Roosevelt district improves, avoids takeover
Arizona Republic
Jul 31, 2008


by Betty Reid - Jul. 31, 2008 06:07 PM
The Arizona Republic

The State Board of Education decided Thursday that it won't take over the Roosevelt School District because new achievement results show the district's schools have improved.

Arizona lawmakers approved a bill in April that allows the board of education to take charge of districts that perform poorly on the state's report card, Arizona Learns. Roosevelt School District was the first district looked at because half of its 21 schools either dropped below average or failed on the state's report card Arizona Learns 2007.

Roosevelt's reprieve came because Arizona Learns results coming out this month show only two schools fell below average, a significant improvement. In addition, as many as 52 percent of Roosevelt's third graders met AIMS Reading standards in 2008, up from 32 percentile recorded in 2005.

“This would not have been the right time or the appropriate time to change … what seems to be moving in the right direction,” said State Board of Education member Jesse Ary after the unanimous vote.

A burst of applause came from Roosevelt governing board members, educators and supporters when they heard the decision. They had fought the takeover and repeatedly told legislators while the bill allowing district takeovers was going through the legislature that student test scores had improved at Roosevelt.

It means Roosevelt Superintendent Mark Dowling keeps his job and the south Phoenix district's governing board is still in charge.

Norma Muñoz, Roosevelt governing board president, sighed relief. “I am overwhelmed and I am so happy,” Muñoz said. “It means that we're given the opportunity to continue going forward with our improvements. We're not going to lose sight of what we need to do because we never, ever want to slide back to where we were.”

The governing board president said in recent days that the ordeal had been “very stressful” because she felt like the district was “targeted by the state.”

Dowling, who was at Thursday's hearing, was ecstatic about the decision and credits the district's academic improvement to curriculum, which was overhauled under his administration and aligned to state's standards in 2006.

Each Roosevelt school used to shaped its own curriculum. Dowling, who arrived took the helm of the district in 2005, has a contract with Roosevelt until 2011.

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne recommended that Roosevelt be placed under the state's watchful eye and helped push through the state law. The decision Thursday surprised him.

He noted that the board of education, in a hearing in June, found educational mismanagement in the district. Horne believes the best decision would have been for the state board to take authority away from the Roosevelt governing board but keep Dowling as superintendent.

“Students who come from the poorest neighborhoods need good schools the most because often they don't get as much help,” Horne said. “My responsibility is do everything I can to say, we don't have different standards, we have the same high standards for everybody.” Four failing Roosevelt schools were already under the state's watch until 2011 because they dropped below average three times in a row. They are Brooks Academy, Cesar Chavez, Sierra Vista and T.G. Barr elementary schools. Three of the four now are doing above average and Barr is average.

Two schools underperforming in the Arizona Learns results coming out this month are CO Greenfield and V H Lassen School.

Lawmakers who represent south Phoenix crafted the law that allows the state to take over troubled schools. Sen. Leah Landrum Taylor, Rep. Cloves Campbell Jr. and Rep. Ben Miranda, said district parents complained about poor management of the schools, sinking student test scores and alleged board squabbles.

Miranda acknowledged academic improvement at Roosevelt. However, he believes problems still exist and the bill should serve as a “warning to the Roosevelt administration and the school board that things have to be run differently.”

Miranda, who served on the Roosevelt governing board between 2001 and 2006, said it takes courage to say ‘no' to board members. “If Mark Dowling is left there, I hope he has the courage to say ‘no' to the governing board,” Miranda said.

Campbell echoed Miranda.

“I hate to see the same thing continue to happen,” Campbell said. “I hope that we put pressure on them to make them do a better job. I would have liked to see the state to take them over because we can't stand for mediocrity” in our children's education.

Taylor agreed with her colleagues.

“If it took this type of action to wake everybody up, whatever they did, I just hope they continue. …then it was worth every minute of it,” she said. “Our children deserve the very best education.” The school district has about 12,000 students.