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Sat, Aug. 15

Commentary: Need for consolidation amplified in pandemic era

Deana DeWitt is the assistant superintendent of the Sedona-Oak Creek School District. She previously has worked in both the Mingus Union and Cottonwood-Oak Creek school districts and served on the 2018 Consolidation Advisory Committee.

Deana DeWitt is the assistant superintendent of the Sedona-Oak Creek School District. She previously has worked in both the Mingus Union and Cottonwood-Oak Creek school districts and served on the 2018 Consolidation Advisory Committee.

It seems to me that now, more than ever, we should embrace the opportunity to combine resources (human, financial, technological) to create a system that would not only weather this storm but also build an innovative educational structure that will meet the future needs of all students, PreK-12.

I was able to share my perspectives on consolidation in a “My Turn” article printed July 21, 2018. Since then, my position on consolidation has not changed. In fact, it may have actually grown stronger.

Given the fact that districts are now tasked with reimagining and redefining education in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, I cannot accept that creating two independent systems and response plans to serve the children and families in one community is an effective way to handle this crisis.

It seems to me that now, more than ever, we should embrace the opportunity to combine resources (human, financial, technological) to create a system that would not only weather this storm but also build an innovative educational structure that will meet the future needs of all students, PreK-12.

Full disclosure: When it comes to educational issues, I have an agenda. I am not neutral. I have and always will support any decision and/or policy that I believe promotes the best possible educational opportunities for ALL children. That said, I believe that a unified PreK-12 district would best serve the kids in our community. I also believe strongly that if you care about the education of high school kids, you must also care about the education THOSE SAME kids receive prior to high school. Likewise, you cannot stop caring about elementary students’ education when they exit 8th grade.

Twelve of my 18 years in education have been spent working in the Cottonwood-Oak Creek and Mingus Union High School Districts. This is my fifth year as an administrator with the Sedona Oak Creek Unified School District. All but one year in my career have been spent serving children in the Verde Valley; I worked in Deer Valley Unified School District in Anthem in 2005-2006.

I have taught 1st, 5th, 6th, 8th and 9th grades as well as 9th-12th grade alternative/online education in the Verde Valley. I was lucky enough to teach several of my students in elementary AND again in high school.

During my tenure with COCSD and MUHSD, I had the opportunity to work with and for some of the most talented and dedicated individuals I’ve ever encountered, and I have unyielding respect for the board members, administrators, and staff in both districts now grappling with the myriad of challenges facing education in Arizona.

I believe those on BOTH sides of this issue truly feel that their respective positions are right for kids. However, the positions held by those on both sides are influenced by their individual experiences and perspectives, just as mine have been, and are generally relative to specific contexts.

As a member of the Consolidation Advisory Committee in 2018, I had the opportunity to analyze data on both sides of the issue. This consolidation is a very challenging, complicated issue without a clear, guaranteed resolution.

The financial projections that have been made (by both sides) are largely speculative, educated guesses at best. I can also say that much of the financial data that has been distributed speaks to reduction of redundancies but assumes almost all other operations will remain the same. I believe there are other potential areas for efficiency/savings that have not yet been explored or even discussed.

If I’ve learned nothing else during my experiences since spring of this year, one thing is abundantly clear: Traditional education is not equipped to handle the demands of a rapidly changing global landscape. Districts must recreate themselves and seek innovative ways to meet the needs of the children, families, and communities they serve. There is an opportunity now to redefine what education could look like in our community through consolidation. Why create two different structures with divided resources?

I am confident consolidation is the right thing to do and that now is the time to make it happen. Our focus should shift to enlisting the knowledge and expertise of our very talented, innovative, and visionary educators and rallying to support district leadership in order to ensure successful consolidation.

I’ve learned a lot about human nature over the past couple of years, particularly when it comes to how adults handle opposing views and perceived threats to their personal interests. Unfortunately, we seem to live in a time where divisiveness and sabotage are the norm.

We need to move past those tendencies and unite with a common mission – creating a system that best serves ALL students well into the future.

Deana DeWitt is the assistant superintendent of the Sedona-Oak Creek School District. She previously has worked in both the Mingus Union and Cottonwood-Oak Creek school districts and served on the 2018 Consolidation Advisory Committee.

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