In publication since 1991, Wrangler News is distributed free every other Saturday to more than 18,000 homes in the Kyrene Corridor area of South Tempe and West Chandler, and is supported by local and regional advertisers.

  Search past and present issues of the Wrangler
    Site search Web search                       
   powered by
Classifieds Contact Us Links Media Kit Make a Payment Previous Issues

Back Home Forward
Advocacy groups tell why they formed, what they hope to accomplish
Communication seen as crucial to Kyrene's future
By Jonathan J. Cooper

January 21, 2006

Passion, indignation and a growing sense of frustration with the Kyrene School District have brought together a diverse group of activists and driven them to fight for change in a school district that some say is losing its path.

The frustration stems from a lack of communication from the school board and district administration, parents say, and has led to a recall campaign and the formation of a new parent organization.

Last year, an independent, district-funded communications audit found that Kyrene struggles with creating a “two-way flow of communication” and made recommendations for improvement.

However, much of the parents’ aggravation began prior to the audit, when the public was beginning to learn of plans to alter middle school scheduling. The result was an extension of time in math, science and social studies classes, but a reduction in reading and language arts classes. Meeting times for elective classes were reduced from daily to every other day, and Spanish was changed from a requirement to an elective.

Dissatisfaction with the changes quickly led to the formation of a political action committee, members of which collected enough signatures to force a recall election for Board President Rae Waters, who voted in the majority in the board’s 3-2 decision to adopt the changes. Waters was the only board member to vote in the majority who is eligible for recall; former member John Doney has since moved out of state, and member Sue Knudson was ineligible because her term had just begun.

But parents active in the recall said the campaign is about more than Waters’ controversial vote. They acknowledge and accept that the schedule changes are not likely to be reversed. They said the campaign is instead about bridging the communication gap between board members and parents.

“We felt we were blindsided,” said Stephanie Shelby, a Kyrene parent who served as the PAC’s chairwoman.

“We weren’t given enough time to even organize to have a voice. We felt like the decision had already been made by the time it made it to our level, and we felt like the communication desperately needs to be improved.”

The group of active recall campaigners is diverse. Most did not know each other well, if at all, before they organized to fight the scheduling changes. They come from all across the Kyrene boundary area and have children at all different levels of the Kyrene school system. Some don’t even currently have children in the district. To varying degrees, most volunteered at their children’s schools in some capacity, whether with the PTO or assisting teachers with document preparation and field trips. Few had regularly attended governing board meetings.

Some are homemakers. Others are lawyers, artists and engineers. All are passionate about the campaign they’ve undertaken.

Of the half-dozen recall supporters who spoke with Wrangler News, all were political novices, having minimal experience in electoral or campaign work, if any at all. Most see themselves much more heavily involved with future school board elections after taking part in the recall campaign.

Some see the campaign as a sort of moral obligation.

“I remember that moment I thought, ‘I can’t just sit by and watch this happen. I have to do something about this,’” said McKell Keeney, a highly active and visible recall supporter.

“If I sat by and didn’t do anything, I’d feel more guilty than (for) what I’m doing now,” said Shiela Edmiston, another active supporter.

The recall supporters all said that their opinion of the scheduling changes did not change once they saw it in practice.

“I think it’s exactly what we all thought it would be,” said Steve Shelby, who served as the recall PAC’s treasurer.

Parents complained that a lack of preparation time forced some music teachers to reduce the number of performances. The “academic lab,” a block of time built into the day for miscellaneous instruction, has been inconsistently implemented and inadequately used, they added. In addition, their kids have difficulty paying attention during the 68-minute class periods.

“You’re dealing with microscopic attention spans in the middle school,” Shelby added.

Running against Waters in the March 14 recall election is Patrick McGill, a Tempe attorney with children at Kyrene del Cielo and Kyrene Middle School. McGill said he was not heavily involved with the recall campaign, but was asked to run by several of the campaign’s key organizers. He had been previously planning to run in the regularly scheduled election in November.

McGill was highly critical of the board’s communication with parents and pledged as a board member to have an “open door policy.”

“As an attorney I’m a problem solver,” he said. “I like to do my research. I like to really dive into a problem, take it apart, put it back together. I feel that I’m a good listener. I’m going to listen to both sides, the pros and cons of issues.”

He said he’d like to be able to “reintroduce the curriculum which they did slash,” but stressed the importance of working with the other board members. He noted that any action requires a three-vote consensus, and said that he has met with several board members and had “a very good dialogue.”

Critics, including Waters, have condemned the recall, saying it’s an unnecessary use of district money when Waters is up for reelection in November anyway. McGill defended the campaign.

“The recall is put there just for this purpose. If people don’t feel that they’re being represented properly, that’s one of their options that they have: to force a recall election. It’s the price for democracy.”

McGill collected almost 3,300 signatures, which was more than enough to get him on the recall ballot. He said he feels “very good” about his prospects.

“The parents that I’ve talked to, the voters in the Kyrene School District, are very receptive,” he said. “They do know the issues, compared to a lot of elections where voters don’t follow the issues.  These parents here in Kyrene are very interested and they’re very educated and they’re following it.”

Aside from the recall, parents are pursuing other avenues in efforts to improve the communication between parents and the district.

The Kyrene Parent Network was founded in October as a nonprofit organization whose members hope to “advocate for the highest quality of education for all students in the Kyrene and Tempe Union High School districts, by promoting dialogue and consistent communication among all stakeholders,” according to the organization’s mission statement.

“A lot of the other districts in the Phoenix Valley have parent groups that work very well with their districts and provide a very meaningful value, and we felt that that was definitely a need in the Kyrene district that wasn’t being met,” said Brian Smith, director of communications and vice president of the organization.

KPN’s first goal is to establish a strong relationship with the district’s sources of power.

“We’re still organizing; trying, I’d say more than anything else, to get our base settled with the district itself, the governing board, the superintendent,” Smith said.

If the organization’s January meeting was any indication, it may be finally beginning to make some inroads into establishing those relationships. Two board members and a district staff member attended the meeting.

Smith hopes that the KPN will eventually develop a relationship similar to the Scottsdale Parent Council, its counterpart in the Scottsdale Unified School District.

“They are literally partners working with each other,” he said. “We’re short of that, and we’re hoping to generate that kind of relationship; a very healthy, productive relationship.”

While some of the new organization’s members were active recall supporters, Smith and KPN President Ann Niemann took extreme care to establish that the Kyrene Parent Network is not a political organization and has no ties to or support for the recall. They say they are a group of parents who want to work with the district and with the school board, not against them.

The group’s monthly meeting times and locations are posted on its website,

Whether it’s the communication audit, the recall campaign, the formation of the Kyrene Parent Network or some combination of them all, most of the parents who spoke with Wrangler said they had noticed at least a slight increase in the district’s communications effectiveness during this school year.

“I think they (the district) indeed are making an effort,” Steve Shelby said. “As is Rae Waters, albeit after the fact.”


















































































web site hit counter