SIERRA VISTA — There are 20,668 students enrolled in the county’s public, charter and private schools and 116 in home school, and Cochise County School Superintendent Jacqui Clay wants each one to get the most out of their K–12 education so they can be successful in adult life and find work here at home.
She provided information from the state on its new program, “Achieve 60 AZ,” which seeks to ensure 60 percent of adults in the state hold a certificate, license or degree in 10 years. Arizona lags behind other states, rating No. 40 in the country, with just 18 percent of high school graduates going on to earn college degrees.
“Educational attainment is critical for Arizona’s economic viability and individual prosperity in a more globally competitive world,” according to the state. “Building Arizona’s future workforce will attract more businesses to Arizona, increase the tax base and decrease poverty.”
It goes on to say that, by 2020, two–thirds of all jobs will require higher education and when children now in pre–school graduate from high school, seven of every 10 jobs will require some type of higher education. Currently, just 45 percent of Arizona’s adults have credentials or degrees. In the next 10 years, the state wants 1 million more adults to go beyond high school and keep them here in the state once they have completed college or earned a certificate or degree through a trade school.
Even modest increases can significantly impact the state economy by around $2.3 billion annually, said Clay. Each student alone who follows through with a degree or a certification is worth an estimated $660,000, according to the state.
Right now, 49 percent of Cochise County adults have some education beyond high school. She aims to increase it to 70 percent in 10 years with better training and help for teachers, engaging students in decisions to meet their expectations and gathering the support of local businesses.
The other important factor for success she sees is gathering support from local communities.
“We need the parents and the people who live in the school districts involved. We all need to work together to make our children’s education a success,” Clay emphasized.
She takes the goal seriously and wants to provide Cochise County students with the education and support they need to meet the challenge, starting with her program Achieve Cochise. She envisions having a diverse, well-educated and highly skilled workforce participating in a thriving economy.
Clay said she aims to get more businesses involved with the students by expanding DECA — Distributed Education Clubs of America — a career and technical student organization. It can provide the vehicle for high school students to learn about businesses and help make career choices prior to graduation as they work. Currently, the Sierra Vista Chamber of Commerce, Northrup Grumman, Lawley Motors and others take part in the DECA program.
In addition, Clay said she wants to encourage those students who may not want to go to college for four years to look at having productive careers in one of the many trades needing technically trained personnel – carpenters, electricians, plumbers, etc. Clay said she needs the support of the business community to realize that goal.
“We have to sit down together and talk about these things,” continued Clay. “We have to agree to disagree. And I think we can do what’s necessary for our students.”
To gather information from students, teachers, parents, businesses and the community at large, she plans to hold meetings open to the public, so everyone is invited to the table to discuss problems and successes in the county’s educational system.
“Right now, the county education system is fractured,” she said. “Everyone is looking out for their own district and that’s the way things have been. But we all need to work collaboratively to address the barriers our students face with policies and innovations. We need to make sure all of our students have the options for education beyond high school.”
To that end, she will hold a roundtable discussion to roll out the Achieve Cochise program and talk about the state of education in the county on Thursday, Nov. 7, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. at a location to be determined.