Pursuing Dr. Birdwell: Scottsdale Schools candidates share their thoughts on the superintendent


Three candidates are rounding the corner to the final leg of the Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board race to be voted on at the Tuesday, Nov. 8 general election.

The candidates running for the board are incumbent Barbara Perleberg, and newcomers Allyson Beckham and Sandy Kravetz.

Former candidates George Jackson and Mary Roaf have both withdrawn from the race.

School board members serve a four-year term on the board. Members Pam Kirby and Kim Hartmann’s terms end at the end of 2018.

Scottsdale Schools includes 30 schools serving about 24,500 students, according to the district’s website. More than 3,000 people are employed by the district, including about 1,550 teachers.

The district’s boundaries include most, but not all of, the city of Scottsdale, Town of Paradise Valley and sections of the cities of Phoenix and Tempe.

Additionally, Scottsdale Schools voters will also be deciding upon a $229 million bond initiative and an $8.5 million capital override at the November general election.

The Scottsdale Independent is hosting a candidate forum in the Kiva at City Hall, 3939 N. Drinkwater Blvd. 6-8 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 3. Reporter Melissa Fittro will be moderating the forum.

Leading up to the October forum the Independent is offering candidates an opportunity to participate in a question-and-answer series to help voters better understand where they stand on local issues that matter.

This week’s installment asks the candidates if they support pursuing a permanent employment contract for Interim Superintendent Dr. Denise Birdwell.

On Jan. 11, the Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board unanimously voted to name Dr. Birdwell interim superintendent, following the abrupt resignation of previous Superintendent Dr. David Peterson, effective Jan. 4.

Dr. Birdwell, former Higley Unified School District Superintendent, first agreed to an annualized $200,000 contract from Jan. 19-June 30.

On April 7, she signed a second annualized contract for $204,000, effective July 1 through June 30, 2017.

Here is what the candidates had to say:

Allyson Beckham

•Do you support pursing permanent employment for Dr. Birdwell at the Scottsdale Unified School District?

First, I’ll start by clarifying that I am not yet in a position to know all of the processes and details that go into hiring a permanent superintendent. This is important because I take this responsibility very seriously.

Allyson Beckham

Allyson Beckham

I believe that high student achievement, effective teachers, and quality instruction should all be factors in evaluating a candidate in the selection process.

I support pursuing permanent employment for Dr. Birdwell, starting with a full evaluation of her performance as interim superintendent. As a citizen on the outside of the board looking in over the last seven months of her interim role, I’ve seen a leader who has taken the time to assess our district and acknowledge the many challenges we face.

Dr. Birdwell is working with both current and new administrators to move the district forward with a data-driven philosophy, student-centered culture, and professional development program to improve the effectiveness of principals and teachers.

If I have the privilege of serving on the Governing Board, and conduct a thorough evaluation with the board, whoever is selected should have a contract that clearly outlines the board’s expectations — including measurable objectives — that will be reviewed annually.

Sandy Kravetz

•Do you support pursing permanent employment for Dr. Birdwell at the Scottsdale Unified School District?

Yes, I support the board having a conversation about extending a permanent contract to Dr. Birdwell.

Since joining the Scottsdale Unified School District, she has treated her job as a permanent one. The interim superintendent has reviewed our district’s budget, organizational leadership structure and met with parents, teachers and other stakeholders within the community to identify and act upon areas needing immediate attention. Additionally, she has worked with the board to develop a comprehensive bond plan that addresses necessary structural improvements at sites throughout our district.

Sandy Kravetz

Sandy Kravetz

In less than a year, Dr. Birdwell has already instituted a minimum of three significant improvements in our district. She has initiated a world languages program in our elementary schools, returned school enrollment back to each site from two inconveniently located centralized offices and is ensuring that our high school seniors are meeting the state’s graduation requirement for classroom instruction hours.

Dr. Birdwell is attracting quality leadership to our district and has the skills to develop leaders from within our district. Dr. Birdwell is instituting a framework for accountability, not blame, and learning improvement that incorporates the use of data. As Dr. Birdwell stated in the Sept. 9 work-study meeting, “if we don’t have a current reality, we can’t create a new reality.” Data can help our district create a reality from which we can move forward.

We have had too many superintendents that were complacent with keeping the status quo within SUSD. Yes, there are variables beyond our control, the biggest one being funding. But with charter schools nipping at our door and the always present threat of expansion of private school vouchers by our state legislature, our district needs a leader who recognizes our hardworking personnel, yet shows them how to work smarter. Dr. Birdwell possess the leadership skills that will create the conditions in which our teachers, administrators and ultimately, and most importantly, our students will grow and be successful.

Barbara Perleberg

•Do you support pursing permanent employment for Dr. Birdwell at the Scottsdale Unified School District?

A revitalized commitment to open, honest dialogue focused on the needs of our classrooms has created exciting momentum in our district.

Barbara Perleberg

Barbara Perleberg

Our leadership, teachers, and staff recognize that best practices are defined first in the classroom (before the boardroom) through hard work, collaboration, and accountability. Changes that fail to bring a meaningful impact to learning can wear down trust and confidence within our stakeholders. If we are truly going to engage, educate, and empower all, decisions at every level of our organization need to be made with an unwavering focus on students.

In her time as Interim Superintendent, Dr. Denise Birdwell, has clearly shown that she understands and shares this vision. Her decisive leadership is laser-focused on instruction, student achievement, and data-driven accountability. By providing a new lens set squarely on the classroom, she has inspired exciting, challenging conversations at our sites and has driven meaningful changes in SUSD. There has been a shift in direction that our stakeholders have enthusiastically embraced, and I absolutely support turning that momentum into a permanent course.

Northeast Valley News Editor Melissa Rosequist can be e-mailed at mrosequist@newszap.com or can be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/mrosequist_.

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