By Tara Fort
The Howard Family has a full plate, but balancing busy personal and professional lives for the family of four suits them just fine. Joe Howard, Superintendent of Prescott Unified School District (PUSD), and wife Jenna who works at Mile High as a 7th Grade Resource Teacher, are also parents of active and musically-talented 17-year-old twins Jonah and Jason, and both agree that their careers are just a natural extension of life at home.
Joe recalls, “I grew up in the district and my dad was a superintendent, so it really is the family business. It’s basically what we do. Here, I do what I do for the greater good of the district, and I’m always thinking about how to support the district. I see that much like how it is with our family. As much as we like to at times, we just can’t separate this job from every moment at home. Watching the kids of our friends and neighbors grow up makes the connection that much more fun.” Jenna agrees that the work-family extension is evident every day. “We know the same people, and that’s the real connection I love about what we do. We bring work home and it’s not a bad thing—it’s just a part of our day.”
The couple met in Seattle while Joe was working in the shipyards and Jenna was active in the vibrant artistic scene. After a while, Joe applied for teaching jobs in Seattle and in Prescott where he grew up. He landed parallel job offers in both cities: to coach wrestling and to teach middle school. With little deliberation, they chose the Prescott area. When Jenna landed a job in the district as an Education Aide in 1996, their extended family moved closer. Says Jenna, “Our path has always been an ‘us’ decision and, at that time, the smallness of Prescott was where we wanted to raise our kids. It has been amazing, and we had a plan in place every step of the way.” Both pursued their degrees through Northern Arizona University—Joe attended onsite in Flagstaff and Jenna made use of the satellite program, never having to leave home while raising the boys.
The Prescott life has been good to the Howards, and their legacy shows in their sons. Although both boys were on the wrestling team under their dad’s coaching, they ended up pursuing their own interests. “When the boys were no longer interested in wrestling, their public school experience offered up the perfect niche for them, which is music. That’s what they want to do with their lives, and now they each take four music classes a day.” Both competed and achieved First Chair in the State for All-State Jazz Band—no easy feat. Outside of school, both play in local bands including a bluegrass group and Cross-Eyed Possum, and they have been asked to travel with the Howling Coyote Tour in San Francisco this summer.
Jason credits his education for helping him find his passion: “PUSD showed me what my dream was by motivating me to be better and giving me a work ethic. And, Prescott has been a great place to grow up. I have been able to literally backpack from our front door into the Prescott National Forest.” Jonah agrees: “I want to be a musician and PUSD has helped me to realize that dream. There are a lot of people looking out for the kids in this town. Our schools create opportunities that allow you to be what you want to be. Prescott seems like a normal town until you go other places and realize how unique it is. It’s a cool mountain town with trees, rolling hills, and a community where you know your neighbors.”
The future remains bright for PUSD and Joe Howard: “We try to be sensitive to the load that teachers can handle and still be creative. We feel the teacher shortage, but not as much as many other state schools.” Staff is quick to show their support. Paul Katan, Federal Programs Director and Grant Writer says, “It is an incredible experience to work with a leader who is genuinely interested in new ideas and improving things, for students and staff. Joe is like everyone who works in the district—hardworking and committed to doing their best for our students. That makes him very approachable and goes a long way with inspiring folks.” Grants Specialist Kelly Mattox agrees, “Joe is open and honest, and calls us his PUSD family. He often stops by to see what is up on a personal level and shows an interest in our lives away from work. He helps us all push for a balanced life. Joe has been the key to navigating changes we’ve had to face, and always has a positive future vision for PUSD.”
In a district that supports the arts, and forward-thinking, Joe comments on the ‘Thoughtful Risks’ that he’s willing to take at work. “We want to have a district where anyone can have an idea and try things that are different and new. We create as many options as possible so kids can find what works for them.” Jenna agrees: “What’s good about PUSD is that we are not afraid to try new methods of teaching. One thing that has been working well with my ADHD kids is exercise equipment where we offer time on the machines as a reward. The kids work so hard to get on their equipment and to burn out the energy. They are so focused afterward and it’s great to see what that does to motivate them.”
For the Howards, life really has come full circle: from Joe’s early days in Prescott, to their move back here, to both teaching in the district while raising their kids who are students in the district, and extended family still living close by. Joe says, “I go to graduation and see the seniors graduate, and then a few months later I’m walking in the classroom of brand new kindergarteners wondering what the future holds for them. I try to go to schools every day and check in, but I also get that at home, seeing Jenna’s day and the passion she has for our own children and how she’s grown as an instructor. It’s fun to see that. It’s what brings it home for me and makes it real for me every day.”
For more information about PUSD, visit: www.prescottschools.com