New principal must erase failing school's problems
The Arizona Republic
Jul. 6, 2005
Betty Reid

SOUTH PHOENIX - Arthur Zitt has a large task.

The 59-year-old Peoria resident has taken the helm of a failing school in the Roosevelt School District.

The Arizona Department of Education dispatched Zitt to Roosevelt's Conchos School as its "turnaround" principal. Zitt said his job is to rein in student behavior, control absenteeism and increase test scores over the next three years. The school has received poor achievement rankings since 2001.

He envisions his instructional staff devoting its energy to educating English language learners and said Conchos' curriculum the first year will concentrate on reading.

"It's an opportunity for me, to really prove to myself that I have the skills to upgrade student achievement in any school environment that I might serve administratively," he said. "Being a veteran administrator, I view myself as in my twilight years of school administration. For me, I've always had a desire to work with the state Department of Education because, at that level, you begin to impact education, not only at a building level where I've been, but statewide."

The new administrator will earn $87,000 plus a bonus. Zitt is the former principal of Deer Valley Unified School District's Highland Lake School, a K-8 campus that opened in 2000. Highland Lake has 1,050 students and received a highly performing ranking in 2004.

Conchos enrolls 700 and is considered a high-growth school because it is in the midst of exploding residential growth in south Phoenix. It added 100 new students during the 2004 school year.

"I'm joining the Conchos team," said Zitt, who is committed for three years. "I'm the new team member. They are not joining my team. I see myself as someone who is coming in to facilitate instruction in their building. My role is to enable them to be successful teachers and enable students to achieve proficiency on the AIMS test."

Betty Thompson, president of the Roosevelt School Board, said Zitt was a good fit for the post and also speaks Spanish. That is an advantage because Spanish is the first language of nearly half of Conchos' students.

"He has a background where he worked in underperforming school communities and organized parent groups to work with him," Thompson said. "We have to let him get to work, choose his staff and see what difference he makes."

Zitt will act like every other principal in the district, except he will answer to the Department of Education. As a turnaround principal, he also has the freedom to redesign and add to Conchos' staff, which he briefly met June 3. His staff consists of 38 instructors and there are 12 teaching jobs available, positions vacated by staff who moved to Black School, Roosevelt's new campus scheduled to open in August.

Zitt said he would like to bring in fully certified teachers to fulfill federal No Child Left Behind guidelines. The law states all teachers must be certified by 2006.

He is a self-described "frequent visitor" to classrooms because it gives him an idea about the type and quality of instruction.

Teacher training will concentrate on how best to accommodate the needs of English language learners, Zitt said. Ideally, he would like to see staff development in place by Aug. 3, but acknowledged that it will likely take longer.