“If You Want to Change the Future, You Have to Be a Part of It”
Longtime IEA member Marc Beitia lives that mantra every day in his dual role as a teacher at American Falls High School and as the city’s mayor. Well-deserved recognition came his way recently when he was named Idaho’s 2019 Teacher of the Year. A bevy of dignitaries, including IEA President Kari Overall, were on hand for the festivities, which caught Beitia off guard. “I saw a big bunch of balloons coming in the door, and it was quite a surprise,” he says. A formal announcement in the school’s auditorium followed shortly thereafter.
Beitia founded the agriculture program in the American Falls School District in 1990 at the urging of then-principal Pat Charlton (now the Superintendent of the Vallivue School District). “We had never had a program like this, so we were starting from scratch with a one-person shop,” Beitia recalls. Since those humble beginnings, the ag program added a second faculty member a year ago and this spring hired its third, a certified veterinary assistant who is also certified as an instructor. American Falls High School moved into a new building in 2002 that included a much-needed and larger agriculture facility, a greenhouse built by students and stakeholders, and a student-operated farm of ten acres that provides even more learning opportunities for students.
As it has grown, the program has seen student achievement and opportunity thrive also. Last year, 97% of the high school students, most of whom have been impacted by the agriculture program in some way, completed paperwork to move on to post-secondary education opportunities—the highest percentage ever for American Falls High School.
The curriculum is designed around a Venn diagram model, with the three circles represented by class and lab work, supervised occupational experience, and a component that includes leadership and participation in what is now known simply as the FFA (formerly Future Farmers of America). “We really have a great mix of experiences for the students; allowing them to customize their schedules,” says Beitia. He is also a proponent of combining arts-based instruction along with more traditional agriculture and technology-focused classes. “I’m all about a STEAM approach,” he notes, adding the A for Agriculture/Arts to the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math acronym.
The Mayor is a Teacher? My Teacher is the Mayor?
Beitia also serves as the mayor of American Falls, a position he has held for the last six years. It is a fairly unique dichotomy, but it does sometimes occur in smaller towns. The dual role provides some challenges, but also makes sense in many ways, since Beitia’s role as teacher and FFA advisor gives him plenty of opportunities to interact with stakeholders and community leaders. “The problems might be different, and the challenges more complex, but it is not all that different from working with students in the classroom,” he says.
It was a request from a former student that led Beitia to the role of an accidental politician. Amy Woodworth Manning vacated her city council seat to run for mayor and asked her former teacher if he would run for her council post. “It is amazing what you will do when a former student asks you,” Beitia says in talking about his decision to accept the opportunity to run for city council, which ultimately led to the mayor’s office.
“Something Kept Dragging Me Back to Kids”
Despite having grown up in a family full of teachers, Marc never anticipated a career as a professional educator. Born in Elko, NV, before moving to Pocatello in third grade, he returned to Nevada during summers to work as a ranch hand and figured that was his calling. However, after graduating from Pocatello’s Highland High School and the University of Idaho, Beitia accepted a teaching job at Raft River High School, where he worked until taking his long-standing position at American Falls High School.
A fourth generation teacher, Beitia’s mother taught in Pocatello and his grandmother and great-grandmother were both teachers in Nevada. Marc and Sally, his wife of almost 40 years, have three daughters, two of whom are living close to home in American Falls. Their daughter, Leona works as a paralegal, while Frances works for potato conglomerate Lamb Weston. A third daughter, Suzanne, lives in Phoenix. Marc and Sally have three grandchildren with a fourth on the way.
Beitia has been a member of the Idaho Education Association since 1985 and was on the local association bargaining team for several years. He is a big believer in the IEA’s mission and in collective decision making. “Rather than being one voice against the wind, the IEA and its collective power make a difference for everyone,” he says.