Original URL: http://www.azcentral.com/arizonarepublic/local/articles/1216wvisaac16.html

Isaac schools empowered by strategies of new chief
The Arizona Republic
Dec. 16, 2003
Maggie Galehouse

WEST PHOENIX - The Isaac Elementary School District has competent workers but poor communication, says Kent Scribner, the district's new superintendent.

To remedy that, Scribner created three advisory committees: one for parents, one for support staff and one for teachers.

Each committee hashed out a short list of concerns from its particular group and, based in part on the commmittees' findings, Scribner recently released his 100-day report with three basic initiatives for Isaac: increase student achievement, improve customer service and integrate parents and community.

"Traditionally, this district has been run from the top down," said Scribner, who took over the superintendent's job from Paul Hanley on July 1.

By giving a voice to three groups in the community, Scribner hopes to run the district more democratically. The committees have met several times.

"We want financial stability and input into decisionmaking," said Michelle Covarrubias, a reading coach and member of the teacher advisory committee. "We'd like to ensure respect for teachers."

The committee of support staff, which includes custodians, secretaries, cafeteria workers and others, are particularly concerned with financial stability.

"We want year-round pay," said Pearl Howard, who runs a "responsible thinking" classroom where children are sent to be disciplined.

The year-round district runs nine weeks on and then three weeks off, with a six-week vacation in the summer.

Teachers are paid year-round, Howard said Support staff would like that kind of security.

High on the list of parent priorities are enhancing school safety, lowering class size and helping all parents become more responsible for their children's actions at school, said JoAnn Valdez, parent coordinator at Esperanza Elementary School.

Members of all three committees said they were happy that the superintendent sought their input.

"I've been in the district 13 years," Valdez said, "and this is the first time parents have had an opportunity to voice their concerns. It's also the first time I ever got a call from my superintendent."

Scribner, who is bilingual, said the school community is "still healing" from the incident at PT Coe Elementary last year when teachers balked at the principal's request to keep Spanish out of the playground, cafeteria and hallways. The 9,000-student district is 95 percent Hispanic.

In February, Scribner hopes to present a new organizational structure for Isaac that will discourage a top-down approach and emphasize parents and students working directly with district staff.

"People look at our kids, urban language/minority kids, and don't want to see them," Scribner said. "They want to build a wall around many neighborhoods in urban Phoenix. But I want these kids to be academically and socially successful."

Reach the reporter at maggie.galehouse@arizonarepublic.com or (602) 444-6919.