The newest member of the Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District Governing Board is a 40-year veteran of the district with experience as a teacher and administrator.
Yavapai County Superintendent Tim Carter appointed Mary Valenzuela, longtime assistant principal and former first-grade teacher at Oak Creek School, to fill a seat on the board vacated by Mark Miskiel. The appointment is official Saturday,
Since retiring as assistant vice principal in 2009, Valenzuela has been substitute teaching for the district and conducting college classes for teachers. Her most recent class, Literacy: Reading theory, decoding and language, will be offered at Yavapai College this spring.
Although her new position will prevent her from continuing to substitute teach, she said she would continue to volunteer in district classrooms because she loves the children.
“I don’t have to get paid to do that,” she said.
Reflecting on the new job Thursday, Dec. 16, Valenzuela said she knows she’s walking into a tough situation. Due to an expected decrease in state education funding, Valenzuela said the district is facing a severe budget shortfall that could reach into the millions of dollars.
The budget crisis has board members and administrators searching for answers, she said.
One hotly debated proposal for closing Oak Creek School, which is a Cornville community center, has created a lot of tension in the district between parents who want to see the school remain open and the governing board, which points to declining enrollment and increasing costs at the school.
Valenzuela said she is withholding judgment on the issue until taking her seat in January but believes alternatives to closing not yet considered could be forthcoming from district stakeholders. She urged everyone with an interest in the district to come forward with ideas.
She said her long affiliation with Oak Creek School could make whatever decision is reached about its fate more palatable for the Cornville residents who know her.
The role reversal that comes with the job, where Valenzuela becomes one member of a board that supervises administrators to whom she once reported, is not likely to change relationships with people she worked with for decades, especially COCSD Superintendent Barb U’Ren.
“I’ll never be [U’Ren’s] boss,” Valenzuela said. “You pick a person to run the schools. You look to make sure the policies you set are being implemented, but otherwise you show them they have your confidence and support.”
Valenzuela said she would rely on U’Ren to get her up to speed on the issues confronting COCSD, especially with regards to the budget.
She knows first hand the caliber of the teachers and administrators who work for the district and expressed confidence their talents and diligence would see the district through its current difficulties.
Carter appointed Valenzuela after Miskiel unexpectedly resigned Dec. 10 because his wife was hired to work for the district, posing a possible conflict of interest.
Miskiel was one of three candidates who filed to run for one of three seats in the Nov. 2 election. Only three candidates filed to run. Consequently, Carter canceled the election to save money because the outcome was certain.
Instead of putting the candidates to a vote, Carter appointed Miskiel and the other two candidates, Jason Finger and Janice Rollins, to fill the four-year positions.
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