Scottsdale Schools faces reality of Coronado complex struggles

Coronado High School is at 7501 E. Virginia Ave. (File photo)

Coronado High School has for a long time been one of the lowest, if not worst performing schools in the Scottsdale Unified School District.

A recent study showed only 38 percent of its graduates are ready for college and even worse, only 28 percent have taken courses or even have a grade point average that shows they could be successful in college.

But all that’s about to change.

During a Jan. 12 Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board study session, Superintendent Dr. Denise Birdwell and Dr. Cecilia Johnson announced plans for the Coronado Success Initiative — a project meant to overhaul the school, improve its education and better prepare its students for college success.

According to Dr. Birdwell, statistics show Coronado is in need of immediate attention:

  • In the past year only two Coronado students took the ACT test;
  • 25 students took the SAT test;
  • 12 students took an AP exam;
  • 29 students are enrolled in an AP course.

The district set its sights on improving Coronado after Dr. Birdwell began using data to evaluate each school in the district. Last spring, two schools were consolidated to offer a better educational experience to the students.

Dr. Birdwell and district staff have been working with the Scottsdale Charros and Arizona State University to come up with a plan of action to get hundreds of students on track to be career or college ready.

Coronado has less than 1,100 students and has the lowest attendance of any of the district’s high school. The school employs 40 teachers who will be choosing between staying at Coronado and going through an interview process to re-evaluate their position or, taking a position elsewhere in the district.

Coronado will also be installing a new principal after Alyssa Tarkington has reportedly resigned.

Dr. Birdwell hopes there will be 40 teachers within the entire district who want to take on a two-to-three-year commitment in order to turn around the school.

“We embarked on a project that doesn’t necessarily come with nice clean answers,” said Dr. Birdwell.

“What we’re really talking about is creating a design process that comes together, and turning that over to the experts in this field to say what could we be? What would the students like to be? What would the parents like to be? What do the teachers dream of their school being?”

Nine groups of stakeholders will convene  for a “community conversation” Jan. 21 at SkySong, the ASU Scottsdale Innovation Center.

The journey

The Coronado Success Initiative will hit the ground next month with its first round of teacher interviews. Every current staff member, however, has been guaranteed an SUSD position, according to Dr. Birdwell.

There will be no impact to classified or administrative staff.

The district will present the initiative to other schools Jan. 17-27, before beginning the SUSD internal application process Jan. 28-Feb. 3.

Interviews will be scheduled Feb. 6-17 for all SUSD staff who apply for a position at Coronado.

The interview process, says Dr. Birdwell, is to ensure the certified staff at Coronado is highly qualified, properly certified and willing to use technology among other qualifications.

Asking educators to revamp and rebuild a failing school using the most modern technology and techniques is a tall order — and one that not every teacher might want to embrace.

But district officials feel the end result will be worthwhile to students and teachers.

“We are giving teachers an opportunity to be a part of something that we think is going to be amazing for students,” said Dr. Birdwell.

In addition to the teacher’s annual contract, an addendum with a $3,500 per semester stipend is being offered to the teachers who sign up for a job at Coronado.

The new parameters for the proposed plan would require teachers to have a work day defined outside their SEA agreement; working two Saturdays or two evenings for tutoring each quarter; attending Saturday teacher training; and return to work two weeks early in the summer for boot camp style workshops.

“We want to make sure we have the right people on the bus to take on such a significant process,” said Dr. Birdwell.
Coronado High School assignments will be announced Feb. 24 and remaining vacancies will be posted externally on Feb. 27.

“For those teachers who choose not to be a part of this journey, I know we have a place for them. I know Scottsdale continues to have an opportunity to contract them. No one loses a job.”

Dr. Birdwell says the extra support and training to those who teach at Coronado — much of it provided by Arizona State University — is a “once-in-a-lifetime” opportunity.

“For a teacher to have this experience, this training and this support … we’re going to produce 40 outstanding teachers,” she said.

An additional piece of the puzzle will be the use of student teachers from ASU’s Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College. Dr. Birdwell’s goal is to have one student teacher in each classroom.

Associate Dean of Scholarship and Professor at the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College Punya Mishra said the school is excited to be involved in the project.

“The way to tackle wicked problems like that, is by bringing a variety of voices and people together and that’s sort of the process we want to start, starting on the 21st,” said Mr. Mishra.

Mr. Mishra said there are 78 ASU teaching students signed up to attend the community conversation at SkySong.

“There are moments in your career where you say I feel like I’ve made a difference,” said Dr. Birdwell. “And this is going to be one of them, because I really, really believe in my heart, the end result will be amazing for kids and that’s what we’re in the business for.”

Student goals

Dr. Birdwell is quick to admit she doesn’t know what the final design of the initiative will look like, but it will be beneficial for all CHS students.

The project will prepare students for success in post-secondary opportunities and provide the tools needed to define and achieve personal success.

Dr. Birdwell briefly touched on the technology she would like teachers to use to provide grades and information for students and teachers.

“We will make sure they have a laptop, make sure they take attendance, and have grades updated weekly for students so students are tracking and empowered in their own learning,” she explained.

“They have a website that the parent can go to and see who you are as a teacher, and what lessons you’re teaching. The assignments are there for students who miss school so they can go online and still see their assignment.”

The governing board will hear more about the plan at its 5 p.m. Jan. 17 regular governing board meeting at Coronado High School, 7501 E. Virginia Ave., Scottsdale.

“What’s really amazing is you’ve shined a flashlight on a reality, and you said what are the opportunities,” said Governing Board Member Kim Hartmann. “That’s courageous leadership.”

Governing Board President Barbara Perleberg also acknowledged the gratitude behind finally working on an issue impacting a large chunk of its district.

“This was a community that everyone just kind of said ‘it’s good enough, it’s fine,’” said Ms. Perleberg.

“And for everyone to come in and for teachers to accept the challenge and told they’re going to work a lot harder to make it right, it is incredible for our district. Thank you all.”

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

You are encouraged to leave relevant comments but engaging in personal attacks, threats, online bullying or commercial spam will not be allowed. All comments should remain within the bounds of fair play and civility. You can disagree with others courteously, without being disagreeable. Feel free to express yourself but keep an open mind toward finding value in what others say. To report abuse or spam, click the arrow in the upper right corner of the comment box.

Facebook Comment