Two days prior to the year’s end, Yavapai County School Superintendent Tim Carter announced the appointment of Village of Oak Creek resident Connie Harris to the Yavapai College District Governing Board.
The position — which represents YCDGB District 3, comprising the upper Verde Valley communities of Clarkdale, Cottonwood, Jerome, Sedona and the Village of Oak Creek — was created by the resignation of Al Filardo in December. The appointment is valid from Harris taking the oath of office during the YCDGB meeting Tuesday, Jan. 10, through Dec. 31, 2018.
Harris, who was raised in the Phoenix area, boasts nearly four decades of experience in education: Over 30 years in K-12 schools, several years in post-secondary teaching positions and the last four years as the Arizona Director of AdvancED, an accrediting agency serving K-12 schools, post-secondary institutions and education agencies to over 70 countries worldwide.
In addition to two masters degrees, Harris possesses a educational doctorate in administration and leadership from Arizona State University.
Though a resident of the area since only March, Harris said that her roots go back. In 1980, her parents retired in Cornville, though her mother’s break would be short. For well over a decade, she worked as a school nurse, spending her lengthiest tenure at Mingus Union High School. By the early 2000s, Harris’ parents were living in Clarkdale and enjoying visits from their children.
“Since we lived in the Phoenix area, we visited here all the time,” Harris said, adding that her sister eventually became a teacher at Cottonwood Middle School and her brother came to reside in Lake Montezuma. “My husband and I were coming back and forth, and loved it here .... It’s just absolutely beautiful. For being a city girl, this is heaven.”
Harris inherited more than a love for the Verde Valley, however. From a young age, her family encouraged education.
“That was planted in my brain,” Harris said. “I always wanted to go into education .... I was in kindergarten, and I used to play teacher.”
This love of education, Harris added, inspired her move from teaching to directing the state’s operations for AdvancED. For over three decades, she worked with the organization, witnessing its impact on schools. AdvancED works with approximately 900 schools in Arizona for voluntary accreditation in its on-site external review process.
“It’s about everything I believe in: Helping schools with continuous improvement,” Harris said, adding that the accreditation process is both an affirmation of a institution’s strengths and a way to help bring about changes. “It’s a comprehensive look at your institution .... like putting a mirror up to yourself and seeing where your strengths are.”
According to Harris, her own role in the process is to build teams to visit, evaluate and consult schools.
Harris said that she did not seek out the vacant YCDGB seat, but a phone call from a friend inspired her to look into the opportunity.
“I’ve always been very involved [in education] where I live,” Harris said. “So I read up on it, I went online and saw the posting .... I submitted my application and said, ‘Well, if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be.’ If I don’t get it, I’ll find another way to contribute to my community.”
Harris admitted that she is coming into the position with little history of Yavapai College — either positive or negative. Prior to the interview process with Carter and members of the review team, Harris knew no one who worked for Yavapai College.
“I’m going to be a fresh set of eyes,” Harris said. “I think what might be appreciated is that I don’t have an agenda .... I just want to improve services for students. That’s my passion. I’m looking forward to helping us go to the next level.”
Despite her relative lack of experience with Yavapai College, Harris said that she is no stranger to community colleges. “What I can tell you from personal experience is that I had some really phenomenal professors at the community college level,” Harris said, praising the smaller class sizes and other benefits. “It was personalized, customized. The courses I took were all transferable .... Frankly speaking, for the money it’s a great opportunity for folks. It’s a much more affordable way to get a top quality education.”
Carter, in a release, stated, “Harris clearly understands the scope, operation and functions of a governing board and there is no doubt in my mind that she will represent the citizens of District 3 extremely well. Her work ethic and concern for learning have been obviously consistent for many decades. She is a person of integrity .... She listens, observes and considers as many options as possible. She knows how to make a decision, and then stands by it with firm determination.”