Pima JTED Superintendent & CEO
By Tara Kirkpatrick
Kathy Prather learned early the importance of a trained workforce.
After graduating from Northern Arizona University, the native Tucsonan went to work in television as an account executive for the NBC affiliate in Cheyenne, Wyo., and then in Flagstaff, focusing on media sales and production. She also worked for a video and film production company in Phoenix.
As a result of those experiences, “I was able to see what made businesses successful, and a big piece of that was having a trained staff,” said Prather, who is entering her fourth year as superintendent and CEO of the Pima Joint Technical Education District. “Bottom line, the best marketing plans available still needed to have a trained and skilled workforce to implement them.”
After this early business experience, she returned to NAU to get her master’s degree in vocational-technical education. “I went back to school to be able to be a business teacher,” said Prather. She would go on to teach classes in middle school and high school within the Navajo Nation and colleges in western Arizona before returning to Tucson to advance career and technical education, known as CTE.
Now at the helm of Pima JTED, a program fast becoming a national education model, her journey is full circle. “I feel like the greatest days for JTED are ahead. I am so optimistic about the future and the amazing things we are doing,” Prather said.
Pima JTED, created in 2007, works with 14 member public school districts to provide free, premier CTE programs to high school students from public, private, charter or home-school settings. “We are creating programs that are really pathways to employment after high school, but also to achieve professional degrees,” Prather said.
She’s been here from the beginning. Having led CTE programs at Tucson Unified School District and Sunnyside Unified School District, Prather was instrumental in Pima JTED’s formation. She led community forums and met with business and industry leaders and school district governing boards. At that time, Arizona was allotting $54 million for JTEDs. Maricopa County had most of them, but Pima County didn’t have one.
“Pima County was not tapped into that funding source,” she recalled. “We were missing out on millions of dollars to provide enhanced career technical education for our youth. Once our business people found out about that, members of the Southern Arizona Leadership Council and others, they became involved and engaged.”
Tucson auto mogul Jim Click Jr. wrote the check himself to pay for a research firm to gauge and promote community support to get Pima County’s JTED initiative on the ballot in 2006. It passed with 70-percent approval.
Today, Pima JTED programs and classes are not only successful pipelines to advanced degrees at Pima Community College, the University of Arizona and other colleges, they also provide certifications and credentials for students to enter the workforce immediately after high school graduation.
In propelling Pima JTED’s success, Prather’s leadership is heralded across the community.
“There wouldn’t be a JTED in Tucson without Kathy,” said Click. “She’s done a great job of leading this program. I want to congratulate her in all that she has done.”
“JTED has always been an important partner for Pima as we strive together to build an education-to-employment pipeline for Tucson-area high school students,” said PCC Chancellor Lee Lambert. “Our collaborations have deepened and expanded under Kathy’s sure-handed leadership. She’s a pleasure to work with – the perfect combination of enthusiasm and expertise.”
In a Feb. 5 editorial in the Arizona Daily Star, Prather extolled the achievements of Pima JTED’s alumni, now 100,000 strong. “As I think about this year’s 100,000th alumnus and the others that came before them, I’m mindful of the impact they’ve had in enhancing Arizona’s competitiveness, through science, technology, engineering and other programs that we’ve developed with our industry and post-secondary education partners,” she wrote.
“We are a reflection of how much good a community can do when they work together,” Prather said. “Our success is the success of the community.”
“Kathy continues to search for new ways and collaborations to expand the JTED opportunities in our region,” said Ted Maxwell, Southern Arizona Leadership Council president and CEO. “She understands not only the impact on academic achievement it provides the students, but also the benefits it provides our business and economic environment. “
In the design of the new Pima JTED Innovative Learning Center @ The Bridges in south Tucson, Prather collaborated with instructors on must-have, high-tech details and modern, spacious classrooms. “Kathy is very capable of making decisions quickly, which is required for a project like this. She was unbelievable to work with,” said Garry Brav, CEO of BFL Construction, which built the new center.
Her vision included housing the new Innovation Tech High School in the center. There, TUSD offers a comprehensive high school during the day with Pima JTED programs as electives.
“Kathy did that on purpose.” said Greg D’Anna, Pima JTED director of public relations. “She worked with TUSD and said, ‘Would you like to be a part of this?’ and they jumped at it.”
For Prather, the future of CTE is not only life-changing – it’s an evolution of education that meets 21st century demands and produces a better student. “I was in the Sabino High School business office program,” she recalled. “Then, it was training to be a secretary, typing and shorthand, but I took those skills and got a business degree and those skills have continued to serve me to this day. It’s important that we see that evolution and appreciate the roots of career education. The base of it is building successful students.”
“I am most proud of the positive effect that our programs are having on the lives of our young people that we serve,” Prather said.