Dr. Krista Anderson had singular focus when she became an educator.
“I love to know I’m making an impact on children,” said Dr. Anderson, superintendent of the Apache Junction Unified School District.
That impact was recognized Thursday when Anderson was named Superintendent of the Year for medium size school districts by the Arizona School Administrators organization. The award was given out during a conference held by the ASA and the Arizona School Boards Association.
“I was very excited to get the call sharing that I was Superintendent of the Year,” Dr. Anderson said. “I guess what it means to me is the fact over the past three years we have worked very hard to move Apache Junction School District towards improved student learning and improved systems. We’re working together instead of against each other.”
Dr. Anderson was named AJUSD’s superintendent in July 2017. She immediately began working with students, staff members, city leaders and people in the community to develop a strategic plan for the district. AJUSD did not have a strategic plan in place prior to her arrival.
Dr. Anderson also purchased new curriculum materials for the district that were aligned to state standards; the old materials had been in use for more than 15 years.
“I’m really proud of the work we’ve done in our educational services department,” Dr. Anderson said. “We’ve been able to put in strong professional development for our teachers, we’ve been able to purchase curriculum materials that are grade-level, they are aligned to state standards and we started to see that success academically.
“It wasn’t drastic but we’ve been seeing some uptick in that area so I’m extremely proud about that. I’m also proud of the team we’ve pulled together, be it the administrative team as well as the team of staff and teachers that are across the district. We’re really being very conscious of raising the standards of what we want to see in our classroom, and it starts with having a very strong team to make that happen,” she said.
Dr. Anderson admitted she had to grow into the job. Although she had been an educator for 24 years prior to being named AJUSD’s superintendent — and in leadership roles for 20 years — she always had been a piece of the puzzle. Now she was putting the puzzle together.
“It wasn’t too far off from what I had expected,” Dr. Anderson said. “However the complexities of the position were more than I had anticipated. Also, the political component of the position. When you’re a few steps down on the chain you don’t necessarily see all the political complexities that are sitting in front of you.
“From roles of being an associate superintendent to director of curriculum for special education, you’re focused on one aspect, and then when you walk into this role, it’s, ‘OK, what is our maintenance department doing? What is our finance department doing? How about our educational services department? How do all those pieces and parts intertwine with each other so we become an efficient organization and move it forward?”
Jodi Ehrlich, outgoing president of the AJUSD governing board, credited Dr. Anderson for establishing a vision for the district, core values and goals with specific performance indicators used to measure the achievement of those goals. She also praised Dr. Anderson’s work within the city of Apache Junction and Pinal County.
“She has cultivated relationships across our community, including city and county leaders as well as many community organizations,” Ms. Ehrlich said. “She is committed not only to our students, but our staff and their success in our community. Dr. Anderson in conjunction with her leadership team have worked tirelessly to improve the opportunities and education the students in our district receive. She and her team are well-deserving of this award.”
Dr. Anderson said she enjoys working in a smaller school district like Apache Junction. Three elementary schools — Peralta Trail, Four Peaks and Desert Vista — feed into Cactus Canyon Junior High School, and Cactus Canyon feeds into Apache Junction High School.
“It’s quite refreshing,” Dr. Anderson said. “You can really have that cohesive unit and that is really appealing to me.”
The next step for AJUSD, Dr. Anderson said, is to make its schools attractive educational options as the city of Apache Junction continues to grow.
“So when I look at this community and I look at this district, what I would like for our community to see is we’re special,” she said. “We’re really this unique opportunity to be that community family school. Somewhere along the line 20 years from now when this land is all developed we’re going to be a very large school district.
“But right now let’s cherish what we have. Let’s build on what we have. Let’s commit to the children of this community. Let’s do better for this community to grow and strive for greater heights.”
No matter how much AJUSD grows, Dr. Anderson’s mission will not change.
“I have a vision of what I want from this district,” she said. “It’s not moving as quickly as I’d like, but I also know what we’re doing is great for kids, and I will always hold onto the fact I’ve chosen this profession to make a difference in children’s lives.”
Editor’s note: Scott Bordow is the director of communications and community engagement for Apache Junction Unified School District.