A longtime friend and former colleague who teaches in the Kyrene School District told me the other day how she sent a letter to her boss, Superintendent Jan Vesely, that laid out the reasons she disagreed with a particular program.
Within a few weeks, she found herself sitting across coffee at an Ahwatukee restaurant discussing those concerns with Vesely for about an hour.
She was surprised enough that the superintendent would take time from her busy day to meet with her. But she was even more surprised when she learned Vesely had done the same thing with another teacher.
Having been invited to a couple of coffee klatches with the superintendent myself, I know Vesely is not only an accomplished educator and administrator. She’s also an avid listener.
She lets no opportunity or audience go by without giving herself a chance to be exposed to as many viewpoints as possible from all strata of the district – from business owners to legislators, PTOs to principals.
And, students themselves, whom she confers with on a regular basis.
She has been that rare chief executive who neither insulates herself in an office surrounded by impassable secretaries nor limits her interactions to the upper echelons of the district’s hierarchy.
In that broad scope of her interactions, she is sometimes an ambassador, cheerfully and cogently explaining the complexities of her mission to make Kyrene a model school system for the 21st century. Other times, she rolling out the directives to implement her strategy for realizing that mission.
But always, she is listening, too.
She is a visionary with the practical skills that necessary for transforming an entrenched bureaucracy into an army of believers.
Board President John King recently told me that as someone who once made his living helping businesses bite the bullet and transform themselves, he appreciates Vesely’s skills at articulating and implementing a plan to turn the district around.
That’s not because Kyrene was a bad district; it just wasn’t positioning children for a world that their parents and grandparents can barely comprehend.
It will be a world where people won’t settle into one career, let alone one job, right out of college and stay in it until it’s time to apply for Social Security.
Instead, it will be a world where robots are performing many jobs that once provided a livelihood for our grandparents and theirs; where 10 years into a fulltime job, a person realizes it’s time to prepare for a new one because the current job is going away.
It is a world that is barreling down on us like a freight train without brakes.
As King and his colleagues on the Kyrene School Board searched for a new superintendent early last year, they knew they needed someone who could formulate and implement a strategic plan for a school system that equipped kids for a more complex and demanding future.
Vesely has been formulating and implementing that plan in a very deliberate way.
First, she listened, getting input from everyone connected directly or indirectly with the district through surveys, group meetings and one-on-one conversations.
Then, she and the board commissioned a group of experts to examine every aspect of the district, assessing how Kyrene conducted the day-to-day business of educating. Those experts measured every part of the district up against the standards of tomorrow’s world.
Now, Vesely and the board are trying to fill the gaps uncovered by that audit.
They are putting more muscle into classrooms, developing curricula that meet individual students’ abilities and intellectual desires and building a system that responds more quickly and more effectively to every student’s own needs.
They’re not just interested in making sure a kid knows how to count and write an essay.
They’re determined to create a system in which every student develops the character traits he and she will need for the world that’s fast approaching – traits such as resiliency, determination, adaptability, passion and perseverance.
Those aren’t traits you acquire by memorizing a page from a book or passing a test.
They are traits that children develop at home but also in a school system that challenges them while simultaneously showing them how to meet those challenges.
Vesely gets that. And through her work, the board gets that, too.
So, pay attention over the next few months as they reshape Kyrene School District.
This isn’t just about the kids’ future, but yours as well.