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SUSD ISSUES

POOR ACADEMIC RESULTS

SUSD academic results have been declining for a number of years.  Even before COVID, results were disappointing.  See "Academic Performance" at the top of the Home page (Home) and see additional statistics at Academic Stats

For a city like Scottsdale---its size, socioeconomics, demographics, etc.---these academic results are simply unacceptable.

LACK OF FOCUS ON ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT

  • NOT “KEEPING THE MAIN THING THE MAIN THING”.
    • The main job of SUSD is to educate our students.  To teach them “Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic” as the old saying goes.  In recent years other topics, such as Social Emotional Learning; Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; social justice; etc. have taken up more and more classroom time. While these certainly have their place in developing well-rounded young people, they are not the top priority of a school system.  Looking at SUSD's declining academic results it seems that too much time is being spent on these “ancillary” topics and not enough time on “the main thing”….. getting students to grade level in English, Math, etc.
  • DISTRICT’S VISION AND MISSION STATEMENTS DON’T ADDRESS ACADEMIC ACHIEVEMENT
    • The new Vision and Mission statements approved for SUSD in 2021 do not address academic achievement. 
      •  Vision Statement (What SUSD aspires to be):  "Engaging all students in world-class future focused learning"
        •  A student sitting in a classroom all day could be "engaged" in learning, but are they in fact learning?
      •  Mission Statement (Why SUSD exists):  "We inspire, motivate, and empower all to think critically, act collaboratively, and embrace diversity for a life of intellectual exploration, community engagement, and personal growth."                 
    • Where is the word "educate"? How does one measure any of these things?    
  • THE SCOTTSDALE PARENT COUNCIL HAS NO COMMITTEE ON ACADEMICS
    • The Scottsdale Parent Council serves as a liaison between Scottsdale Unified School District families, District leadership, and staff.   It's Mission is "to advocate for the highest quality of education for all students attending schools in SUSD. SPC was formed to advocate for the educational needs of all students."   Yet SPC has four active committees:  Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion; Social Responsibility; Special Education; and Gifted.  There is no committee that addresses overall academic excellence for all SUSD students, the primary job of SUSD.

RESISTANCE TO ACCOUNTABILITY MEASURES

From what I’ve seen, there are relatively few specific goals set, and those that are are not particularly aggressive. There appears to be resistance to setting specific, aggressive, measurable metrics of academic achievement, and holding personnel accountable for achieving them.  This includes often downplaying standardized tests for both students and staff.  

  • LACK OF AGGRESSIVE GOALS
  • A goal recently established for spending Federal COVID dollars was to improve ACT college readiness from 43% to 48% between 2021 and 2022.  Among the approximately 1800 students who took the ACT this means increasing college readiness for 90 students. If evenly divided across our 5 high schools (which they're likely not) that’s improving ACT scores---even by just one point--- for 18 students per high school.  Not a very aggressive target.
  • NO, OR WEAK, ACADEMIC GOALS IN THE SUPERINTENDENT'S BONUS PAY PLAN
  • Last year (2020-2021) only 25% of the Superintendent's responsibilities were “ensuring students are achieving at high levels”, and there were no expected levels of achievement specified.  45% of his responsibilities were to conduct various types of town hall meetings!
  • This was improved for 2021-2022, with academic achievement being 55% of his responsibilities, and some specific numerical targets being specified (noted as "Statistically significant improvement"). I was the only Governing Board candidate to call for ANY academic accountability metrics in this new performance pay plan. (See Articles & Videos, SUSD Governing Board Regular Meeting 11/30/2021). 
  • However, the Governing Board in its March 2022 meeting extended the Superintendent's contract for three years without waiting to see what this year's standardized test results were, or whether he accomplished the academic goals they set forth for him in his performance pay plan.  Why set goals if you're not going to hold the Superintendent accountable for achieving them?  (See Articles & Videos, SUSD Governing Board Regular Meeting 14/26/22). 
  • NO MEASURABLE METRICS ARE IDENTIFIED  IN THE DISTRICT'S NEW STRATEGIC PLAN
  •  Phases 1 and 2, which took almost a year to complete, do not contain measurable academic metrics.  These are planned for Phase 3, due by June 28, 2022 (18 months).
  • THE GOVERNING BOARD, SUPERINTENDENT, AND ADMINISTRATORS TEND TO DOWNPLAY STANDARDIZED TESTING AS A MEASURE OF STUDENT AND STAFF PERFORMANCE. 
    • See "Articles and Videos" for a discussion of 2021-2022 mid-year assessments (3/22/22 Board Meeting)  and a letter from the Superintendent to employees about standardized testing (4/21/22). 
    •  SUSD Assessment and Accountability Director, Dr. Cynthia Bochna, stated that standardized test results are not used as part of a teacher’s performance evaluation (Scottsdale Parent Council presentation April 20, 2022).  Rather classroom observations are the primary source of information used to evaluate teachers. 

 

PARENTAL RIGHTS AND TRANSPARENCY
  • Time spent on race, gender, sexuality, social justice, equity, etc. is negatively impacting academic results---the number one responsibility of our schools.
  • There have been gender, sexual, political, and racial events, surveys, assignments, and personnel incidents within SUSD. (See SUSD Incidents

 

DECREASING ENROLLMENT AND MARKET SHARE 
  • ENROLLMENT IS DECREASING
    • Down 1955 students from 2015-16 to 2021-22.
    • This decline is due to 1) the aging of the existing population, 2) parents feeling SUSD schools aren’t meeting their children’s needs, thus moving to charter/private schools, and 3) the impact of COVID-19 masking requirements. 
    • At the 2021-2022 rate of $14,326/student this amounts to a loss of $28 MIL annually in funding.

  • ONLY ABOUT 54% OF ELIGIBLE YOUTH LIVING WITHING SUSD BOUNDARIES ATTEND AN SUSD SCHOOL. (SUSD Demographic and Enrollment Analysis 2020-2021).

  • ENROLLMENT DECLINES HAVE RESULTED IN 10 OF THE 29 SUSD SCHOOLS BEING CLOSED OR OPERATING SUBSTANTIALLY BELOW CAPACITY.
  •  Analyzing future enrollment projections and dealing with these real estate matters will be a significant issue faced by the new Governing Board. 

 

MANAGEMENT TURNOVER

In the last 20 years SUSD has had 10 Superintendents.  Average tenure is just about 2.5 years.  According to the School Superintendent’s Association, the mean tenure of a Superintendent is 5-6 years. With this kind of turnover, positive momentum cannot be maintained nor organizational culture changed, whichever might be desired.

 

LACK OF LARGE-SCALE MANAGEMENT EXPERTISE ON GOVERNING BOARD 

 SUSD is a big operation---22,000 students, 3000+ employees, 29 facilities, and a $480 MIL budget. Governing a large-scale enterprise requires MANY skills,  from overseeing curriculum to strategic planning, to in-depth financial analysis to contracts and real-estate management.  It's not limited to one issue.  None of the 3 incumbents who will continue on the Board through 2024 have managed large-scale enterprises. 

 

TEACHER PAY IS CATCHING UP 

The average teacher’s salary in SUSD for FY 2023 is $62,787an increase of 24.3% since FY 2018.  This translates to an annualized salary of $83,716.  In addition, all personnel (teachers, administrators, bus drivers, coaches, etc.) receive on average 35% of their salary in benefits. 

 

TOO INSULAR
  • THE ORGANIZATION IS OFTEN TOO "INSULAR"; NOT OPEN TO PEOPLE AND IDEAS FROM OUTSIDE THE INSTITUTION.
    • For example, a team was recently formed to develop a Strategic Plan for the District (great idea!).   Announcements were posted asking for community members to apply.  I know several people of varying ages, family status, experience, etc. who applied, but none were accepted.  38 people were chosen.  29 (76%) were SUSD staff members, and 9 were current parents.   There wasn’t one person from outside the “system”.  Not one representative from the business community (to me probably the most important outside stakeholder group to get input from---what do they need SUSD graduates to be able to do now and in the future?).  Not one former parent/student (who might be able to provide perspectives now that they’re older on what SUSD did well for them and what they may have found to be lacking).  Not one at-large community member.
    • A team having only members of the established organization is very likely to recommend ideas already ingrained in the culture of that organization, and not embrace innovative ideas different from what is being done. 

 

DISTRICT TURMOIL

There has been much turmoil in the SUSD © community in the past couple of years. Parents upset with a number of issues (SUSD’s mask policy; perceived lack of transparency and respect for parents’ concerns; the inexperience and conduct of a certain Board member; examples of race-based curriculum, political indoctrination of students, sexuality; etc.) collected signatures to recall the majority of Board members in 2021.  While the recall effort was unsuccessful, the community is still divided---parents, teachers, administrators, and Board members are struggling to trust each other and work together for the mutual benefit of SUSD students. A key objective of the new Governing Board installed in January 2023 must be to rebuild trust with all stakeholders.


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