Q&A: Scottsdale Schools board members outline goals, objectives


Scottsdale Unified School District students, teachers and community have said their annual goodbyes to the summer break and hello to the start of a fresh school year.

New backpacks have been picked out, desks assigned and pencils sharpened, while the school district’s elected leaders prepare for another year of improvement.

The SUSD Governing Board returned to its post in early August with the first two of many meetings scheduled this year. The next SUSD Governing Board study session meeting is 3 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 7, at the Mohave District Annex, 8500 E. Jackrabbit Road.

Scottsdale Unified School District Superintendent Dr. Denise Birdwell says summer was spent putting resident tax dollars to work and planning for the future of SUSD.

SUSD operates 29 schools serving 23,000 students, and employs 1,300 certified educators. Superintendent Dr. Birdwell — who joined SUSD in 2016 — along with the five elected members of the Governing Board have been steadfastly gunning for what they call a “growth mindset” in their community by addressing needs in failing infrastructure, academics, and looking at student achievement through a data-driven approach.

“The SUSD Governing Board is starting this new school year with a new core purpose in mind: To ensure all individual learners reach their full potential,” Dr. Birdwell said in an emailed response to questions. “Our board is committed to that purpose, and I expect to see it at the heart of every decision it makes this school year, from construction to curriculum.”

The Coronado Success Initiative has officially begun, and Dr. Birdwell says the community will begin to see a difference in education at Coronado this year.

Over the summer all teachers received laptops for the first time, and campus leadership has been restructured at school sites. Some teachers, like Cocopah Middle School seventh-grade science teacher Tracey Dodrill, spent their summer increasing their own knowledge. Ms. Dodrill was one of 24 teachers nationwide hand-selected to attend the 24th annual session of the Maury Project Workshop offered by the U.S. Naval Academy.

New this year is a “Coffee with Dr. Birdwell” morning forum scheduled bimonthly at each high school, and fall and spring evening forums in each learning community.

“As for me, I am making a personal commitment to increase communication in the coming year, which is why I will host parents and community members at public forums 30 times in the next 10 months,” Dr. Birdwell says.

“If any issues or concerns arise during the school year, parents will have an opportunity to discuss them with me directly.”

The Scottsdale Independent reached out to members of the Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board to see where their sights are set for the new school year. Below are responses from Allyson Beckham, Kim Hartmann and Sandy Kravetz.

Allyson Beckham

•As a governing board member, what has had your attention this summer?

The Board and District leadership established a new vision for SUSD in the spring that was shared with the employee community over the summer. The District’s vision is to ensure all individual learners reach their full potential. Our goal is to have every district employee, student and parent embrace the meaning behind the words.

Allyson Beckham, on left (Photo by Josh Martinez)

•What do you expect the governing board to tackle this fall?

The Governing Board will be evaluating policies and procedures that will enable the new vision to be implemented. SUSD leadership will be supporting principals and teachers at each school through coaching, collaborative support and professional development training. The District will continue to develop and establish metrics and data in order to measure student performance, which will be used to tailor instruction for the individual learner. It is expected that enhanced instructional rigor and improved student engagement will drive improved student academic achievement.

Does the governing board have any specific goals for this school year?

Yes. The Board plans on establishing meaningful metrics to measure the District’s performance, continue to align fiscal resources to the classroom, and ensure accountability of the use of our bond revenues. Personally, I want to better understand the teacher evaluation system and how it reflects teacher effectiveness and supports teachers to improve their skills.

Kim Hartmann

•As a governing board member, what has had your attention this summer?

As always, my attention this summer has been on student achievement, good governance and strategic partnerships. Over the summer, I have worked closely with our Coronado Success Initiative leadership team and community organizations such as the Scottsdale Charros, Helios and Be a Leader Foundations and Scottsdale Chamber to ensure we have the resources and partnerships necessary to ensure the success of this initiative and others. I have also been reviewing early releases (still embargoed) of AZMerit results and updating SUSD’s strategic plan.

Kim Hartmann

•What do you expect for the governing board to tackle this fall?

We continue to have a packed and thoughtful agenda. As a governing board, we will continue to focus on our AZMerit results and increasing academic rigor across all of our schools, grades and programs, the continuation of our K-8 school rebuilds and planning efforts, and finalizing districtwide metrics that will measure and communicate SUSD progress to all stakeholders.

•What are you most looking forward to the board tackling this school year?

I am in year three of a four-year term. There is a steep learning curve that comes with this role. I am looking forward to leveraging what I have learned and translating that into policies that ensure what has begun with our new Superintendent actually comes to fruition. For example, that includes creating policy that supports and accelerates improving student academic achievement, competitive programming, significantly increasing teacher compensation (at least 10 percent within four years) and more dollars in the classroom.

•Does the governing board have any specific goals for this school year?

Certainly, in addition to many of the initiatives already shared, the governing board and district leadership began a refresh of SUSD’s strategic plan last year. SUSD’s purpose, values and goals are even more clear. District leadership began sharing and refining this plan with site leadership (principals) this summer. Site leadership is now sharing and working with our teachers and support staff to ensure clarity and consistency. Our purpose is to ensure all individual learners reach their full potential. We have identified our core values as being responsive, student-focused, humble and growth-minded. We will achieve our purpose by creating systems that reinforce and reward these values and metrics that measure and monitor our progress.

•What has you worried or maybe what is coming down the pike that is likely to garner local opinions?

I am personally worried about the full expansion of empowerment scholarship accounts (ESA’s) to all Arizona students and the impact on our local community. In my opinion, ESA’s are good policy for targeted student populations, for example students with disabilities and students in low-performing districts. However, what is not clear at this time is the impact of ESA’s on student academic achievement, the State’s current ability to track actual ESA spending and provide transparency to Scottsdale tax payers. I am concerned much of the good work we are doing here at SUSD could become undone with this premature expansion and negatively impact our students and community.

Sandy Kravetz

•As a governing board member, what has had your attention this summer?

Our board is focused on ensuring that each SUSD student receives an exemplary education and is college or career ready upon graduation from our district. I am excited about the rollout of the Coronado Success Initiative this summer and the participation of the school’s teachers at professional development meetings that helped them hit the ground running on the first day of school. I welcome the integration of data as one tool our teachers use to assess their students’ strengths and weaknesses, which will help them adjust classroom lessons, leading to improved outcomes.

Sandy Kravetz (photo by Josh Martinez)

Additionally, I am pleased that the refurbishment of the athletic fields at Coronado and Saguaro were completed in four months, and Chaparral’s will be ready by mid-September, all within budget. Cheyenne’s parking lot was completed and we will be breaking ground next week on the science labs and gymnasium.

Additionally, plans for the Hopi rebuild are being finalized and pre-construction fencing will be installed September 30.

•What do you expect the governing board to tackle this fall?

I look forward to focusing on our rebuilding projects for Hohokam and Pima elementary schools. Additionally, I anticipate discussions pertaining to busing efficiencies. I am hopeful that we will also have an in-depth discussion about our current open enrollment policy within the context of state open enrollment requirements.

•What are you most looking forward to the board tackling this school year?

The governing board will continue to look at how we can facilitate the educational growth of all of our students. Our district is empowering school leadership. I look forward to seeing the impact of meaningful professional development that our district administrators, and our principals – the academic leaders at each site – provide to our teachers. I am very excited about the district focus on developing teacher leaders at each school.

At one of our recent governing board meetings, Dr. Steve Nance, assistant superintendent for educational services, led a discussion about rigor, which can mean different things to different people. This definition presented during our meeting resonated with me: “Rigor is creating an environment in which each student is expected to learn at high levels, and each is supported so he/she can learn at a high level, and each student demonstrates learning at high levels.” I interpret “high level” as helping the student increase their intellectual curiosity and challenging themselves academically.

•Does the governing board have any specific goals for this school year?

As referenced earlier, our board is focused on training and developing school leadership and providing meaningful professional development for teachers across the district. We are committed to ensuring that all decisions are based upon positive impact on our students. After years of losing students to our competitors, I am heartened to know that our enrollment has stabilized.

With our renewed focus on “ensuring all individual learners reach their full potential” I am confident that SUSD schools will become the first choice for those Scottsdale families that in previous years may have enrolled elsewhere.

I support Superintendent Denise Birdwell’s communications outreach plan to meet each month with the all principals and two representatives from each school to create an ongoing dialogue about improvements and challenges within the district. Additionally, parents and community stakeholders will have 30 opportunities to meet with Dr. Birdwell at forums throughout the school year. Meetings are being held during the day and at night to accommodate parent schedules at locations across the district. The forum schedule is posted on our district website: https://www.susd.org/index.php/district-announcements/conversations-superintendent

•What has you worried or maybe what is coming down the pike that is likely to garner local opinions?

Our governing board will continue to focus on being responsive to our community and being focused on the 23,000 students in our district. Teachers, parents, and community members have been expressing their excitement and appreciation for the positive momentum of our district with its renewed focus on educational excellence. My goal is for our district to be proactive rather than reactive in identifying community concerns, which is why I will be serving on Dr. Birdwell’s Communications Committee.

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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