The East Valley is home to a gem that is worth a lingering look on the nation's quest for a better public education system.
To me "better" means one that has its ear to the ground of the local job market and responds by producing workers who have the skills employers want.
Sounds simple. But it's not, because so much gets in the way.
There's the statehouse. There's the nation's capital. There are the education colleges. All certain they know what education the workforce needs. On top of that there's a public education system that's been around for a long time and, like me, isn't as nimble as it once was.
That's why a visit to the East Valley Institute of Technology (EVIT) is so refreshing and provocative.
Provocative in the sense that, if they can do it here, why can't they do it everywhere?
When I first toured EVIT, the health sciences and nursing services program didn't exist, nor did the building in which the program is housed.
That was three years ago. Today the program is filled to capacity with 900 students from the 10 East Valley school districts that can participate in EVIT's programs.
Rhonda Doolen, a nurse by training and EVIT's health education director, said a 70,000 square feet addition is being built to accommodate the demand. It will be finished in August.
Doolen reeled off a long list of certificates and health-related jobs for which EVIT graduates will qualify. Among them: certified nursing assisting, emergency medical technician, supply processing and distribution, dental assisting, emergency medical technician.
I learned a few things myself that day. I learned what a bilateral oophorectomy is from Jon Howell's basic class on anatomy, physiology and terminology. (Google it.)
I learned that surgeons don't just open a drawer and grab the nearest scalpel. Surgical equipment has to be properly sanitized and then packaged for specific procedures and surgeries. And somebody gets paid to do that.
For some, EVIT training leads directly to a job. For others, it's a step toward a career.
"How many want to be doctors?" EVIT Superintendent Sally Downey asked Jon Howell's class. A number of students raised their hands.
"How many like taking classes at EVIT?" Downey continued. A sea of hands shot in the air.
"That's because it's easy, isn't it?" she asked rhetorically.
On the two tours I've taken of EVIT, Downey has asked that question repeatedly and gotten the same "No."
Another tour group member likened a walk through EVIT classes as "a real life Disney movie" because the kids are happy and absorbed in what they are doing.
"I think it's because they are empowered, and they are doing what they have passion for...," said Rudy Hacker, Intel's senior manager for operational excellence. "They get engaged because they can relate their studies to the direction they plan to go in life."
There's nothing quite like EVIT anywhere else in Arizona. It's a creation of the East Valley and partly funded by earmarked property taxes paid by East Valley residents from Fountain Hills to Queen Creek. My tax record shows my 2010 bill as $11.52.
Students from 10 East Valley school districts can sign up to spend half of their school day at EVIT.
Programs include culinary services, cosmetology, fire fighting, auto technology, public safety and health sciences.
And more is on the way.
EVIT will offer aviation career courses this fall in a new facility being built as part of the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport and Arizona State University Polytechnic campus complex.
Students will be put on paths to being airplane mechanics, air traffic controllers, flight attendants. They will learn about drone technology.
Asked what led to the program, Downey said, "It was easy. Aviation is the third biggest employer in the state. And our programs are market driven."
The next market Downey has her eye on is engineering.
She revealed that she is in talks with Intel in hopes of getting the Chandler microchip giant's support for a program that could benefit from Intel's pool of retirees and volunteers.
The program would be aimed at encouraging the East Valley's best and brightest high school seniors to pursue careers in engineering.
Like other EVIT programs, Downey explained, a secondary school engineering program would hands-on so as "to turn them on to engineering."
With former Intel CEO Craig Barrett warning of a Category 5 storm in American industry caused by the decline of interest in engineering and science among American students, how can Intel say no?
EVIT has been getting a lot of attention lately. EVIT services will be used to train work forces in India. Middle Eastern educators recently toured EVIT. What's going on here? I asked Downey.
"It's because of our performance outcome. We're delivering the goods ... We cannot do what we do without the support of business and industry. In return we provide to them students who have the skills to do the job."
Jim Ripley is the former executive editor of the East Valley Tribune and is the current chairman of the Mesa Historical Society, which contracts exhibition services with the city of Mesa. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.