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Company plans to reopen Sacaton mine near CG

CASA GRANDE — The old Sacaton Unit mine may reopen under a new name.

Elim Mining has purchased the old open pit mine located northwest of Casa Grande and is exploring the possibility of reopening the mine under the new name Cactus Mine, said John Antwi, president, CEO and director of Elim Mining.

“The opportunity to do business in Arizona is a big deal to us,” said Antwi, who has worked in the mining industry for more than 30 years. He said Elim Mining is exploring the mine site in order to determine what equipment and how many employees the company would need to restart the mine.

The primary resource the company hopes to get from the mine is copper but it will also be looking for smaller deposits of gold, silver and molybdenum. Molybdenum is used to strengthen steel and other metals.

This would be the start-up company’s first mine, he said, although certainly not the first mine that Antwi or Elim’s Chief Operating Officer Ian McMullan have worked on. Both men have 30 years of experience in the mining industry.

Once the company has determined its needs, a date to reopen the mine will be set, he said.

The company is hoping to hire the majority of its employees from Casa Grande and Pinal County, McMullan said.

“We want to partner with the community on this,” he said.

The company plans to contact Central Arizona College for help in finding skilled workers once the mine has been reopened.

The company is looking at a variety of the latest techniques and technology to efficiently and safely remove the ore from the ground, Antwi said. The mine does not plan to use in-situ mining techniques.

In-situ mining involves the pumping of chemicals into an ore deposit in order to dissolve the ore. The dissolved ore and chemicals are pumped out of the ground and processed. The technique avoids open pit or underground mining hazards but can cause problems if the chemicals leach into groundwater.

Antwi said the company places a high priority on protecting the environment, and in-situ mining techniques do not fit that priority for the site.

The company is also looking at ways to best conserve and efficiently use water at the mine.

“We understand how critical water is here,” Antwi said.

McMullan said several public open houses will be held over the coming months so the public will know when the company will start the hiring process and when the mine will reopen.

ASARCO (American Smelting And Refining Co.) operated the mine between April 1974 and March of 1984, according to Arizona Geological Survey records. The open pit portion of the mine is about 3,100 feet in diameter and 980 feet deep. The mine produced about 11,000 tons per day and employed up to 400 people. The processed ore was shipped by rail to an ASARCO smelter in El Paso, Texas.

While working the open pit mine, ASARCO drilled a second, underground mine to the east of the pit to try and reach a deeper ore deposit. That underground mine was never fully developed and was closed with the pit in 1984.

In 1985, ASARCO considered turning the pit mine into a landfill. The company dropped the idea in 1987 after strong public opposition to the project.

In 2009, the state of Arizona reached a $20 million settlement with ASARCO to clean up the site.

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Rowdy Johnson ready to flex his musical muscles and Ride for the Warrior
 mstaude  / 

CASA GRANDE — Whether they laugh, cry, dance or simply sit and listen, singer Rowdy Johnson hopes that when he’s on stage, veterans in the audience realize that every song he performs was written just for them.

“When I’m on stage, I’m often singing to veterans,” he said. “I sing what I believe and I believe what I sing. When singing to vets, they can tell when you’re pandering to them. We’re not pandering. Our music is authentic and we have deep respect for those who have served our country.”

The Rowdy Johnson Band is the headline act for the eighth annual Ride for the Warrior music festival, set for Nov. 2 in Peart Park.

The event, which raises money and awareness for veterans’ causes, runs from 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. and is free to attend.


Ride for the Warrior

Johnson, a Tucson-based performer and a Navy veteran, is one of five acts set to perform during Ride for the Warrior. Other musical performers at the event include:

  • The Highway Outlaws, a party-style band consisting of Everett Lafferty, Patrick Rosales, Dennis Meckle and Bob Villa.
  • 10th and Main, a Florence-based rock group with members Keith Rea, Tanner Foster, David Brito, Hayden Kent and Jerry Bell.
  • Uvon & BluZone, a Tempe-based blues band featuring a retired college professor.
  • Conjunto Bravo-Arizona, a country and Tejano band featuring members from the Tohono O’odham, Gila River and Pascua Yaqui communities.

Johnson has been performing since 2007 and has released three full-length albums of his own music — “Outlaws Today,” “America’s Best” and “Hillbilly Rock Star.” He currently has a fourth album finished and waiting to be released.

“Every song we perform will be our own. I wrote all but one of our songs. Most bands do cover songs, we perform our own music,” he said.

As a songwriter, Johnson said he is inspired by country music legends such as Waylon Jennings, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Hank Williams, Marshall Tucker Band, Johnny Cash, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Charlie Daniels and others.

“I write old-school country, sometimes called outlaw country. I tend to write traditional songs. I sing about my love of my country, my love of music and what inspires me,” he said. “As a veteran, many of my songs speak to vets. In each of my shows, I try to connect with the veterans in the audience and I’m always excited to see how crowds respond to my music.”

One of his most popular songs, “Unwanted Man,” was released in 2017 and tells the story of a veteran in Tucson who was living on the streets.

“I’m ashamed to admit it, but I tried to look away and just drive by without asking his story,” Johnson said about the song, which can be heard on YouTube. “Later that day I was haunted by the vision of him in that rusty old wheelchair trying to cross the street. He looked to be a double amputee about my age. I wondered what his story was and vowed to go back the following day to find out.”

Johnson later had a dream about the man and that dream became the song, “Unwanted Man.”

“I dreamt every word of this song as I came to know this lost soul and helped bring him to a church where he was able to talk to God again. That dream was so vivid it shook me. I literally drove all over downtown Tucson that next day looking for him but never found him. So I did the next best thing, I wrote his story as God had shown me in my dream. I’ve never felt lyrics so real,” he said.

“Unwanted Man” is on the album “Hillbilly Rock Star.” It’s also on “Battle Cry: Songs of America’s Heroes,” an album that features songs written and performed by veterans.

Johnson was stationed in Norfolk, Virginia, and was deployed to Europe on the USS Saipan.

“I was flown across the ocean on a C-130 to meet the ship in France,” he said. “For a small-town guy like me, it was a great experience. I loved the Navy and my shipmates became like my brothers.”


Rowdy Johnson during his time in the U.S. Navy

As much as he enjoyed military life, Johnson said he also feels at home performing in front of a crowd. He’s wanted to perform at Ride for the Warrior for the past few years, but scheduling conflicts prevented him from doing so.

“I’m so happy to be playing at Ride for the Warrior this year,” he said. “And I hope people attend Ride for the Warrior. It’s a great cause. The festival takes on big expenses to raise money for veteran causes. I’d encourage people to come out and be among heroes raising money for a good cause. And it’s a fun, family event.”

The eighth annual Ride for the Warrior music festival begins immediately following the Casa Grande Veterans Day Parade, in Peart Park.

The event, which raises money for veterans’ causes, features live music, food, beer, vendors and a kids zone.

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Superintendent: CGESD seeing improvements

CASA GRANDE — The Casa Grande Elementary School District is not where it wants to be when it comes to AzMERIT scores and the state letter grades for its schools, but the district is seeing improvement, said Superintendent JoEtta Gonzales in her annual State of the Schools address Tuesday evening.

Gonzales highlighted many of the district’s accomplishments throughout the evening by inviting several students, staff and teachers up to the podium to talk about their experiences and why they enjoyed working or learning in the district.

“We believe much of the professional learning put in place last year and many of the curricular changes we put into place last year are coming together and really creating an elevation in instructional practice and student learning,” she said. “We’ve seen a lot of momentum this year in our classrooms and we’re excited about where it’s going to take our students.”

Gonzales also discussed some of the district’s many challenges, including declining enrollment; that about 80 percent of the district’s students are on the National School Lunch Program; and that the district is below the state average in proficiency on the AzMERIT tests.

The Arizona Department of Education released AzMERIT scores for schools throughout the state in early October. The percentage of Casa Grande Elementary students passing reading and math in each grade tested hovered between the low 20s and high 30s, with the exception of advanced eighth grade math classes. The scores are similar to the previous year’s.

The district is still working to recover from when the state changed from the AIMS test to AzMERIT in 2014, Gonzales told the audience of about 40 teachers, staff, members of the public and administrators.

“We’re behind where we need to be but we’ve put some instructional measures in place to catch up and keep up once we’re there,” she said.

However, the district is seeing gradual improvement when the district looks at each cohort of students, Gonzales said. She pointed to the AzMERIT scores for fifth graders, who were fourth graders the previous year.

According to the scores, 29% of fourth graders passed math and 31% passed English in the earlier year. The next year, 38% of fifth graders passed math and 40% passed English.

“We’re actually making up ground with all of our cohorts of students and we’re really proud of that,” she said.

Gonzales pointed how much the district has benefited from the 2016 bond issue. It allowed the district to replace 26 buses that were failing, build a new school and make ongoing repairs and improvements to the district’s existing schools.

The district is also looking forward to getting additional funds from the state for capital improvement projects, she said. However, state funding for the district and schools around the state is still below the level of funding before the Great Recession started in 2008.

The district is also partnering with local businesses to bring in leaders who can tell students about the various careers that are available in their hometown, she said. Arizona Public Service Co. gave the district a $140,000 grant last year to help with math classes. The district also partners with local nonprofits such as Boys & Girls Clubs of the Casa Grande Valley to provide a safe place for students to go after school and help with homework. Then district has also partnered with other nonprofits to help provide food for students over school breaks and weekends and even create a rodeo for special needs students.

The district is also focusing on teaching its students the social and emotional skills they need to succeed in life and the workplace, Gonzales said. For the first time this year, the district has been able to place a counselor in each of its middle schools. The district has applied for a state Safer Schools grant that, if approved, would allow the district to hire 12 more counselors.

At the same time, the district is partnering with Casa Grande Union High School District on ways to prepare middle schoolers for the transition to high school.

The district is also investing in professional learning for its teachers, Gonzales said. Teachers have volunteered and the district has supported their work in becoming Google Suite certified, seeking out professional training programs at places like the Arizona Science Center on their own time and developing the Math for Change program.

Google Suite, or G Suite, is a series of word processing, spreadsheet and other office programs created by Google and includes programs such as Gmail, Google Docs, Google Drive, Google Sheets and Google Slides, a presentation program. A number of schools and businesses use G Suite.

The Math for Change program is unique to the district, Gonzales said. It consists of a group of teachers who came together voluntarily to create a new math curriculum that incorporates math into nearly every subject. The district has a similar program for reading.

The district is also facing challenges in enrollment numbers, she said. The district has plans to create a task force made up of teachers, staff, administrators, parents, local officials and the public to address the issue. That task force will make a recommendation to the district board in December.

“As our community changes and grows, we want to be ready,” she said.

Any changes to district school enrollment boundaries will be made during the 2020-21 school year in order to allow students who may have to move to a new school a chance to say goodbye to their old school, Gonzales said.

A statewide teacher shortage has also had an impact on the district, she said. The district is doing more and working harder to attract quality teachers to the district, including creating the position of coordinator of new teacher learning. That person is responsible for making new teachers feel welcome, shepherding them through the new hire process and making sure they get the support they need in the early years of their career.

Gonzales said while the district has made many improvements, it still has work to do on getting students proficient in state requirements, hiring and keeping quality teachers and staff and making repairs to its buildings.

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Toltec educator named Pinal County Teacher of the Year
 mvasquez  / 

ELOY — It started with being selected by her colleagues as the Teacher of the Year for Toltec Elementary School, and now Penny Hanes holds the title of Pinal County Teacher of the Year.

“I was in shock actually,” Hanes said when she found out that she was selected. “I received a phone call from one of the members of the Arizona Rural School Association and he said, ‘Congratulations! You’ve been selected.’ I’m like OK, thank you, I didn’t know what he was talking about and then he explained it.”

Hanes has been teaching for 28 years and nearly all of those years have been with the Toltec School District.

“It definitely shows her dedication to the Toltec School District,” Toltec Elementary Principal Misty Huffman said. “It’s an honor to have her here with us because she’s a leader both in our community as well as our school.”

Every year, Huffman sends out an email to staff asking them to nominate a certified teacher to be named Teacher of the Year for the school along with reasons why they have nominated that teacher.

Some of those reasons mentioned that Hanes is a problem solver and dynamic part of the school and her ability to maintain strong, lasting relationships with the students, staff, parents and the rest of the community.

“A key characteristic of hers is she leads by example,” Huffman said. “She’s one of those teachers that I don’t have to tell her what to do, she just knows. She takes the initiative to all projects and tasks and gets it done. She teaches her students to strive for excellence, to love reading and to respect each other. She teaches us (her peers) to give our best for our students, to wear a smile and to remember that life is not about waiting for the storm to pass but instead how to push through the storm and strive with excellence.”

Hanes is currently a Title I reading teacher for first grade through eighth grade.

By working with so many different grade levels, Hanes needs to have different programs that range from working with vocabulary and reading informational text to putting sounds together that form words and then progressing on to sentences and stories.

“Working with the students, it’s that moment when they understand something and they get so excited,” she said. “It’s that positive response that makes it worth all the hard work.”

Huffman added that Hanes makes a big impact on each of her students and she can accelerate and challenge the brightest students because of professional knowledge, experiences and innovations that she has pursued and mastered.

At the beginning of the year, Hanes lays out her expectations for the students.

“We’re here in the classroom to be a community,” she said. “We’re there to help each other, and it’s all right to make mistakes. We’re human and that’s how you learn, you learn from your mistakes. If someone makes a mistake, we don’t laugh, we help each other out so that everyone understands what we’re learning. It’s creating a safe classroom environment, they can be themselves and know that if they do make a mistake, it’s OK.”

Hanes recalls a moment about nine or 10 years ago when a student started crying and thanked her.

“She told me thank you,” Hanes said. “Thank you for teaching her the love of reading. It was that moment that I realized that was what this is all about. It’s not just what happens in the classroom that school year. It’s what our students take with them.”

Hanes knew in high school that she wanted to become a teacher, but even at a younger age she would stand in front of a chalkboard and pretend that she was one.

“I was 15 and I was taking this class and the teacher asked us what we wanted to do in the future,” she said. “I was just thinking about all the different professions and I thought, well I like science and I love math, I love reading and I love writing. It just seemed to fit, being a teacher.”

Being a teacher isn’t a cakewalk, and like with everything else there are good days and bad days. Teaching for nearly three decades, Hanes has had both the good and bad days and she never imagined that some day she would be recognized as Pinal County Teacher of the Year.

“I’m very honored by it and I just do this job because I feel it’s important,” she said. “It’s something that’s important to me, I believe in what I do. I was just thrilled that the teachers voted for me to be Teacher of the Year for our school, that definitely means a lot to me. Then to be chosen as the Pinal County Rural Teacher of the Year, I’m amazed. It’s a special honor.”