Mike O’Neal was recently named superintendent at the Cobre Valley Institute of Technology, but he’s been training for that position essentially all of his professional life, and working in that role since last year.
O’Neal began with CVIT in 2017 as Executive Program Director and Principal, but when then-superintendent Pete Guzman took a medical leave of absence, he was named interim superintendent. Sadly, Guzman died in July 2019, and last month, on Nov. 5, O’Neal was formally named the permanent superintendent.
“I think it was helpful that I had already been performing the duties of superintendent. I not only got the experience doing the job, but the board was also able to see that I was capable of doing it,” he says.
O’Neal is responsible for all aspects of CVIT and to make sure they’re meeting the career and technical educational needs of their students while complying with all state and federal regulations. That means creating career and technical education opportunities for high school students from the San Carlos, Miami, Globe, Superior, Kearny, and Hayden communities.
“We also have a central campus program where we partner with the local community college,” he says. “What blows people’s minds is that we’re a public school district without a building or teachers to call our own, and that the education we provide to students is free to them and their parents. We’re funded like any public school district, based on enrollment and the local tax base.”
Born and raised in Globe, O’Neal has been in education for 26 years. Before that, he worked for the Arizona Department of Juvenile Corrections. It was during that time he decided he wanted to work with young people. “I was fortunate that I was able to work and continue my schooling at the same time. Once I finished, I began my career in education with the Globe Unified School District in 1995.”
He faces the same challenges any superintendent today faces – dealing with the COVID madness and things that change from day to day. “You have to be flexible, innovative and creative in addressing and dealing with new problems that we weren’t trained for. We were never told in leadership training that we were going to be making decisions that could impact the health and safety of people to the degree that it is now.”
Gila County superintendents meet once a week via ZOOM to discuss challenges and issues, helping each other where they can. Meanwhile, all the CVIT superintendents in the state meet virtually once a month to do the same.
It is challenging not being able to physically connect with kids on a daily basis. “If you’re seeing kids face-to-face, you can read their faces. You can see their frustration and so forth,” he says, adding that it’s challenging to ensure students are getting a good education when so many of them learn by hands-on methods and they’re not able to do that as much, or in some cases, maybe not at all right now.
O’Neal’s professional milestones include having continued his own education. He has his Master’s degree in Vocational Education and another Master’s in Educational Leadership. “I’m proud of the fact that I came up through the ranks of education. I started at the bottom and got the experience in the classroom. I eventually became a Career and Technical Education director for the Globe district. Then I became an assistant principal or Dean of Students, before joining CVIT,” he says. “I’m especially proud to have done it in my community where I can serve students in the Copper Corridor. It’s been very rewarding to have that personal connection with people here, including former students who are now parents; and to be providing educational opportunities for their children. That has really been a blessing.”
Whether more programs are eventually added to the CVIT curriculum will depend on their enrollment. Additional programs would also have to be based on what the local employment picture looks like. “We’d have to meet with our advisory boards and people from local industries to see what their needs are, which we always try to do,” he says.
O’Neal has been married to his high school sweetheart, Dee, since 1989. They have three adult sons and two grandchildren. They enjoy traveling, gardening, hiking, and participating in winter activities, such as snowboarding and skiing. When they need to get that fix, they visit friends in Colorado. But they’re always happy to return to this area. “We love it here. We were both born and raised here, and we love the people and the community here. We love serving them through education and that’s why we’re still here.”
Cheryl Hentz is a freelance journalist with nearly 40 years in both print and broadcast journalism. She is a Cheesehead from Wisconsin and getting to know the Globe Miami area and its people through her freelance work with the Globe Miami Times. Someday soon, she hopes to settle in AZ for her semi-retirement years. In her free time, she volunteers with several dog rescue groups, shelters, and animal welfare organizations.