BISBEE — If there is one thing state legislators saw at Tuesday’s education roundtable discussion, it’s the passion of Cochise County’s teachers, administrators and parents to cultivate an environment conducive to learning.
County School Superintendent Jacqui Clay was pleased to have a few members of the state Education Committee, Rep. Becky Nutt (R–D14) and dozens of interested educators and parents at the session meant to discuss local concerns.
“The reason we’re here today is so we can come together and ask questions and give our legislators recommendations,” Clay said. “Working together is how we grow. We all need each other and we need to work together for solutions.”
Education Committee members Rep. John Fillmore (R–D23), Sen. Andrea Dalessandro (D–D2) and Rep. Gerae Peten (D–D4) were often put in the hot seat with questions and concerns about funding, district consolidation, ELL and sex education.
Pastor Randy Youngblood of Thunder Mountain Church, and former algebra teacher, kicked things off. “If there’s any topic more dear to hearts than education, I don’t know what it is. I think it’s an issue of trust. I see us all as teammates and facing a very critical issue that we’re all concerned about.”
He asked the panel how they could communicate with the committee to build a bridge of teamwork and “forge a partnership.”
Funding was a big concern as districts in the county compete with charter and private schools. They also expressed anger and criticized such schools which they said take the better students, do not take special education students, and can close after the 100-day payout from the state, leaving school districts to take the students without the money.
Charter and private schools are funded by state tax dollars through the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) program, administered by the Arizona Department of Education to provide educational options for qualified Arizona students. Parents can opt out of public school systems and use a range of alternative educational services, such as private and charter school or home-based education, to tailor an individualized educational plan that is best for their children.
The problem of lack of oversight of state funds was addressed by the state and more investigators were hired to track the money moving through those schools.
Dalessandro, ranking member of the senate education committee, taught elementary students through high school and on through community colleges and universities. She lives in Sahuarita where the population needs people in the trades to provide services for them. To her, money is the issue.
“I heard from a teacher in Sierra Vista that teachers can go work for Fort Huachuca and make $10,000 more than what they are paid in public schools,” she said. “So, some teachers leave. We’ve got to change that.”
Peten, with 50 years experience teaching kindergarten through 12-grade and at community colleges and universities, was also a school construction manager in Phoenix. She would like to have schools fully funded to give all children quality educations, not just those “in certain zip codes.”
Fillmore, who does not have a college degree, built his business by hiring students in apprenticeships who joined DECA in high school and went on to become non-college educated graduates working in trade jobs. He ran specifically on the consolidation issue. “I am fully committed to our schools. I want to help the kids.”
To him, consolidation saves administration and facility costs; money which could be used to pay teachers more. He wants to reduce the number of districts in Cochise County to six or seven rather than 21 to save money. He supports charter and private schools, as well as home schooling.
Fillmore told the group there are 227 school districts in the state and the annual average funding for each is $42 million. Of those districts, 106 of them have two schools or less. He made the point there seemed to be something wrong with the picture of schools failing in math, science and reading, yet have a 90 percent graduation rate. It does not seem to fit the school grades.
“As a small businessman, I believe there is a lot of redundancy and we could do some consolidation and save some money which should all stay in the schools,” he said. “Education is not as important to our communities as it is to our kids.”
He thinks consolidation should be determined by each county and the school districts, not the state. Money saved would go to the teachers.
Sergio Chavez, Arizona PTA president, pointed out that an average of $42 million per district did not take into consideration needs of each district. And if that figure was an average, not a per-district cost, he did not see how that mattered. Indeed, if $42 million is an average, it means some districts are being funded at millions of dollars more than others.
Fillmore said the state spends $7.8 billion on education a year, which should be enough for schools to pay teachers well. To him, “It’s a matter of consolidation of districts.”
Youngblood pointed out consolidation seems to be more of a concern to the legislator than to the citizens. “It’s not a burning issue to us.”
However, teaching students about their anatomy and sex as California does, was a burning issue to Pastor Charles Carlson from United Church of Christ in Sierra Vista. “It should be the parents who decide these things.”
Fillmore believes K-5 students do not need to know about sex, and if it is taught, should be done on a biological perspective and not include LGBTQ+ material.
Cochise County juvenile attorney Sandy Russell pointed out children who are in abusive families may benefit from such knowledge. Some children think sexual abuse is normal because they are told it is. Then there are the young girls experiencing their periods for the first time.
“Maybe you should decide at what age you want them to get pregnant. Then set an age for sex education,” Russell said. “Knowledge is power.”
Peten concurred. “Kids are keenly curious. They will mimic what they saw at home. A kid can think abuse is normal. We do have to arm children with knowledge.”
Benson resident Steve Lindberg felt sex education was a “disease infecting schools.”
Clay listened to both sides and determined each school district should talk to parents and determine at what age children should learn about sex. “I got that. We’ll talk about this.”
The conversation then moved to English Language Learners (ELL) and how children from a non-English speaking family spend a considerable amount of time each day out of normal classes.
Fillmore said the immersion process was counterproductive and discriminatory. Peten and Dalessandro agreed.
He noted, “Kids can be immersed together. They can learn from each other. Our kids should be speaking two languages anyway.”
The Palominas School District takes into consideration the language proficiency of such students and schedules time accordingly, said superintendent Sherri Rosalik. Dropping the four-hour block of time out the students’ day was a good step in helping them move forward, she said.
Another subject tossed in the air was the “onerous” procedure for grants, as one administrator pointed out. For the most part, the county school districts are short-staffed and grant writing is difficult to fit in the schedule, or districts have to pay grant writers, which takes money away from the schools.
When a teacher asked about being paid at the levels they were in 2008 before the economy tanked, Fillmore blustered, “We only have ‘X’ amount of dollars. K through 12 takes a lot. Sometimes we have no control over it.”
Dalessandro and Peten pointed fingers at the legislators who approved $400 million in tax credits to businesses.
Peten wants to end the credit and put the money back in education. “We pay more per day for prisoners than we do for our students.”
“Education is about Arizona’s future,” Dalessandro said. “We have to make everyone understand that it’s their future, not just the students’, that’s at stake.”
Peten told the audience having town halls helps them become knowledgeable about the needs and views of the community.
“We need to be accessible and come up with a plan. Do you feel your taxes are serving you for the quality of life you need and deserve?” Peten asked.
Clay concluded the meeting, saying “We argue, we fight, we disagree, we love. But, we need to know how you feel and what we can do to make this better for our students and teachers. Today was important for that.”
FORT HUACHUCA — On Wednesday morning, almost 40 new sergeants were inducted into the Noncommissioned Officer Corps of the Army at Fort Huachuca. Retired Sgt. Major of the Army Raymond Chandler was in attendance as guest speaker, and after the ceremony led a Leader Professional Development session.
The induction ceremony took place as part of Fort Huachuca’s NCO Week, and was “a celebration of the newly promoted joining the ranks of a professional noncommissioned officer and emphasized and built on the pride shared by member of such an elite corps,” according to Tanja Linton, media relations officer for Fort Huachuca.
Though this year was not Fort Huachuca’s first time organizing an NCO Week, it was the first NCO induction ceremony to take place in years. “I”m sure a lot of you haven’t been to an NCO induction before. This is a rare occurrence now, a lot of installations don’t do this anymore,” said Command Sgt. Maj. Warren Robinson at the event.
“To have the SMA retired come to speak at this is a real treat for all of us, I hope this is something you remember,” he told the attendees.
Sergeant First Class Matthew Foldenauer conducted the event, and offered an introductory message reminding the guests of the importance and duties of the NCOs newly assumed roles.
“Having been selected, trained, and duly promoted, they now face another transition — their induction into the NCO Corps,” Foldenauer stated. “For being a Noncommissioned Officer is more than acquiring skills, passing boards, and completing courses; it is a change in mindset that says, ‘I will be a professional at all times and in all ways. I will train and care for my soldiers, whereas before I was only concerned with my own training, welfare and mission accomplishment.’”
After a symbolic candle lighting ceremony done by three first sergeants, the 37 women and men each took their turn crossing the stage to be received by Robinson and Chandler. The auditorium then filled with a thunderous noise as all the newly inducted NCOs together recited the NCO Charge, starting by declaring loudly that “I will discharge carefully and diligently the duties of the grade to which I have been promoted and uphold the traditions and standards of the Army.”
Following tradition, five junior soldiers — the type of soldiers the newly appointed NCOs will have charge of — stood in turn to offer “a request on behalf of the soldiers to the Noncommissioned Officers,” which included that the NCOs respect, communicate with, and train well the soldiers, which the new NCOs again responded to in unison with a resounding, “We will honor your requests!” and a recitation of the Creed of the Noncommissioned Officer and, joined by all past and present NCOs in attendance, the NCO Charge.
As Chandler then stood as the guest speaker, he reaffirmed the importance of the role that NCOs play by recounting his own story as a new recruit into the Army, describing himself as a “dud” who struggled in school and only took interest in the Army after seeing tankers in a movie.
“I had a sergeant who decided he was going to do a little reclamation project, take this troubled youth and actually turn him into a soldier. He took me under his arm and said, ‘listen to me, and you will be alright,’” Chandler said.
“Something clicked — he listened to me, and he didn’t agree with or sympathize with me, but he listened to me, to who I was, and made an effort to put himself in my shoes. Eventually, I was very successful and had a very successful career ... and that’s the impact you newly promoted NCOs are going to have on someone’s life if you choose to extend yourself, to make a difference.”
Following the induction ceremony, a new wave of soldiers filled the seats and lined the walls of the auditorium as Chandler took the stage as part of a Leadership Professional Development session. Having been sworn in as the 14th Sergeant Major of the Army in 2011, he afterward retired from the Army and worked as a business development principal analyst for Lockheed Martin.
Coming from his home in Florida to attend the events in honor of Fort Huachuca’s NCO Week, Chandler spoke to attendees about leadership and the transition from military into civilian life after retirement.
“We’ve still got a mission after we leave the Army,” he said. “The mission when you retire is to hire and inspire,” — to hire other veterans if they are in a position to do so, and to share share their stories to inspire others, noting they veterans can be the best recruiters the Army has.
He also offered his advice to the soldiers to look forward and plan ahead to a life outside of the military, encouraging listeners to get a college degree and the credentials in addition to stellar leadership abilities to qualify for the job they want.
He then answered questions about the changes in policy he made as SMA, his personal leadership style, and the transition to companies “outside of the gates of Fort Huachuca,” which Chandler describes as being more impersonal than team-centered Army ideologies, recommending that retired soldiers “will exceed expectations” in such businesses by applying the personal leadership strategies they developed in the Army.