Category Archives: School Administration

The minutes add up

photo: Jacob Yarborough Photography/

Story by Daniel Friedman

I saw a newsletter from Paradise Valley School District today about how they are going to add time to the school day. Ten minutes to the high school day and 30 minutes to the elementary school day. Yes, you read that correctly, ten minutes to the high school day. Not sure what that ten minutes will add to the learning environment, aside from not stealing time from an academic period for announcements, or they could 1.67 minutes to every period. That’d be 100 seconds.

The thirty minutes added to an elementary school day is a chunk of time teachers can use. Maybe it’s for recess in the middle of the day. Maybe it’s more time to drill on the AIMS test content. I hope they use it for recess, young kids don’t benefit from more seat time. Recess calms the body and the mind.

I taught in the public schools for ten years. I always found that much of the school day was wasted on behavior management or logistics related to administering a large group. Passing stuff out, collecting things, explaining how to act in the hallways, reminding kids to be quiet, on time, faster, slower or more attentive. In truth, the school day could be half as long. Home schooled kids need far less time out of their day for school.

I sent an email to the Paradise Valley School District governing board asking what they are doing with the 10 extra minutes in the high schools. I know changing the work day is complicated. Teachers have contracts that specify how many hours they work and how much they get paid for those hours. A district can’t just add hours to a contract for the same pay. Changing the school day can get expensive.

When I taught in middle school, the most efficient days were days when the classes were shortened to 25 minutes for some special event. The students knew there wasn’t much time and they found the quick classes more endurable than the hour- long sessions. They were more attentive. More seat time, or school time is not necessarily better.

When I hear back from the PV district I’ll update this post.


School board training and advice

This photo is of a school board in 1918 in Washington, DC. Education has changed, as has fashion. Photo: Library of Congress

Arizona has 225 school districts. Heck, Maricopa county has 46 school boards by itself, so hundreds of school board seats will be up for election in November.

With the deadline a few months away the Arizona School Boards Association (ASBA) is offering webinars Monday, April 16 from 6:30-7:30pm and Wednesday, May 9, from 5:30-6:30pm, to help potential candidates understand what serving on a school board entails and what it takes to run for the position.

Topics in each webinar will cover
• Why Serve?
• Do You Have What It Takes?
• What School Board Members Do (and What They Don’t Do)
• Eligibility and the Basics of Running for Office
• Commonly Asked Questions about Board Service­
• Support Available to Board Members Once Elected

Participants can also ask questions which will be answered during the webinar.

Those interested in participating in the webinar can register by visiting the ASBA home page and clicking on the “Running for School Board” link in the What’s New section of the home page.

The mission of the Arizona School Board Association, according to the association website, is “Promoting community volunteer governance of public education and continuous improvement of student success by providing leadership and assistance to public school governing boards.” All the school boards around the state can get support and training from the association. The ASBA are members of the National School Boards Association (NSBA).

A presentation titled “So You Want to Be a School Board Member” is available on the AZSBA website along with other online training sessions.

Read Lynn Trimble’s story, Running for the school board

The future of education in Arizona

Jim Rice, John Huppenthal, Gabriel Trujillo and Sybil Francis.

Phoenix Country Day School hosted a panel discussion on the future of education in Arizona on Wednesday night. John Huppenthal, our newly elected state superintendent of public instruction, was there, along with Sybil Francis, Ph.D., executive director of the Center for the Future of Arizona; Jim Rice, Ph.D., program administrator for the Rodel Foundation of Arizona and Gabriel A. Trujillo, principal at Trevor G. Browne High School.

The topic? How the educational system must change in order to meet the needs of Arizona’s children.

There were a lot of empty seats in the audience, which is surprising, considering the scope of the discussion and the importance of the educational system to anyone, whether they have children or not. There were probably about 150 people, including members of Boy Scout Troop 340, who were in the second row to take notes and absorb information to earn a communications merit badge.

Boy Scouts in Troop 340 from St. Thomas the Apostle School in Phoenix attended the panel discussion to communications merit badges.

Francis started out saying education had to change to fit the needs of the students. “We are not going to meet the future by doing what we have done in the past,” she said. “We cannot keep doing what we have been doing, educating in the same way, with the same structure that we’ve been using for the last 100 years, and think it’s going to take us successfully into the next 100 years.” Expectations of the school system have changed and a high school education is not sufficient for today’s job market. (A hundred years ago, just an elementary education was enough.)

Our schools are still organized on the industrial model, Francis added, meaning that schools treat all students coming in the same way: grouped by age, with students in each grade learning the same thing at the same time. Students are treated like widgets to be turned out uniformly.

When I was taking education classes from 1991 to 1993, professors at ASU said essentially the same thing. And that was in the pre-Internet world. I attended this event hoping to hear something new — something that had changed significantly in nearly two decades since I first decided to become a teacher.

But the topics discussed on Wednesday were pretty much the same as those discussed in my education classes in the early 1990s. High school graduation rates are what they were in 1970. Reading and math proficiency need to be increased. Parent involvement in their children’s education is essential to student success. We need to reorganize schools to meet the needs of modern students. And of course funding and teacher compensation is still an issue.

At far right is PCDS Assistant Head of School James Calleroz White who moderated the panel discussion.

Trujillo was optimistic. “I believe that…we are at the dawn of a new age brought on by competition and open enrollment,” he said. “A possible Renaissance Age is upon us if we embrace change.” Change will be hastened because public schools will have to compete with online education, alternative schools and school-within-a-school models.

Rice, who was in the Alhambra district for 39 years, says the biggest catalyst for student performance is parental involvement, regardless of funding or the amount of technology in the schools. The bottom line, he said, is that parents must work with students and teachers to support the education of their children. He also advocated focusing on positives.

“We need to start sharing what is going on in our good schools,” he said. There are pockets of innovation that do work and those innovations need to be spread to other schools.

I was interested in what John Huppenthal had to say, since he is our new superintendent of public instruction. He talked about the thousands of research reports he reads and the analysis of test scores and data he sifts through, looking for “breakthrough” ideas to improve education. He hasn’t found many.

“There’s a huge cloud of dust in education when it comes to research studies,” he said. “One of the painful things was to realize there was research about research. And the research about research said that 95 percent of the research wasn’t worth the paper it was written on.”

He is convinced technology will bring breakthroughs, though he admitted that research doesn’t indicate that educational software will offer that breakthrough. I couldn’t help thinking about all of the software packages I saw when I was teaching and the millions of dollars spent on them.

I talked to Huppenthal after the panel discussion ended. I asked him when he thought the changes the panelists described might occur, and when the successful innovations of specific schools might hit the public schools as a whole. He said gains will be realized in the next seven or eight years and that two years worth of educational gains will occur in one school year, in what he called “Education 2.0.”

And what will drive this huge gain in efficiency? Huppenthal believes competition with charter schools and private schools will drive the public schools to innovate and improve to keep their enrollment up.

So we still have to wait. Not what you want to hear if your child is entering high school this year, but encouraging for parents whose young children are just getting started. Unfortunately, large systems move slowly.

Changes the panel talked about included:

• Organizing schools to meet the needs of individual students.

• Preparing students with the academic and/or trade skills suitable for the realities of the job market they will face.

• Training and paying teachers to drive innovation. Teachers must approach a classroom full of kids with a wide range of different tools and skills.

• Compensation for teachers must not be based on teaching a certain number of students or the number of years teachers have survived in the system. Compensation models should be driven by progress made by students based on where they started. A teacher with a high school freshman reading at the fifth grade level and progressing to an eighth grade reading level in one school year would be rewarded for that student gain, not penalized because the student was still reading below grade level.

Huppenthal believes in running schools like successful businesses, with an emphasis on efficiency and performance.

Trujillo believes that “it’s not necessarily the amount of money we’re throwing into public education, it’s where we’re throwing it. Can we honestly continue to sit here and not talk about the fact that hundreds of thousands of students across our state do not have access to pre-K, kindergarten and preschool programs?”

When kids don’t have the benefit of preschool and pre-K instruction, they are lagging behind on their first day of school. That leads to “huge inequities in educational product,” he said. His recommendation?  “Pour a little bit more money into the educational starting line.”

It’s hard to argue that the “one size fits all” approach to education is inadequate in meeting the learning needs of individuals. But as any classroom teacher will tell you, meeting individual needs is a massive undertaking dependent on so many variables that theories and systemic movements are merely debate topics when faced you’re faced with a classroom packed with 30 to 40 students, all at various levels of aptitude and with individual learning styles.

It would have been interesting to hear what a few teachers with 25 years of experience in the classroom would have added to the discussion Wednesday evening. Unfortunately, the people who would be actually implementing the changes in the educational system, and bringing innovation to the individual students, are often not included in these kinds of discussions. — Dan Friedman

Communities In Schools enhances educational experiences in Arizona

A few weeks ago, I attended a breakfast fundraiser for Communities In Schools as a guest of my friend Diane Olsen. It was the first time I’d heard about this wonderful group whose mission is, briefly, “Helping Kids Stay in School and Prepare for Life.”

CIS accomplishes this mission in several ways, but mentoring and tutoring are two important components. Linda Torkelson, senior director of marketing, communications and special events shared this photo of CIS’s mentoring in action.

Community Resource Coordinator Christopher Marder

When I listened to one of the students whose life had been changed by CIS, I knew that this organization was worth my support. Kevin Beck, now 20, led what he described as “a life of crime” as a high school dropout in New Jersey before an aunt who was a teacher influenced him to get help by making a move to Arizona. Beck enrolled at Metro Tech high school in Phoenix, where he was mentored by Lloyd Hopkins and began to excel academically. Hopkins helped him apply for college scholarships and Beck currently attends Glendale Community College, where he maintains a 3.2 GPA. He plans to transfer to a four-year university soon, where he will pursue a degree in pharmacy. Best of all, Beck helps do for other students what Hopkins did for him.

At the breakfast, Hopkins talked about the need at CIS for tutors, mentors, interns and volunteers for special events. There is a real need for adults who’ve been through school to commit to be mentors. Never underestimate the value of one-on-one interaction when it comes to motivating a young student to be successful!

Communities In Schools (CIS) has been in the Valley for 16 years and there is also a National CIS. President Laura Magruder heads CIS of Arizona, which created an initiative with seven components: K-8 Community School Partnership, Small School Academies, All-Star Kids Tutoring, College and Career Readiness, Supplies 4 Students, Arizona Diamondbacks Lineup for Learning and Americorps Vista. Visit to learn more.

The importance of an arts curriculum

The Caepe School in Anthem has a strong curriculum in the arts because it also offers lots of options for engagement in and study of the arts on an extracurricular basis. The school has taken their cue from a Tufts University study that found that creativity is just as important as intelligence to a child’s success.

This dedication to arts education was born out of The Caepe School’s educational commitment to the total individual; a student who will develop and succeed academically, physically, socially and emotionally.

The school has a partnership with the Musical Theatre of Anthem, an art gallery and studio is physically connected to the school, and drama, dance, poetry and other forms of art are incorporated into academics on a daily basis.

Here’s more on the benefits of art education:

A 2008 survey by the Colorado Department of Education and the Colorado Council on Arts found that students at schools with more arts programming perform better academically, regardless of student ethnicity or socioeconomic status.

According to Americans for the Arts, young people who participate in the arts for at least three hours on three days each week through at least one full year are:

*4 times more likely to be recognized for academic achievement

*3 times more likely to be elected to class office within their schools

*4 times more likely to participate in a math and science fair

*3 times more likely to win an award for school attendance

*4 times more likely to win an award for writing an essay or poem

For more benefits of arts education visit the Americans for the Arts website at, or view the Colorado study at

News from the National PTA

The National PTA sent two recent items I want to share with parents.  The first is that they have established an impressive advisory board that is meeting today in New York City, and the second is a great list of top ten volunteer ideas for the holidays.

The advisory board is the first ever for the National PTA and it is populated with people of  interesting and varied backgrounds. Advisory Board members were selected based on their executive-level leadership; experience and qualifications; valuable contributions to education; and shared vision to transform tomorrow’s families today. They will serve a two-year term as a representative voice for the association as they are a diverse balance in age, race, sex, ethnicity and geographic distribution. Here they are:

Tichina Arnold

Actress (best known for her role as Pam on the sitcom Martin)

Charlotte Frank

Senior VP, McGraw Hill Companies

Patrick Gaston
President, Verizon Foundation

Floyd W. Green III

Head of Community Relations, Aetna Foundation

Greg Schumann

VP and Group Publisher, Parenting Magazine

Guy Vickers
President, Tommy Hilfiger Foundation

Judy Werthauser

VP of Human Resources, Target

Denise White

Executive VP, Viacom

James White

President & CEO, Jamba Juice

“Advisory Board members will serve National PTA immensely by offering leadership, resources, and networking opportunities that will help us reach out to a broader audience.” said Betsy Landers, National PTA President-Elect and Chairwoman of the new Advisory Board. “That is why we are honored to have on board a diverse group of distinguished individuals to help further our mission in improving the quality of life and education for America’s children.”

Meeting for the first time December 17 in New York City, Advisory Board members will work directly with National PTA Officers, Board of Directors and Chief Executive Officer to: provide counsel and guidance, develop new strategies, play a role in public relations, share with PTA staff and volunteer leadership a fresh perspective on important issues and policies, and foster relationships that will create sustainability, credibility, and relevance to PTA to continue serving tomorrow’s families, schools and communities.

In addition, the Advisory Board will heighten the association’s awareness and capacity to broaden fundraising opportunities by cultivating new relationships with influential figures, securing vital resources, and enhance our culture by recruiting new leaders and supporters of PTA.

Membership in PTA is open to anyone who wants to be involved and make a difference for the education, health, and welfare of children and youth.

And now for some great holiday volunteer ideas from the National PTA:

  1. Dog is man’s best friend, but let’s face it, even Santa could use a little help with his reindeer. A great way to give back to our furry friends this season is to lend a helping hand at your local animal shelter.
  2. To make this season less frightful for those who have jack frost nipping at their nose, donate scarves, hats, gloves and coats to bring warmth to those in need this season. You can also get inventive by getting your kids involved by sewing or knitting hats for the homeless this season.
  3. In case you were worried about finding coal in your stocking this year, (which we hope you won’t) you can make someone’s day a little brighter by creating a stocking filled with care kit supplies like socks and hygiene products.
  4. Volunteer by making sure everyone has a meal this season by preparing lunches, volunteering at a local soup kitchen, donating non perishable food to your local food pantry.
  5. Bring tidings of comfort and joy to a local children’s hospital to make the season brighter for a child in need.
  6. Go caroling around a senior home to bring the holiday spirit to the elderly.
  7. Not everyone can be a toy maker, but everyone has special talents to share. Children can create arts and crafts and auction them at a school holiday fair with all proceeds going toward a charitable organization
  8. Who doesn’t love walking in a winter wonderland? Save this season’s beautiful sights by helping keep your neighborhoods clean and donating your time to an elderly person to help shovel their snow.
  9. “Let it snow!” is what the children scream and shout during recess! Make this winter unforgettable for a disadvantaged child by taking them along on a fun-filled and educational excursion such as taking them to the aquarium or the museum.
  10. There’s no place like home for the holidays, and what better way to give back by welcoming those in need by adopting a family this holiday season.

View for more information.

SRP’s Solar for Schools lets the sun shine on, in, around and through

I recently learned that the Ira A. Murphy Elementary School has been chosen by Salt River Project (SRP) to receive photovoltaic systems for their rooftops from the SRP Solar for Schools program. The program funds the installation and maintenance of 10-kilowatt roof-mounted solar photovoltaic systems. SRP will also provide Ira A. Murphy with materials and training to educate students about solar energy.

“These systems will allow schools to offset their energy usage while providing a valuable educational tool to their students,” said Lori Singleton, SRP Manager of Sustainability Initiatives and Technologies. “SRP’s goal in educating students about renewable energy is to teach the next generation of energy users about the clean, renewable sources that provide electricity today and in the future.”
In all, 14 schools were chosen to receive the systems, which combined, will provide 140 kilowatts of electricity to the Arizona school buildings and produce approximately 224,000 kilowatt hours of energy per year. The solar energy production will prevent the release of up to 161 metric tons of carbon dioxide per year. Installation will begin as early as the spring and will be completed by the end of 2010.
SRP will provide education resources to educators and students that include hands-on activities related to renewable energy, math applications for data collected from the PV systems and information on how solar energy works.
“This is a fantastic opportunity to model and teach our students,” said Ira A. Murphy principal Robin Dahlman. “We appreciate the upcoming partnership between our school and the SRP Solar for Schools program.”