New Tempe superintendents working together to meet schools' changing needs - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Local News

New Tempe superintendents working together to meet schools' changing needs

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Posted: Thursday, August 4, 2011 1:15 pm

Tempe Elementary School District and Tempe Union High School District serve the same community.

They share a high academic presence in the city with Arizona State University, a number of charter schools and Rio Salado Community college.

And on July 1, both Tempe Elementary and Tempe Union saw a change in leadership with new superintendents at the helm.

But what happened last year in their districts was very different. While Tempe Union experienced the largest enrollment it's ever seen (more than 18,000 students), the Tempe Elementary governing board voted to close three schools as years of declining enrollment and budget cuts meant a need for drastic change.

Both new superintendents - Tempe Union's Ken Baca and Tempe Elementary's Chris Busch - are optimistic about the future for Tempe education. Both cite increasing curriculum standards as Arizona puts the national common core standards into place. Both praise the employees around them and the leaders of the city as having a vision for the students.

And both have spent hours talking to them about what happens next.

In Tempe Elementary, Busch is not a new face. She moved from her role as associate superintendent into the superintendent's position (though, she laughs, she hasn't moved her office yet).

"Moving forward, everyone's pretty happy we're not starting from scratch with a new leader. It will give us more time to think about where we're going," she said.

Taking over after a tumultuous few months in the community, Busch said she's spent a great deal of time working on healing the relationships that may have been bruised through the school closures. The district is in the process of filling those three campuses with tenants that will benefit the community, she said, until Tempe Elementary can fill them with students again.

"We have communities that are turning over. We have schools in Tempe with waiting lists. I'm hopeful people will want to come here and we'll have waiting lists at all our schools," she said.

Busch said the two Tempe districts and Kyrene Elementary School District, which also takes in part of Tempe, are working with a common demographer to look at enrollment trends based on new projections, the economy, housing and employment.

"I get the feeling there is a sense that we all need to work together for solutions," she said. "The way we're going to solve the problems is to work together."

Tempe Union's Baca heralds from a neighboring Phoenix district, so he's familiar with the population he's serving in Tempe.

"I love the passion that's in the teachers. I love the community and the dedication. I love the expectations on our schools," he said.

The three Tempe superintendents have already met, he said. "We share the same passion, the same commitment to public education. We also share the idea that we must respond to the ever changing schools," Baca said.

Borrowing ASU President Michael Crow's tagline to turn ASU into the "New American University," Baca said he would like to see Tempe Union as the "New American High School District."

"We know our focus won't just be on bringing up enrollment - that's important, it funds us - but also what education do we want to bring? We need to respond to the advances in technology and respond to the era of social networking," he said.

The future could also mean a "more rigorous education based on a more rigorous curriculum," he said.

No longer are teachers just expected to teach, but they're required to ensure students learn, he said.

"You have three superintendents committed to that. In Tempe we're fortunate to have a community that wants to be a part of it. That's a unique opportunity," he said.

Baca hopes to "bring the community along" in the process - from the parents to business to city officials. That way, everyone knows from the ground up what's going to transpire.

"We know our role together is vital to how we're going to improve our schools. If we improve our community, we'll improve our schools ... We need to build upon our strengths. We can never be satisfied where we are. We need to have a vision of the challenge before us and respond to that."

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