When school starts in August, Tracey Pastor, principal now at Kyrene de la Sierra Elementary, one of the highest performing schools in the district, will be moving to Kyrene del Norte, one of only two schools in the district that did not receive an A or B rating from the State Education Department, missing the better score by only three points.
Scores notwithstanding, Pastor is excited.
“I have experience working with a higher percentage of students who qualify for free and reduced lunch,” said Pastor, who prior to her three-year stint at Sierra was a principal in the Phoenix Elementary School District.
She applied for the transfer to Norte, a Title 1 school, as soon as she heard about the opening.
More than 50 percent of Norte’s student body qualifies for free and reduced lunch, making it one of four Kyrene schools eligible for Title 1 funds. In comparison, less than 10 percent of Sierra’s students qualify for free and reduced lunch.
“I’ve really enjoyed being principal here at Sierra, but this is quite an opportunity to become principal at Norte,” she said.
Despite the challenges the school faces with poverty and student achievement, Pastor said that Norte has a strong reputation. “The number of students who come from far away speaks highly about the school because those families make that commitment and really want to be there,” she said. More than 250 of Norte’s students come from out of boundary.
Earlier this month Pastor attended a meeting with parents hosted by Norte’s Family-Teacher Organization.
“Parents were warm and welcoming and had excellent questions about my background and plans for the school. They seemed very aware of what goes on at Norte,” she said.
One of the things that most attracted Pastor to Norte is its diversity. Her own children live and attend schools in a neighborhood that appears demographically similar, she said. Pastor, who speaks fluent Spanish, looks forward to the opportunity to work with families who not only come from diverse ethnic and socioeconomic, but lingual backgrounds as well.
“Even with bilingual parents, they may feel more comfortable talking about sensitive subjects that sometimes a principal needs to talk with parents about if they know that someone speaks their native language,” said Pastor.
Pastor said she is also eager to work with Norte’s staff, who she describes as a “passionate group of educators. They are dedicated to doing whatever it takes to meet the needs of all of its students.”
While she’s enthusiastic, Pastor also recognizes that any change brings challenge.
“Norte has had someone who’s been a strong leader for eight years,” she said, referring to Norte’s current principal, Spencer Fallgatter. He will become principal at Mariposa next year.
To help ease the transition, the first thing Pastor likes to do is take stock of what works and what doesn’t by asking teachers and parents what’s the one thing they would change of they could, and what’s the one thing they wouldn’t change.
“Anything that parents and teachers overwhelmingly say works—I don’t want to touch that.”
One question that came up with parents at the FTO meeting was her style of discipline. “I am really big on accentuating and giving specific praise and feedback on the things that we want children to do versus giving them a long list of things that they shouldn’t do in school.”
To continue the conversations, she will meet with smaller groups of parents, attend the next FTO meeting, and attend Norte’s Night at the Museum.
“Hopefully we can quickly build trust and establish a relationship. I’m trying to be as open and available to parents as I can be,” she said.
“Just like the parents and staff might be nervous about such a big change that’s about to happen, I have that same sense of nervousness,” she said.
“But it’s a good anxiety. I’m looking forward to wrapping up things here at Sierra so I can spend a few weeks getting to know the school, teachers, and families before the new school year starts.”
Other staffing changes include Jim Verrill, who has been principal at Milenio Elementary for the past three years, moving to Aprende Middle School.