Meet Laura Jaime, director of curriculum, instruction & assessment at Western Maricopa Education Center (West-MEC). Jaime’s interview appears as part of a spotlight series on ACTE’s educational institution members (EIM).
West-MEC is a public school district dedicated to providing innovative career and technical education (CTE) programs that prepare students to enter the workforce and pursue continuing education. West-MEC CTE programs offer students opportunities to earn college credit and industry credentials.
Laura Jaime, West-MEC, EIM
What is your job title and what do you do?
As the director of curriculum, instruction & assessment, I oversee the teaching and learning for the district. At West-MEC, we believe that all students can learn; teachers make the difference. Success leads to success, and high expectations lead to student success. We design all of our curriculum around the CTE delivery model:
- Classroom instruction
- Hands-on instruction
- Work-based learning
- Leadership development
We have also developed a three-tier system of support, our Teacher Induction Academy, to help all instructors succeed. We provide them with top-notch professional development, instructional coaching and support, along with networking and mentorship opportunities.
Can you tell me a little about your upbringing?
I am from a small rural farming community in Illinois. My mom was a schoolteacher for over 36 years. Like most children, I told myself that I would never have the same career as my parents. I wanted to be a marine biologist. I wanted to train orca whales at SeaWorld. Then I had a phenomenal science teacher, Mr. Johnson, who inspired me to pursue my passion for biology and also to inspire others. I followed in his footsteps and became a middle school science teacher.
What was your education experience like? What did you study?
I earned a bachelor of science, with a dual major in biology and secondary education from Eastern Illinois University.
After eight years, I left my teaching position and took a job working as a career counselor for a career and technical education district (CTED). I realized that I enjoyed community outreach, program management, and curriculum and instruction. I initially thought that I would like to be a middle school or high school principal, so I went back to school to get a master of education administration from the University of Phoenix.
Life has a funny way of making a full circle. While I was student teaching, my cooperating teacher told me that I should be a curriculum writer instead of a teacher, because I was extremely organized and had fantastic lesson plans. Now, as I look back, she was right. Curriculum and instruction was where I am supposed to be. I rounded out my education with a doctoral degree in organizational leadership — with an emphasis in K–12 leadership — from Grand Canyon University.
School was something that I always had to work at. My brother is four years older than I am, and I always felt that I had to meet his standards. He was valedictorian of his high school and went on to be an orthopedic surgeon. It was a great accomplishment for me to finish my doctoral degree, and to have him there to watch me graduate. Over the years, I learned how to accomplish my goals.
What barriers did you (or you family) face in pursuit of higher learning?
My stepchildren were first-generation students. Both of their biological parents have high school diplomas, but my older stepdaughter was the first one in the family to go to college. She has her bachelor’s degree in education and teaches seventh grade language arts. My son is a product of CTE; he’s a barber. My youngest will be a senior in high school and is looking into another CTE field: dentistry.
I believe that I have had an impact on their choices to pursue postsecondary opportunities that can improve their lives and make them economically independent.
What led to your current role at West-MEC?
I have been with West-MEC for three years now. When I initially came to West-MEC, I was the program quality manager; I oversaw all of the West-MEC programs to ensure quality and compliance with the department of education and CTED legislation. I enjoyed this position. It allowed me to network with other member district personnel, and to make several connections within the community.
In fall 2019, the position I hold now — director of curriculum, instruction and assessment — opened up. This presented an excellent opportunity for me to step up in the organization and continue the great work with program development.
How do you like working on campus?
My role allows me to visit all of our campuses and to work with all of our instructors. West-MEC currently has four central campuses, where students travel from 49 high schools in northern and western parts of the Phoenix, Arizona, metropolitan area. I love being part of a school district that puts students first and provides them with career opportunities that they might not have known were possible.
Do you have any advice that you would offer to students who intend to pursue postsecondary education in CTE?
CTE allows students the opportunity to learn transferable skills. The industry credentials earned within a chosen career field provide students with a springboard into industry. CTE is not a place to stop learning, but a pathway to future learning. We can all learn something new every day; CTE allows us to network within our communities and develop the employability skills needed to be successful in any field.