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A sweet success: DARC cake auction brings in over $28,000

Event organizers are calling this year’s 56th Annual Douglas Association for Retarded Citizens (DARC) Mother’s Day Cake Auction, “the best one ever” with 150 assorted cakes, pies and goodies being sold and over $28,000 being raised.

DARC Executive Director Gary Clark said Monday in looking back he believes this year’s amount is the largest ever raised from the auction adding there is still money coming in from the raffle as well as donations.

“That was the smoothest cake auction I have ever run,” DARC President Vicky Merritt said afterwards. “Nothing went wrong. … It was awesome.”

This year’s auction, which was held in the lobby of the Gadsden Hotel, lasted six hours, was dedicated to Linda Gomez, her daughters, Lisa Watkins and Nicole Mariscal along with her granddaughter Paige Mariscal, who kicked off the event serving as the opening auctioneers.

Money from the cake auction will be matched by state funds and then used to purchase items for DARC.

Clark said he is so grateful to live in a community like Douglas that gives so generously year after year.

Garcia Construction of Douglas was the high cake bidder Sunday purchasing a three-layer chocolate cake made by Caitlyn Quijada for $300.

Freeport McMoRan spent $3,000 on various food items all of which are being donated back to various civic organizations in the community. Walmart spent $1,500 and Cox Communications and APS also purchased several cakes that will be shared with their staff and customers.

Clark wanted to thank Anel and Florencio Lopez owners of the Gadsden Hotel for allowing the use of their facility for the cake auction as well KDAP Radio who donated six hours of air time.

“Every year this community really steps up,” Clark said. “This is what makes Douglas so special.”

Merritt added it’s such a joy to live in a community that comes out to support so many different events every year.

“It’s humbling to live in such a place,” she said. “I couldn’t believe how nice everybody was. We had such a great crowd … As I was going home, I was thinking aren’t we lucky that we live in such a wonderful community that they’re willing to support everything in Douglas and do it with such generosity and do it year, after year, after year.”

Merritt said every year when she schedules the volunteers no one ever tells her no; they just show up and help out with such joy.

“Everyone knows their job and they do it and they’re happy about it,” she said. “A lot of our volunteers have literally been doing this for decades. Most of them also bid and buy. Not only do they give their tie they also share their resources with us.”

There was also a silent auction taking place during the cake auction for 11 assorted items that had been donated by various members of the community.


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DUSD Superintendent delivers State of the District address

Ana Samaniego, Douglas Unified School District superintendent, addressed what the district is doing to make sure students get a good, solid education in her State of the District speech last week at the Douglas Visitors Center.

“As you all may be aware public education for our nation and state is currently facing a very challenging time,” she told an audience of more than 150 people in her opening remarks on Wednesday, May 8. “Many reformers have so enshrined the importance of choice and charter schools, vouchers, assessment accountability, letter grades, and job preparation that they have ignored the widely accepted purposes that have traditionally sustained free, public education in this country.”

Samaniego referenced the Red for Ed movement that sparked statewide strikes for many states including Arizona.

“At its peak, Arizona’s historic six-day walkout closed 1,000 public schools, attracted more than 50,000 protesters and impacted 850,000 students,” she said. “While strikes varied in levels of success for our Arizona teachers it meant their voices were heard. On May 3, 2018 the Arizona Legislature passed a state budget that included nearly $273,00 million aimed at giving teachers’ pay raises. For our teachers, it meant a 20 percent raise over the next few years. This was obviously long overdue and much deserved.”

Samaniego remains a strong advocate of public education, she said.

“I too was educated through the public-school system as an English language learner at Sarah Marley Elementary, the former Douglas Junior High, and Douglas High School,” she said. “Through the many opportunities afforded to me by outstanding teachers and from the public investment of the citizens of Douglas I was able to accomplish my own dreams and later obtain my degree at one of our very own public universities here in our state. And just like me, there have been many other young boys and girls who were also educated through our Douglas public school system and are now successful citizens and productive members of society.”

DUSD is a part of the public-school system where educators facilitate the progress of transforming the youth into functional independent full citizens, “where we put our 4,200 kids first and where education is a work of heart.” Samaniego said.

“It is also the story of many boys and girls being raised by parents, single parent homes, guardians, or relatives as they face the daily struggles of deported parents, language barriers, financial struggles, school violence, education disparity, and inadequate employment opportunities,” she added.

Samaniego identified key areas of strengths and needs for the district through its Integrated Action Plan.

“Our leadership is committed to sustaining a culture of high expectations for learning and growth of all students within a respectful, professional learning community for all staff. Strong, focused school-site leadership is a critical component in student and school success,” she said. “Through our principal leadership networks we were able to build bi-monthly professional development sessions that included observation and evaluation of instruction, parent engagement, and empowerment. Building leadership skills is not only an effort for teachers, but rather to include all staff and students as well.”

She also touched on effective teachers and instruction.

“It is a fact of life that teacher shortage in rural areas such as Douglas is even more challenging,” Samaniego said. “Finding teachers in the areas of math, science, English, and special ed, has become extremely difficult.”

As such, DUSD has developed a strong partnership with UA South.

“Within the last few years, UA South Education has graduated 10 students with a (bachelor’s) in Elementary Education, 11 students with (a master’s) in Secondary Education,” she said. “Currently there are five teacher candidates from Douglas enrolled in their elementary education program. The beauty of this, is that all former students are all employed by DUSD.”

Samaniego said through this partnership she hopes to “grow our own teachers in Douglas”

In order to help teachers grow as professionals, DUSD has a professional development program in place that includes depth of knowledge, rigor, engagement strategies, differentiated instruction, and data analysis during Thursday “Early Release” days.

“Throughout the school year we have hosted several professional development academies put on by our very own teacher experts focusing on instructional strategies for all grade levels,” she said. “Due to our location, many of our federal dollars are spent in professional development opportunities which are held in the Sierra Vista, Tucson and Phoenix area. For this I thank our governing board who is very supportive in developing the leadership capacity of our teachers, even though it is a significant expense to our budget.”

Samaniego said the Exceptional Student Services team of teachers and staff continue to support the 289 ESS students in the district through innovative teaching strategies, (autism) and non-violent crisis-intervention training.

“Our ESS department strives to create strong, legally sound programs that attend to the needs of each child and provide for and support their least restrictive environment,” she said.

Samaniego said with the assistance of the DUSD’s IT Director Marco Durazo and his staff, they culminated a cell-tower lease agreement which created funding for the purchase of new computers for teachers, security cameras, and two-way radios for district security. It also upgraded the internet connection from 90 megabits per second to three gigabits per second, purchased over 700 chrome books, 200 ipads and installed more cameras to ensure the safety of students and staff.

“They will continue to work on building at least three computer labs in every school,” she said. “And for the very first time they provided the support and infrastructure to our students for AZ merit, computer-based testing.”

She stated that as superintendent, it is important we continue to find ways through the assistance of our parents, community and business partners to provide the best school culture and climate for our students.

“This task can’t be done in isolation as much effort and investment is needed,” she said.

Samaniego added, “a well-balanced system of communication and collaboration between schools, district and parents, community and business partners, where all stakeholders have an equal responsibility in this partnership, will positively influence the life and achievement of a student.”

She noted DUSD is the largest employer within the city limits with close to 500 employees and for the second year in a row, the school board has approved raises for teachers, administrators and classified staff. She added that Douglas High School, Stevenson, Joe Carlson and Clawson Elementary all received a B letter grade for the 2018 AZ Merit.

Samaniego thanked Cochise College for its efforts in assisting DUSD students. Cochise College President JD Rottweiler, who was in attendance at the meeting, said afterwards Cochise College is pleased to be a partner in that.

“Good things are happening in the Douglas Unified School District, the partnerships are strong and I think the future is very bright,” he said.

Rottweiler added Cochise College is usually able to attract 50-60 percent of all DHS graduates.

“That’s a number that’s not seen anywhere else in the country,” he said. “We’re extremely proud of that but we also know we need to do more. We’re concerned about that other 40-50 percent that may not be choosing to go somewhere else. We’ve got to make sure that all of our students have an opportunity to achieve higher education.”

“I am humbled by the greatness of our children,” Samaniego said in her closing remarks. “Our Douglas students need your support as they will become the leaders of tomorrow. Let’s not give up on our kids because together we can make a difference.”


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Looking to the future: New Cochise College police academy graduates first class

Southern Arizona received nine new police officers last week, after the first class of Cochise College’s new Southeast Arizona Law Enforcement Training Academy graduated to ringing, emotional applause on Thursday, May 9 at the institution’s Douglas campus.

The program, which kicked off its first semester in January, is the first police training academy that college has offered in well over a decade. It was begun as a way to “fill the need” for the county by training skilled, homegrown law enforcement for positions in different local agencies, said Eric Brooks, Cochise College Dean for Liberal Arts and an instructor at the academy.

“We feel it’s a great use of taxpayer dollars, since we are taxpayer funded,” Brooks said. “And if we can get recruits to stay locally, that’s really our goal.”

The inaugural class, which included three cadets “picked up,” or sponsored by the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office and one by the Douglas Police Department, as well as graduates heading to agencies in Graham, Gila, and Santa Cruz counties, and had a 100 percent graduation rate, Brooks said.

The new officers, who underwent extensive training in first aid, defensive tactics, vehicle operation, patrol procedures, criminal law and more during the 17-week course, got their badges and took their oath during the graduation ceremony.

For graduate Bryan Lomeli, who hails from Douglas and will begin the next phase of his training in the field with the Cochise County Sheriff’s Office in his hometown, being able to train at an academy in his own county was “really great.”

“I just want to get out there and make a difference in the community,” said Lomeli, who has a longstanding interest in law enforcement, having started working at the county jail when he was a teenager.

“I want to get out there and succeed, eventually go up higher, become a supervisor, and just extend my knowledge a lot.”

Many officers present at the event remembered what it was like to have such eagerness and passion to begin their careers, among them the event’s guest speaker, Cochise County Sheriff Mark Dannels.

Dannels graduated from the college’s former police academy in the mid-1980s, and admitted that it was “weird” to be speaking to the new academy’s graduating class as the county sheriff.

“Never forget that we work for the community,” said Dannels, who also implored the new graduates to remember their core values, the importance of spending time with their loved ones, and the essential roles they would hold in their communities.

“This job is not a paycheck, it’s a passion — never forget that passion of why you applied.”

While the college has some “minor changes” to work on for the next academy classes, which includes securing a driving course closer to the college (the first class of cadets traveled to Sierra Vista for vehicle training,) Brooks is overall “very happy” with the outcome of the academy, he said.

“I’m happy with the quality of the instruction that we’ve provided — we have qualified cadets that are graduating today,” he said, crediting the academy’s instructors, who represented a variety of agencies and include supervisor Sgt. Randal Wilson and class counselor Detective Justin Dannels, with the semester’s success.

The academy’s next class, which will start July 29, has 15 cadets signed up so far, Brooks continued. Moving forward, he hopes the academy will continue improving “the quality and quantity of officers in our county.”

“We welcome outside county, but our real focus is one what can we do to help Cochise County,” he said.

Vanessa Romero, was the lone cadet for the DPD attending the academy. She received her badge from Chief Kraig Fullen and had it pinned on her by her mother Margarita.

Romero who was a dispatcher with the DPD for three years, said to now be a police officer with the department “is a dream come true.”

She added she’s both happy and excited and can’t wait to report to work, which she did on Monday.

Officer Romero said having the academy so close to home was challenging because of the distractions it created of getting to go home every night.

She said the biggest challenge she faced however was getting herself over the eight-foot high wall which is something all cadets are required to do.

“I finally made it over about six-weeks ago,” she said.

She added being part of the first class of nine cadets allowed everyone to bond and became really close.

“They are all like family now,” she said adding, “I’m ready for the challenge. I’ve been ready for a while.”

To learn more about the Southeast Arizona Law Enforcement Training Academy, visit https://www.cochise.edu/policeacademy/.

Bruce Whetten, managing editor for the Douglas Dispatch, contributed to this article.