In an unprecedented move, the governor on Wednesday appointed seven sitting public school district superintendents including the state public schools chief to serve as voting members of the Utah Board of Regents and college boards of trustees.
The idea is to make for a seamless education system for kindergartners through college graduation. State education leaders say right now some students are graduating from high school unprepared for college and, in some cases, don't have training required for the work force.
"It's vitally important for us to focus on the progression of education from kindergarten through college, rather than treat public and higher education as unconnected silos," Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr. said. "Students must be lifelong learners, and this integration can help broaden the perspective of all these institutions."
The appointments, pending Utah Senate confirmation, are believed to be a national first. While two regents now sit on the Utah Board of Education, and two state Board of Education members are on the regents board, none can vote. But including them as voting members is something leaders at the Utah System of Higher Education, the Governor's Office and State Office of Education are unaware is going on anywhere else.
State Superintendent of Public Instruction Patti Harrington will replace Daryl Barrett as a voting member of the Utah Board of Regents, the governing body for the state's public colleges and universities.
Superintendents of six school districts Wasatch, Carbon, Murray, Wayne, Iron and Washington will serve on trustee boards of the regional institutions their students feed into: Utah Valley State College, College of Eastern Utah, Salt Lake Community College, Snow College, Southern Utah University and Dixie State College.
"If we can do a better job preparing kids with post-high school experiences, and ... I'm talking about all experiences (be it college or job training) ... we've done a much better job and service for those kids," said Murray Superintendent Richard Tranter, one of the governor's appointees.
Fifteen others were also appointed as new college and university trustees.
The appointments further the goals of the K-16 Alliance, a group of public and higher education bosses working to bridge public and higher education. Harrington says more than half the states have created such alliances.
Huntsman spokesman Mike Mower said the governor has been working on a K-16 program since his candidacy. By bringing the two systems together, Huntsman hopes to provide all graduating high school seniors in Utah additional learning opportunities.
"Each superintendent participant can bring to the table their unique perspective of the entire educational system from kindergarten through high school and into college," Mower said.
Huntsman has been traveling to districts throughout the state to better understand local education issues. He got the idea for the appointments out of those discussions.
Regents chairman Jed Pitcher deferred comment to Utah System of Higher Education spokeswoman Amanda Covington, who said regents were enthusiastic about the plan.
"As we move into the new economy and into the future, all students need to have post-secondary training to become self-sufficient adults and functioning members of society," she said.
In other appointments, Tony Morgan was named to replace regent David Grant of Cedar City, while UVSC student Amy Brockman was named as the new student regent, appointed to serve a one-year term.
Jim Wall, publisher of the Deseret Morning News, was appointed to the University of Utah Board of Trustees, as well as Clark Ivory to replace Jake Garn. Ivory is the son of Ellis Ivory, chairman of the board at the Deseret Morning News.If confirmed by the Senate, the appointments would be effective June 30.