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Sunday, August 19, 2018

Legislature Endorses Bill for State Oversight of Roosevelt School District

The Arizona Legislature has endorsed a bill that would allow the state to oversee the 12,467-pupil Roosevelt School District, which has chronically failed to perform on Arizona Learns and the state’s report card.


House Bill 2711,which has yet to reach the governor’s desk, targets districts that receive below-average or failing labels on half or more of its schools. The law would also give the state board the power to hire a superintendent for three years. During that time, the new superintendent would be in charge of hiring and firing and answering to the state board instead of the governing school boards.


Seven Roosevelt schools dropped below average and four received failing labels on Arizona Learns in 2007. Brooks Academy, Cesar E. Chavez Community, Sierra Vista and T.G. Barr, fell below average for the third year in a row. The state will begin to oversee the schools in July. But other schools need help, too, said Tom Horne, Arizona superintendent of Public Instruction.


In a report to citizens of the RSD in January, Horne mentioned that one of the reasons for the state takeover of school leadership is that Roosevelt’s per pupil funding is $8,000 compared to the statewide average of $6,000. For the past three years, the district has received nearly $90 million in state and federal assistance. In addition, it mentions that the overwhelming consensus is that the board’s harmful interference in district operations is the number one reason nothing gets done well in the district. District staff, community members and parents also state in the report that the board’s decisions are based on race, personal favors or personal vendettas and that many district staff are afraid of the board’s retaliation.


A recent update to the bill involves an amendment that will appoint a 15-member community advisory committee. According to Sen. Leah Landrum Taylor, “the number of members was increased from three (suggested by the South Mountain Laveen Chamber of Commerce to take the initial steps that the current bill requires the replacement superintendent to take once the receivership is in place) to 15 in order to be more reflective of the community.” According to the amendment, “at least a majority of the members of the committee shall reside within the boundaries of the school district found to have systemic educational mismanagement.” It also states that “The State Board of Education shall consider the superintendent’s quarterly progress reports and input from the community advisory committee.”


Martin Jones, chairman of the Education Committee for the South Mountain Laveen Chamber of Commerce, has reluctantly decided to remain neutral on HB 2711, but he said he has two major concerns with the proposed school district receivership bill. The first is that there is no meaningful opportunity for the community to be involved in the efforts to improve the schools. He said his second concern is that there is no exit strategy that requires the state to return control of the school district to the community at any time.


“The State Department of Education has already taken over Conchos school (in the RSD) and there has been no perceptible improvement in the performance of those students,” said Jones. “And yet, the only solution our elected leaders will support is a complete takeover of the school district by the state.”


Horne and Landrum Taylor have both pointed to the Alhambra School District as the model that RSD should strive to emulate. In addition, Jones said Dr. Kay Hunnicutt, a professor from Arizona State University, who is an advisor to the SMLCC board, also uses Alhambra as the shining example of how a school district should work, but what makes Alhambra work so well is the partnerships the schools and the school district have forged with the community.


Based on Hunnicutt’s research, Jones said teachers at Alhambra are able to spend the vast majority of their time teaching, because all other issues are dealt with and managed by the community in partnership with the school district and the individual schools’ management teams. In RSD, he said school district management spends so much time dealing with issues other than education that the teachers have not received the support they need or the supervision they require. And yet, the school district receivership bill effectively eliminates the community from participation in the management of the school district. HB 2711, as written, takes RSD away from the vital community/school partnerships that have made Alhambra so successful.


According to Mark Dowling, District Superintendent, “Roosevelt is making progress indicative of a healthy district with an increase from 34 to 55 percent for third grade reading, and 46 to 52 percent for third grade math between 2005 and 2007. The district is working hard to increase the quality of instruction by providing training for hundreds of teachers this June. Over 400 teachers will be participating in two four-day workshops.”


He mentions that the systems were not aligned as far as assessments, instruction and curriculum. The district has clear standards for teachers to meet in nine areas of instruction. Three of these nine areas include high levels of student engagement, culture of caring and respect in classroom, and using student friendly language for objective of lessons.


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