About Palo Verde, The River Consortium
In June 2013, Governor Jerry Brown and the State Legislature, as part of the state budget, enacted AB 86. This measure called for school districts and community college districts to come together to develop plans to serve the education and job training needs of the adults in their region. AB 86 provided $25 million to develop 71 local consortia plans by June 2015.
As part of the AB 86 challenge, the Palo Verde River Consortium was formed in 2013 with members from Needles Unified School District, Palo Verde Unified School District and Palo Verde Community College District. Additionally, the consortium invited stakeholder/partners from city governments, the Colorado River Tribal Nations, workforce leaders, hospitality and recreation industries, agricultural associations and corrections educators.
Like the rest of the state, attempting to operate as a unified consortium with three autonomous districts presented challenges around vision, resources, trust and Sacramento guidance.
Additionally, there was a significant geographic challenge that separated Blythe (Palo Verde) from Needles by 100 miles. And to enhance the challenge, only one of the three members (Palo Verde College) offered Adult Education programs.
It was critical that each member district had a clear vision of how students, parents, businesses, communities and cities would benefit from this effort. If the consortium plan could expand and improve adult programs and outcomes, the benefits would be both measurable and apparent.
The consortium began to unify and solidify, and the elements of the plan began to evolve. The plan addressed literacy, credentials, career pathways, workforce, marketing and measurement. We first created a visionary plan that ultimately evolved into a three-year plan; we’re now in the second year.
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River Consortium Members
Palo Verde College
Palo Verde College has a main campus in Blythe and a satellite center in Needles. Currently the college serves an approximate 5000 students whose goals include Associate degrees, transfer to four-year colleges or universities, career certifications or improvement of literacy and math skills. Additionally, the college offers English as a Second Language (ESL), parent education as well as GED preparation and testing.
Considering that the Blythe/Needles region is not only rural but also remote, having a full service community college that offers comprehensive career pathways presents accessible opportunities for the residents of the region. Ethnic demographics include significant representation from the African American, Native American, Asian Pacific Islanders, Hispanic and White communities.
Employment opportunities in the region include but are not limited to careers in agriculture, ranching, logistics, hospitality, recreation, construction and allied health services. The Blythe/Needles community has been inordinately impacted by the recent recession, but all indications are that the recovery, albeit slow, is constant and optimistic. Given the apparent constraints that come with rural, remote and poor, Lale Cilenti, Director of the Needles Center who is also the consortium project leader, sees the Adult Education Block Grant goals and resources as a chance to “level a complicated playing field.” Cilenti goes on to identify projects that have been enhanced by consortium funds such as “allied health, career technical education, agricultural pathways, culinary, hospitality and parent education.”
Needles Unified is a Title One District (identified by the number of students receiving free or reduced lunch). District enrollment hovers around 1150 students. Needles USD has a graduation rate well above 90%, and well above the state average. 53% of the students are Caucasian (white) and 46% are combined Latino and Native American. The other 1% includes African Americans and Asian Americans.
Although ethnically diverse, most students are native English speakers, and thus, only 2% of students are identified as EL. In addition to traditional sports, Needles students participate in 4H, FFA, Rodeo and SkillsUSA. After graduation, most Needles students attend college but a large percentage (14%) opt for military careers. Needles residents work in construction, agriculture, cattle ranching, trades and hospitality.
Superintendent Mary McNeil sees the consortium plan as an opportunity to “leverage resources for seamless career pathways.” Superintendent McNeil is also known to support pro-active attendance strategies and has not hesitated to knock on doors to bring students back to school.
Palo Verde Unified
Palo Verde Unified is also a Title One District with an enrollment of around 3000 students. Over 90% of Palo Verde seniors graduate and over 70% of seniors attend college. 60% of high school students are proud, active and competing FFA members and over 15% of students are enrolled in the college preparatory AVID program.
Latinos make up 60% of the district enrollment, Caucasians (whites) make up 35% and the other 5% are African American, Asian and generic “other.” 10% of students are enrolled in EL programs, but surveys indicate that although most Latino students are native speakers, their parents speak Spanish at home (a great opportunity to enroll in the Palo Verde College Adult ESL/GED programs). Employment opportunities in the Blythe region focus on agriculture and corrections.
Brandy Cox, principal of Palo Verde High School and PVUSD consortium representative, comfortably and confidently walks her high school campus greeting students by their first names, asking about family members as well as the growth and development of student sows, sheep, horses and goats. Principal Brandy says that she’s “excited about the opportunities that the consortium is bringing to us.”