When Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District Assistant Superintendent Steve King takes over the reigns from departing COCSD Superintendent Barbara U’Ren on July 1, he will inherit management of six schools — five brick-and-mortar facilities and one online educational program.
King admitted that filling U’Ren’s shoes will be a sizable task. “Barb U’Ren is one of the most amazing people I’ve ever met,” he said, adding that U’Ren has worked diligently to foster a collaborative culture where the ability of teachers and staff to have a positive impact on children’s lives is maximized.
With the district since 2015, King spent the majority of his 23 years in public schools as a principal in Camp Verde. Prior to that, he taught, working mostly with at-risk students.
“I just like working in schools,” King said. “I spend very little time in his office, in fact.”
This truth became apparent as King walked the grounds of Cottonwood Elementary School, adjacent to the district office: Most, if not all, recognized the assistant superintendent, giving him high fives and joking about their days.
“They come to school with challenges we couldn’t even imagine,” King said, adding that he is excited about expanding “research into social and emotional learning” at COCSD. “Is it our responsibility to address their emotional well-being? I can’t see how it couldn’t be.
“A strong academic program with a strong social and emotional learning component in parallel is the wave of the future at COCSD.”
King explained that the effort to address student happiness and achievement at the same time began with implementing the Capturing Kids’ Hearts program, which helps to establish social contracts between students and teachers, allowing teachers to discipline without major disruption.
To continue the forward momentum, however, King said that establishing consistency throughout a child’s education and fostering a community that prioritizes education is fundamental. The latter goal, King added, requires substantial collaboration.
“I do think the biggest challenge is building a community that values education, that values kids and that values the future,” King said. “And that’s everyone: It’s an all-hands-on-deck approach.”
To underscore his point, King talked up CES Principal Jessica Vocca’s presentation to the Yavapai College Osher Lifelong Learning Institute leadership at Yavapai College Verde Valley Campus Friday, Jan. 13. Vocca and four students implored seniors to volunteer at COCSD schools.
If we don’t connect with that community, shame on us,” King said. “There’s something special between children and seniors .... And it’s a huge pool of talent.”
“We’re just looking at what seniors in our community have to offer,” Vocca added. “We need more support in schools .... It’s an exciting opportunity for students and for seniors.”
According to King, much of his effort is directed toward equalizing the opportunities for students of different socioeconomic statuses, making education uniformly excellent for children “regardless of their ZIP codes.”
King said that he is encouraged by the opportunities provided through collaboration with Yavapai College, some of which the public remains largely unaware. The STEM lab at Oak Creek School, for instance, would not exist but for a donation of computers from the college.
“We can’t afford not to collaborate,” King said. “I’ve found the people at Yavapai College to be very open.”
King praised last summer’s College for Kids program at the college, which helped COCSD “take off their blinders” when it came to post-secondary education opportunities.
“Going off-campus to college .... That’s going to stick with them.”