Photo by Nanci Hutson.
Originally Published: March 12, 2017 6:02 a.m.
Mike McCrady teaches not because he can’t do something else. He does so because it means everything to him to make an impact in a child’s life.
On a day-to-day basis, McCrady shows his Granite Mountain School fifth-graders in Prescott that math and science are not scary beasts; rather they learn it is fun to challenge their minds so they can solve mysteries and practical, daily life problems: to be an accomplished chef one needs to know how to read fractions; to be a zoologist one needs to know the dietary needs and sleeping habits of elephants.
McCrady is also a loyal colleague, say his co-workers and bosses. He follows educational trends and is not afraid to speak up or lobby for those who like him embrace education as more than just a paycheck.
“I’ve worked part-time at Fry’s grocery store sweeping floors for minimum wage to make ends meet,” said McCrady, the father of seven children whose wife, Katie, is a first-grade teacher at Abia Judd Elementary School in Prescott.
McCrady offers a standing invitation to anyone who wants to know what a teacher’s day is like, or of any public school employee, to come and stand shoulder-to-shoulder with them for a day.
“Come spend a day with me,” encourages McCrady, a 22-year veteran who since 2007 has been president of the Prescott Education Association that serves to lobby issues that impact local teachers.
Before coming to Prescott 12 years ago, McCrady headed up the Skull Valley Elementary School, including raising just about $1 million to build their latest building.
“I’d love the naysayers to come visit, and just watch. See what goes on in a teacher’s day. Or go the cafeteria … Or the nurses’ office; nurses are Joans of Ark. I want them to get an idea of the complexities of what may seem like a simple job.”
In Prescott, McCrady leads an association that now has 35 members and is always seeking others who wish to join and participate in giving a voice to those charged with educating future generations.
Unlike in some states with teachers unions that do collective bargaining for their financial contracts and other work-related issues, Arizona is a right-to-work state. The Arizona Education Association – an affiliate of the National Education Association – and its local chapters are advisory groups. The state Legislature votes on operating dollars for public and charter school districts, and elected governing boards have the final say on salaries, discipline and other work-related issues.
McCrady embraces his role as it enables him to advocate for his colleagues, and impress upon the public that while financial incentives should be competitive and adequate to retain high-caliber professionals the best teachers are motivated by far more than paychecks.
He is clear that the state and local associations may be vocal advocates for proper remuneration for their colleagues but they are not single-issue focused. The associations lobby for proper teaching conditions, and resources needed to be effective in the classroom.
“A teacher’s working condition is a student’s learning environment,” McCrady said. “Happy teachers make for happy kids.”
Prescott Unified School District Superintendent Joe Howard said he has enjoyed a solid partnership with McCrady and the association, noting they played an integral role in promoting the 2015 bond and override.
Howard said he and McCrady share “a common vision that we need to put the best teachers in front of our kids.”
“We have a high bar of what we expect of our teachers, and Mike and the association are good with that. People will often say associations fight for teachers at all costs. But teacher quality is as important to then as is adequate compensation. It’s not just about money in any way, shape or form. It’s about adequate money and quality teachers.”
McCrady’s teaching partner for the past two years, Mary Ticer, said she admires the “child-centered” educator who stays abreast of issues and trends to as to do what’s best for students here and elsewhere.
Though Ticer is not a part of the association, the language arts and social studies
teacher said she admires McCrady’s commitment and willingness to do whatever it takes to represent his colleagues and his students to local and state lawmakers.
His focus whether he is doing association business, or classroom instruction, is always on figuring out how to connect with students.
“He’s really genuine,” Ticer said.