About The River Consortium
In June 2013, the governor and state legislature enacted AB 86. This measure called for school districts and community college districts to form consortia to serve the education and job training needs of the adults in their respective regions. 70 local consortia were formed to develop education and training plans designed to expand and improve regional workforce programs.
The River Consortium is one of those 70 consortia. Its founding members are Needles Unified School District, Palo Verde Unified School District and Palo Verde Community College District. The consortium boundaries span 100 miles – Blythe to Needles. Additionally, the consortium invited stakeholder/partner input from city governments, the Colorado River Tribal Nations, workforce leaders, hospitality and recreation industries, agricultural associations and corrections educators.
The River Consortium is now in the first year of its second three-year plan. We have history, current operating programs, and an annual plan that outlines six pilot projects to be implemented going forward.
We have developed English and Spanish GED programs and testing centers, English as a Second Language classes, Citizenship, Computer Literacy, Auto and Welding technician training and parent training for pre-school and K-12 parents.
Additionally, we are in various stages of pilot development of Solar Panel Installation, Schooling at Home for Parents, satellite branches for GED and ESL, Spanish and English Career Counseling, and Community Translator. We are also about to implement qualitative and quantitative research studies involving students and employers in an effort to improve hiring, promotions and post-secondary training.
Palo Verde College has a main campus in Blythe and a satellite center in Needles. Currently the college serves approximately 5000 students whose goals include Associate degrees, transfer to four-year colleges or universities and career certifications. English as a Second Language, Citizenship, improvement of literacy and math skills, GED Preparation and Testing, and Auto, Welding and Solar Panel technologies are part of the consortium’s adult education programs offered at the college.
Considering that the Blythe/Needles region is not only rural but also remote, having a full-service community college and adult education program provides competitive, 21st century workforce opportunities. Demographics display an ethnic rainbow bookended by Native Americans and Latinos. Dean Lale Cilenti, Director of The River Consortium, has guided the consortium through recession recovery and now the coronavirus pandemic and remains optimistic. Dean Cilenti sees the California Adult Education Program as a chance to “level a complicated playing field."
The consortium will continue to develop pilots, open branches/satellites, and expand/improve career counseling and generally guide students to employment, promotions and/or post-secondary programs.
Palo Verde Unified is a Title One District (identified by the number of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches) with an enrollment of around 3000 students. Over 90 percent of Palo Verde seniors graduate and over 70 percent of seniors attend college. Although the curriculum is generally focused on college preparation, agricultural careers are a particular passion and career concentration. Fifty-five percent of high school students are proud, active, and competing FFA (formerly Future Farmers of America) members and over 12 percent of students are enrolled in the college preparatory AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) program.
Construction bonds are difficult to pass, but the PVUSD team, including Superintendent Tracie Kern, successfully passed Measure E, a $24.8 million capital improvement initiative that included the Ag Barn Project.
Enrollment surveys indicate 60 percent Latino, 35 percent Caucasian (white), 5 percent African American, Asian, and generic “other.” Ten percent of students are enrolled in EL programs, but surveys indicate that although most Latino students are native speakers, their parents speak Spanish at home. Employment opportunities in the Blythe region focus on agriculture, hospitality and corrections.
Superintendent Kern, a consortium representative, sees the current challenges and opportunities as new tools for learning countered with developing new transition and logistics operations. Understanding the critical role of parents in student performance, Superintendent Kern remains “committed to improving the leveraged consortium investment in Parent Education,” originally with a focus on helping parents help students and now specifically helping parents with teacher-led distance learning.
About the Needles Unified School District
Needles Unified is a Title One District (identified by the number of students receiving free or reduced-price lunches). District enrollment hovers around 1150 students. Needles USD has a graduation rate well above 90 percent and well above the state average. Fifty-three percent of the students are Caucasian (white), and 46 percent are combined Latino and Native American. The other 1 percent includes African Americans and Asian Americans.
Although ethnically diverse, most students are native English speakers, and thus only 2 percent 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. Workforce opportunities in the region focus on agriculture, cattle ranching, hospitality and construction. This year Railroad Careers will be introduced to the workforce opportunity curriculum.
Superintendent Mary McNeil, also a consortium representative, sees the consortium plan as an opportunity to “leverage resources for seamless career pathways.” The superintendent is also known to support pro-active attendance strategies and has not hesitated to knock on doors to bring students back to school.
Regarding current challenges and constraints associated with the risks of the coronavirus, Dr. McNeil seems to have smoothly transitioned into virtual and hybrid models, filling student hardware and software gaps, creating wi-fi hotspots and helping parents help their kids through the learning transition. Dr. McNeil sees the transition as “virtual versions of pre-virus challenges.”