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The best education in challenging times

Last weekend, it was my great pleasure to give the commencement address to the first graduating class of the Southwest Colorado Community College, also known as S Triple C. The commencement was held at Fort Lewis’ Community Concert Hall and the day was a great tribute to the hard working students, faculty and staff of the newly-merged school.

Last year, former Sen. Isgar and I carried the bill merging San Juan Basin Technical College with Pueblo Community College. It took legislation to merge the two schools to bring it within Colorado’s community college system as its own entity and to deal with state funding issues. The heavy lifting to bring about the merger, though, was done by the merger steering committee, including many from Montezuma and La Plata counties, and they have much to be proud of.

Community colleges in Colorado have seen very significant growth in enrollment due in part to the recession. Our region is very fortunate to have SCCC to offer our area’s students this opportunity to further their education.

SCCC offers both certificate and associate degree programs. With more than 120 graduates this year, they’ll soon outgrow the concert hall for future commencements. Many of SCCC’s course offerings will help enhance the education and job skills training needed in our area and our employers will benefit as well as the students.

Merging, or marrying, two schools together is never easy and my hat is off to all of those who made it happen so successfully.

Speaking of education, I’ll mention that the teacher tenure reform bill is coming to the House floor for debate and voting early in the week. I’ve received a lot of input from teachers around the district and I called each of the school superintendents in my district to make sure I knew their thoughts as well. I’ve also heard from a number of school board members who have a valuable perspective to bring to the discussion.

With the many amendments that have been made to the bill, I intend to support it. I know this’ll cause considerable angst to the teachers who view the bill as unfair to them. I hear their concerns. I also weigh those concerns alongside those expressed to me by those in support of the bill. The school administrators and board members, by and large, fall into that category. The Colorado Youth Advisory Council Education Committee also expressed support for the bill.

My father taught public high school for 24 years. My siblings and grandparents are or were teachers. Teachers have always been respected in my family, much more than other professionals such as attorneys like me. I understand that and know the challenges teachers face daily.

However, some things must change in educating Colorado’s children. Among other challenges, our high school dropout rate is sky high. My son, a bright and talented individual, chose that path, one that caused much family gnashing of teeth. Going through that decision-making process, and the years leading up to it, with him gave us a recent, very close view of today’s middle and high school years.

These are different times from when my father taught. Perhaps the way we help Colorado’s kids and our teachers, is to reexamine and change a system that has become so institutionalized that, for some, it can’t be questioned.

The teacher tenure reform bill is sponsored by legislators who are deeply committed to the entire educational system, including its teachers. I’ve quizzed the bill sponsors often about various concerns that have been raised to me from teacher constituents. I believe there’s enough flexibility in the bill language that, if passed, this reform will be a work in progress.

Passing the bill, though, would be the first step toward the goal shared by all and that is to provide our students with the best possible education in these challenging times.