Horne meets with Roosevelt District staff, parents
Arizona Republic
Feb. 12, 2008

Betty Reid

The Arizona education chief told the Roosevelt School District community this week that it needs a new superintendent to lead the district in order to boost student academic achievement.

Tom Horne, state superintendent of public instruction, made that point to more than 250 parents, teachers and students at a town hall Monday night at South Mountain High School District auditorium. Horne's visit to Roosevelt comes on the heels of a bill in the legislature that will be heard today that would allow the state to take over troubled school districts.

The impetus for the bill was the beleaguered Roosevelt district. Reps. Ben Miranda and Clovis Campbell Jr. and Sen. Leah Landrum Taylor, the bill's sponsors, also attended the town hall.

Roosevelt has teachers eager to deliver lessons but lacks a superintendent's leadership, Horne said.

The bill, if approved, will allow the state to bring a superintendent from outside the Roosevelt district, Taylor said. If the district comes up with a viable plan to improve student test scores, then legislation wouldn't be needed, she added.

Horne reported that 11 out of 21 Roosevelt schools are underperforming or failing on Arizona Learns, the state's annual report card. The state has started to take over four failing schools: T.G. Barr, Sierra Vista, Cesar E. Chavez and Brooks schools.

"Can I ignore that?" Horne asked.

At Monday night's meeting, Roosevelt Superintendent Mark Dowling showed that student test scores are creeping up.

When he took charge in July 2006, Dowling said, Roosevelt students were four years behind in math, writing and reading test scores. The scores rose by 2 to 6 percent in most areas.

Dowling said he is ready to retire, but he worries that if a new superintendent comes in with a new vision, all the recent gains would be lost.

The Roosevelt governing board also went on the defensive after hearing Horne's comments.

Handing over four failing schools to the state is not pleasant, said Norma Muņoz, Roosevelt's governing board president. lems Muņoz said she disagrees with the state's assessment of education in south Phoenix. "The state has yet to prove that (it) can do a better job," she said.

The district has already taken steps to improve student performance, including adding reading and math coaches, but more time is needed to see results, she said.

Tricia Clark, a parent at Bernard Black School, asked why the district should trust the state when Ignacio Conchos School has not improved. The state took over the district school in 2005, changing staff, curriculum and the principal.

"How can we trust the state to come in if the school they have is a failing school?" Clark asked Horne.

Horne blamed district administrators. He said the Conchos budget was cut and the principal could not hire new teachers.

Governing board member Betty Thompson, expressed frustration with the state's attempts to gain control of Roosevelt.

"He (Horne) speaks of us as though we are not intelligent," Thompson said.

Referring to a comment Horne made the school superintendent spends too much time fighting with board members, she said: "He doesn't come to Roosevelt School District . . . it is all hearsay. He is putting a spin on what people are saying. We have been insulted over and over. The board does get along."

The meeting lasted about three hours, with most in attendance criticizing Horne and the state.

Some parents talked about the shortage of school supplies and books.

State Miranda, said the Roosevelt community needs to look at the situation realistically to get the south Phoenix district out of the bottom tier of schools.

The governing board and the state have been trying to hammer out an agreement concerning the four failing schools, but the negotiations have been contentious.