Governing board takes action to shake-up leadership at Scottsdale Schools

Scottsdale Superintendent Denise Birdwell presenting a leadership reorganization to the governing board on March 22. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

Scottsdale Superintendent Denise Birdwell presenting a leadership reorganization to the governing board on March 22. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board members graciously voted unanimously to implement a new leadership organization, a change all members voiced excitement and gratitude for, during a March 22 board meeting at Coronado High School, 7501 E. Virginia Ave.

Superintendent Denise Birdwell presented the governing board with a new system that focuses on using data and the importance of a well-organized plan that streamlines management, collaboration and success. The first step in what Dr. Birdwell says could be a 12-month conversation.

“As we look forward to our future as a district, it is important to take that critical review of our organizational structure and the systems that we have in place,” said Dr. Birdwell. “Sometimes in the educational system we tend to put functionality of a department into an organizational chart, which can be sometimes, a little misleading because there’s a responsibility in the chart but not necessarily bodies.”

The changes Dr. Birdwell has proposed mostly include altering the district office leadership structure to provide better support.

“In a district this large, a superintendent cannot be in all places at all times,” she said. “We have 31 schools. I still haven’t made it to all of them.”

One aspect of Dr. Birdwell’s example-chart was the implementation of a psychometric process to provide data for district employees.

“When we look at accountability and instruction, one of the first comments I got from principals when I said ‘what data are you using for continuous improvement?’ I got ‘we have to work with our own data, we have to create our own data,’” said Dr. Birdwell.

“Ladies and gentlemen we are in an age of accountability in which that data should be available for teachers as well as principals. If a teacher is to adjust teaching in a timely fashion then we need to provide appropriate data. To be able to do that function, districts such as Mesa, and Peoria, and Deer Valley, Paradise Valley, they have psychometricians at the head of that area. People who live and love data. People who understand the data.”

In the proposed chart, Dr. Birdwell points out three departments focused on academics: educational services, accountability and instruction and educational leadership.

“We don’t have that right now,” she said. “We have someone who wears the curriculum hat, the instruction hat and the professional development hat. In a district this large, with as many employees as we have, this should be differentiated. That’s what this will do.”

Dr. Birdwell wants to evolve the flat-chart system so it accurately represents the number of staff members working within a given department.

“Success in this type of model is based on self-managing teams. That means you have high performance in each area and they can manage themselves and they don’t need direction and they don’t need collaboration,” said Dr. Birdwell. “In the educational field, all that we do is about children, and if we don’t collaborate and work together, we might miss our target.”

Having these leaders work together is critical to the success of the district, she says.

“The organizational structure itself should support the vision of the district,” Dr. Birdwell said. “We talk about engage, educate, empower — all to excel. So we really should look at our organizational structure that focuses on academic achievement. It also should support our mission to deliver a world-class education that promotes the highest levels of academic achievement, creativity and personal growth that will inspire greatness in today’s students.”

“Moving forward, what I would like to create for our district, is not only an oversite chart but the layers behind it that show the relationships behind it and the individuals taking on those responsibilities.”

A step in the right direction

Dr. Birdwell’s proposed structure was popular among all governing board members, who all echoed support for a system that defines an end goal.

Pam Kirby

Pam Kirby

“You haven’t been here to hear me but I have been asking for years, to have the conversation of ‘who are we, who do we want to be and how do we get there?’ and I hope that those watching the video and in the audience tonight, I hope they will realize how meaningful this organization chart is in answering that question,” said Governing Board member Pam Kirby.

“Because this is an organization chart that I see that has purpose, specific roles and specific accountabilities.”

Ms. Kirby voiced her appreciation for Dr. Birdwell’s monumental structural ideas.

“Listening to you tonight, I also am very appreciative of the big thinking,” she said. “I heard you say ‘measure SUSD against other public school districts in the country that have similar demographics,’ and I am ready to think big and am so grateful that you are right there as well, so thank you.”

Governing Board Vice President Barbara Perleberg followed up with her own sentiments and appreciation.

Barbara Perleberg

Barbara Perleberg

“I too have struggled as a board member with that question: what’s our identity and who are we? When I look at this — and I’m told all the time that I have the worst poker face in the world — I’m hoping where in the past it was always hard for me to hide or ignore the concerns and questions I’ve had about our energies and our positive leadership in this district, and the culture of leadership in this district,” she said.

“I’ve never been able to hide the concerns and questions I’ve had. What I’m hoping I’m showing tonight is excitement. Excitement that the culture is changing. I hear from our staff, I hear from our stakeholders that our culture is changing as well. This organization chart reflects it, and reflects the focus of where we want to be headed in the future.”

Northeast Valley News Editor Melissa Rosequist can be e-mailed at or can be followed on Twitter at

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