State takes on a Phoenix school district
The Arizona Republic
Apr. 30, 2006
Immediate changes needed to prevent takeover of worst schools
Pat Kossan and Betty Reid
Arizona schools chief Tom Horne stood at the microphone last December, flanked
by 25 of his top staff members in folding chairs.
Five members of the Roosevelt School District governing board sat nearby.
None were smiling. A few held written rebuttals.
The gym was buzzing with nervous conversation among 200 parents, teachers and
For the first time, the troubled Roosevelt district of south Phoenix was
facing the hammer of the state. In an unprecedented move, the Arizona
Department of Education had ranked 10 of Roosevelt's 21 schools
No other district in the state had ranked so poorly. The rating meant the
state would intervene, applying pressure to overhaul practices and deal with
weak personnel. The district is trying to replace its superintendent and
other top officers.
Perhaps no other challenge could test Arizona's education-reform initiatives
as much as Roosevelt, a primarily low-income district that has grappled with
turmoil for years.
On this night, what Harvard-trained lawyer Horne had to say wasn't
startling. It was the giant numbers and graphs he splashed on the wall that
stunned most in the crowd. They showed that Roosevelt's neighboring
elementary districts had just as many families living in poverty and kids
learning English, but had twice the percentage of students performing at
In reading, 67percent of the three districts' students were performing at
grade level compared with Roosevelt's 34 percent. Roosevelt receives
per-student funding above the state average.
Bethsabel Santos' jaw dropped. Santos, 35, has a kindergartener and
first-grader in the district and volunteers at their school. A district
official had asked her to come to the meeting.
She was carrying a friend's toddler, who fidgeted and demanded attention.
But Santos was engrossed in the numbers and bars. Her eyes widened as more
slides passed. "It's a disaster," Santos said.
School officials don't use the word "disaster." But those who worry about
the district's plight know that things must change rapidly for its 12,939
kids. Otherwise, they will face frustration and failure. And Roosevelt will
face being taken over, school by school, by the state.
District board President Ben Miranda, a lawyer and state legislator, said if
the district is going to change, now is the moment. But he is not convinced