BACK TO SCHOOL AT KYRENE: $26K grant from Instrument Museum is music to students’ ears

Kyrene School District hopes two pay raises help fill its shortage of bus drivers and some middle school teaching positions.

Kyrene School District students have been granted free access to explore the Musical Instrument Museum’s collection, which showcases instruments from around the world, courtesy of a $26,000 grant from the Scottsdale-based museum.

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The grant funds MIM field-trip admissions for as many as 2,000 students plus staff and chaperones, and funds district-wide access to MIM’s Virtual Education Programs during the coming school year. The only remaining costs are for buses to transport students.

MIM is home to more than 8,000 musical instruments from at least 200 countries.

“Thanks to the Musical Instrument Museum, we can offer students a unique way to expand their global awareness and explore cultures from around the world,” said Julie Hackmann, visual and performing arts coordinator at Kyrene. “That global perspective will be extremely valuable to students in the future, not just in their education but in their future careers.”

Beginning in August, teachers also can host in-classroom field trips for students through MIM’s Virtual Educational Programs, a unique way to explore cultures, create music and visit MIM’s galleries without leaving the classroom.


Portrait of Kyrene Kid to guide ’23 strategic plan

During the summer, Kyrene launched a vision for its students that will shape decision making and the foundation upon which the district’s next strategic plan is built.

Portrait of a Kyrene Kid is a model of competencies each student should possess when they finish eighth grade in the district.

It expects students moving on from Kyrene to be adaptable learners, collaborators, communicators, community contributors, critical thinkers, problem solvers and self advocates.

Lauren Toenjes

The portrait culminates a year-long effort to engage hundreds of stakeholders, including current and former students, staff, district leaders, Governing Board and local businesses. Each group participated in activities to identify skills and attributes necessary to be successful. They imagined not only what students will need to succeed in high school, but also in college, in the next-generation workplace and in their future communities.

“I am grateful to our Kyrene community for the time, effort, introspection and imagination that went into the development of this portrait,” said Superintendent Laura Toenjes. “It is of the utmost importance that we prepare our students for the classrooms and careers of tomorrow. The pace of change in our world is only increasing, and it is incumbent upon us to equip students with the skills necessary not only to keep up with rapid change but to stay ahead of it.”

All Kyrene families and staff also were asked to participate in a visioning survey last February. The results helped shape the portrait and will be used as a reference when mapping the district’s next five years. The Governing Board will launch its next strategic plan in January, 2023. Portrait of a Kyrene Kid is the first step, a cornerstone of the plan.


Kyrene invests in employees with 2nd pay hike

Kyrene is using new state funding to invest in its most valuable resource: employees. The district, which had approved a 3 percent pay increase for all employees for 2022-23 as well as an additional 65 cents per hour for employees in the lowest wage tier, is now adding an additional 4 percent raise for all teachers and administrators, and an additional $2 per-hour for all support staff.

For many employees, that all adds up to an increase of more than 10 percent.

Kyrene has faced staffing challenges in the face of the Great Recession, particularly among support staff, which includes bus drivers, teaching assistants and office staff.

“This past year has been one of the most challenging years for recruiting and retaining educational support professionals,” said Superintendent Laura Toenjes. “We know people want to work for school districts, where their time and skills are put to use in service of children and the noble work of education. But we also know people are providing for families and need to earn a livable wage, so this increase will make our compensation package more competitive, not only with other educational organizations but with the private sector, as well.”

“We know that our employees have felt the financial impact caused by inflation in their day-to-day lives,” said district chief financial officer Chris Herrmann. “This new increase will ensure Kyrene employees continue to earn starting wages well above the minimum wage while providing additional compensation to offset the impact caused by inflation.”

The increase for teachers helps Kyrene to remain competitive in the face of a nationwide teacher shortage.

For the first time in years, Kyrene is heading into a new school year still seeking middle school teachers and resource teachers.

More information about these openings:


Leadership retention high in district

Kyrene has a nearly 100 percent retention rate among principals and department directors heading into the new school year.

Olivia Parry

Only one Kyrene principal, Lisa Connor at Kyrene de los Niños is leaving her position — but she did not leave the district. She is the new district director of school effectiveness, supporting all schools.

Olivia Parry, who was Niños assistant principal for 10 years, succeeds Connor. Parry, a former Kyrene student, has been involved with the district for three decades.

She earned her undergraduate degree in special education from Arizona State and master’s in educational leadership from Northern Arizona. She began her Kyrene career teaching students with learning and emotional disabilities.

“Kyrene de los Niños captured my heart 10 years ago,” Parry said. “Leading a school I love is invigorating. I’m excited to continue to inspire growth so all students and staff can experience success.”

Kyrene has hired only one outside candidate for school principal or department director in the last four years. Superintendent Laura Toenjes says creating pathways for professional growth is key in the district’s retention strategies.

“That Kyrene continues to find the best candidates among our own ranks, year after year, is no accident,” Toenjes said. “It is a testament to our commitment to professional growth for educators, support staff and all future leaders. We hire the best people, and we want to keep the best people, so they can then lead the next generation of Team Kyrene.”

Kyrene Aspiring Leaders Academy has prepared teachers to be principals and assistant principals. Now, Kyrene is expanding KALA to non-teaching staff to create a training program for those interested in becoming leaders beyond the school building.

KALA was established in 2011 to provide opportunities for advancement. The academy is a free, two-year program. Areas of study for the General Leadership Track will include organizational strategy, workplace culture, leadership styles, meeting facilitation, capacity building, problem solving and conceptual thinking, along with practical training in hiring, finance and policy.



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