Tempe education leaders tackle the state of schools
Arizona Republic
Oct. 22, 2008


More responsibility and inadequate funding has become the status quo for Southeast Valley public schools, education leaders said at Tempe's annual State of the Schools Address Wednesday.

The panel included Tempe Union High School District Superintendent Steve Adolph, Tempe Elementary School District Superintendent Arthur Tate, Kyrene School District Superintendent David Schauer, Pinnacle Education founder Mike Matwick, Maricopa County Community College District Vice Chancellor of Academic Affairs Maria Harper-Marinick and Jim Rund, vice president for university student initiatives at Arizona State University.

The Tempe Chamber of Commerce-hosted event was moderated by Arizona Department of Education Deputy Superintendent of Public Instruction Margaret Garcia-Dugan and drew 175 attendees from the education and business communities.

The days when schools just taught the three R's, history and science with a sporadic art or physical education class thrown in are gone, education leaders said. Modern education extends beyond what's written on SMART Boards or in textbooks. To adequately prepare students to be working adults, schools incorporate non-academic lessons.

"It's a new climate that goes beyond getting students to pass tests. It's teaching them social graces, to shake someone's hand, to look them in the eye," Tate said.

Schauer said problem-solving and critical-thinking skills that students need as professionals are stressed throughout his K-8 district. For example, Kyrene teachers take a different approach with math that requires comprehension and not just memorization of steps to get the right answer.

All panelists were adamant about insufficient state funding.

"If we viewed education as an investment rather than an expense, we wouldn't need to talk about funding," Harper-Marinick said. "When education is treated as an investment, the funding will follow."

Adolph mentioned English Language Learner and special needs programs as examples of mandates that are unfunded or under funded. He said per student capital funding is based on 1998 data.

"I just want Arizona funded at the national average. (I want it to) just be fair," Adolph said.

Tate said his district receives 12 percent of the 40 percent it is supposed to get for special needs programs, and does not get any help for the $1.5 million Tempe Elementary spends on ELL programs.

Although law prohibits district officials from discussing the unification proposal on the November ballot, other administrators were not shy about voicing their opinions.

"Bigger does not always mean better. Often it makes you more bureaucratic, more difficult to move," said Matwick, whose Pinnacle charter high schools serve students who are at risk of dropping out or trying to recover credits lost at their home campus. "The more a district can focus on the specific needs of its students, the more effective it can be."

Harper-Marinick said that as a parent she appreciates the opportunity to talk about efficiency.

"But I'd like to believe that a school knows its community and how to serve it best, and we need our schools to be their best," she said.

IKEA business sales manager Alison Kim attended the event to find out how her company can become more involved with the schools. She said she thought the questions and panelists' answers were thoughtful.

"Each student should not be painted with a broad brush, so it's important that the schools target the needs of the individual student," she said. "Education is vital in preparing children to graduate so they can be part of the workforce."