Editor’s note: At the invitation of Dr. Jan Vesely, Wrangler News education writer Diana Whittle sat down with the new superintendent to cover progress that has been made since Vesely was appointed to the post in July. The meeting provided an opportunity to discuss the status of a comprehensive appraisal that was conducted by a respected national firm, and to determine what improvements might be considered as Vesely moves forward in her first year on the job, and thereafter.
Special report by Diana Whittle
As the first new superintendent of the Kyrene district in two decades, Dr. Jan Vesely decided she needed a clearer understanding of the organization’s inner workings—what had gone before, what challenges might await in coming years.
When applied to a school setting, this translates into an in-depth review of the systems in the district, including the policies, organizational relationships, administrative functions, budgeting and curriculum design.
The vehicle to accomplish this: an audit by an outside consultant with national experience in school curriculum.
“A curriculum audit is a rigorous process that focuses on what is required to effectively and efficiently deliver quality instruction to our students,” said Vesely. “The end result is a report that points out the positives, as well as the deficiencies for the school administrators and the board.”
Curriculum Management Solutions Inc., a company based in Iowa, was retained for the project. Well-known in the education field, the consultants in fact trademarked the term “curriculum audit” in 1996.
A team of auditors spent the past four months in the district, researching and doing extensive in-take work, including 180 one-on-one interviews with key stakeholders in the district; 25 focus groups with both community members and parents; 400 responses to a survey; visits to 250 classrooms in 25 schools; and a review of more than 700 district documents.
The summary of their findings is now a report, which was unveiled to the Governing Board during its regular meeting on Feb. 14. A replay of the meeting can be viewed on-line through YouTube.
“Now that the Governing Board has received the audit, the staff can turn their attention to assessing the recommendations that were made,” said Vesely.
“I will be expected to come forward with my corrective plan of action to respond to the discrepancies that were identified.”
Even before the audit was completed, however, Vesely was ready to move forward with developing updated plans to priorities that previously were identified by the board, such as better serving the needs of special education and gifted students; improving the performance of struggling students, particularly those with significant academic achievement gaps; and offering more educational choices to parents.
Vesely also announced on Jan. 27 her plan to redirect staff resources from the District Office to the schools.
“The changes I announced to staff, who are impacted, represent a shift of employees from the District Office to instructional-support positions in the schools. These changes represent a cost-neutral shift of $2.1 million in resources from the District Office back to our schools,” said Vesely.
More details on this plan are expected to be included in a presentation before the Parent/Superintendent Council on Feb. 21.
Additional areas of concern that the audit identified are updating the technology plan for the district, enhancing professional development opportunities and developing stronger curriculum management.
It’s a full plate for any administrator, and Vesely also plans to focus on building student capacity and enrollment for the district.
“This year, we are down about 400 students district-wide,” said Vesely. “We also know that like most school districts in the state, Kyrene is more diverse ethnically and economically.”
The audit reports that over half the student body has identified racially as other than White; nearly one-third of enrolled students are considered economically disadvantaged. With enrollment shifts, scores on state assessment tests dropped slightly.
“While a majority of Kyrene students still earn excelling scores on assessment tests, there are significant achievement gaps noted in the performance of economically disadvantaged students,” said Vesely.
“We know we have work to do in specific areas, but I also am confident in the new learning opportunities we will be offering in partnership with our Governing Board.
“In the next school year, we begin the expansion of Kyrene Traditional Academy to Pre K – 8, prepare our application for an International Baccalaureate program at Kyrene Middle School, implement the redesign of our middle schools and provide greater opportunities for early learning,” said Vesely.
“Yes, these are ambitious goals, but they are critical in the long term to securing our enrollment base for the future. And, I view these discrepancies as an opportunity for staff to strengthen our reputation as one of the best school districts in the state.”
In summary, Vesely says her main priority as the superintendent is to ensure that every child in the Kyrene District receives a quality education and is college or career ready.
Information: Kyrene.org or 480-541-1000.