Tag Archives: Scottsdale Unified School District

Our call is to have the courage to do what is necessary

Baker_Brant CropBy Brant Baker

Class 30 Blog: This is a blog series about the experience and impact of Scottsdale Leadership’s Core Program. The views expressed here represent those of class members and not those of Scottsdale Leadership.

To talk of education is to talk of tensions and competing demands.  Educational philosophies, political agendas, and funding challenges, mixed with student development, teacher standards, and standardized tests.  Sprinkle in economic development and labor force development, add a dash of visionary notions about the enterprise of education, and it’s no wonder so many people are overwhelmed by the conversation!


Panel discussion on Arizona’s educational competitiveness (left to right): Moderator Jeff Winkler, Dr. Eric Meyer, Dr. Jan Gehler, Don Budinger, Sen. David Bradley, Lisa Graham Keegan, and Dr. David Garcia.

Our Youth & Education Day Chairs did a great job of presenting these various issues in education, and framing a large and complex topic.  Presentations on school choice, school funding, and Arizona competitiveness were interwoven with a number of interactive and intriguing class exercises, including one that had us wrestle as school board members with real-world issues.  The speakers and presenters were excellent, and as seems to be the norm for Scottsdale Leadership, I left intellectually and emotionally exhausted!

There is no question that society has come to place a lot of expectation on school outcomes.   Schools are often expected to be on the front lines of treatment for psychological disorders, drug and alcohol education, and a host of other important developmental milestones.  This despite the fact that only 12% of a child’s time is actually spent in the classroom (one of the most surprising and impactful statistics of the day).

Education 2

Amazing snacks provided by our host Rancho Solano Preparatory School helped us handle the full and demanding day!

Of course, funding is a mitigating factor in meeting the freighted educational agenda.  While many of the day’s speakers suggested that educational excellence can be found in any school, and at any level of financial support, it seems clear that sufficient and equitable funding is needed.  The formula for school funding in Arizona was developed over 30 years ago.  It is worth noting that enrollment in Arizona schools keeps growing, and so funding plans are almost never up to date with current realities.  It is also worth noting that Arizona schools have the lowest administrative cost in all fifty states.  Ultimately, investing in education really comes down to “pay now or pay later.”  According to Dr. David Peterson, the Arizona corrections budget is up 10% since 1981, while the state education budget is down by 13%.  We need to do better.

This sentiment was echoed in the closing remarks made by Scottsdale Leadership co-founder Gary Shapiro.  “As leaders,” he said, “our call is not to find what is equal, equitable, or adequate.  Rather, our call is to have the courage to do what is necessary.  

At the very least, that will mean setting aside some agendas in favor of a larger vision of collaboration between parents, districts, boards, businesses, and political leaders.  More proactively, the solution is for all of us to be involved in some way.  We can make the necessary investments (of both time and money), and reap all of the benefits of a well- educated citizenry, or we can pay later in the form of unemployment, drug use, and crowded prisons.  Again, only 12% of a young person’s time is spent in schools.  It is the work of the whole community to create social stability through impactful relationships and helping with extra-curricular activities (music, the arts, sports, service clubs, faith communities, and so forth).

How could you get involved?


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Are the right standards in place in our school system?

RodneyHeadShotBy Rodney Smith, Class 28
First Financial Equity Corporation
Helping Hands for Freedom, Co-founder

Class 28 Blog: This is a blog series about the experience and impact of Scottsdale Leadership’s Core Program.   The views expressed here represent those of class members and not those of Scottsdale Leadership. 

It was a teacher in 7th grade that saw something inside this skinny, white haired kid from Thornton, Colorado that “changed my stars”.  He believed in me. He connected with me. He inspired me.

On Friday, October 25, 2013, I was able to share with my amazing classmates in the Scottsdale Leadership program a spectacular day with some of the most passionate, talented, and committed people in our education system. It became very apparent to me as the day unfolded that many of the standards we use to measure the success of our education system fall into the categories of: the good, the bad and the ugly.

Test scores as a measurement of success, access to money, or a means of job security need to jump in a canoe and float down the river. At the end of the day, if a child feels “connected” the odds increase significantly as to that child finding passion and direction to live a fulfilling life. That is the measurement that needs to be defined and held accountable.


Kim Dodd, Mary Masters and Kim Hanna (Class 27 graduates of the Scottsdale Leadership Program) provided the structure and direction of Education Day.  Mary emphasized, “A primary goal of the day was to inform the class all that “education” encompasses such as each child’s own level of readiness, constraints and obstacles the teachers face, evolving curriculum, and political differences when it comes to expenditures.”  One of our true leaders when it comes to Arizona education, Dr. Lattie F. Coor from the Center for the Future of Arizona, spoke to the group and simplified it best, “Understand the issues, and do something about it.” The current standards define what all students are expected to know and be able to do, not how teachers should teach.

Dr. John Balles, Clinical Services Coordinator for the Scottsdale Unified School District, started the day defining the challenges facing our children. Of course, bullying, drugs & alcohol, home environment, and social environments 

remain obstacles that our children have to overcome, but technology and all the different types of communication available in cyber-space are also a major factor whether or not our kids feel accepted and connected. Can you imagine if we had to worry about how many “LIKES” we have on Facebook to feel good about ourselves? PARENTS BEWARE!


It was John Huppenthal, Superintendent of Public Instruction for the Arizona Department of Education that really opened my eyes regarding our school systems limited view of how we hold the system accountable. Mr. Huppenthal feels a holistic approach to education needs to be at the forefront and I agree. As they say, there is more than one way to skin a cat. A complete, well-rounded view of education as a whole should be where we develop, evaluate and measure. Caring and supportive teachers create a classroom environment which encourages students to behave in responsible ways and emphasizes learning over performing.


The theme of “connectedness” was even more apparent during a panel discussion featuring  the “Best of the Best” representatives speaking from a multitude of education sectors including charter schools, early childhood education, parent representative, business representative, public schools, higher education, and home school. Moderator Kim Hanna of Camping For Foodies, led a very intellectual dialog on regardless of where you send your child to school, it takes involvement from the community at-large to make it work, perhaps “Parent Development” being the most important factor. The quality and quantity of education received by our young people have a positive direct correlation with community stewardship, job creation, global marketplace competitiveness, career opportunity and civic engagement while minimizing the negative impacts on social services, substance abuse and suicides. As Kim Hanna points out, “Education is the foundation of our entire society—that’s why we should all be passionate about it.”

Politically speaking I struggle with the idea that one person can make a difference anymore, but I do know personally that each of us can make a difference in the life of a child. I challenge you to share at least one positive step to engage students, families and the community in ensuring the education of our children?

To my seventh grade teacher, Mr. Usechek… THANK YOU for believing in me and connecting with me. I love my life because of you!


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Education- Where Are We?

Kranitz, Andrea for BlogAndrea Kranitz, Class 27
Owner/Consultant, Integrative Business Solutions, LLC

The Class 27 Blog: This is a blog series about the experience and impact of Scottsdale Leadership’s core program. The program informs, inspires and empowers leaders to champion and strengthen the interests of the community. Scottsdale Leadership is an Arizona Leadership Program.

The members of class XXVII come from across the country and even across the pond!  We have all gone through some kind of educational system, whether public or private, but our experiences vary based upon where and when we were educated.

With each generation there have been changes in curriculum and teaching methods, reflecting our evolving world and the requirements to produce graduates who are prepared to compete successfully in a global economy.

The question is… are we collectively accomplishing that goal?

The answer depends partially upon how you define “we.”  According to Scottsdale Unified School District’s Dr. Andi Fourlis, Assistant Superintendent of Teaching and Learning and Dr. Dave McNeil, Executive Director for Elementary Schools and Assessment, Scottsdale schools are doing well.  Comparing SUSD graduation rates, per pupil spending, and student teacher ratios, they are consistently ranking above the state average (detailed information on these rankings).

Despite a reduction in state funding, SUSD continues to provide an excellent education. That said, we are only one of many districts across the state and country. According to Dr. Eric Meyer, AZ State Representative, District 11 and SUSD School Board member, as a nation our teacher salaries are on the high end as compared with other nations, while our Global Math and Science ratings along with high school graduation rates are in the bottom third (detailed information on these rates).

This is not a new trend, but it is a frightening one.  If we want to maintain strong communities, states and a strong nation we must emphasize the importance of education so that our students can compete with those of other nations.

There is a state-led initiative called The Common Core State Standards coordinated by the National Governors Association Center for Best Practices and the Council of Chief State School Offices.  These standards define the knowledge and skills students should acquire from their K-12 education so that they can succeed in post-secondary education and future careers.

To date, including Arizona, 45 of 50 states have adopted these standards, but the initiative is only partially funded, so there are challenges to successful implementation.  Although this is a step in the right direction, I believe that we have to do more.

We also heard from a panel of students and educators from the district who emphasized the importance of student/teacher mentorship, engagement, extracurricular activity and parental involvement in maintaining an engaged student body.  The two students who spoke to us were great examples of what is possible-we need to make this more a rule than exception.

There are so many factors that have contributed to the alarming trends in education including but not limited to funding issues, decrease in support of arts education, poverty trends along with an decrease focus on education in the lives of our youth.

SO… what are we missing and how can we reverse the trends in order to graduate top notch students who are equipped to succeed?

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Caps Off to the 2nd Annual Title I Dream Fair!

Mary Ellertson
Scottsdale Unified School District

Dream FairClose to three hundred Scottsdale family members participated in the 2nd Annual Scottsdale Unified School District’s Title I Dream Fair, held in November at Coronado High School.  Developed by Scottsdale Leadership Class 26 in support of SUSD students and families, the Dream Fair’s overwhelming success for two years in a row has earned it a permanent spot on the school calendar, guaranteeing the event to be one that parents, students, and local community members can look forward to each year.

Mary Ellertson, Title I Coordinator for SUSD, played a vital role in making this a sustainable event.  Coining the slogan, “From Cradle to Career,” Ellertson was passionate about spreading the message that it is never too early to prepare for college.

Dream FairThe goal of the Dream Fair was to level the playing field so that all children have the opportunity to be prepared for college or a career.  Many students in local Scottsdale communities will be the first generation to apply to college and need guidance on how this process works.  Title I funds, which are designed to help close the achievement gap between disadvantaged minority students and their peers, combined with the donations of local businesses and community members, will help keep the Dream Fair a SUSD tradition.

This year’s Dream Fair hosted two motivating Keynote Speakers, former NFL player, Dr. Ray Otis Perkins, a strong advocate of education who shared his message “not just to survive but to strive,” and Gary Trujillo, a graduate of Harvard Business School and co-founder of Southwest Harvard Group Venture Capital.

Health Occupation Students of AmericanStudent performances in music and dance, booths with information about careers and strong study habits, food, and discussions about how dreams can come true were a few of the many exciting offerings of the Dream Fair.  As stated by one attending parent, “We really did not know what to expect when coming but this was an amazing event!  Both of my children learned so much… we hope you continue the Dream Fair!”

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What is in the special sauce?

Braden Love, Class 26
Director IT Business Consulting, Scottsdale Insurance

The Class 26 Blog: This is a blog series about the experience and impact of Scottsdale Leadership’s core program. The program informs, inspires and empowers leaders to champion and strengthen the interests of the community.

Another great day at Scottsdale Leadership was spent at the Coronado High School learning about the Scottsdale Unified School district. The coordination to pack in the star-studded speaker roll and tons of information in a short time was impressive. It was great to hear from the talented administration and a couple of smart students but I would have preferred to directly hear from a teacher.

What is the special sauce that makes SUSD excel above others? We heard about how great the school system is performing in a very challenging environment. The environment sounded, well… broken. Funding challenges abound. Equalization, a finance system older than a lot of Coronado alumni, the inability to move funds from one budget bucket to another, stagnate salaries and budgets.  Surely the special sauce is not money, look how well the team performs with what they have.

What is in that special sauce? Listening to the discussion about accountability and seeing the school professionals’ challenges and perceptions of what looked to me like chaos diminished my confidence in our policy makers. Another seemingly broken, or at least faltering, system. Not only do we have three definitions of successful but those definitions are changing like the seasons in New England. How’d you like it if that were your performance evaluation environment for your job?

If money is not the silver bullet for education and our policies on standards and performance create challenges more than they enable, then what are the ingredients for that special sauce? It must be another part of the system… Perhaps it is the community? The Administration? The kids? The parents?  The teachers?

What do you think is written on that recipe card? Please respond and let me know.

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Calling all Scottsdale Leadership alumni, supporters and friends!

Melissa RzeppaBy MELISSA RZEPPA, Class 23
Partner & PR Director – Serendipit Consulting

Hopefully by now you are well aware that this year is a BIG year for Scottsdale Leadership – 2011 marks the 25th anniversary of developing community leaders in Scottsdale. Scottsdale Leadership and its passionate graduates have worked for 25 years to help make Scottsdale and the surrounding Phoenix metropolitan area better every day. In true Scottsdale Leadership spirit in conjunction with the Kurt Warner First Things First Foundation, the organization plans to give a $25,000 community gift back to the community to commence the organization’s 25th year.

This sizable gift will be presented at the 25th Anniversary Celebration on April 14, 2011 at the Hyatt Gainey Ranch, and will also feature a keynote from Kurt Warner.

In part, the $25,000 donation will support the Best Buddies program through the Scottsdale Unified School District, and Scottsdale Training and Rehabilitation Services (STARS). The Best Buddies program  creates opportunities for one-to-one friendships, integrated employment, and leadership development for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Scottsdale Training and Rehabilitation Services (STARS) provides opportunities for individuals with developmental and cognitive disabilities to achieve their highest levels of personal, social and economic independence.

We hope that you will come and support Scottsdale Leadership at the 25th Anniversary Celebration! The event sponsors are Hyatt Gainey Ranch and APS and starts at 6 p.m. on April 14, features a delicious dinner, wine from ONEHOPE Wines, raffle and featured keynote from Kurt Warner. Tickets are $150; $125 for dues-paid alumni. VIP tickets are available for $500 each and include a special reception with Kurt Warner and preferred seating. Purchase your tickets online at scottsdaleleadership.org or by calling 480-627-6710.

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Education in Arizona

Scottsdale Leadership, Katherine Yu

Jessica Zambo and Katherine Yu at Coronado High School

Katherine Yu, Class 25 Class Blogger
Sr. Scientist – Henkel Consumer Goods Inc.

The Class 25 Blog: This is a blog series about the experience and impact of Scottsdale Leadership’s seventeen core program days.  The program informs, inspires and empowers leaders to champion and strengthen the interests of the community.

Education is one of the most vast and complex issues that face our community, and the fact remains that there are no clear cut resolutions. On this Scottsdale Leadership program day we were able to listen to many perspectives regarding education. There were few aspects where I could see where groups were aligned and fewer where solutions were agreed upon. However, there are some things that are indisputable to all groups. Education is important; it provides a foundation for individuals and our community; it is changing at a rapid pace, faster than even we can comprehend; and finally, reform is necessary. What shape or form this change will take is unknown, but change is imminent.

Education in Arizona affects everyone. As cliché as it sounds, the children are our future. The next generations will be our future workforce, community stewards, policy makers, and leaders. We need to be sure that our young people are prepared and have the skills necessary for the real world. How can we be sure that we are doing our best to guide them, mentor them, and provide for them? How do we know they are ready? What do they need to know?

One undeniable area which our young people must be proficient in is technology. Technology has infiltrated our everyday lives. Electronic devices are no longer luxuries, but necessities to be prepared for the 21st century. Kids are learning differently with access to information, globalization, exposure to languages, cultures, and (every parent’s nightmare) social networking. As parents, teachers, and mentors, we need to make sure our young people have access and are proficient in using technology.

Lastly, it is clear that reform is necessary. The “finance puzzle”, as Dr. David Peterson so skillfully articulated, needs to be solved. An outdated, decades-old funding formula cannot be used today. Making schools choose between teachers and arts programs, or between staff and all-day Kindergarten, is plainly not acceptable. Incentives and motivation to excel are vital. Accountability is key from our students, teachers, administrators, parents, and communities.

Obviously we care for our children and we understand the importance of education. Scottsdale Unified School District superintendent Dr. Gary Catalani was certainly inspiring with his vision for the Education community. Certainly change starts with strong leadership, and certainly change will not occur overnight. My certainties end here.

What do you think will ignite change for the betterment of Arizona’s educational system?


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