By Michael Watkins
After several months of discussion, the County Office of Education made a business decision last week to purchase a building to accommodate some of the services that we offer to students and school districts throughout Santa Cruz County.
I understand the concerns of those who question why in this age of school cutbacks that the purchase of a building would be part of our strategy. Others have asked whether the County Office of Education is merely another layer of bureaucracy weighing down school budgets.
The answer to both questions is contained explicitly in our Mission – to serve children directly through our wide array of programs in an economical way. These programs, in fact, are so far-reaching that many directly benefitting may not know that they are COE programs.
- Regional Occupational Program: This program offers more than 50 courses at schools around the county, providing career and technical education to prepare students for jobs. Students learn skills in a variety of fields, from construction trades to sports medicine, from bicycle repair and law enforcement to digital media, from culinary arts to robotics.
- Child Development: Research has shown that the early years of a child’s education – starting in pre-school – are by far the most important years. Investment in these early years through Child Development programs benefits the entire community when a child is successful in school. Some of these efforts, including the nationally recognized Migrant Head Start program, are operated in cooperation with other local and regional entities.
- Supplementary programs: With school budgets facing challenges, the County Office of Education offers a variety of arts, math and science services and events that have supported educational operations around the county. Other important programs, to name a few, include: Mock Trial, Teen Peer Court, Outdoor Science, Homeless Education, Foster Youth Services and the Forestry Challenge.
- Professional Development related to curriculum, instruction, assessment, and other relevant educational topics for teachers and administrators throughout the county.
- Alternative Education: Some students simply don’t make it in a traditional school. Instead of standing by and doing nothing about the drop-out rate, the COE offers several alternative schools – 19 of them, in fact, in all areas of the county. These programs have provided a lifeline to students who might have otherwise slipped through the cracks.
- Special Education: Special need students requiring specialized care beyond the scope of services offered by district programs are referred to the COE.
These are just a few of our offerings. As education budgets statewide tighten, more services are handed over to county offices of education around the state. It’s a challenge that we welcome.
I’ve often heard the comment that public agencies should conduct themselves like a private business. That’s what we do at the Santa Cruz County Office of Education – deliver services to our customers – students – at an efficient cost. Our services are expanding because of legislation and our unique ability to leverage federal, state and local resources to support children and districts. We will continue to be innovative in our efforts to move education forward in the twenty-first century.
Michael Watkins is the Santa Cruz County Superintendent of Schools.