V E R B A T I M
DVUSD Superintendent Curtis Finch recently released his 2018 State of the District, citing accomplishments and goals. The full statement is below. Here are selected highlights:
… DVUSD is now a state leader with 24 of our 38 schools “A” rated by the state grading system, with 95 percent of our schools either an A or B. This is tied for first place against our competitive peers from around the state. Our goal in the next five years is for each school building in DVUSD to become “A” rated in every five-year cycle, with 100 percent of our schools either an A or B at all times.
… The number of teachers reaching for the coveted National Board Certified Teacher certificate has grown exponentially.
… Our classified pay scales will need to be adjusted to battle wage compression from the scheduled statewide minimum-wage acceleration… As Arizona continues to grow, the competition for employees and students will only increase. One of DVUSD’s internal goals is to stay below the 13 percent national-average staff non-retention rate for school personnel.
… DVUSD has made a concerted effort to evaluate and improve our approach to social-emotional learning and the integration of academic innovation. We believe social-emotional learning is the foundation of academic achievements, campus safety, and the ability of students to succeed in the next phase of life. DVUSD will build students up through positive coping skills to reduce absenteeism, bullying, harassment, self-harm, etc.
… A main priority for DVUSD is to address with the legislature the charter school explosion throughout the North Valley. Arizona currently has almost 600 charter schools with limited oversight, taxpayer accountability, and transparency. Every month, a new story of corruption in the charter system hits the headlines without even a nod from the legislature.
… Without a level playing field today, DVUSD not only competes with any district in the state, but also outshines the charter and private schools who skim students from DVUSD. Currently, DVUSD has 38 buildings; parents in our region have access to 39 private and charter schools. DVUSD is one of the most chartered districts in the state with over 16 percent of our student population attending charter or private schools.
… The more students that are pulled away from the available pool, the less revenue DVUSD will have to maintain and increase our academic excellence.
“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the greatest suburban public Arizona school district of them all?” Stay tuned and you will find out! This first, annual, State of the DVUSD document is to remind the Deer Valley Unified School District (DVUSD) staff, students, and community of the #extraordinary events that have occurred during the past 18 months, ending in December of 2018. The State of the DVUSD address, in written form, is a valuable tool for accountability when addressing future items and the projected direction of the district. Although it is not to be used as an exact template for the future, it will provide general guideposts and educational philosophies to help guide the reader along the path of where DVUSD has been and where it is projected to go.
As Arizonans interested in education may know, the economy, legislation, resources, school bond elections, school board elections, and student enrollment numbers are unknown variables that school districts must include when forming successful plans for the future. DVUSD’s vision is to graduate life-long learners who will successfully compete, lead and affect the world. Our mission is to provide extraordinary educational opportunities for every learner. The mission and vision must rely on a disciplined execution of a well thought-out plan and adherence to irrevocable values to come to fruition.
DVUSD’s new Strategic Plan for the next five years focuses on four areas of excellence in: 1) Student Learning; 2) Workforce Performance; 3) Stakeholder Relationships; and 4) Organizational Improvement and Accountability. Each section of the “State of the DVUSD” will shed some light on DVUSD’s projected journey into the future and focus on important variables and possible paths to “RAISE the Bar of Extraordinary.”
DVUSD’s “Core Values” follow the acronym R.A.I.S.E: R = Respect – We treat each other with dignity; A = Accountability– We fulfill our commitments; I = Integrity – We are honest and ethical; S = Student Driven – We put students first; and E = Excellence – We strive to be #extraordinary. These core values should not drastically change from each iteration of our strategic plan. These same values should be reflected ten years from now if we really believe in their foundational importance. Hundreds of people contributed input to our current core values and the final Strategic Plan including DVUSD staff, students, community members, businesses, inter-faith partners, parents, and DVUSD Board members. The DVUSD’s complete 2018-2023 five-year Strategic Plan is located on the DVUSD website at https://www.dvusd.org/strategicplan.
One of the most important parts of an organization is the culture – it drives everything! The ultimate goal is for DVUSD to shine as the district of choice, an academic trailblazer, a community shaper, and a model for other districts in the state of Arizona. Extraordinary does not happen without a laser-like focus on clear priorities from all involved, beginning with the district’s Governing Board to each classroom and support system that keeps DVUSD moving in the right direction. The accumulation of all of the accomplishments by students, staff, and our schools in the last 18 months have come to fruition through hard work, perseverance, and long-lasting commitment to excellence over many years; there are so many great accolades, a document like this cannot mention them all. The DVUSD website has an #extraordinary list from the 2017-2018 year at https://www.dvusd.org/extraordinary. Yes, as best-selling author, Jim Collins would say, DVUSD has moved from “Good to Great,” and now we are pushing on to #extraordinary through a focused effort of everyone in our system and in our tremendous community. The design of the “State of the DVUSD” is to visit some of those accomplishments and then project the direction of the district, all through the lens of our newly minted Strategic Plan.
Strategic Priority 1: Excellence in Student Learning
The purpose of the first priority of our Strategic Plan is to raise student academic achievement by focusing on improving the social-emotional lives of students and staff. Did you know, academically, DVUSD is now a state leader in this department with 24 of our 38 schools “A” rated by the State grading system, with 95% of our schools either an A or B? This is tied for first place against our competitive peers from around the state. Our goal in the next five years is for each school building in DVUSD to become A-rated in every five-year cycle, with 100% of our schools either an A or B at all times. Five more schools have received the highly coveted A+ School of Excellence award this past year bringing the district total to 14 A+ schools; seven more applications are in the pipeline for 2019. Our students have the ability to score among the state’s highest which is evidenced on the AzMERIT and ACT. The last two assessment cycles resulted in 35 students with perfect AzMERIT scores on both English Language Arts and Math and 1300 had perfection on at least one of the State tests. Twenty high school students scored in the 99th percentile on the national ACT exam. The good news is these outstanding scores happen every year in DVUSD. #Extraordinary!
The past eighteen months have focused on improving our consistency and continuity throughout the system in the areas of coding, math, language arts, early literacy, and technology integration. Math, ELA, and technology leaders coordinated staff for peer “sweeps” to help our secondary buildings find a pulse on the pace and continuity of these subjects throughout the schools; by adjudicating with a purpose, we become stronger and learn from one another. The elementary and middle levels worked together to align the curricula through data evaluation, inter-district communication, professional development, and support from curriculum content specialists. A large contingent of staff from all levels of DVUSD has worked on the difficult task of developing a single voice in grading and reporting, the beginning of a three-year, difficult journey. The Governing Board supported Grade Enhancement for secondary students who perform well on the AzMERIT test. With consistent maximum student performance data, DVUSD will increase its chances of making better curricular choices and identify weaknesses in our academic system at a quicker pace.
Moving forward, DVUSD has made a concerted effort to evaluate and improve our approach to social-emotional learning and the integration of academic innovation. We believe social-emotional learning is the foundation of academic achievements, campus safety, and the ability of students to succeed in the next phase of life. Academic initiatives and supports for students at all levels of the district will continue to be implemented over time, but must be viewed through the eyes of the student. By integrating the Multi-Tiered System of Supports (MTSS) approach to meet individual student needs, coupled with campus-based social emotional programs, DVUSD will build students up through positive coping skills to reduce absenteeism, bullying, harassment, self-harm, etc. If students recognize the value in themselves and each other and visualize hope beyond their circumstances, they are more likely to be a positive contributing member of our school community. DVUSD is beginning to show the fruits of our social-emotional emphasis in our student academic and behavioral data. Our new relationship with SouthWest Behavioral and Health Services has helped tremendously and we look forward to the impact this work will have on our internal and external community. DVUSD is also working to add more social-emotional support personnel for campuses through AmeriCorps in 2019.
A complete and current academic picture of the entire district necessitates good data at all times, both formative and summative. The addition of Professional Learning Communities (PLCs) for 2019 as a collaboration tool for staff will require additional student-data gathering points in the future. DVUSD will require purposeful and aligned testing measures, comprehensive data analysis, communication and sharing systems, and training for teachers and principals. Making instructional decisions without multiple data points is not wise for aligning our academic systems and increasing curricular consistency in DVUSD. Achieving #extraordinary will require a renewed dedication to a complete academic picture before making program decisions.
Strategic Priority 2: Excellence in Workforce Performance
As DVUSD looks to hire, train, and retain our workforce, we are reminded again of the importance of a healthy culture. The social sectors of society find success when conveying a greater or higher purpose. Much of author Daniel Pink’s work focuses on the value of connection to the workplace and the importance of feeling valued. DVUSD is committed to recognizing staff, students, parents, community, and business partners who commit to DVUSD’s “R.A.I.S.E.” values – Respect, Accountability, Integrity, Student Driven, and Excellence. If employees, students, and the community embrace these values, DVUSD will achieve our core beliefs of a healthy learning and working environment.
Employee development at DVUSD has shown improvement these past 18 months. A renewed focus on the McREL Leadership Training for administrators as the primary model for learning and developing leadership skills helps our leaders stay focused on what is the most important. The number of teachers reaching for the coveted National Board Certified Teacher certificate has grown exponentially. A joint educational project with the Governor’s office, called Project Momentum, is in its first year at DVUSD schools at Desert Mountain, Barry Goldwater, and Sandra Day O’Connor, focusing on the magnification of the PLC structure for educator collaboration. DVUSD is also working on a plan to bring staff members together every three to five years in a group format before the school year starts, called “Convocation” in Arizona. The annual Summer TechFest is also dedicated to encouraging the district to focus on the importance of training in the area of technology. Many staff members continue to share their expertise with the district, state, and nation through Twitter, Google, and other social media forms.
The most impactful academic systemic change coming to DVUSD in 2019 will be the acceleration and concentration on the use of the Professional Learning Communities (PLC) model as a collaboration structure. These dedicated, 90-minute early-release time-blocks will focus on collaboration around student data and the importance of quality staff development, occurring on twenty-four Fridays throughout the year. PLCs provide educational opportunities for all groups in DVUSD to collaborate for the betterment of students. After a two-year pilot, there will be an evaluation of attendance data to determine the continuation of the early-release program on Friday or the potential move to Wednesday.
DVUSD’s commitment to quality and purposeful professional development will increase the connectedness of our people to one another, help with staff retention, and improve academic consistency by encouraging staff to move in a unified direction together. The purpose for using the PLC model throughout the entire district is to encourage a system-wide concentration on learning growth. Effective collaborative teams throughout DVUSD will focus on learning objectives for students and specific staff development that is in line with our Strategic Plan. If proven successful, Governor Ducey is interested in pushing for the use of PLCs throughout the entire state. DVUSD is currently the petri dish for all of Arizona, so we are beyond excited about the chance to affect the entire state. Mountain Ridge, Deer Valley, and Boulder Creek High Schools will also be joining Project Momentum in the 2019-2020 school year, putting all five high schools and Desert Mountain on the same project. The addition of PLCs for the entire district will only improve the chances of success for these Project Momentum schools, as they will also receive additional guidance through the program.
In the coming years, DVUSD must adjust to our educational environment and statewide initiatives. Our classified pay scales will need to be adjusted to battle wage compression from the scheduled statewide minimum-wage acceleration. DVUSD’s commitment to social-emotional programs for students and staff must also continue. As Arizona continues to grow, the competition for employees and students will only increase. One of DVUSD’s internal goals is to stay below the 13% national average staff non-retention rate for school personnel. Although the number of houses in the North Valley will increase, the number of people-per-house will decrease as families are having less children and more retirement communities are constructed. The Arizona sunshine should continue to attract its share of customers, so DVUSD must be ready to recruit, hire, and retain as many staff as possible, while still holding a high standard of excellence. The more revenue we have in our system through positive student enrollment numbers, the more DVUSD can increase our supports, both economic and socially, for students and staff. Economics in the future will influence DVUSD in varied ways and enrollment is the number one variable in this equation.
Strategic Priority 3: Excellence in Stakeholder Relationships
Collaboration, connection, and communication are the three “C”s for creating a unified school district that is tied to the community. The local public school system is the heart of every community; DVUSD must continue to provide consistent customer feedback loops, communication channels, and use multiple forms of media to remind our community of our #extraordinary programs. With 35,000 students and thousands of family and community members tied to DVUSD, it is imperative that each school stay connected to their respective parents, community, and businesses in a school-of-choice environment.
In the last year-and-a-half, DVUSD increased engagement through twenty superintendent “Conversations with Curt” sessions, thousands of Twitter postings from administration, “Tweetchers” (teachers who post tweets on Twitter), and support staff, and thousands of classroom visits by administrators and staff peers. Multiple meetings with groups of business partners, the inter-faith council, Communication Councils, the Negotiated Solutions Team, Deer Valley Education Association, Deer Valley Educational Support Personnel Association, Building Leadership Team, and community groups have occurred from the district and building levels. Sharing information and creating feedback loops accomplish two purposes for DVUSD: 1) increase awareness of the many positive aspects of DVUSD; and 2) allow for staff, student, and community input channels. The negative for an open communication approach is the likelihood of an increase in criticism before solid plans become final. DVUSD believes the positives far out-weigh the negatives when it comes to communication channels, hence, DVUSD will continue to keep all channels open between students, staff, community and business partners, inter-faith groups, administration, the Governing Board, and internal groups.
Northern Maricopa County has vacant land, sunshine, and a friendly tax code for businesses that successfully attracts population growth. An unregulated school-of-choice environment also invites unfettered expansion of unaccountable charter and private schools, regardless of need or location. A main priority for DVUSD is to address with the legislature the charter school explosion throughout the North Valley. Arizona currently has almost 600 charter schools with limited oversight, taxpayer accountability, and transparency. Every month, a new story of corruption in the charter system hits the headlines without even a nod from the legislature. The corruption and inequitable parameters currently in Arizona make it hard for those that want to run a quality charter or private school that welcomes and educates all students regardless of disability or socio-economic status. Many charters are for-profit systems designed to line the pockets of business owners, divert work to their personally owned companies, or to employ family and friends, not to educate students.
Without a level playing field today, DVUSD not only competes with any district in the state, but also out-shines the charter and private schools who skim students from DVUSD. Currently, DVUSD has 38 buildings; parents in our region have access to 39 private and charter schools. DVUSD is one of the most chartered districts in the State with over 16% of our student population attending charter or private schools. Despite holding down the top ranking with Gilbert in academic performance among our competitive districts, additional charter schools will continue to be built in our district boundaries if nothing is done about their lack of transparency and accountability. The more students that are pulled away from the available pool, the less revenue DVUSD will have to maintain and increase our academic excellence. The DVUSD Superintendent has written a summary in 2019 of how the lack of taxpayer accountability and transparency has failed charters and private schools. This document has been shared with the Governor, legislators, the State Superintendent, and leadership for many state organizations and can be viewed at https://www.dvusd.org/charterschoolreport. This document is designed to inform legislators and community leaders of the urgency of this issue; it will take a decade to reduce charter school corruption, provide more accountability to taxpayers, and increase transparency. Arizonans need to know their educational tax dollars are allocated only for student learning and not for lining the pockets of charter business owners.
DVUSD will continue to be a state leader in academics and opportunities for students. While our northern location provides expansion for population growth, it is imperative the district continue to market and extol our academic, athletic, extra- and co-curricular, and programming virtues with the public. Our #extraordinary excellence makes promoting DVUSD easy, but we cannot afford to become complacent about distributing facts to our potential and current customers; DVUSD can compete, and out-shine, if compared side-by-side against any other educational institution in the state. Our positive performance will continue to increase our enrollment, the vital lifeline for our system; our internal goal is to surpass the demographer’s enrollment report every year and continue on this positive trend of innovation and excellence.
DVUSD’s Superintendent, administration, and Governing Board will spend considerable time in 2019 connecting with legislators at the state and national levels to stem the spread of bad legislation and influence good legislation for a positive path in public education. Traditional public education is the backbone of our democracy; therefore, it is our moral obligation to fight for all of Arizona and America’s students, not just a select few that may live in a great location. DVUSD will continue to support our traditional public school neighbors that ask for assistance. We must also respond to our North Valley customers’ preferences for varied educational models. Within the next five years, plans are to investigate deployment of several traditional schools with possible locations in the north, south, and central regions. The configuration, repurposing, and locations will be weighed against student numbers, regional expectations, and Arizona and North Valley economic variables.
As mentioned previously, DVUSD will continue to work on gathering our organization together under one roof every three to five years. With the help of CCV’s facility, DVUSD will be able to reinforce our common vision between the Board of Education, staff, and administration and our students, parents, community members, and businesses. By bringing back Convocation to DVUSD, CCV has afforded us the opportunity to spend quality time focusing on our purpose and revisiting our collective accomplishments. It has been over a decade since DVUSD has gathered under one roof, so making this a priority is important for building relationships within and reinforcing a system-wide educational mission and vision moving forward.
Strategic Priority 4: Excellence in Organizational Improvement and Accountability
As we work together to establish a continuous improvement mind-set, processes and systems are required to support our goal as the best educational choice for parents and students in the North Valley. Accountability to our taxpayers for our resources and fiscal practices allows us to have positive results at the ballot box for Overrides and Bond elections in the future. Our voting climate is difficult because of our district’s large number of charter and private schools located in our area, but our strong academic and fiscal reputation will continue to assist us into the future. It is imperative that DVUSD follows our purposeful, five-year, Strategic Plan that was finalized in 2018 through thousands of data and input points from students, staff, and community members. As we R.A.I.S.E. the bar of #extraordinary, a steady “twenty-mile march every day” (from the Good to Great series) towards excellence will take a focused approach on the most important objectives and casting aside distractions from our path.
The last eighteen months focused heavily upon DVUSD operational improvement and organizational accountability. During this period, four major on-going projects were finally completed: 1) the five-year Strategic Plan was finalized; 2) the AdvancED five-year external review was completed; 3) a new district budget process was implemented to increase community and staff input; and 4) new salary-benefit study findings were integrated into the budget process. Other projects completed include the remodeling of Desert Sky Middle School and Arrowhead Elementary, district-wide updates to security measures, repurposing of 301 dollars, and an increased marketing push for attracting kindergarten students. DVUSD began the closure of the Deer Valley Charter School on the campus of Deer Valley High School and opened DVUSD Pathways on the Boulder Creek and Barry Goldwater High School campuses. These after-school programs are designed to meet the needs of both credit-recovery and accelerated students. Barry Goldwater High School also saw the creation of a new student-run restaurant on their campus, appropriately named Avenue 27, which is open to the public on select Friday evenings. The portable building housed at the District Office for the past 14 years was relocated to Copper Creek Elementary and repurposed to be the new home of Community Education. The position of District Athletic/Safety Director was restored from staffing cuts four years ago, and additional administrative support was added at the campus level throughout the district. Substitute teacher pay was raised for the first time in over a decade to come in line with our competitive neighbors.
From a Board policy level, new travel procedures, Open Enrollment, senior-year class minimums, addenda process, and approach to drug offenses were changed. The Board also endorsed an external review of our Special Education system and current school boundaries, and the groundwork for the building of a new school in the Happy Valley area was negotiated. Grade enhancements for excellent student performance on the state AzMERIT test were added for secondary students. The Governing Board, staff, and District Office personnel also affected the improvement of legislation, the 20% teacher pay-raise by the year 2020 from the Governor and Legislature, the removal of bad legislation from influencing Arizona’s schools, and the increase of District Additional Assistance funding for districts. Because of this work, the DVUSD Board supported the administration’s recommendation to award the highest salary increases for DVUSD staff in a decade. In 2018, certified teachers received a 12% increase, other Professional Staff 10%, Classified 7%, and Administration and Exempt 4% respectively. Arizona no longer has the 50th funding ranking in the nation, but the new 47th rank is not much to brag about either! The Governing Board also added a half-hour of student awards and program accomplishments before every Board meeting to shine the spotlight on our amazing students and staff.
The last year-and-a-half was not short on challenges. A contentious national election, the first Arizona teacher strike in history, and organized student protests around national school shootings kept the District Office on their toes. DVUSD completely redesigned and recommitted itself to social-emotional learning, campus security, and integrated more counseling and education support into the areas of student discipline, drug issues, suicide ideation, and the negative impact of social media. Despite the challenges, DVUSD staff and administration responded in a positive manner, working together to achieve the best outcomes for students.
As DVUSD looks to the future, the district will continue to focus on organizational improvement and internal accountability, as these issues are the heart of forward progress. As proven academic systems become further aligned and implemented, it will be easier to adapt and respond to moving targets proposed by the legislature. Our campus “Target Cards” continue to be a necessary tool in providing school and district focus on areas of improvement. Aligning our employee Individual, Campus, and District Improvement Plans with our DVUSD Strategic Plan will ensure that staff move in the same direction with the same purpose. DVUSD has a proud reputation as a state leader in blazing the trail for public education excellence and our job is to continue to enhance this reputation.
In conclusion, when the “mirror, mirror on the wall” says, “Deer Valley Unified is the fairest of them all,” we need to listen, but not become complacent of our successes. DVUSD has an ambitious road laid out in front of us; focusing our efforts towards #extraordinary will not be easy. Our commitment to continuous improvement by each employee, student, parent, and community member will allow for district adaptation for the challenges ahead. The current school-choice accountability environment will not significantly change overnight, but there are signs on the horizon that more transparency and taxpayer accountability measures will bring charter and private schools into line with traditional public schools in the next decade. The completion of a Special Education and boundary study will provide a valuable map on improvements that will affect our forward momentum. The financial stability of DVUSD will depend on future legislative sessions, state and national economic growth, student enrollment, Board member elections, and Bond and Maintenance & Operations Override voting results. DVUSD has surpassed the demographer’s student enrollment forecast three years in a row, a trend we wish to continue. The addition of PLCs in an early-release format will support the improvement of student academics and staff development. Our commitment to R.A.I.S.E. the Bar of #extraordinary must not be shaken. With the hard work and dedication of DVUSD’s Board of Education, employees, and students coupled with our strong partnership with parents, business, and community members, we are right on course to truly be the suburban unified district that is “fairest of them all” in all of Arizona!
Dr. Curtis Finch
Superintendent, Deer Valley Unified School District