Scottsdale Schools: many great personnel, mostly poorly led and managed

SUSD lacks strategic direction, uncertain how it fits into the new competitive K-12 environment. Should it compete head-to-head with BASIS, Great Hearts, or continue to try and be everything to everyone? Should it share/rent campuses to competitors? What are its significant competitive advantages and disadvantages?

Loyd Eskildson

Loyd Eskildson

SUSD also lacks goals for improving pupil achievement or parental satisfaction — despite decades of growing parental dissatisfaction over academic achievement, classroom discipline, and access to gifted programs, the loss of thousands of pupils to competing charter and private schools, and an estimated $50 million funding reduction next year attributable to the loss of those pupils. The district has done little to stem these losses – other than complain.

The district also wastes tens of millions on overhead (eg. assistant elementary principals, certified librarians instead of clerks, increasing central office staff), building/maintaining excessive facilities, providing an hour/day for ‘teacher planning’ at lower grade levels, paying lower-grade teachers on the same basis as high-school STEM teachers, and rewarding staff with very little, if any, regard to pupil achievement or parental satisfaction.

Absent a realistic vision, goals, and objective measurement of achievement, there is also no real accountability for SUSD staff, administrators, or its board.

How can that be? SUSD regularly uses state-mandated tests to assess pupil progress? However, those state-mandated tests were Arizona-developed and are very difficult to use for comparing SUSD/Arizona with education in other states and nations. Worse yet, historically they’ve been continually modified — making even year-to-year comparisons difficult.

Arizona standards and achievement levels have historically been lower than national standards/achievement levels, and U.S. achievement levels are below the average for economically-developed nations! Thus, SUSD’s (barely) ‘A’ rating from the Arizona Department of Education would likely be a ‘D’ in nations that are our strongest economic competitors.

SUSD leaders have claimed we needn’t/shouldn’t compare SUSD with Shanghai, South Korea, Japan, Singapore, etc. ‘The international math tests emphasize rote memorization,’ ‘they have more dropouts and exempted pupils,’ and ‘we have a special poverty problem.’ These excuses, however, don’t stand up to objective scrutiny.

SUSD, unfortunately, is also implicitly teaching other lessons and values.

That goal-free wandering is ‘good management,’ waiting years before taking competitive action is good leadership, having numerous excuses and blaming competitors for self-created problems is good strategy, ignoring the global economy that SUSD pupils will confront is good preparation for life, that it’s OK to make decisions without prioritization, that SUSD is ‘different’ — and need not pay attention to ‘best practices’ and research findings, that having high-expectations doesn’t apply to public schools, evading accountability is preferable career-wise to achieving excellence, that SUSD leaders have no ethical obligations to the community, and that increasing parental satisfaction/involvement is less important than maintaining/increasing staff satisfaction/convenience.

New superintendent — still no sense of urgency, focus.

Giving SUSD more money won’t stop SUSD’s downward spiral — that’s caused by poor leadership and management. Good leadership and management, however, will improve parental satisfaction, pupil retention, and finances – thereby also benefiting its personnel.

Editor’s note: Mr. Eskildson is a Scottsdale resident and retired education professional

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