Vivacious, creative and inquisitive, veteran Prescott Unified School District Governing Board member Maureen Erickson is a firm believer the recipe for all children’s success correlates with a menu of choices.
She is a believer every child fed a steady diet of rigorous instruction blended with constant encouragement and sprinkled with laughter, fun and the ability to take chances, can reach their dreams.
The 69-year-old widow of “Lief” Erickson, a retired U.S. Air Force brigadier general, is not afraid to prod fellow educators to do so, or question why they are not doing so.
“I think teaching is one of the most honorable professions — how you can touch a life and how you can change a person,” declared Erickson, who after eight years on the board — two as chairman — will not seek re-election in November. The board will have two vacant seats this fall; Mayor Greg Mengarelli is also not seeking re-election to his seat. “Anyone in the classroom who is not bringing honor and dignity to the profession doesn’t need to be there,” she said.
Erickson’s start in her 32-year career in both United States and overseas education was a bit unconventional.
In 1971, she earned a bachelor’s degree in theater arts at California State College at Fullerton.
Yet, her dream was never to be on stage.
Rather she used the arts to invigorate the minds of children — in American public schools and for military dependents in France, Germany, and the Azores, where she started a pre-school program. She laughs that she needed to check a map to learn the location of the archipelago of nine volcanic islands off the west coast of Portugal.
“It was a fabulous experience,” she said.
In 1974, Erickson started her career substituting in a Florida elementary school. The principal opted on a “gut feeling” to have her head up what turned out to be a model program for students with disabilities. The one caveat: she needed credentials. So she earned a master’s degree in elementary teaching with an endorsement for teaching K-12 students with learning disabilities.
From there, Erickson headed off to Naples, Italy, followed by Germany, where she worked as an elementary special education teacher. She later was offered another tour in the Azores, but this time to start a high school vocational program for special education students.
“I taught kids the way I wanted to learn,” Erickson said of her approach that incorporated lots of singing, dance and other forms of creative expression. “I wanted to give kids hope … we’re all gifted differently.”
In the mid-1980s she returned to the States. In Washington, D.C., she earned her education specialist degree in career and special education at George Washington University, and then a few years later earned her doctorate in education; the emphasis in vocational/special education transition services.
Amid her academic pursuits, Erickson continued her teaching and administrative career in Fairfax, Virginia, where she ignited energy around school-to-career programs for students of all abilities.
ON THE BOARD
Running for elected office was not on her retirement “to do” list. Yet, she realized she had more to do.
“I was elected because what I had to stay resonated with some people,” Erickson said.
In the beginning of her elected tenure, Prescott was struggling; low teacher pay impacted morale and declining student enrollment forced the community to cope with closing down two schools, laying off teachers and reorganizing the district. School properties were marketed for sale.
On a night fraught with tense emotions, Erickson was the one to make the motion for the vote on closing the schools.
“She is the question asker, and that is always a good thing,” said Board Chairman John Mackin. “In the last few years, she has focused a lot on the district collaborating with the business community here in Prescott. She has been a huge blessing to the district, and to kids and to the staff.”
District Superintendent Joe Howard said she is leaving a proud legacy.
“Maureen is a fighter for children in their endeavors to seek college and career opportunities that they don’t even know exist,” Howard said. “It has been my honor to work with her, and I consider her a lifelong mentor.”