Scottsdale Independent

Kirby: ‘rather than wallow over controversy I choose to embrace it’

Shortly after his re-election victory in 2004, President George W. Bush sought reforms to the nation’s Social Security funding and programs. Most people recognize that, at some point, such changes are likely to be necessary.

Pam Kirby

But the mood in the country then wasn’t the same as the appetite in the White House. Consequently, the effort failed. I make this point to be illustrative about the rancor in the Scottsdale School District today.

We live in a democracy not an autocracy. Change, and I believe much is necessary to best serve our students and compete in a state of school choice, requires buy-in from those we serve.

It’s fair to say that when I was first elected to the school board I was not a fan of the “status quo” culture that existed in SUSD.  As someone with a background in the private sector I found the vision to be flat, and lacking. Test scores were declining.  Students were leaving for charter and private schools. Some schools were in serious decline. There was a general apathy that I found to be unacceptable.

Fundamentally, I thought we needed to make a change to articulate that our schools can and should be the “ultimate choice” when it comes to where parents put their children. After all, our district has much to offer.

I am in a hurry to create the best possible environment and best possible results for our students. It’s fair to say I am impatient in this regard.

Yet, as I witness the rancor swirling around our district it’s clear we need to take a breath. You see, the passion of our parents, even when I may disagree with some, is ultimately our district’s strength. Apathy is a death sentence for any business, entity or school district.  Passion is just the opposite, and most often leads to progress.

It is in this spirit I offer the following way forward, out of the current vitriol to a more peaceful place we can all better work together for the change, incremental and otherwise, that will propel our students.

Superintendent Birdwell has lost the confidence in the community, and me. It pains me to say as she is someone I have worked closely with. But we are here to serve the people and it is incumbent on the board to find a way forward.

At the next board meeting, I will introduce a motion to recommend her dismissal consistent with all applicable state law and district policy. I am pleased to report that we have appointed an Acting Superintendent, Dr. Amy Fuller, who has been responsible for the important, necessary progress at Coronado High School.

To continue to move toward the more positive place I am talking about we need more parental involvement, not less.

To this end I am suggesting a new Scottsdale school planning commission, a 9-member board to serve much as a Planning Commission in a city. Major decisions brought to the school board would first be vetted by the new citizen’s group. I propose its composition be comprised of school principal appointed representatives in the north, middle and southern portions of our district.

If this kind of construct for citizen involvement can well serve cities and town councils let’s give it a try for our school board.

We can’t let what has become a controversial messenger, our superintendent, get in the way of the message. And, that message is that we must ensure all learners reach their full potential in our school district. To accomplish such some change has been and is needed. Also needed is cooperation with our teachers and major stakeholders. I do believe the sizable majority of our residents think we need to undertake more reform and innovation to ensure the best possible environment and academic achievement for all of our students.

We are already seeing results of the recent reforms that have been instituted. For example, after 10 years of decline, academic scores are rising across our district. Our students are being enriched with more foreign language classes, more honors classes and more programs to address the diverse needs of our students. For example, with sound planning and leadership in place, Coronado High School is making great strides.

We are proud to report that, this year, every graduating senior has applied for college. Additionally, just this week, 200 juniors took the ACT exam compared to just 13 juniors last year. That’s progress. Great progress.

We need to continue on this path, albeit in a less rancorous way, than revert to the old way of doing things. We can all debate whether this means a dress code for teachers or whether they should have to reapply for their jobs at struggling schools. However, we should not shy away from the commitment to focus on individual student needs rather than a one size fits all approach to educating students. We must never find acceptable what was taking place at Coronado High School in past years.

Finally, I mentioned passion. Our parents have it. Our district is largely blessed with financial resources many other districts do not have. So, let’s use it. Let’s propose a measure for our voters to consider that will make our Scottsdale district the one with the highest paid teachers in the state. If we need to make changes in state law that would allow this to happen, then that is a fight our district should undertake.

Rather than wallow over controversy I choose to embrace it. For a moment of renewed collaboration. To change crisis into opportunity. To wage all out peace for the benefit of our students not all out war that will do little to advance all this is good about our parents, schools and teachers.

My door is open. My hand is extended.  Let’s get to work, together, for the betterment of our teachers, schools and students.

Editor’s note: Ms. Kirby is a Town of Paradise Valley resident and member of the Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board