Jacqui Clay is changing the game on education

Cochise County Schools Superintendent, Jacqui Clay, meets with Legacy Foundation of Southeast Arizona CEO, Margaret Hepburn, on Wednesday, April 5, 2017. The two were discussing plans for future relations towards improving the educational climate in Cochise County.



Education may not be perceived as a business, but with statewide funding an issue, Cochise County Schools Superintendent Jacqui Clay is attacking academics with a new approach toward pushing southeast schools into the 21st century.

How is she doing that? By approaching education in economical terms, boosting the local gross domestic product.

Clay is visiting schools, businesses and people in the community in order to share her vision of what Cochise County could be:  a system that is economically independent for all students and that instills economic success for the county.

“I am going on listening tours and I sit and listen to find out what I can do for you,” Clay said. “I am really here to get on the floor with the kids, to find out how you’re feeling, to talk to the principal, what’s going on, what can we do?”

She is enlisting the help of board members and businesses industry leaders to provide more support for Cochise County education. Her hope with their contributions is that it will reap long-lasting dividends for students and their communities.

Clay poses for a photo with members of the military and community during a Martin Luther King event on Jan. 16, 2017. Clay has been actively seeking change in the direction of education towards a business motivated model.

Clay is tapping into her experience at Buena High School as an assistant principal where she was responsible for career and technical education. In that time she bolstered the programs from seven to 17, which she says helped the economical plan of the community flourish.

“I believe that education is an extension of our future and that’s what I am trying to get people to understand,” Clay said.

In a meeting with Legacy Foundation Chief Executive Officer Margaret Hepburn, Clay laid out the base for building a more independent county by focusing on providing guidance, advocacy, programs and services that support Cochise County Schools. Her hope is to receive funding in the form of grants and other donations to push education toward economic gain.

One way she proposes to do so is the reason for her meeting with Hepburn: funding. Clay is attacking education with a business-like approach, building a substantial local product in students, in order to increase the value of the county by keeping homegrown talent. In other words, focusing on the strengths of students and encouraging them to expand on those strengths in career fields that will reap the benefits and boost the local economy.

Hepburn said she understands that it only takes a few people to influence a child’s  life and alter the course. She attributed her own life to four or five individuals who had a significant impact into steering her in a certain direction.

“One of the things that we’ve (Legacy Foundation) been talking about is how we can impact the children in the community to aspire to careers in the community,” Hepburn said. “It’s really important because it keeps people in the community because they can see the path.”

The focus of Clay isn’t just in regards to students, she has her eyes on all levels of adolescents including those in detention or jails, home schooled and special needs.

Cochise County Schools Superintendent Jacqui Clay shares a few words with community members. Clay is in her first year as superintendent.

“Education is not a spectator sport,” Clay said. “You have these kids here, they have in their DNA the same thing you have in yours, so what are you doing to pull them out? To give them motivation, direction and purpose to stay here. We have to go into the community and talk to them and get them to understand.”

Another focus of Clay is to keep teachers engaged and encouraged for the progress in education. Clay says that Cochise County is responsible for professional development for teachers but the only re-certification programs are in Pima County, and that is where all the money is going. Clay would like to train the teachers in Cochise County, she also believes that as an educational service agency the county should have its own identity and train their own.

“The biggest issue we have right now is keeping teachers,” Clay said. “When we receive teachers into the county or even the state, it’s usually three years and then they’re gone. One reason for that is because they are not vested in the community. So one of the visions that we have is focusing on four to five demographics to get more teachers. One is creating a teacher program within a high school which costs very little money. We have retirees at Fort Huachuca, soldiers that are separating, teachers that have emergency certifications and teachers that have sub-certifications.”

Tapping into resources and focusing on community members who have lived in the areas will create more buy in according to Clay.

Clay is working on the teacher retention issue all as part of her plan. A professional development center known as the Cochise County Training Institute, would aid in developing instructors for career and technical schools in modern technology such as coding, google, cognitive coaching and instructional strategies.

Saul Bookman is a reporter for the Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact him at sbookman32@email.arizona.edu.

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