The Cortez City Council used its work session Tuesday night to discuss the quality of education in the city and what it, as a city government, can do to support educational pursuits in the area.
My purpose in bringing this up is I feel like as far as schools go and town goes, we sink together or we swim together, said Cortez Mayor Dan Porter. What can we start doing as a town to help our schools?
The full council was present for the discussion, along with Kirsten Sackett, director of planning, City Manager Shane Hale, and the councils attorney, Michael Green.
The city council has a unique perspective on education because five of the seven members either have been or are currently employed by Montezuma-Cortez School District Re-1. Councilors Bob Archibeque and Karen Sheek both retired from the district after 30 years in education, Councilor Ty Keel is a teacher at Cortez Middle School, Councilor Matt Keefauver is a teacher at Kemper Elementary School, and Cortez Mayor Dan Porter is the principal at Pleasant View and Lewis-Arriola elementary schools.
What can we start doing as a town to help our schools, Porter asked the councilors. We have to be willing to support education.
A number of ideas were mentioned at the meeting, from offering the city library as a resource for schools that are losing certified librarians and facing cuts in reference materials, to throwing council support behind a tax referendum for new school buildings.
A direct way we can possibly affect the school system is if a referendum comes up again this election we can decide as a council to throw our endorsement behind it, Keefauver said. We can make a statement as a city council asking people to vote for the referendum. Obviously, we would all have to be on the same page around it, but I think that is a way we can show our support.
The council also agreed on the necessity of continuing coordination programs with the school districts and facility agreements, such as use of the pool at the Cortez Recreation Center.
Hale noted quality education impacts more than just the students enrolled in the local district.
One of the first questions you get if people want to come to Cortez, whether for business or personal, is how are the schools, the city manager said. I think our schools are a concern, and, quite frankly, if we dont have a school district our city supports and is confident that kids can go to and get a solid education, then it is going to be really difficult to grow this community.
Porter said he believes one way the city council can impact education in the community is to espouse the necessity of community support.
I think one of our roles would be as ambassadors, Porter said. We can go out in the community and tell people that there is a connection between the economy, between the citys welfare, and our education. I dont think most people really understand that.
Successful schools rely on participation from students, parents, teachers and communities, and if buy-in is lacking from one source, everyone suffers, Archibeque said.
My thinking is how can we help promote educational culture in this community, Archibeque said. Until we do that, nothing else matters.
Sackett proposed utilizing the citys Heart and Soul grant to help promote education. Cortez was one of five communities in the nation awarded a $100,000 Heart and Soul grant from the Orton Family Foundation. The funds are aimed at getting residents more involved in shaping their communitys future.
I think we can tie the Heart and Soul grant into this, Sackett said. If the city council were to say, Lets really focus on how we can help education, we could really focus our outreach on education. We could go to youth and people in the community and ask them to share their stories about what makes education, and we would film the stories and make a positive message with your buy-in and a true focus on education.
The council agreed that utilizing messages from the community would help confront concerns over education in a positive manner.
Porter said he believes the school district would be willing to cooperate with the effort as new evaluation requirements for school districts mandate community participation.
I think this can be value added for the school district because we can go into the community and ask the questions the district needs the answers to anyway, he said.
Sackett said she will begin working with staff to design a vision for the education project.
Reach Kimberly Benedict at [email protected]