Perleberg: pain of transition necessary to reshape public education model

I recently saw a sign in a construction zone: “Pardon Our Dust During Construction – Today’s Pain, Tomorrow’s Gain.”

Barbara Perleberg

I could not help but think about our Scottsdale Unified School District as I read it, both literally and figuratively. Thanks to our community’s generous passage of the 2016 SUSD bond, construction projects and improvements can be seen at several of our campuses, with many more to come.

This investment in our public schools was critical and ensures our students the positive learning environments they deserve. And, while exciting things happen on the outside of our schools, even more exciting things are happening on the inside.

Scottsdale Unified School District is in one of the most significant transitions experienced in years. The environment of public education has changed, and we are changing too. For the past decade our district struggled with a lack of strong academic leadership, focus, and accountability.

Of course great things were happening in SUSD. But we were not as strong as we should have been and we were not healthy. Our teachers and principals knew it. Our parents and stakeholders knew it. All cared deeply and were working incredibly hard for our students, but we knew we were on the wrong path.

With the fresh lens of a new leadership team, our Governing Board took an honest look at the direction, academic achievement, and culture of our district. We began a journey focused on students, and found unity in the belief that it is our responsibility to ensure all individual learners reach their full potential. To succeed in this challenging environment, we must bring accountability and courage to a truly student-focused culture.

Gone are the feel-good catchphrases, replaced with the simple fact — “We Educate.”

So what does all this mean to the community we serve and that supports us? It means we are working hard to be the school district Scottsdale deserves and chooses. We have dedicated and passionate educators in SUSD growing and learning together as we raise the expectations of accountable leadership and meaningful collaboration.

We are building a culture of data and informative assessment designed to improve instruction and drive decision-making closest to the needs of each individual student. We are redefining the roles of our principals, and developing academic leadership and informed empowerment at our schools so best practices can be identified.

What do all these changes and culture shifts look like right now?

We have to be honest — in some areas, they look like a chaotic construction site. Great work is always happening, but culture shifts, raising expectations and accountability, changing practices, and adjusting philosophies is challenging and painful. With district leadership, our Governing Board has made great effort in our discussions and decision-making to draw out the plans with clarity, and we are proud to be unified in the foundations being laid.

There will always be those, however, who do not have faith in what is being built, who cannot or who refuse to see what will be there when the construction is over. The valuable input and support we do have from teachers, principals, parents, and stakeholders can sometimes be unseen in this time of hectic construction.

It is there though and it is eager. We have amazing education professionals working hard every day to build a stronger, healthier SUSD where students can thrive.

We all know that no construction project is perfect. Our district is definitely raising up a lot of dust and we have had our share of setbacks. But our doors are open, our students are learning, and I have confidence the SUSD home we are building will be better than ever.

So, please pardon our dust. Today’s pain will be Scottsdale’s gain.

Editor’s note: Ms. Perleberg is the president of the Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board

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