[David Jolkovski/Tribune]

A sweeping audit found major deficiencies throughout the Kyrene School District, from an absence of clear policy-making by the school board and insufficient planning by the administration to inadequate teacher development and instructional technology to a widening gap in student achievement.

The audit, four months in the making and involving hundreds of interviews and hundreds of pages of documents, was to be unveiled Tuesday night, Feb. 14, at the governing board meeting.

The AFN obtained a copy of the audit’s executive summary, which lays out the highpoints of the audits’ findings, and the full report has been posted at Kyrene.org.

The audit found “significant achievement gaps…in the performance of non-white, economically disadvantaged and special education students.”

“In order to address persistent gaps in student achievement, the board, district leadership, and district staff will need to address institutional practices and beliefs that have limited the ability of all students to benefit from the district’s educational programs and achieve at high levels,” it said.

And it suggested the growing gap between successful and struggling students partly results from the fact that “alignment of academic standards to instructional materials was weak for content, context or cognitive demand.”

The audit is essentially the springboard for Superintendent Jan Vesely’s plan to radically redesign middle-school education to improve students’ academic performance, make them more self-reliant and give them greater freedom to pursue studies in areas that interest them.

It also will provide more intensive intervention for students struggling academically and shift $2 million in payroll from the central district office to classrooms.

The report also comes at a time when Kyrene officials are trying to staunch a decline in enrollment by more effectively competing with charter schools and other school districts.

With more charters promising rigorous instruction and other districts offering a greater diversity in courses, Kyrene officials are focusing on the quality of teaching as well as enhancing its core courses and the variety of its electives.

The audit scrutinized the district’s policies, organization, curriculum, budgeting, facilities “and other factors that contribute to the optimization of the school district,” said Vesely, who became superintendent July 1.

The audit ‒ a rare warts-and-all exercise in self-examination for an Arizona school district ‒ is part of Vesely’s earlier pledge to “focus organizational efforts and align resources to ensure all students are college- and career-ready and achievement gaps are closed.”

It was based on more than 180 one-on-one interviews with district personnel at all levels, 25 focus groups that included parents and community members, 400 survey results, visits to 250 classrooms across all 25 schools in the district and a review of more than 700 documents, Vesely said.

Vesely said she has already taken measures to address some deficiencies identified in the audit.

“I presented to the governing board several initiatives that addressed expansion of our early-education options, creating of an International Baccalaureate program in Kyrene Middle School, expansion of the Kyrene Traditional Academy to pre-k-8 and a redesign of our middle school program,” she said.

Here are the areas addressed by the audit:

Planning and policy-making

Noting that school boards and administrators can improve student learning only if they are “consistently engaged in short- and long-range planning,” the audit said planning for critical district functions “has not been coordinated into a unifying effort that focuses on attainment of district goals.”

It called the district’s vision statement from 2010, titled “The Blueprint for Kyrene,” flawed because it “fails to communicate a compelling vision for unified action to increase student achievement and narrow persistent achievement gaps.”

“District planning efforts have not created a clear, decisive set of strategies that systematically address disparities in student achievement,” it added.

The audit also chided the school board, stating that it “has not established a clear direction for the district and, subsequently, department and campus-level actions plans are not tightly aligned or focused on a clear set of district priorities or goals.”

It also found, “The scope of the adopted policies in the Kyrene School District is inadequate to ensure that a framework exists capable of institutionalizing expectations, roles, responsibilities, and decision-making to guide all necessary aspects of curriculum management and the educational program.”

Teacher development

The audit said that training should be focused “on instructional strategies and deepening teacher content knowledge” so that students can be guided to a deeper understanding of subjects.

But the audit said Kyrene “lacks a coordinated approach to professional development,” resulting in “a fragmented approach to professional learning.”

“There is no process in place to ensure professional development is driven by disaggregated student achievement data, student achievement goals, district priorities or organizational needs,” it stated, adding:

“No evidence was found which would indicate the district’s professional development programs has…increased the number of students demonstrating proficiency on state assessments.”

Student assessments

Calling the scope of Kyrene’s approach to assessing student performance “inadequate,” the audit found “no indication such (assessment) data have been used systematically to evaluate the effectiveness of district policies, instructional practices, programs and interventions.”

That means “decisions about curriculum, instruction, interventions and other operational decisions are subjective at best,” the report said.

“A comprehensive student and program assessment system is critical to informing district decision making,” the report said, because it provides “timely feedback” on students’ academic progress.

Curriculum and technology

The report found Kyrene “lacks a cohesive approach to the design, development, implementation, and monitoring of the district curriculum.”

“The scope of the written curriculum for the core content areas of English Language Arts, mathematics, science and social studies is inadequate at all levels,” it said, finding only the written curriculum for elementary school non-core classes adequate.

It also found a lack of consistency in the instructional resources selected in Kyrene schools, stating “there are no assurances all students will have access to the knowledge, skills, and cognitive challenges needed to meet district and state academic standards.”

Kyrene’s technology plan “is outdated and inadequate to provide direction regarding the integration of technology as a teaching and learning tool,” the report said.

Budgeting and finances

The report said the district’s budget process “that lacks clear linkages” between district goals, priorities and spending.”

“Financial allocations have not been driven by clearly established program priorities,” it said, calling on the district to make more of a “cost-benefit analysis of educational programs and services.”

It said spending often was not tied to critical needs and that key management personnel were not part of the budget-making decision, so that money would be better targeted to the district’s existing needs.

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