The Kyrene School District has been educating children since 1888, and over the past 130 years, we have worked hard to establish a reputation as a high-performing district. While we embrace our history, we continue to pursue innovative programs that will ensure our students are prepared for the future. 

As I reflect on my third year as Superintendent in Kyrene, I continue to be amazed by the commitment of our school leaders, teachers and staff, parents and community to the shared goal of ensuring every student has the opportunity to realize their full potential.   

While much has changed over the last century, one thing remains constant: We put students at the heart of everything we do. Students are the focus for the goals and objectives of the Kyrene Strategic Plan 2022. The five key goals are: nurturing and producing High Performing Students, seeking and maintaining High Quality Talent, creating an Inclusive Culture, building a Responsive Organization, and sharing in Collective Governance. What follows is a “State of the District” through the lens of these five goals. 

High-performing students 

Kyrene School District has long boasted exceptional academic performance, and we continue to make great strides in this area. This year, once again, Kyrene kids outperformed peers on every level of state assessment. AzMERIT results show Kyrene outperformed peer districts by 20 percent and outperformed charter schools by 11 percent. Nine Kyrene schools even scored in the top 10 percent of all Arizona public schools, both district and charter. 

While I am incredibly proud of the fact that Kyrene students continue to excel and that our district remains strong despite challenges facing public education, we must always hold ourselves to the highest standards, so our work in the area of High Performing Students will never be complete. 

A key area of progress for Kyrene has been in the development of a comprehensive Curriculum Management Plan. Responding to one of the findings of a district-wide audit, we dedicated significant time and effort in engaging key stakeholders – school leaders, teachers – in the formation of a Curriculum Council. 

The council did a complete review of our curriculum management, instructional management and our assessment management principles. 

Together they began to work toward the alignment of Standards-Based Teaching and Learning, adoption of a written curriculum process which included an assessment of curricular needs, implementation of curriculum, and a process for evaluation and revision of curriculum. This work can be viewed at Kyrene.org/curriculum.

In Kyrene’s ongoing efforts to offer a more global education to our students, this year we added Mandarin Chinese to our World Language offerings at both Kyrene Middle School and Altadeña Middle School. Students taking Mandarin learn listening, speaking and writing skills, as well as cultural awareness.

Also expanding our students’ horizons is Kyrene Middle School’s International Baccalaureate candidacy. KMS is in its second year as an I.B. Middle Years Program Candidate School, with hopes of becoming a full-fledged International Baccalaureate (IB) School next year.

The IB program is designed to motivate students through international education and rigorous assessment in all subjects, including foreign language, which is a required course for all students. 

The Middle School Design, now in year two, has been a major point of focus in the area of High Performing Students. Research shows that top-performing middle schools focus on academic excellence, responsive instruction and student agency. These tenets became the 3 pillars of Kyrene School District’s Middle School Design in 2017.

Two years in, the Middle School Design is visible in our expanded AP course offerings, additional foreign language courses, elective differentiation, and choice programs such as our Traditional Academy, IB candidacy, AVID and LEAD Schools. We have also created a road map for multi-tiered systems of support (MTSS) that is responsive to the needs of all students and ensures a safe and supportive learning environment to close gaps and access opportunity.

These encouraging signs of success give Kyrene the confidence to move forward with an Elementary School Design, beginning next year. The first phase of the Elementary School Design will focus on social-emotional learning, a key component to teaching the whole child, as we consider social-emotional stability and resilience essential to our students’ success. 

Work in this critical arena of social-emotional learning is already underway. In October, we were very excited to learn that the district was awarded a grant from the U.S. Department of Justice to provide social-emotional learning in all Kyrene schools, Preschool through eighth grade. 

The grant, $230,000 over a period of five years, will allow us to implement curriculum focused on developing socio-emotional skills. It will also help cover the cost of professional development from the Institute for Social and Emotional Learning for eight counselors/psychologists. 

High-quality talent 

We cannot achieve our goal of high-performing students without first ensuring we attract and retain high-quality talent. With a teacher retention rate of approximately 86 percent, and a strong track record of filling certified positons, the district is focused on doing even better. National and local trends show an alarming decrease in teacher numbers, and in response, Kyrene continues to seek new opportunities to attract and retain employees. This is evidenced by partnerships with higher education for the placement of internships that work as pathways to certification and employment.

The district has an active recruitment campaign that targets both digital and print media, in an effort to capture diverse and representative applicants. We continue to research and implement innovative strategies to expand the recruitment pipeline.

Some examples include in-house recruitment fairs that attract local and national talent, TV commercials on non-cable streaming services, and college partnerships designed to pay interns and student teachers a wage while they work with Kyrene students. This is a win-win strategy that helps to fill a need for the district as well as provide opportunities to university students who are studying to be educators.

Also embedded in Kyrene’s Strategic Plan 2022 is a diversity recruitment initiative. The district recently issued a request for proposals (RFP) to identify an external partner for help implementing strategies to address identified needs, including talent management, related to diversity and inclusiveness.

Kyrene is home to more than 1000 exceptional and experienced educators, including 25 current National Board Certified teachers. Last year, I implemented an appreciation program, Kyrene Values Teachers (KVT), to celebrate educators on every campus.

This year, KVT focused on areas of growth, honoring teachers who had brought their students forward on state test results. Our classrooms are full of the best educators in Arizona, and I am committed to keeping it that way. 

Inclusive culture 

With our emphasis on providing for the academic success of ALL students in Kyrene, another area of focus in 2018 was on equity. School districts around the country struggle with the challenge of addressing equity in their schools. 

We know from our analysis of our AzMERIT data where our achievement gaps lie, and we have begun to address the systemic changes needed to provide the supports needed for those students who are falling behind. We will not be satisfied until every student in Kyrene achieves their full potential.   

Our work on equity will address the school-based factors, the psychological and emotional factors, and the out of school factors that contribute to gaps in achievement. In November, the district released a request for proposal (RFP) for consultancy services. 

Those services will include providing professional development for staff, support for culturally relevant teaching strategies, on-site training related to diversity, equity and inclusion, support for leaders in creating restorative systems, including restorative circles and conferences, establishment of an evaluation framework for equity initiatives, the development of skills necessary to hold difficult conversations around equity and inclusion and the development of practices for attracting candidates for open positions from a variety of different backgrounds. 

Through this work, we hope to be able to create a system of sustainable practices that are embedded in the culture of Kyrene that will assure equitable supports for the needs of all students.   

Throughout our strategic plan is a commitment to community engagement. Kyrene has five stakeholder groups established to give our parents, teachers, students, business partners and the community an opportunity to meet with me on a regular basis.

These Superintendent Councils serve as my focus groups, providing valuable feedback and input into the work of the district. This past fall, in advance of budget planning for the 2019 school year, we engaged several of these groups in an exercise to help identify spending priorities.

We also asked for input on areas of cost savings and efficiencies that would allow for funding of new initiatives such as the elementary school redesign, implementation of a lead teacher model to enhance the quality of instruction, and funding for a salary schedule for support staff. 

Responsive organization 

We have been in a period of transition in recent years, as we fight to maintain our commitment to students in the face of a funding drought for public education. Even as the nation turns its attention to that severe lack of funding, particularly in Arizona, we still have a mountain to climb before schools are appropriately financed, and Kyrene must continue to work through the challenges we face today. Our students cannot wait. 

To be responsive to the current climate, Kyrene must make strategic decisions about resource allocation and organizational structure, always seeking efficiency and improvement within our operational systems.

The annual financial report for the 2017-18 school year shows Kyrene School District spending up in all the right areas, such as classroom spending, and down in all the right areas, such as non-personnel operational expenses.

To ensure we continue this trend, the Kyrene governing board recently voted to move from an inefficient and expensive two-bell schedule to a three-bell schedule which will save the district $700,000 per year. The board also voted in favor of efficiencies in the areas of staff discounts and middle school staffing models. The combined impact of these reductions on the Kyrene annual budget is $2 million that can now be reinvested into our classrooms. 

We also need to be responsive to our community by meeting our families where they are – which is, increasingly, online.

To that end, Kyrene School District will be launching a new website in June, 2019, that will be more visually appealing with intuitive navigation to match the advancements of our peer districts in this area and better meet the needs of our digitally-savvy families.

Kyrene also went digital with enrollment this year. All registration is now online, offering parents and guardians the convenience of enrolling students on their own schedule, from the comfort of their home. This leap forward into the digital enrollment space will also drastically cut down on unnecessary paperwork and redundant practices of collecting information from our families. 

Online enrollment for both new and continuing families also allows Kyrene to plan ahead for the new year, to help determine staffing needs and program interest. As we learned this year, enrollment can be difficult to predict.

Kyrene demographers anticipated a 1 percent decline in student enrollment, based on population trends. However, I’m pleased to tell you that Kyrene enrollment remained steady this year, despite regional demographic changes.

Collective governance 

The work of Kyrene is a shared effort and we are committed to striving for efficient and collective governance, which is why our engagement of the voices of our stakeholders is so important. Leading this work with us is our governing board, and in January, we welcomed two new members, Margaret Pratt and Kevin Walsh. 

Their perspective, as parents of young children who attend Kyrene schools, together with the experience and knowledge of current board members Mike Myrick, John King and Michelle Fahy, will help guide our journey toward excellence. We are fortunate to have a community that cares about our schools, evidenced in their support for our bonds and override elections, and we appreciate that continued support. 

There is no doubt that this is a challenging time to be in education. In my more than 40 years as an educator, I have seen firsthand how the demands we place on our teachers have grown while the resources available to support them have been diminished. It is very difficult to remain positive in this environment. 

Recognizing that challenge, we introduced the “Power of Positivity” as a theme for the 2018-19 school year. Based on the work of author Jon Gordon, we engaged our school leaders in a group study of his book, “The Power of Positive Leadership,” while staff read “The Power of a Positive Team.”

I also had our Student/Superintendent Council representatives participate in a discussion of “The Power of a Positive Dog,” in which they learned from the story of two dogs – one with a positive outlook, the other with a more negative perspective – with a call to focus on the positive dog within each of them to experience greater outcomes in their academics as well as in their relationships with family and friends. 

These students had a unique opportunity to meet and hear from Mr. Gordon in person, as he visited Kyrene to address our staff and community to share his message of positivity. 

The call for positivity may seem like a simple task, one not clearly tied to academic excellence, but it has great significance. As I walk the hallways and visit the classrooms, I see our future in the faces of these children.

 It is up to us to give them the support they need, the encouragement they require to believe that they can be successful. I am grateful for the opportunity I have been given to serve as your Superintendent. Together, we can help our children become the problem solvers, creators and visionaries of tomorrow. 

I am so appreciative of the engagement of our Kyrene staff, students, families and community. In short, it takes my breath away. The Kyrene School District is exceptional because of your collective commitment to children, a commitment that motivates and inspires me each and every day.  

Engagement like that is what keeps a district’s heart beating for more than 130 years. The challenges we face today are nothing like the challenges of the late 1800s, but the mission remains the same: to invest in the education of our children in order to secure a better future for all.

-Dr. Jan Vesely is superintendent of Kyrene School District.

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