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Pledge from new schools chief: 'No surprises'

By Doug Snover

July 29, 2006

David Schauer, the new superintendent of the Kyrene Elementary School District, has been around the district long enough to recognize its best points and acknowledge some of its rough edges.

He also realizes there are fences to mend after the bitter split between the Kyrene Governing Board and some of the district’s parents over a controversial decision to focus on “core” classes in Kyrene’s middle schools at the expense of electives such as music and the performing arts.

Schauer, 53, was named superintendent in July to succeed Maria Menconi. He has been with the Kyrene district since 1996 and was assistant superintendent before Menconi resigned.

“The best things are the kids, the staff, the support of the community…we’ve got everything it takes to be truly great,” Schauer told Wrangler News recently, looking and sounding like a diplomat.

“I’ve worked in a number of different districts in different states and I have never seen this level of community support for the work we do. It’s a huge advantage for us.

“We have a community with a lot of resources and we need to take full advantage of it. They want to make a contribution and they want to know how to participate.”

But communicating with Kyrene’s more than 18,500 students and their parents has been one of the district’s rough edges, Schauer said.

“What I’ve learned through years of working here is that a key to our effectiveness is really communication,” he said.

“It begins with the internal organization. With 25 schools and over 2,000 staff and 18,500 kids and all those families, how we communicate is extremely important.”

Schauer said he started revamping Kyrene’s internal communications about four years ago. Now, as the district's new chief, he plans to turn his attention to communicating with the Kyrene community.

“I think internal communications has been our biggest problem – our internal communication mechanisms haven’t been as effective as they could be,” he said. “Internally, if you aren’t doing the job (of communicating) well, what happens is that a parent might approach a teacher and that person won’t have an answer” or might have an answer that isn’t an informed one, he said.

“Beyond that is how we reach out to the community,” he said.

“When we did those (middle-school schedule) changes two years ago, the community was completely taken by surprise by the fact that we had come issues with the budget, that we felt the need to study certain areas and had felt that need for a long time.

“It made me realize that we have to do a much better job of keeping the public informed about our work and what our challenges are.”

Schauer said Kyrene has developed a better system for communicating with its own staff “but what we don’t have is the same type of structure with the community at large.”

In the past, Kyrene’s efforts to communicate with parents have been “reactive,” he said.

“I don’t really have a good mechanism to reach out to parents in a way that I need to. Parents need to understand what we’re doing and why,” he said. PTOs and site councils are there to help but they are not consistent across the district, he noted.

“You don’t want people to be surprised by the things that are going on. You want them to be informed.”

“People are generally satisfied with what’s happening in their own school and their own child, so they won’t necessarily be involved because things are going well and they are very busy people.”

Schauer resists the idea of grading Kyrene’s internal communications efforts – A, B, C, D or F.

“It went from something that needed to be improved to something much improved but still needs more improvement,” he said instead.

When he was principal at Aprende Middle School, “Departments here were very insulated from each other and they work in isolation and they had competing agendas…I would often get messages that weren’t compatible with each other and I didn’t know what to pay attention to.”

As for rating Kyrene’s way of communicating with parents, “I think that’s definitely a problem.”

“I see this as an evolutionary process. We’re finally, I think, much more effective internally. Now I can really start turning my attention to how we work with the community.”

“We have a group of parents who want to form a network, and I think that makes a lot of sense: A parent-driven supportive network where people are really engaged in what we’re doing. What I would love to be able to do right now is to call on this parent network and say you represent all the communities in Kyrene and I need to get a message out so use your resources and do that.

“I think there’s a lot of work that can be done in that area. Some of it has already been started.”

If Schauer envisions a gargantuan task, it's one he doesn't see doing alone.

“I really like the idea of a parent-driven organization so we’re not doing all of that work for them. We have a lot of parents who have the energy and the enthusiasm and the resources to want to do something like this. I think we can build a system that will work much better.”

Schauer thinks Kyrene’s changes to the middle school schedule would have been difficult under any circumstances.

But he said the district could have handled the difficult issue with better communication.

“I think it still would have been difficult because it was changes for kids. I think where a difference could have come in is if people would have understood what we were trying to do and why, it might have been easier to go through it.

“The fact that a lot of our parents were taken by surprise is not a good thing.”


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