Education chief gives advice to Roosevelt
The Arizona Republic
Dec. 16, 2005

Betty Reid

The state education chief told Roosevelt School District leaders this week to move out of the way of a new superintendent for three years to get poor-performing campuses back on track.

Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Horne made his proposal before about 200 parents, principals and teachers Tuesday at Ed and Verma Pastor Elementary School. A three-year contract should spell out specific academic goals to be achieved by 2008, Horne told board members.

"Then, get out of his or her way," Horne said. "Provide in the contract, and publicly pledge, that the superintendent will have full authority to hire and fire, and that neither the board nor any of its members will interfere in any way with hiring or firing decisions."

That would give a superintendent a chance to "objectively choose" the best instructional leaders such as principals, Horne added.

After four years of watching Roosevelt schools fall below average on Arizona Learns, the state's report card, Horne decided to pursue state legislation next year that would give the state authority to take over districts with poor academic performance.

Horne came to talk to the board at the invitation of Roosevelt's designee superintendent Mark Dowling, who wanted to hear his views about how to turn around nine Roosevelt schools that fell below average under Arizona Learns.

The Roosevelt governing school board members have had a history of micromanaging the work of the superintendent. The board has the power to veto or approve a district chief's decision to hire and fire administrators, principals and teachers.

Accusations of nepotism, cronyism and decisions based on race also shrouded their leadership.

But what rankled and shocked governing school board leaders even more are the numbers Horne brought to Tuesday's meeting to prove his case. Those numbers showed where Roosevelt's third-grade students ranked in math and reading compared with neighboring Phoenix Elementary, Murphy and Alhambra school districts.

Board member Norma Muņoz said it was no secret Roosevelt's student test scores were not great, but the dismal standing shocked her.

The numbers show only 34 percent of Roosevelt third-graders are proficient in reading, and the same group of students reached 45 percent in math. Those marks are far below the state average, Horne said.

But third-graders at Phoenix Elementary reached 66 percent, Murphy climbed to 62 percent and Alhambra soared to 72 percent in reading. In third-grade math, Phoenix Elementary scored 64 percent, Murphy hit 67 percent and Alhambra made 78 percent.

Horne told the audience he selected the neighboring districts to make his point because their children are in worse economic situations than Roosevelt and their English language learner student population is higher.

"Thirty-four percent is really a distressingly low percentage of third-graders to be proficient in reading," Horne said. "Furthermore, Roosevelt is in a steep decline in its reading scores, from 58 percent to 34 percent in the past three years."