COCHISE COUNTY, AZ (Tucson News Now) - Cochise County needs an education renaissance that can only take place if stakeholders collaborate and move forward with a collective voice and vision.
That was the message of County Schools Superintendent Jacqui Clay, who hosted the first of what she hopes will be regular community roundtables designed to foster relationships and form common strategies for future legislative advocacy.
About 50 people attended the three-hour event at the Windemere Hotel in Sierra Vista on Thursday, including regional school district superintendents, board members, teachers, and other education representatives.
The gathering also drew the attention of City of Sierra Vista council members, County Supervisor Peggy Judd, County Sheriff Mark Dannels, and State Representative Drew John.
"You are going to help us move forward," Clay told the audience. "We're going to have one goal, one voice and one vision. We need a change in culture in Cochise County where we're working together and thinking differently. We need to start a renaissance."
Prior to the event, Clay surveyed community stakeholders about their biggest concerns regarding local education and narrowed the list down to five topics for discussion at the roundtable.
Those issues were teacher and support staff funding, teacher retention, exceptional student services and behavioral health, discipline, and college and career readiness.
After hearing presentations from the Arizona Department of Education's Jay Johnson, and Dick Foreman, President and CEO of the Arizona Business and Education Coalition, about current education statistics, legislation, and opportunities, the group was asked to discuss the five issues and ways to overcome any challenges.
Those challenges included lack of community recognition for education professionals, the voter approved minimum wage increases, capital funding cuts, retaining experienced teachers, parent engagement, and exposure to real world professions.
Improved communication strategies were a common theme for every table, who each focused on one of the five topics of discussion.
"We need to communicate through all sorts of media and look for every opportunity to communicate," said Kriss Hagerl, Sierra Vista Unified School District Superintendent. "We need more local advocacy groups within in our local communities, and we need to communicate more clearly with our local officials."
Community involvement was echoed by John, who said area citizens need to take control of their local schools.
"The community has got to step up," he said. "They need to get involved in school boards and get them to vote the right way."
The results of the discussion, facilitated by Mignonne Hollis, Executive Director of the Arizona Regional Economic Development Foundation, will now be compiled and presented at the next roundtable, scheduled for Spring 2018.
"I will be able to use that information for my own communications with my peers, with legislators and with the Arizona Business and Education Coalition," said Clay. "I can represent Cochise County with our values, and not just my values. This is our power, our influence and our voice."