Connecting with Tempe...with Pam Goronkin
Excellence in schools vital to cityís technology future

Kindergarten through high school education in Arizona has gotten a lot of bad press. Arizona hasnít exactly done a stellar job in this department.

Although Tempe City Council can merely make suggestions to school district governing boards, as a City Council member I personally consider K-12 education one of Tempeís most fundamental tools--a tool that needs sharpening--in our efforts to ensure Tempeís future economic vitality. 

But this column isnít just for parents of K-12 students. Itís for all of us who value the quality of life weíve come to enjoy in Tempe. This column is my first attempt to engage your help in ensuring that Tempe is a player in Arizonaís future knowledge economy.

As residents, you can protect and enhance your property values, as well as your own quality of life, at the same time that Tempeís K-12 school children receive the best-quality education in the region. Whatís the relationship?

To attract technology and knowledge businesses to Tempe, we must demonstrate that the employees of such companies will want to live in our neighborhoods. We must also demonstrate that such companies will find a ďpipelineĒ of prepared potential employees for their business. 

My opinion is that the local schools are the key. Without quality educational programs, programs that are unavailable elsewhere, parents will not want to live in Tempeís school districts.  And companies requiring well-trained future workers will seek another community to locate their business. Maybe Scottsdale will prevail, perhaps Gilbert. Tempe could become an also-ran, even while Arizona State University beats the economic heart of our community.

Maybe you havenít thought of your childís school as a part of the local economy. Perhaps youíve been more concerned with whether your child gets his favorite teacher than whether your school--and your neighborhood--are economic drivers.

Your focus could shift somewhat if you realize that your property values are also at stake when you participate in the decisions made by your schoolís governing board. Those of us whose children have long-since grown up must have a voice in these decisions as well.

As a former neighborhood leader, I think that neighborhood and homeowners associations also must learn that the quality of their neighborhoods cannot be ensured solely by investment in entry monumentation, park improvements and traffic calming.

While these are important, I believe the neighborhood school is the ticket to Tempeís economic future. The missions of neighborhood and homeowner associations must align with those of local schools if we hope to maintain and enhance neighborhood quality over the long term.   

In Arizona, school governing boards have their own jurisdictions separate from the city, town or county in which they exist. They have the ability to tax residents in their governing district to pay for their programs and implement their policies.

While I donít pretend to understand all the nuances of school districting in Arizona, nor am I an educator, I can tell you that having three separate school districts for Tempeís children has not been conducive to coordinating curricula across the K-12 educational experience.

Three school governing boards, along with the parents whose children attend their schools, havenít made coordinating these programs a priority. And perhaps school-district leaders arenít interested in relinquishing or sharivng power. 

At a recent Tempe City Council issue review session, Arizona State University was on hand to present its latest master plan. The discussion focused on campus and lakeshore development.  But overlooked in the timeframe available for this discussion was the final bullet in this presentation: ASUís commitment to assist the local community in enhancing K-12 educational programs! This is huge! Indeed, a key advantage for Tempe is the very presence of Arizona State University in our city. Imagine what having a university high school could do for Tempe.

Or ASU faculty giving mini-seminars in the middle schools.

Or ASU students tutoring in the elementary schools.

Imagine seamless curricula, preparing students for all levels of work in a knowledge economy.

Personally, I plan to contact the members of Tempeís various school governing boards to share my view of education as an economic tool and to encourage them to work with ASU to craft curricula that support programs that feed into ASU, and the community colleges as well. 

Yes, Iíve already done this in a variety of ways. And Iíve encouraged my City Council colleagues to do the same.  But so far it hasnít been enough. 

Arizona State University is there, asking to be our partner, and we havenít put ASUís name on our dance cards yet.

Whether your child is currently in school, your children are grown or you are childless, itís time to unite in our passion for K-12 education.

Future columns will further address this topic and how you might get involved. Meanwhile, please feel free to contact me with your comments and suggestions on this or any other topic in Tempe. You can send your thoughts via email to pam_goronkin@tempe.gov.