Refocusing the schools
Wright seeks improvement at Roosevelt
The Arizona Republic
Feb. 20, 2004 12:00 AM
Grace Wright looks to be unaware of the cloud that lingers over the Roosevelt
Elementary School District.
At a social function in November honoring an instructor, the interim Roosevelt
superintendent met the husband of a former Roosevelt student.
"He asked me, 'Tell me, is it really as bad as we read about it in the
newspaper?' " Wright said. "I told him, no, children are still safe, children
are still learning, people are still trying to work to educate children. It just
hit me, with the negative press that's out there."
The social worker turned probation officer turned educator was placed in charge
of the district in late October after the School Board abruptly fired Frederick
Warren. She wants to move the district in a new direction.
She wants the public and the community to
pay more attention to Roosevelt's teaching programs and a new student-staffed
newspaper that is scheduled to publish soon.
"What I want, if anything else, is to refocus this institution," Wright said.
"And this product, this service, is education. It's not politics. It's about
creating an environment for children to learn and for parents to be comfortable
with what their children are doing during the day, and we are providing positive
experiences for them that will help them create a viable and productive future
Some residents of the Roosevelt district call Wright smart, charming, sassy and
a team player.
Those are nice assets for a leader, but Wright, an Avondale resident, has a tall
order, especially in a district where 80 percent of the 11,500 students are
Hispanic and many enter school not speaking English.
With school accountability policies such as No Child Left Behind and Arizona
Learns taxing public schools, educators face stiff challenges in helping kids
The Arizona Department of Education has issued achievement labels for each
school, ranging from excelling to underperforming, the past two years. If
schools are given underperforming labels three consecutive times under Arizona
Learns, they could drop under department control. Four Roosevelt campuses -
Conchos, Brooks Academy, Bush and Greenfield - face state takeover if they don't
Wright, who would not reveal her age, said she is up to the challenge. She's
familiar with the district, having led M.O. Bush Elementary as principal from
1994 to 2001, and she was a Roosevelt assistant superintendent from 2001 until
October, when she was made superintendent.
With the help of No Child Left Behind school-reform funds, the district hired a
consultant to help craft a plan to erase the underperforming labels. The
district is using software programs like GrowNet or Exceptional Learning Outward
Bound to bolster student achievement.
Wright points out that the district had nine schools labeled as underperforming
in 2002. This year, two schools rid themselves of the labels.
"We are going at every different angle that we can to try to bring about
improvement," Wright said.
Wright has outlined her mission and goals.
"We want to create a first-class district of effective schools that ensures
high-quality engagement of students through meaningful life experiences," Wright
said. "We will accomplish this by connecting parents, staff, students and
community to the common goal of academic excellence and honest and open
She said she envisions intensive tutorial programs that meet the requirements of
No Child Left Behind. She also wants to reinvent Roosevelt's Super Pac,
spearheaded by the superintendent and designed to improve communication between
the district and parents.
Pearlia B. Smith, a librarian at Bush School, worked with Wright a decade ago.
She described her as a "responsible" educator who leads by example. She credits
the interim superintendent with networking computers at Bush.
Tim O'Malley, Roosevelt's consultant project manager, met Wright in the
mid-1990s when Roosevelt and other urban schools pushed for equal funding for
"She is a consensus builder," O'Malley said. "I think she'll do a great job.
Grace has the ability to acknowledge to others that she doesn't know everything.
She asks questions. That is a very good personality trait for leadership."
Critics believe Wright's biggest obstacle to carrying out her vision is one of
easing decades of tension between Hispanics and African-Americans in the
Although some Latinos pushed for a Hispanic leader, Wright, who does not speak
Spanish, has not faced much criticism yet.