American Falls Mayor Marc Beitia called the city meeting to order and referenced the agenda — a grant for a playground, an urban-renewal initiative and snow removal.
Typical city council meeting. Atypical mayor.
For nine years, Beitia has worked simultaneously as a local high school agriculture teacher and mayor of the rural southeast Idaho farm town of some 4,500 people.
It’s a “balancing act” that makes for some long days, Beitia recently told EdNews. It also provides the 36-year teacher with a unique view of areas where education overlaps other local issues.
“The line between my teaching job and position as mayor becomes blurred,” Beitia said through a salt-and-pepper mustache. “You become acutely aware of the needs in a town like this.”
One notable issue: lingering demand for ag workers.
As an ag teacher and supervisor of the local Future Farmers of America chapter, Beitia helps prepare students to fill such jobs. Yet connecting kids to local careers can be difficult in a town with fewer workforce options than other nearby cities.
“Any local business will tell you it’s a dog-eat-dog world out here,” Beitia said.
To meet demand, Beitia is helping the town implement a workforce development program aimed at tempering the local classroom-to-career pipeline. The Doing to Learn, Earning to Live initiative encourages local leaders to forge industry partnerships and put kids on career paths while in high school. Local leaders, such as Beitia and American Falls Superintendent Randy Jensen, identify potential business partners and introduce high school participants to activities and requirements geared toward workplace preparation based on local need.
Kids can shadow local workers, secure internships and apprenticeships with participating farms and businesses, obtain necessary training and, eventually, get a full-time job.
Beitia pointed to the need for welders at various local businesses.
“Our students can come right out of high school making over $40,000 as welders right here in American Falls,” he said.
Workforce needs aren’t the only area where educational and social lines blur for Beitia. Being a teacher makes it easy to organize student-led service projects throughout the town, he said. And two years ago, Beitia and three local Latino students partnered with Idaho State University’s adult outreach program to provide student-led lessons in English and computer skills to local adults with limited English proficiency.
The ISU partnerhsip benefits students, local workers and the broader community, Beitia stressed. It also helped the teacher nab last year’s Idaho Teacher of the Year award — something that contributed to Beitia’s place on Gov. Brad Little’s K-12 education task force.
“I would never have made the contacts I made without receiving that award,” Beitia said.
While meeting workforce needs is an area of focus, other priorities stem from Beitia’s time outside the classroom. An avid fisherman, he claims partial credit for lifting local restrictions on fishing below the town’s nine-story namesake dam along the Snake River.
The area has since emerged as a hotspot for anglers across from the region, including Beitia, who prefers a fly rod.
He held up his hands to indicate the size of the last fish he caught below the dam but stopped short of saying exactly where he hooked it.
“We’ll leave that out of your story,” he said.