In this first-of-the-year issue of Wrangler News, we pay tribute to two members of the Kyrene School District’s Governing Board who have served tirelessly — and effectively — for the combined past quarter century. It represents our and the community’s way of saying thank you for these two stalwart members’ services and wishing them well in their future endeavors, which we’re sure will not be without an ongoing commitment to the needs of Kyrene’s educational system and the famiies benefiting from it. — The Editors
If someone is close to a fixture in the Kyrene District, it well maybe Michelle Hirsch. With 17 years of school-based volunteer work and eight years of board service under her belt, Hirsch is well-known throughout the Wrangler corridor. She is the proud mother of three children who all attended Kyrene schools.
She grew up in the area and initially planned a career as a secondary education teacher while attending ASU. Her passion for education has never wavered along with her commitment to improving the community.
When you decided to run for the Governing Board, you must have had a personal goal or mission in mind. Were you able to get it accomplished for yourself? — “When I decided to run for the Governing Board, my personal goal was just to be the best school board member I could be. Admittedly, I didn’t realize how much of a time commitment it would be. But, I was determined to give the role the time and energy it required, to ensure I was knowledgeable and prepared to make good decisions for students and the District.
“I am grateful I have a flexible full-time job and a supportive family to have been able to give the necessary time to accomplish that goal.
“It was also a priority to me to consistently communicate with the community that was overwhelmingly supportive in electing me, twice, and that goal was accomplished by encouraging good communications in the District, meeting frequently with teachers, District & support staff, administrators, parents, students, and community members to share information, never missing a school board meeting, facilitating community forums, speaking to groups in the community, and sharing accurate information on social media.
“During my eight years as a Governing Board member, I often logged an average of 30 hours a week, year-round. But, I enjoyed working as a school board member and had the chance to learn about District operations. I also was able to share information with the community and help to dispel mis-information or misperceptions; to help people address concerns; to collaborate with my Board colleagues and the superintendent; and to work together to make improvements.”
What was the most rewarding aspect of your board service? — “Kyrene is a great school district because of dedicated, hard-working employees, fantastic students and their families, and our supportive community.
“I am passionate about quality education, so it’s been very rewarding working with all of them to positively impact local, quality education. I am particularly proud of initiating the adoption of policies to support all students and staff.
“I am also proud of helping to improve the look and feel of the Governing Board room. I worked with art teachers including Cassidy Parker-Anders, Jennifer Pooler, and Ellen Pope, to create the impressive mosaic mural, ‘Kyrene Students: Learning, Playing, Growing.’ We also initiated the project resulting in the beautiful, hand-painted ceiling tiles, which represent all 25 Kyrene schools, and the fabulous framed student artwork on the walls.”
What was the most difficult part of serving on the board? — “The most difficult part of serving on the Governing Board was the time commitment, because while my professional work life is flexible, the additional hours I dedicated to Board work often meant I did not have time for my business, my family and friends, home maintenance, or to get a good night’s sleep.
“It was also particularly difficult when we’d have to make budget cuts, especially when those cuts negatively impacted people’s lives and quality education.
“So, while some parts of school-board work is difficult, the good definitely outweighs the difficulties.”
Do you have any wisdom or advice to share with your replacements on the board? — “I would share some great advice I received from a former Kyrene Governing Board member, Rich Zawtocki, soon after I was elected the first time in 2008. He suggested that when school-board work starts to take its toll with long meetings, difficult budget-cut decisions, and responding to concerns—take time to visit schools. Then you will get to see great teaching and learning in action—because that will recharge, encourage, inspire, and remind you why you serve as a school board member. “I’m grateful I took Rich’s advice, it made me a better board member.
How will you spend your extra free time now?
“I chose not to run for re-election to a third term because I want to spend more time with my family & friends, focus attention on my business interests and my health, and to complete some home improvement projects.
It was my honor and pleasure to serve as a Kyrene school board member for eight years, and I will continue my very rewarding volunteer work with the Guadalupe Teen Court program.
Tempe has been my community for nearly 40 years, and I will always feel a part of Kyrene and be passionate about local quality education. So, I know I will continue to care about and pay attention to what’s happening in the Kyrene School District—but, for now I’ll just be watching most Board meetings from home in my pjs.”
Hirsch earns state recognition
UPDATE: Michelle Hirsch received the Arizona School Boards Association “All Arizona School Board Member” award at the ASBA annual award dinner on Dec. 14 at the Arizona Biltmore.
The award is ASBA’s highest individual board-member honor, bestowed on board members who exemplify best practices in boardsmanship, understand their roles and follow through on their responsibilities. It requires board action to be nominated and a selection committee chooses the winners. Among the accomplishments cited in Hirsch’s nomination:
- Led the work on development of a non-discrimination policy for District employees
- Was instrumental in the development of the Fine Arts Integration program at Paloma Elementary and Pueblo Middle School
- Initiated the practice of placing easily identifiable numbers on each school bus, improving safety and the efficiency of students being able to identify their correct bus assignment
- Collaborated on the planning and live broadcast of the first Kyrene interactive on-line Town Hall meeting
- Initiated the addition of an electronic response system that allows board members to signal their wanting to speak during meetings
- Initiated the installation of a teacher-created mural in the Governing Board meeting room
Since 2008, Ross Robb has served as an active member on the Kyrene School District’s Governing Board. Robb is a real estate developer who earned his MBA from ASU and also is a licensed CPA in Arizona.
Since moving to Tempe in 1981, from his native state of New York, Robb has made an indelible imprint on the city through both his professional and civic contributions.
When you decided to run for the Kyrene District Governing Board, you must have had a personal goal or mission in mind. Were you able to get it accomplished for yourself?
“Much like many school board members across America, my goal was simply to serve my local community and to employ whatever skills I possessed and acquired over time to support and advance public education in Kyrene to the best of my ability.
“I did not come to the job with any personal agenda; though certain issues did become important to me over time — for example, closing the achievement gap, promoting ‘choice’ within Kyrene, and improving our financial planning processes.
“I will leave it to others to determine how well I worked with others and contributed to accomplishing District goals. Overall, I found my service on the Kyrene Governing Board to be very rewarding in many ways – personally, professionally and civically.”
What was the most rewarding aspect of your board service?
“Without question, even though it is not a core Governing Board responsibility, the most rewarding aspect was to go to school buildings to observe students, teachers and site-based staff perform their day-to-day work.
“As a Governing Board Member, it is pretty easy to lose sight of our core educational mission — unless you experience our educational services being delivered and see first-hand how teachers teach, how students learn and grow, and how schools operate each and every day. Attending the eighth grade promotion ceremonies, and addressing– and hopefully inspiring graduates and their families– was also an annual highlight of my Kyrene service.
“And, of course, meeting and knowing so many great people who work in Kyrene and who I served with on the Board. Many will be friends long after I leave Kyrene.”
What was the most difficult part of serving on the board?
“Much of my time on the Kyrene Governing Board occurred during a time of economic recession and shrinking operating budgets. Having to consider and implement level of service and programmatic changes that were not in the best interest of students and having to freeze salaries for teachers, support professionals and administrators, who, in many cases, had to work harder because of those programmatic changes was very difficult.
“Fortunately, as a result of some new funding and some wise planning, the Board was able to reverse some of these cutbacks this past year and hopefully enrollment and funding will be sufficient in the future to continue to expand Kyrene’s offerings and services and to provide sufficient compensation increases to deserving employees.”
Do you have any wisdom or advice to share with your replacements on the board?
“First, I wish Mike Myrick and Michelle Fahy only the best as they come to the Board, and want them and Bernadette, John and Kristen to know I am always available as a community member to support them and Kyrene.
“My simple advice is to learn the job, know your role and always act with integrity and in the best interest of the District, our students and your fellow Board members.
“Focus primarily on (1) student achievement (2) enrollment (3) employee satisfaction and stability and (4) accountability for all (including yourself and the Board) and you probably won’t go wrong.
“Kyrene is well-positioned to move forward and achieve success, but it won’t happen without focus and commitment from everyone.”
How will you spend your extra free time now?
“Just living my life day-to-day and having fun in every aspect of that life — including my ‘day job’ as a real estate developer, spending time with my wonderful family and kids, and with great friends—and likely looking for new and fun ways to serve my community and to try to make the world a better place. And, of course, following the successes of the Kyrene School District!
“Thank you to all the wonderful and committed people who I have worked with and met over the years in Kyrene. You always made me feel welcome and I hope I made your lives better in ways both big and small.