Scottsdale Schools leadership uses AzMERIT results to inspire goal-making


Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board members, from left are Barbara Perleberg,
Pam Kirby, Kim Hartmann, Allyson Beckham and Sandy Kravetz.

The Scottsdale Unified School District’s elected leaders and top officials are continuing their efforts to show parents and the community that meaningful change is happening within their buildings.

The theme echoed inside the Governing Board room since last spring includes personal growth, goal setting and implementing successful processes and procedures.

From purchasing new laptops for every teacher to implementing new programs to better monitor student achievement, myriad small and large changes have taken place that SUSD officials say are to better assist students and teachers. Changes haven’t only been limited to physical items, as the teachers, students and the elected leaders alike are establishing goals and eying personal growth.

At a Sept. 12 regular meeting held at Coronado High School, 7501 E. Virginia Ave., the Governing Board shed light on the roles they take on behind-the-scenes that is leading to success at their dais.

Governing Board members have, at one time or another over the last several weeks, explained to those who attend district meetings they are doing all they can to make Scottsdale Schools better.

The annual state assessment — Arizona’s Measurement of Educational Readiness to Inform Teaching — has been a driving force behind the district’s cascading goal plan, reinforced by in-depth data for each of SUSD’s 23,000 learners through an assessment program called SchoolCity purchased by the district last year.

Not all changes have been met with excitement, as a constant stream of teachers and community members use the allotted public comment portion of regular board meetings to voice their concern or opposition. The Sept. 12 regular meeting was no exception, and one SUSD parent and teacher, Bert te Velde, asked why he doesn’t hear the board asking a lot of questions any longer.

“I miss the tough questioning that we used to hear from you in meetings. I’m not alone in this,” Mr. te Velde said. “How about following up on the question?”

Ultimately, members of the Governing Board say, the questions that used to be left for the dais are now answered prior to a meeting.

“I just wanted to acknowledge that sometimes the observation is ‘the board doesn’t have a lot of comment,’ well that’s because there’s a lot that goes on behind-the-scenes,” Governing Board member Kim Hartmann said during the meeting.

Kim Hartmann

Ms. Hartmann and Governing Board member Allyson Beckham say they recently spent a couple of hours with SUSD Chief Financial Officer Laura Smith, while Board member Sandy Kravetz and Ms. Kirby tackle data.

“This is a working board who takes its roles very seriously and helps us communicate to the public,” Dr. Birdwell noted.

In agreement, Ms. Kirby says she can see the Governing Board operating slightly differently than in years past because the information she hears from administration is proving to be in place, and working.

“The difference is I can pick up the phone and ask Ms. Smith a question about a presentation we’re going to see publicly in three days, or ask Dr. McCaughley a question,” she said. “So when I get here on the dais, and we have the presentation on the goals — I’ve heard it before, I’ve seen it in action, it’s being consistently understood and applied through the district. Therefore, as I sit up here as a board member, I don’t have as many questions as I might have had in a time prior. In a previous life.”

Ms. Kirby says the board’s success is from the collaboration between the five women.

“I know Ms. Beckham and Ms. Hartmann — I know they’re passionate, I’m passionate too,” she said. “We as a board collaborate as well. That’s where I step back and say ‘they’re going to ask all the questions that need to be asked, I trust them to push, and push and push.’ It’s different, I will acknowledge it is different, but it doesn’t mean it’s failing. It’s actually functioning at a much higher level.”

For Ms. Perleberg, the changes are making for one happy Governing Board president, she says.

“A few years ago when I first got on the board, it was true, I always asked a lot of questions — continue to,” said Ms. Perleberg. “What the toughest question to get answered was what do our students on an individual level know, what do they not know and what are we going to do about it? To sit here today, years later, and to feel like we are finally going in a direction in this district at every level where we are answering those questions, that is the focus I’m very happy to finally have.”

Growth for all

The Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board revisited last year’s newly released AzMERIT results to get a deeper look, during the Sept. 12 regular meeting.

Assistant Superintendent of Accountability and Instruction Dr. Anna McCauley presented the Governing Board comparative trends of top performing school districts in 2017 using the state assessment results.

Dr. Anna McCauley

Dr. McCauley first presented AzMERIT results to the governing board on Aug. 15, where overall SUSD students are incrementally improving in their reading, writing and math skills, she says.

AzMERIT, replaced the former Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards, or AIMS tests in 2015.

Dr. McCauley broke down data to show math and English Language Arts results by district.

In math, results show SUSD remained static for 2015 and 2016, but moved up three spots in 2017. In English Language Arts, SUSD inclemently moved up each year. Dr. McCaughley’s data shows Catalina Foothills, Vail, Higley and Cave Creek school districts leading the pack for both subjects.

A full presentation showing comparisons by school can be found at

Through “Data Lightening Rounds,” Dr. McCauley says she and her team are filtering the information down to each site level.

“The first thing we do is get the big picture of the results and start our insight-seeking quest,” she explained. “We look at proficiency level distributions, and growth, and start thinking about what we could target for improvement.”

The district administrators are using resources to establish goals and drill down to individual students’ trends, and to assist administrators and teachers.

“These also provide the opportunity for principals to ask for advice and share their innovative plans for the year,” Dr. McCauley said of the Data Lightening Rounds. “And then the opportunity for mutual intellectual development between site leaders, Casey, and me, and we all learn and grow together.”

Dr. Birdwell says the district leadership and Governing Board worked together to identify the reason they exist as an organization.

“The only way to make sure all individual learners reach their full potential is to have data that helps you isolate the needs of every child, to inform the teacher, to improve learning,” Dr. Birdwell said. “That’s really what we work on.”

The first step to develop leaders on the campus, Dr. Birdwell says, is to find the right people.

“We start with those instructional leaders, the principals, but we also built levels of leaders in the schools this year,” she said.

The development of instructional leaders includes data meetings, school walk-throughs, informal and formal data gathering and creating a data room in each school. Instructional systems put in place include supporting teachers, professional development, curriculum, instruction and assessment management and increasing rigor.

“Our district team is committed to aligning the curriculum, instruction and assessment,” she explained. “The district is not writing this and handing it down. The district is inviting grade-level teachers to come in and look at the standards and look at the alignment, and work together to raise the bar, because the bar is too low in Scottsdale right now.”

The superintendent explained that there is a district-wide goal, with school goals underneath, followed by individual teacher goals. “Overall growth for all,” is what Dr. Birdwell is aiming for she says.

“When we get really good at it, every student in every class for every teacher should have an academic goal for that class. Then we’ve layered our learning opportunities,” Dr. Birdwell says.

“We know by research that when a student has a goal in front of them and they’re tracking their own learning, they tend to do better.”

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

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