Washington County school board discuss potential benefits, challenges of proposed alumni board

Dixie High School graduate Sasha Gutierrez stands with flowers and balloons at the virtual graduation, St. George, Utah, April 29, 2020 | Photo courtesy of Steven Dunham, St. George News

ST. GEORGE — To address a growing need for community outreach and student participation, Mike Hassler and Dave Gardner said the school district should tap the wealth of opportunities and experience local alumni can provide.

Mike Hassler proposes the student alumni association and community relations group to the Washington County board of education, St. George, Utah, Sept. 20, 2021 | Photo by Ammon Teare, St. George News

Graduates of all ages would be particularly helpful in organizing community outreach and engaging the local business community, according to the plan they proposed during last week’s Washington County School Board of Education meeting.

“We’ve got so much going on with employers and parents, we just don’t have a system to catch it,” said Hassler, the work-based learning coordinator for the district. “My proposal is to build an official student alumni/community relations board. Then we can take all these opportunities and put them into organized outcomes.”

The proposal from officials in the career and technical education (CTE) department would organize an alumni board composed of up to 10 board members, with a seat for one representative from each high school in the district.

Under the current plan, the board would direct two chapters of the new initiative: a student alumni association and a community relations arm. The alumni association would deal directly with current students, encouraging participation and helping students choose career pathways.

Members of the Washington County School District Board of Education prepare for the special meeting of the board, St. George, Utah, Sept. 20, 2021 | Photo by Ammon Teare, St. George News

The community relations half would work with industry partners to find jobs or internships, generate scholarships and help parents or other non-alumni get involved. 

Gardner, the director of the CTE department, said there are opportunities and partnerships that have fallen through the cracks due the department’s limited resources, particularly limited staff.

“Employers are coming to us and saying, ‘We don’t just need interns, we need jobs filled right now,’” Gardner said. “This is almost like putting together a little-league team – we’d have volunteers in the community that are willing to help put some of these kids together based on the industry they’re in.”

Board members expressed an interest in the program, but also asked several clarifying questions of Hassler and Gardner after the initial presentation. 

“To me, this is more just about helping kids – we’re just trying to organize volunteers and provide more opportunities,” said Board Member Laura Hesson. “If we have people in our community who are willing to provide that influence and help, then we need to embrace those people. We need to have a place and a structure and something official that feels like they’re not just wasting their time.”

File photo of Dixie High graduation, St. George, Utah, date not specified | Photo courtesy of Lydia Fries, St. George News

Chief among the concerns were cost, redundancy and efficiency. Board Member Craig Seegmiller asked if a board, even one without policy-making power, was the only approach investigated by the CTE department. 

In response, Hassler said the inspiration for the alumni board came from similar organizations at Dixie State University and in the Clark County School District in Las Vegas.

As far as securing scholarships from local businesses and potential overlap with existing programs, Board Member Terry Hutchinson voiced his thoughts while discussing the initiative.

“Scholarships and donations are great, but how much of that is going to compete with dollars that are going to the foundation that’s already established?” Hutchinson said. “We have another one where we talk about career pathway awareness between Dixie State and Dixie Tech: how is that going to be benefitted by an outside association when our counselors are already coordinating with both of those entities?”

Hassler and Gardner fielded questions and responded to comments from each member of the board. Since the general consensus was that concrete details and planning were still needed, the board asked that CTE officials revise their proposal to make the function and needs of a potential alumni board more clear.

“We want to empower this alumni board with the ability to say, ‘I represent the school district,’” Hassler said. “We need permission to do it in a legitimate fashion. If they say, yes, we can have an official board that will be on the website so people can connect with us”

Depending on the amount of refining the proposal requires, it could be discussed again as early as the next school board meeting, which will be held on Oct. 12. More information about the CTE department can be found on the district’s website.

Copyright St. George News, SaintGeorgeUtah.com LLC, 2021, all rights reserved.

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