Glendale district gets momentum for change
The Arizona Republic
Jul. 30, 2004

Monica Mendoza
Leaders have plan to up AIMS scores

It was 110 degrees and the end of summer vacation arrived for 60 Glendale Elementary School District principals, assistant principals and mentor teachers.

They gathered last week in the Landmark Middle School cafeteria for a six-hour meeting on academic standards. The small but growing district has new books, new lessons and five new principals.

But the fresh faces didn't keep Superintendent Perry Hill from laying on them the granddaddy of all school goals for the 2004-05 school year: "Raise student achievement at every school at every grade level," Hill said as he looked out at the crowd.

On Monday, 14,000 children in Grades K-8 will return to the halls of 16 schools in the small, but rapidly changing, Glendale school district. About 4,500 of those children will be learning to speak English.

Glendale is a district opening new schools and attracting new teachers, but it struggles with academic achievement. Last school year, seven schools were labeled "underperforming" by the state. Those are labels Hill hopes to shake this year.

"In all my years as an educator, I have never had the expectations or excitement I have for this school year," he said.

In his annual pep talk to school principals, Hill said the district has been moving to this time of carpe diem for the past three years. The district bought new reading and math materials. Teachers reshuffled their days to spend Friday afternoons in meetings talking about the best teaching practices. And there are mentor reading and math teachers in every school.

"It's time," Hill said, "time for our kids to start achieving. We owe that to our kids."

In an audience filled with those who have been asked for more and then some each school year, there was not one dreadful sigh, no under-the-breath mumbling. There was determination.

"I think it's attainable," said John Dalmolin, new principal of Landmark Middle School. "You have to go slow to go fast, but you keep moving forward."

New energy

Momentum has been building for the past three years in the 16-square-mile school district. Board President Steve Johnston is hopeful about the coming year, saying it is time to turn the tide on academic achievement.

New principals are chief on his list of why he believes the district is on the verge of an about-face. In addition to Dalmolin are Diane Pesch at Don Mensendick, Kristen Hartsuff at William C. Jack, John Scudder at Glenn F. Burton and Kenneth Fleming at Bicentennial North.

"Boy, we've got some good ones," Hill said.

But in his one-two punch style, he added: "We're in the mode where we want to see results."

Hill's goal to raise student achievement in every grade at every school is no surprise. About 100 teachers have been meeting for months to produce "Power Standards," a national trend in slicing the academic standards pie.

The Glendale teachers reviewed the Arizona state education standards - a list of what each child should learn in each grade - in reading, math, science and social studies. They compared the list to questions on the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards, the test on which school labels are based.

About one-third of all the state standards are tested in the AIMS. Glendale teachers came up with Power Standards, or priorities, that will be taught in each grade, in each subject. For example, if there are 30 standards in fifth-grade math, Glendale teachers will teach 10 - all of the information that children need to pass the AIMS.

It would be ideal if Glendale teachers could teach all state standards, said Mark Joraanstad, Glendale assistant superintendent, but it is not realistic.

"The state academic standards are too voluminous for the number of instructional days," Joraanstad said.

Teachers were struggling and asking for help, he said.

Veteran teacher Margie Hourihan said teachers had new reading and math materials and had immersed themselves in the state standards. Now, they will be more focused on what is most important for children to learn, she said.

"We were saying 'What do we really need?' " she said. Hourihan said teachers at Coyote Ridge School are feeling good about the new narrow focus and are up to Hill's challenge.

"I do expect to see a huge change in our test scores this year," she said.  "We are very excited to say this is exactly what the students need to know."