After 39 years with the Parker Unified School District, including the last eight as Superintendent, Jim Lotts has announced his retirement effective the end of the 2018-19 school year.
Lotts submitted his resignation letter Nov. 5.
“I leave with no regrets,” he said. “This district has allowed me to fulfill my career in way that were beyond my wildest expectations. I have been fortunate to work with a dedicated Governing Board, who have always made decisions based on what was best for the students, and so many wonderful colleagues and community members. I will miss the people I worked with, the students and the Parker community.”
The District Governing Board held a special meeting Nov. 29 to discuss how to go about finding Lotts’ successor. They decided to seek a successor from inside the district. Interested parties have been asked to send letters of interest to the board by Dec. 14.
Lotts has worn many hats during his years in Parker. He was a teacher and coach at Parker High School for seven years. He was Assistant principal at Wallace Elementary School for a year. His longest stint was as Principal of Le Pera Elementary School, where he served for 13 years. He was Assistant Superintendent for 10 years, and was Superintendent for the last eight years.
Lotts is a native of Ohio, and he began his career by teaching for four years in the same school district he attended from Kindergarten through the 12th Grade. He had planned to stay in this district, but the district was short on funds and he was told they might not be able to offer him a contract.
With the possibility of losing his job, Lotts and his wife, Vickie, began looking at other locations. They contacted Jim’s uncle, John Woody, who was then in Parker. Woody told them the Parker district had positions for teaching social studies as well as coaching football and wrestling. These were all positions Lotts was interested in, so he was interviewed and offered a job. He accepted, and the family moved to Parker.
“We came from the Midwest to a small desert town,” Lotts said. “It took a while to adjust.”
Like others who came before them, Lotts and his family grew to love Parker.
“You either love Parker, or Parker isn’t a fit for you,” he said. “We love Parker. We found it was a great place to raise our kids.”
As a football and wrestling coach, Lotts was part of three conference championships in football. He also coached Roy Quinn, Parker’s first state wrestling champion.
Lotts said he was especially proud of his 13 years as Principal at Le Pera. He said they had great teachers there, and they great things for their students.
“Those were the best times,” he said.
The biggest challenges he faced came in his years as Superintendent, especially after the economy declined in 2008. Since then, schools across Arizona have been facing cuts in funding from the state. On top of this, there is a nationwide shortage of teachers.
“We kept the school district financially solvent,” he said.
One of his proudest accomplishments at Superintendent was working with Arizona Western College on dual-enrollment for high school students and working with Western Arizona Vocational Education on more career-technical education classes.
Lotts noted graduation rates for Parker High students are higher than ever.
“Our job is to get kids high school diplomas,” he said. “We provide a good, solid comprehensive high school education.”
As for challenges in the near future, Lotts sees two of them: employee salaries and the district’s physical plant. Lotts said the only way Parker can compete for qualified teachers with districts in metropolitan areas is if they offer better pay.
“We need to increase teacher salaries,” Lotts said. “The Parker Unified School District needs to be in the top 10 percent of Arizona’s districts.”
To accomplish this, Lotts said the district may have to impose a primary property tax. The district has not had a primary property tax for years because they receive Federal Impact Aid due to the presence of the Colorado River Indian Tribes’ Reservation.
Lotts said the support staff also needs pay increases.
As for the physical plant, Lotts said many of the district’s buildings are old and need renovation. He said many classes at Parker High are held in temporary classrooms that were brought in during the 1970s. Much of Wallace Elementary School was built in the 1950s, and Campus A at Blake Primary School was built in the 1960s. Le Pera Elementary School was built in the 1970s.
“That’s our new school,” Lotts said of Le Pera.
As for his most positive experience in Parker, Lotts said it was and always has been the people.
“Parker’s strength has always been its people,” he said.
Lotts said he and Vickie are moving to Surprise, Ariz. for their retirement.
“I don’t know what the future holds for us,” he said. “It’s hard to leave this place.”