On Tuesday, Aug. 23 Scottsdale Schools finally faced reality.
After almost 10 years of ignoring what their purpose is — educating pupils to succeed in today’s increasingly competitive world — SUSD faced reality and publicly revealed its last 11 years of pupil achievement results.
This was largely accomplished by the excellent data analyses, summary and presentation talents of its new Director of Accountability, Dr. Anna McCauley. The results were not nearly what you’d want to put on your refrigerator door — nearly a decade of declining and unimpressive math performance — especially at Arcadia, Coronado, and Saguaro high schools.
As for Desert Mountain High, scores there were better, but not nearly what one would expect from a school with such an overall advantageous socio-economic level. English language arts scores overall — stagnant.
Worse yet, these disappointing results were mostly based on “Arizona standards.” Standards that are below national standards, and lower yet versus those of our strongest international competitors. If these trends continued, SUSD would soon enter a “death spiral” in which more and more of its remaining best pupils left to enroll elsewhere, further lowering its scores and accelerating the decline.
Two days later, at Superintendent Birdwell’s invitation, I met with her. I came prepared with a list of my concerns about district management/leadership issues.
I anticipated hearing a lot of “shoot-the messenger” denial and excuses. I was wrong.
She talked of implementing improvement goals for each principal — prior to the September board meeting, efforts already underway to implement widespread value-added assessments of personnel, more effective sharing of what works between teachers, an already underway plan to more effectively deploy SUSD’s 100-plus special — but non-special education — teachers, paying its best teachers more to move to less attractive school settings, monetizing the estimated cumulative losses of SUSD pupils to competitors (as well as those gained from them) — motivating significant improvement efforts, requiring principals to learn why each of their departing pupils were leaving — and also setting goals to reduce those losses.
I’d never heard of ideas such as these coming from a public school superintendent who’d come up through the system. I left Dr. Birdwell’s office that day with a sore neck — from my head constantly bobbing up and down in agreement.
There were a few areas of disagreement. For example, SUSD’s $229 million building renovation/rebuilding bond plan. ‘Leaky roofs’ was her example justification — for $229 million SUSD could probably put a roof over all Scottsdale!
This was the first time I’ve felt positive about SUSD’s future. I could be wrong. However, I left suggesting she summarize her strategy/vision in writing — for all to see and be encouraged by.
Editor’s note: Mr. Eskildson is resident of Scottsdale