Leading in the Wild West

Jaime Festa-Daigle Current Affairs, Education

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I have successfully completed my first school year.  As teachers and staff across the state are returning to the classroom, I am winding down the marathon that is summer life of a personnel director in Arizona.  I have conquered the all-new and ever-changing certification requirements that have been ushered in so that Arizona might have teachers in the building; I have supported staff as they issue new memos updating contracts with funding secured after the legislative session; I’ve worked with administrators wooing new staff that may possibly be interested in relocating or changing careers; and then have worked to do it all again when a candidate falls through and a new teacher decides they aren’t going to be coming after all.  It has quite possibly been the most exhausting and eye-opening summer of my education career. And here we are barely in August.

 My school district successfully hired 41 teachers.  We were able to add six positions and added more music, art, and physical education in our elementary schools.  We hired ten teachers from out of state, six teachers who are alumni, and three teachers who have taught for us before.  Three did their student teaching with us, two were former para-professionals, and fifteen are working on an alternative certificate.  We currently have two long-term substitutes starting the year in special education classrooms and are working with an international organization to support us in finding a speech-language pathologist.  An assistant principal was hired to replace me as I moved over to the district office. She was a 5th grade teacher and then we needed to replace her. We also onboarded 30 new substitute teachers and hired 24 classified staff members ranging from bus drivers to computer technicians to personal care assistants.  I am extremely proud to work with each of them.

This year, there are two dedicated Master Teacher Mentors who redesigned our new teacher orientation.  They aligned all learning with NBPTS Core Propositions. We are dedicated to supporting new staff holistically.  We will work with them as they lesson plan, deliver lessons, work with students, and reflect on success. We will be there for them as they grow and struggle.  In terms of funding, much of the work we do to support new teachers is from Title II. Everything from hard-to-fill stipends and funding for mentors to support for testing and tuition reimbursements comes from Title II.  

As I look back at the very busy summer I have had and reflect on the staff I have hired, I am so excited to see so many eager educators who are natives.  It will be a wonderful match with our veteran staff from here and around the country, but I know these educators who are newest to the profession will require added support.  Last year, our Title II budget was cut 21% and this year we are anticipating a 10% cut due to our slightly declining enrollment. Right now, much of the teacher training that was done prior to teachers being hired is now being absorbed by districts.  And while I am so hopeful about the possibility of these new hires, it has to come with some sort of funding. School districts are now not only in the business of teaching kids but in some cases, training teachers.

We are at a pivotal time for schools in Arizona where support for education is high, but we are looking into an unknown future.  Schools are taking on new challenges with the hope and promise that something better lay ahead. As my crazy first summer comes to a close and we are at the dawn of the new school year, I look into the horizon ahead and am committed to focus on nothing but good things for all of us who have chosen to teach and lead in the Wild West of Arizona.



My name is Jaime Festa-Daigle and I was born here in Arizona. I work as the Director of Personnel and Technology at Lake Havasu Unified School District. I’ve taught everything from ELL to 8th grade English to student council to college level government and economics. I was recognized as the American Civic Educator of the Year in 2012. I am fully focused on ensuring rural students have equal access to educational opportunities as their metropolitan counterparts. My current passion is the development of mentor and induction programs for novice school leaders in rural communities. I am an NBCT, Arizona Master Teacher, and an Arizona Rural Schools Association board member. During the small moments where I am not focused on how to make Lake Havasu Unified School District the best district in AZ, I am usually nerding out on politics, fretting about my children and pugs, or working up a sweat at Cross Fit.

Comments 5

  1. Austine Etcheverry

    When stepping back and looking at the hard work that districts put in with so little money it is truely amazing at the result that is achieved. While I have never thought of Arizona as the Wild West your spin on this helped me to realize how wild our Arizona is when it comes to education.

  2. Donnie Lee

    I love how your blog illustrates all of the issues that we face to staff our schools out here in the Wild, Wild West. (I can now hear that Will Smith song in my head.) I am so impressed that you were able to attract some local talent and previous students. Do you have an idea what made them decide to stay in their hometown? One thing that disappoints me in your blog is the fact that we can no longer provide staff for some of our specifically skilled positions like a speech pathologist teacher. Are you finding that people with those skills can make more money with less stress in the private fields?

    1. Jaime Festa-Daigle

      In my experience, I have seen counselors and therapists leave the school setting since I have started teaching. And although the private sector has as many stressors, the pay is substantially different. I also hear the caseloads are manageable. Cultivating a professional staff that meets the needs of community will take care and thought and as my small community develops, we as a school district have to play a part of that economic development.

  3. Sandy Merz

    They say that championships are won in the off-season. I never thought too much about how much off season work is done to get schools ready. Sure, I’ve been on summer interview committees and such, but thanks for pointing out how foundational the work you do is.

  4. Tim Ihms

    Good blog on your new position. It helped appreciate maybe a little more the responsibilities of the position. Great picture.

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