonderful mentors," U'Ren said at the time of her promotion.

That is part of the C-OC culture she believes in and makes part of her administration. "I love to identify young leaders," she said. "I like to find ways to let them show their skills."

When she took over as superintendent, U'Ren said she didn't think big change was needed because the district was running so well. She feels that a superintendent's job is primarily to support the principals so they can do their jobs.

"My role is to remove barriers," U'Ren said.

Clarkdale-Jerome removed from unification vote

Possibly the biggest news - maybe the best news - that occurred in 2007 at Clarkdale-Jerome School District was that the school will remain independent. While Cottonwood-Oak Creek and Mingus Union districts' voters will decide whether to unify the two school systems, Clarkdale-Jerome won't be included in that process.

Throughout 2007 all three districts faced the possibility of being unified. The School District Redistricting Commission approved a plan to let voters decide if the three districts should be consolidated.

None of the districts liked the idea, at least not as it was presented by the commission.

Of the three districts, it seemed that voters in Clarkdale-Jerome District would be the least likely to approve it. So unlikely, that Rita Leyva, chief deputy of the Yavapai County School Superintendent's Office and the county representative on the state commission, decided to recommend excluding Clarkdale-Jerome from the unification vote in Nov. 2008. She felt it was a certainty the small district's voters would turn down unification.

If that happened, and the other two districts' voters approved unification, the whole election would be void. Another vote would have to be held including voters in only Mingus Union and Cottonwood-Oak Creek districts.

In November the commission officially removed Clarkdale-Jerome from the mix. That decision was welcome news to Kathleen Fleenor, Clarkdale-Jerome superintendent.

"We would have lost all of our after-school funds," Fleenor said. The $350,000 the district gets from that funding source is what Fleenor believes is the reason that the school is rated as an "excelling" school. "I know that's what it is," she said.

She agreed with Leyva's thinking that Clarkdale-Jerome District voters would turn thumbs down to unification. "The community here really supports the K-8 concept," Fleenor said.

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