3 into 1: Tempe's school districts need to join hands - East Valley Tribune: Tempe

3 into 1: Tempe's school districts need to join hands

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Retired Mesa master police officer Bill Richardson lives in the East Valley and can be reached at bill.richardson@cox.net.

Posted: Monday, January 30, 2012 2:24 pm | Updated: 12:30 pm, Tue Jan 31, 2012.

In a recent edition of the East Valley Tribune, there were two important stories about the future of public education in Tempe.

One story was about the Tempe Elementary School District's plan to expand its "traditional academy." Traditional means what it says: structure, uniforms and a back to basics kind of school. No touchy-feely, Kumbaya group hugs here.

The other story was about the Tempe Union High School District's plan to consider opening a "Montessori high school." According to the story, "Montessori classrooms provide a popular, hands-on approach to education. Students are often grouped in multi-age clusters. They are taught using the Socratic method - with long discussions about topics and teachers acting as facilitators. Students don't use textbooks, but rather read and research using literature and other sources. Being outdoors is another ‘key component' to the Montessori method, one reason the school-community group that started looking at this option visited a private Montessori school in the Midwest that operates a farm."

This is quite the opposite from the planned expansion of "traditional" education by the elementary district that feeds into the high school district - a district that already offers a high school setting for troubled students, a program for the highly gifted at another high school, and an International Baccalaureate Program at yet another high school.

The only school district that didn't have a story in that edition was Tempe's third school district - the Kyrene Elementary School District. Kyrene students are also fed into the Tempe Union High School District and it too operates independently of the both the high school district and the Tempe Elementary School District.

Tempe, the smallest city in the East Valley, has three school districts serving its shrinking student population - three school districts all struggling to survive in this growing world of school choice, charter schools and decreased funding.

And with three school districts comes three school boards doing things their way, as well as three elections, three superintendents, three administrations, and three transportation systems. The list of "threes" goes on and on - and that includes many of the costs that could go into the classroom instead into administrative costs.

In Chandler, Gilbert, Mesa and Scottsdale there's a single unified school district that serves the entire community from kindergarten through high school - not multiple districts all struggling to survive and that seem to be in an endless and costly quest to get public education right "their way" in Tempe.

As a parent of four children who have attended public schools in all three Tempe districts I've seen first hand the organizational disarray that exists between school districts. The left hand really doesn't know what the right hand is doing and often times it doesn't care if it knows or not. Three school districts all profess they want what's best for our children but only if they're having it their way every step of the costly way.

The multi-school district model that currently serves Tempe is as outdated and ineffective as stagecoach travel.

The time has come for Tempe's school boards and community leadership to bring about school district unification like has been successfully in place for decades all around Tempe.

It's time to deliver a cost-effective and high-quality education that's about students and not what district can come up with the catchiest and latest gimmick to catch parent's attention and hopefully draw more students and state financial aid.

If Chandler, Gilbert, Mesa and Scottsdale can do it right, why can't Tempe?

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