Zola Hall and Gary Birkett to be recognized for their school board service

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By Mila Besich-Lira

Residents in Kearny are invited to a reception honoring Gary Birkett and Zola Hall. The district is recognizing these individuals for their many years of service to the Ray Unified School Board. The reception will begin at 7:30 p.m. at the District Office on Thursday, December 13, 2012.

The two have served the district for a combined 48 years. The Copper Basin News met with the two to talk about their longtime service to the district and what they will miss most about serving the district and what they felt were the most challenging things about being a board member.

Gary Birkett has served the on the Ray Unified School district for 20 years, with the exception of one term that he did not run. He began his board service in 1992.

Birkett said one of the most challenging things about being a board member is never really knowing how much money the district would receive each year.

“It is not always financial problems,” he said “Sometimes we get so focused on the small issues like busses, and cafeteria issues that we end up not focusing on the academic issues.” Birkett said he is going to miss meeting the new teachers, staff and students. He said he is glad to see new members elected to the board that have children in the district. His son graduated two years ago so he felt it was time for others “who have skin in the game” to serve on the board.

Hall has served the board for 28 years, a long time Copper Basin area resident Hall can remember when the communities of Kearny and Hayden were bustling and when Kearny and Scottsdale were the communities who had the highest salaries per capita in the state.

Hall explained that the most challenging times serving on the board were times when the administration was changing and of course the difficult financial situations the board often faced.

“It is especially hard when we lose long time teachers, it is so difficult to find teachers to come to our schools,” she said.

When asked what she is going to miss most about being a board member, Hall replied “I am going to miss being a board member, we have always had a good board, we have never had the rage other boards in the area have had and we have always agreed to disagree at times.”

Advice to the new board members, both Hall and Birkett gave some advice to the incoming board members.

“Keep in mind that you are there for the students, it is easy to forget that” explained Birkett. Hall recommended that new board members not have a personal agenda and also suggested that they network and learn from the Arizona School Board Association.

Both Hall and Birkett explained that they would of liked to see the Ray and Hayden Winkelman School districts combine.

“I don’t think we worked hard enough to try and combine the districts,” explained Hall. Both felt that the if the districts were to combine at some point they could be much stronger. Birkett also explained that he would like to see the Ray school district add more vocational programs and consider joining the Cobre Valley Institute of Technology (CVIT).

During the interview both joked about their often differences but both agreed if they had one request to the Arizona State Legislature they would ask that law makers think about how legislation they make affects small and rural schools and both agreed that they would like to see more technology be introduced into the district including maybe online courses in the future.

“The school district is in good hands and it is time for us to ride off into the sunset,” said Birkett.

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