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During its last meeting of the calendar year, the Valley Academy for Career and Technology Education Governing Board swore in two new members and a re-elected member.

Frank Vander Horst and Jeff Wassell took the oath of office, while Steve Pike was welcomed for another term. Vander Horst and Wassell replace four-year-term elected board member Charlene Day and 18-month appointed member Dan Brown.

Both departing members took a moment to congratulate the incoming individuals and offer their endorsement of recently appointed VACTE Superintendent Bob Weir.


Brown, a longstanding education administrator, spoke fondly of his time with VACTE. According to him, awareness of the Joint Technical Education District is growing locally, as is support for its efforts as evidenced by recent positive press coverage.

“This is the kind of energy the JTED has begun to generate in the Verde Valley,” Brown said, adding that he believed the addition of Weir had done much to educate the public on what VACTE offers area high school students.

“I think we’re going in a great direction,” Day agreed.

VACTE Fire Science Instructor Steve Darby delivered a bit of good news about how VACTE’s certification programs directly impact lives: Over the course of the last year, four graduates from Darby’s program have been hired on as structural firefighters — the most difficult and best-paying positions to get in firefighting, according to Darby.

“They’re getting these great jobs with great benefits,” Darby said.

Currently, the fire science program is composed of students from around the Verde Valley.

“They’re all gelling, and it’s amazing,” Darby said. “It doesn’t matter if they’re from Camp Verde, Cottonwood or Sedona.”

VACTE Governing Board President Steve Dockray asked if any female students were taking part in the program.

His reason for inquiring, he added, is that he desired to see more outreach to students traditionally underrepresented in such programs.

Darby said that females comprised 10 percent of his enrolled students, but that he too desired more participation from that population.

“We want these young women to know they can do it and have a great career,” Darby said.

According to Weir, the fire science program boasts VACTE’s strongest employment placement statistics at nearly 70 percent.

Not to be outshone, VACTE and Mingus Union High School Engineering Instructor Terry Lisi introduced MUHS senior Brianna Buchert and junior Sofia Rocha, who delivered a presentation on “MUHS Land Lab Greenhouse Renovation Project.”

After realizing the limitations of the MUHS 1,250-square-foot greenhouse — which has been unable to support its aquaponics applications since 2013 — the five members of the MUHS Engineering Applications Eco-Team came up with a plan to renovate the structure to support its intended purpose.

Once the approximately proposed $20,000 project is finished, the greenhouse will boast a complete aquaponics ecosystem consisting of fish tanks, seedling tables and hydroponics growing tables.

“We are saving a lot of water, too,” Buchert said, adding that the project would help both engineering and agricultural science students.

If approved, Weir said that the facility would be state-of-the-art for a rural school and provide project-based learning experience to current and future students.

Weir added that he would soon be approaching the VACTE Governing Board for additional funding to make the project a reality.

In addition, he is working to allow the engineering students to get college credit from Yavapai College for their efforts.

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