There will be more to write later on TUSD's budget problems, but enough has been said for now.
TUSD’s 2014 school grades (including some good news): Many individual TUSD schools maintained high grades or showed big improvements, but the overall picture was weak. Altogether 15 schools earned higher grades than in 2013 while 26 earned lower grades. One high point: Drachman and Soleng Tom outscored every elementary school in the neighboring Tanque Verde and Catalina Foothills districts.
Conflicts of interest (update): The board president’s mother-in-law, who was appointed to a principal position in June, had failed to disclose the relationship in the space on the job application meant for that purpose. Contrary to media reports in July, the only applicant who outscored the mother-in-law in both rounds of interviews had a complete set of administrator credentials.
Imminent calendar decision: Staff has presented three calendar options for 2015-16, and you can vote for your preference through October 24. The main differences between the options are (1) whether to have a long October break or a long Thanksgiving break (a shift of three days) and (2) whether to start slightly later in August or have a longer Spring break (a shift of two days).
Mythical loan to finance early learning centers: The widely reported loan to finance creation of the early learning centers never existed. The startup costs were financed entirely out of current operating funds.
TUSD report: Octoiber 11, 2014
Dear supporters and correspondents,
Unfortunately, there is serious tension among district leadership since the revelation of the budget issues raised in the media and my last two memos. When insiders disagree it can be hard for outsiders to sort out the truth. One strategy for the outsider is to highlight the facts or concrete information in each side’s statements. Sometimes there is almost nothing to highlight.
It appears to me that district leadership, comprising three board members and the superintendent, are hunkering down into a mutually defensive posture instead of addressing the genuine issues. Every case is different, but the PCC and Sunnyside boards have gone through similar cycles.
This letter covers four topics:
TUSD’s 2014 school grades, including some good news
Conflicts of interest (update)
Imminent calendar decision
Mythical loan for early learning centers
As always, this letter expresses only my own views, not those of the district or the board as a whole.
TUSD’s 2014 school grades
Summary: Many individual TUSD schools maintained high grades or showed big improvements, but the overall picture was weak. Altogether 15 schools earned higher grades than in 2013 while 26 earned lower grades. One high point: Drachman and Soleng Tom outscored every elementary school in the neighboring
Tanque Verde and Catalina Foothills districts.
Each year I create and send a table showing each TUSD school’s letter grade, as computed by the Arizona Department of Education. Some other factors affect the grades, but AIMS scores (with all their flaws) dominate the formula. This year’s table is attached to the email.
Palo Verde High School, which had a “D” several years ago, completed its rapid ascent to “A” status.
The staff and students deserve huge credit. PVHS’s current enrollment exceeds projections and is over 1,000. This should increase the richness and sustainability of its programs.
Five TUSD elementary schools jumped two grades, which is rare and deserves recognition.
Drachman jumped two grades from C to A, and Marshall, Mission View and Tolson each jumped from D to B. Congratulations to the staff and parents of these schools. Banks nearly made the same jump, climbing from a C to a B and missing an A by only one point. Johnson recovered from years of poor performance, which had led to an F rating and substantial interventions, to earn a C.
Drachman and Soleng Tom outscored every elementary school in the neighboring Tanque Verde and
Catalina Foothills districts. Drachman also beat every elementary school in the neighboring Amphi district.
Catalina High School jumped from a D to a mid-C, closer to B than to D. Central’s decision earlier this year to appoint a new principal was controversial and generated a huge volume of email to the board.
I supported the superintendent’s recommendation to make the change (a 4-1 vote, with Foster dissenting), consistent with my policy of not interfering with a superintendent’s decision to release an administrator unless there is some significant process problem (such as evidence of retaliation).
Nonetheless, the AIMS results bolster the arguments of those who opposed the change.
Despite those and some other significant successes, the overall picture is disappointing. TUSD had two years of big achievement gains under the Pedicone administration, but that trend has now ended abruptly. Among the district’s elementary and K-8 schools, 11 earned higher grades than last year but 19 earned lower grades.
Among middle schools, one earned a higher grade but six slipped to lower grades. The high schools were a bright spot, with three earning higher grades and only one declining. (I have omitted the alternative schools
from these tallies.)
You can see which schools rose and fell in the table attached to the email.
Given these results, I remain very concerned about the board’s recent decision to remove student achievement from the criteria used to evaluate the superintendent. Student achievement played no role in this year’s evaluation (which gave the superintendent 100%) and will play no role in next year’s evaluation.
The importance of a school’s principal Each year’s AIMS results underscore the importance of a school’s principal. Time after time, a leadership change produces a rapid rise or fall in a school’s performance. Enrollment often responds to those performance changes within 2-3 years.
Therefore, I still believe that Central’s most important single task is to recruit, retain, and support excellent principals. If TUSD had excellent principals at every school and focused on supporting them and their staffs, then it would do well (without $300,000 advertising campaigns).
At present, I think that Central wastes resources and unnecessarily burdens some principals by over-managing them. This has apparently contributed to several strong principals’ recent decisions to leave TUSD. If TUSD were running well, then Central would be less visible, both within TUSD and externally. Everyone would be focusing on the schools. Conflicts of interest (update).
The board president’s mother-in-law, who was appointed to a principal position in June, had failed to disclose the relationship in the space on the job application meant for that purpose. Contrary to media reports in July, the only applicant who outscored the mother-in-law in both rounds of interviews had a complete set of administrator credentials.
My July 8 letter discussed the then-new revelation that on June 24 the TUSD board had appointed Grijalva’s mother-in-law (Olga Gomez) to be a school principal. The relationship had come to light several days later, after people started to ask questions. I described unusual aspects of that appointment on July 8 and do not repeat them here, but some facts that emerged later have hardly been reported. Two are significant:
(1) A story in the Star on July 21 said that “the second-place candidate [from the second round of interviews] did not receive further consideration because she was from out of state, and on a temporary certification that was going to expire in December.” Other media provided similar accounts.
That was inaccurate. Another candidate for the position did indeed have a temporary certification, but she was not the second-ranked candidate.
The second-ranked candidate from the second round of interviews, and the only candidate to outscore Gomez in both rounds, is currently a site administrator in Arizona with a complete set of credentials. After scoring extremely well through the first two rounds of interviews, that candidate was not even invited to the final interview process with the superintendent. Only Gomez received that invitation.
(2) Ms. Gomez left blank the space on the job application for providing “TUSD Relative Information”.
Imminent calendar decision
Summary. Staff has presented three calendar options for 2015-16, and you can vote for your preference through October 24. The main differences between the options are (1) whether to have a long October break or a long Thanksgiving break (a shift of three days) and (2) whether to start slightly later in August or have a longer Spring break (a shift of two days).At the September 23 board meeting, TUSD’s calendar committee presented three options for next year’s
A link at the TUSD website (tusd.k12.az.us/contents/events_calendar survey.html) allows you to express your preference until October 24.
The board will get the results of that unscientific survey.
In 2012 the board voted unanimously to create a week-long Fall break by starting earlier in the summer. Many protested the abrupt change, and I later regretted that vote.
Among the current options, Option C has the latest start and would probably be the best for school attendance, but that is not the only issue and I am not committed to any of the three options.
Parents and employees in different situations naturally have different preferences. As part of the calendar process, I have been trying for years to end “early out” on Wednesdays and to offer professional development instead in longer blocks on occasional Fridays. These efforts have so far failed. (The board recently had two “workshop” style board meetings in which the board members rotated through tables that were well-supplied with staff coordinators, highlighters, and sticky notes. The purpose was to get board members’ input on staff-selected topics. I focused my efforts on just two points: preserving TUSD’saudit committee, which seems to be under chronic threat of elimination or marginalization, and ending “early out” on Wednesdays.
No one who has participated in similar activities will be surprised to hear that the staff summaries of the sessions omitted both points.)
There are basically two differences among the three calendar options (A, B, and C).Fall and Thanksgiving break. Some neighboring districts, including Amphitheater and Tanque Verde, have a weeklong Fall break from Oct.12-16 and the traditional two days off at Thanksgiving. Catalina Foothills follows the same pattern except that it has three days off at Thanksgiving, including the Wednesday before the holiday.
For TUSD, Option A matches Amphitheater’s breaks. Options B and C instead have only two days off for a Fall break, Oct. 9-12 (Friday through Monday), and a full week at Thanksgiving.
This would eliminate the annual attendance problem that occurs on the day before Thanksgiving. The calendar committee said that having only two days of class that week could create another attendance problem, so they proposed giving the whole week off.
Academic interventions and other optional activities could be scheduled for the early days of Thanksgiving week, just as for Fall break. Fall start date and Spring break Options A and B start classes on Thursday, August 6th in 2015, essentially continuing the current pattern. Under that pattern classes will start sometime between July 31 and August 6th every year.
Option C instead starts on Monday August 10, lengthening the summer by one weekend and eliminating another two-day week that has historically produced poor attendance.
Option C regains those two days in the Spring, by having a three-day Spring break (from the Thursday before Easter through Easter Monday) instead of a full week.
Option A: long October break early start and long Spring break
Option B: long Thanksgiving break early start and long Spring break
Option C: long Thanksgiving break later August start and short Spring break.
Mythical loan to finance early learning centers
A story in the Star on July 6 stated “While [TUSD superintendent] Sanchez originally hoped to use desegregation funds to pay for the early learning centers [at Brichta and Schumaker], the district instead took out a low-interest loan to cover start up costs. It will take four to five years to pay off the loan, unless enrollment picks up, allowing the district to pay it off sooner.”
This news has set off an ongoing string of questions about the loan and whether it was properly approved by the governing board. In fact: the loan never existed. The startup costs for the early learning centers were financed entirely out of current operating funds.