As early as fifth grade, Gail Gorry recalls being singled out as a teacher. “I can remember being asked […] to write things on the board for Mrs. Keller, my fifth grade teacher and also to work with some students that she had selected.” Gorry is running for Gila County Superintendent as a Republican and will face Roy Sandoval in the August primary.
Gorry has been in education for over 30 years and her experience ranges from her current position as Gila County’s Educational Service Agency Curriculum Specialist to principal at Frontier Elementary school in Payson. She has taught all grade levels K-8, served as a district curriculum specialist, and worked as a response to intervention coordinator. In her current position at the county, Gorry provides professional development for teachers around the state and writes grants to fund professional development as well.
After growing up and attending college in the midwest, Gorry took her required student teaching as an opportunity to push herself and try something new. “When it came time to do student teaching, I thought, ‘I need a challenge because I’ve been helping people all my life,’” says Gorry. “I wanted something different than the regular classrooms that I always see.”
This drive led Gorry to Crystal Boarding School on the Navajo Reservation in New Mexico, where she completed a full year of student teaching. After a year away from the southwest working as a tutor, she returned to the Navajo reservation–this time the Arizona side–and worked for three years at Cottonwood Day School in Chinle, AZ. Her first teaching job in Gila County was as a third grade teacher at Julia Randall Elementary School in Payson.
Gorry has been in classrooms in every school in Gila County. Still, she was reluctant at first to throw her hat in the ring for Gila County Superintendent. “I don’t view myself as a politician and I don’t think that education should be a partisan issue,” says Gorry. According to Gorry, enough people asked her if she was running, including current Gila County Superintendent Dr. Linda O’Dell, that she felt compelled to “stretch,” just as she encourages teachers and students to do. She recalls thinking, “‘Gail, you’ve been telling people to stretch and you need to stretch yourself because people want you in and they have the confidence that you can do it.”
One of the areas she’s particularly passionate about making an impact as superintendent is childhood literacy. “I’m a huge proponent of literacy,” says Gorry. “If you look at the scores of the tested grade levels across Gila County—in the reading level—we are not as high as we need to be.” According to Gorry, much of the important work around literacy happens early and in the home and community, before children even get to school. “I really want the whole community to become more aware of how we talk with children—’with’ not ‘to’ and ‘at’— and how we can, as a whole society […] working together, improve the literacy of students before they even come into our school system.”
Gorry recalls a particularly memorable moment around literacy from when she was a first grade teacher. “I love reading aloud to students. That was one way that I encouraged good reading and modeled great reading […] I changed my voice and I had a kid raise their hand and say, ‘Well, how do you know when to change your voice? What tells you that?’ And it was great. It was a great lead-in for ‘what are those dialogue markings when you’re reading’ and ‘how do you know who’s speaking?’”
She acknowledges the many issues facing rural educators and administrators, including “finding and retaining quality teachers,” particularly in specialized fields like math and science. According to Gorry, “one of the ways to retain teachers is support them with professional development.”
“Instead of focusing first on student achievement and looking at scores I kind of go about it at a different way,” explains Gorry. “Let’s support the teachers so that they can impact the students. And then those scores will change and we’ll see them moving. Let’s impact families and community involvement in the schools, so we have more people working with our students.” For Gorry, the role of Gila County Superintendent would allow her to “continue the work we’ve been doing and add some new things.”
When she’s not at work, Gorry enjoys riding bikes with her husband and, not surprisingly, loves to read. She has served as music minister for the Payson United Methodist Church for the past 15 years. She is on the board of the Tonto Community Concert Association and the Arizona Science Teachers Association. She is the Vice President of the Arizona Council of Teachers of Math and maintains a number of professional affiliations including the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics and the National Association for Elementary School Principals.
note: A previous version of this post read, “According to Gorry enough people asked, including current Gila County Superintendent Dr. Linda O’Dell, and encouraged her to run that she felt compelled to “stretch,” just as she encourages teachers and students to do.”
Autumn Giles is a freelance writer and recipe developer whose work has appeared in Edible Baja Arizona, Modern Farmer, Punch, Serious Eats, and elsewhere. Her first book, Beyond Canning was published in February 2016.