Since starting my term as Scottsdale Unified School District’s Governing Board president, it has been my goal to improve communication between our district and our broader community.
In addition to my monthly reports to the community, I will provide our community with mid-year and end-of-year reports highlighting the board’s and administration’s key work over the previous six months.
As SUSD concludes the 2020-21 academic year and begins celebrating its 125th anniversary, our school board and administration continue to focus on ways to improve academic outcomes and educational opportunities, internal operations, and student satisfaction. Over the past six months, the board and administration have undertaken exciting initiatives important to achieving these goals and securing the district’s long-term success.
Providing our students with the best in educational materials is integral to ensuring they are equipped with the necessary tools to thrive. As part of the district’s curriculum update plan, the board adopted new instructional materials for our 6th through 12th grade English Language Arts, Advanced Placement (AP) Literature, AP Language, AP Psychology, and International Baccalaureate Theory of Knowledge courses.
The board also reviewed the work of SUSD’s Special Education Task Force (SETF). In particular, the board focused on areas of growth, the SETF’s short- and long-term objectives to improve our special education services, the potential for internal audits, and what additional support is needed to ensure that all of our students are receiving the education they deserve.
In June, the board reviewed academic benchmarks, including analyzing CogAT, AzM2, and ACT scores. Using new assessment tools like iReady, the board was informed that roughly 16% of SUSD 8th grade students are performing three or more grade levels below where they should be.
The board also learned that according to preliminary AzM2 data, only 60% and 66% of third grade students tested as “proficient” in English Language Arts and Math, respectively, and only 43% of SUSD students taking the ACT meet college-readiness benchmarks.
Results varied across SUSD’s demographics and will require closer analysis for equity in education. Although SUSD students outperformed both state and national averages for all exams reviewed, there is room for growth. These results are a starting point for the district’s work to improve academic achievement.
The social and emotional well-being of our students is as important as their academic outcomes. Many of our students have faced adverse childhood experiences, especially during COVID-19.
Beginning this summer, SUSD is expanding the use of FastBridge as an academic screener to fourth and fifth grades, and will use it as a social emotional learning (SEL) screener for kindergarten through 12th grades. This allows our highly trained staff to identify students who might require additional academic and social emotional support so we can help meet their needs.
The district has lowered its student-to-counselor ratio to 375:1 (the state average is 881:1). SUSD has also received funding from the Arizona Department of Education, allowing us to hire an additional 22 school social workers, ensuring that every school has social work support in the coming school year.
The district initiated a strategic planning process in February. Applications to join the committee were open to all staff and community members, with 40 individuals chosen from all five SUSD Learning Communities.
In June, the committee completed Phase 1, gaining unanimous board approval of SUSD’s new Vision, Mission, and Values statements. Our shared, aspirational Vision is for SUSD to “engage all students in world-class, future-focused learning.” Phase 2 begins in August and will establish SUSD’s measurable strategic goals.
In June, the board approved internal auditing policies and will form an internal audit committee to oversee audits. Earlier, the board signed an agreement with the Scottsdale’s City Auditor to conduct internal audits for SUSD, starting with the Hohokam Elementary School campus rebuild.
While this internal audit has not been finalized, the city auditor has already provided SUSD with suggestions that will lead to cost savings on our remaining rebuild projects. More generally, internal audits will increase funds available for our classrooms and increase district transparency, accountability, and efficiency in the spending of taxpayer dollars.
SUSD is also continuing lease negotiations with Phoenix Rising FC, which is interested in leasing the former grounds of Tonalea Elementary School for its youth soccer program. The organization would develop a public fitness path and playground, renovate the remaining school building for community use, and restore its student mural.
Due to sound financial planning and increased federal support, SUSD is able to carry forward $15 million into the next school year to help pay for educational programs and student services.
School bond projects
The board began finalizing construction contracts with McCarthy Building Companies for construction services at Kiva Elementary School. Current plans aim to complete the entire school rebuild by August 2022. The board also approved the Visioning Committee process for the rebuild/remodel of Pueblo Elementary School and construction projects at Tavan Elementary School.
These projects will give current and future SUSD students an excellent environment in which to learn, make friends, and grow.
The board provided a 4% raise to teachers and hourly staff, a 2% raise to principals and other site administrators, and a 1.5% raise for other administrative personnel.
The board also approved a signing payment worth up to $1,000 for each full-time employee in order to help retain our talented staff after a very difficult year.
Marketing and community outreach
In addition to focusing on improving academic achievement and student outcomes, the district has formed a Marketing and Communications Committee. Despite being a top district in Arizona, SUSD has experienced a decade of declining enrollment that we will reverse. By showcasing our amazing programs, students, and staff, we are confident we can rebuild enrollment at SUSD.
The board has also focused on improving the way in which the district forms committees, in order to increase parent participation and include a diverse range of views.
To do so, SUSD has created a webpage on which all current district committees are listed (www.susd.org/Committees).
Members of the public can volunteer to serve on committees with open positions and learn more about our various committees’ work using the link above. The district is also doing more to advertise open positions to parents through weekly email updates and social media posts.
Editor’s Note: Jann-Michael Greenburg is president of the Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board.