MUSD Superintendent Doug Wilson Addresses Council and School Board
In many communities, schools and local government operate in entirely different worlds. That division begins in the polling booth, where voters elect separate council and school board candidates. In Marana, however, local elected leaders are working to bridge that chasm. Tuesday night, the Town Council and the Marana Unified School Board convened a joint meeting at the Marana Municipal Complex in which representatives from each side shared examples of the many ways schools and government are inextricably linked. By creating a space for collaboration, both the Town Council and the School Board hope to open an ongoing dialogue about the ways schools and government can achieve their shared goal of creating a vibrant, well-educated community.
Mayor Ed Honea and School Board President Dan Post called the meeting to order, each acknowledging the importance of a close relationship between the two political bodies. “If we can share resources, it’s an asset for both of us,” explained Honea, as he welcomed the members of the School Board.
Town Manager Gilbert Davidson echoed Honea’s remarks, describing the feedback loop in which the Council and School Board operate. “If the Town works to create a great space, people are going to want to move to this community.” Those new residents will pay property taxes and will send their children to Marana’s schools, Davidson explained.
Marana’s Economic Development Director Curt Woody, who is deeply familiar with the local business community, provided the concrete evidence to back up these claims. When businesses choose to locate here, they care much more about the quality of the local schools than they do about tax incentives. “A strong educational system is the most important element for economic development,” affirmed Woody emphatically. “We have to break down the silos between education, government, and businesses.”
Responding to these assertions, Cathie Raymond, who directs career and technical education for MUSD, shed light on some of the programs the district runs which enable students to experience real-world work environments. She listed off a wide array of career-oriented options, from automotive engineering to business management. “Our job is to teach our students how to become adults and how to become financially independent,” summarized Raymond for the Council and School Board. Around the room, heads nodded firmly in agreement.
Concluding the meeting was a joint presentation from Patricia Cadigan, MUSD’s executive director of bond projects, and Russ Federico, the district’s executive director of operational support. Cadigan detailed how MUSD plans to spend the $125 million bond approved by voters in 2014. Principally, the district has already broken ground on a new elementary school serving Gladden Farms. The creative design of its classrooms includes moving glass walls which teachers can manipulate to construct all kinds of different learning environments. This new school, which can serve 750 students at capacity, will open in time for the 2016-2017 school year.
Physical construction, though, is not the only plan MUSD has in the pipeline. Eventually, all students grades three through twelve will receive their own Chromebooks, announced Federico. “We want to put our students together not only physically, we want to put them together digitally.” In the long term, the digital and physical will meet in a new STEM Academy serving Dove Mountain, which the district hopes to open in the 2019-2020 school year.
By the end of the meeting, it had become abundantly clear that neither the Town Council nor the School Board could see any limitation on their future work. Superintendent Doug Wilson hopes eventually to create an entire complex near Marana Main Street that may include a new high school, performing arts theater, cultural center, and library. This hub may grow to include restaurants, hotels, and retail options. The district, he explained, already has $12 million dedicated to this project. The problem, though, is that its overall costs are projected to be around $35 million.
While it’s obvious that many of these ideas are still only fantasies, this sharing of information between Council and School Board allows each group to push the other to dream big. As they each continue to think beyond their respective silos, they hope to envision the kind of projects that will make Marana a great place to live not only next year, but next decade. Tuesday’s meeting was a strong marker of that effort, one that both sides are eager to maintain.