Teachers at aging Kino Junior High School in west Mesa have not complained to their union about any mistreatment.
Families at the school have not complained to the Mesa Unified School District governing board or brought concerns to the city’s largest Hispanic association.
And district administrators report no unrest at the school that has anchored the community near Horne and Brown roads since 1966.
But something is amiss.
More than half of the teachers at Kino resigned, retired or transferred at the close of the 2004-05 school year. Kino principal Steve Pierson also retired after 15 years with the district — the last two at Kino — and assistant principal Michele Lorig transferred to Taylor Junior High School. Overall, 36 of 64 Kino teachers are gone.
In comparison, Mesa Junior High School about one mile south of Kino lost 13 of 67 teachers this summer — about one in five. None of the 13 junior high schools in the Mesa district besides Kino lost more than 14 teachers.
Many Kino families also have left the school.
Parents who live near Kino report that car pools leave each school day for nearby Stapley and Poston junior high schools. And they say the number of dissatisfied families at Kino is growing.
One parent refers to a "Kino self-esteem problem." Another sees "big morale" issues. And another Kino parent said the school she loves has become the "unwanted stepchild" of the district. Academic test scores at Kino generally lag behind district averages.
"There has been a decline in morale there over the last several years," Kino parent Delynn Bodine said. "But we are optimistic the new principal can turn things around. He has a lot of energy, a lot of enthusiasm."
SOLID AT THE CORE
Bodine has sent all six of her children to Kino and refuses to abandon the neighborhood school. Her son, Lucas, a ninth-grader, even organized a Boy Scout fundraiser last year to purchase new musical instruments for the Kino band program.
"We tell our children they need to contribute where they’re at," Bodine said.
Kristy and David Brake, who moved with their children to the Kino neighborhood from Chicago in 2001, take the same approach.
Kristy Brake has served as parent-teacher organization president, her husband has served on the Kino site-based council, and ninth-grader Adam Brake will be the second in his family to serve as Kino student body president.
The family said they will do everything they can to rally support for the new principal, Domonic Salce, who served last year as a Gilbert High School assistant principal.
"He’s going to devote everything he can to Kino," Kristy Brake said.
Many families from Kino, however, will have their children elsewhere before Salce takes the helm. This causes some frustration for David Brake.
"I don’t begrudge any parent doing that which they think is best for their children," he said. "But for our children, that which is best is to stay and try to make Kino a better place."
Mesa Education Association president Faith Risolo, who said the teachers union has heard no complaints about Kino, started her teaching career at the school in 1977 before moving to Dobson High School. She said Kino has a strong core of parents and educators committed to the community, and that core will carry the school through this latest transition.
"There is an attachment to Kino that is very unique in this district," she said. "If families are concerned, I would urge them not to be."
Gloria Chavez, education spokeswoman for the Mesa Association of Hispanic Citizens, agreed. She lives in the Kino neighborhood and has sent all her children there — including one who will be a ninth-grader this year.
The school was 80 percent white in 1980 but today is more than half Hispanic, black and American Indian. But Chavez said the different ethnic and racial groups mix well at Kino, and her organization has heard few complaints.
"All of my kids have had a wonderful experience there," she said.
Chavez acknowledged that some families have turned away from Kino. "But you have a lot more parents who are willing to be there because they’re committed to the neighborhood and the school," she said.
The high turnover rate among teachers is something that district administrators call unusual, but they expressed optimism about Kino’s future.
Associate superintendent Mike Cowan said Salce, who officially started his new position on Friday, has kept busy interviewing teacher candidates and has even met applicants in the evenings and on weekends. By the first day of school, Cowan said, Salce will be ready with a new staff that shares a unified vision for Kino.
"This is a renaissance opportunity for Kino," Cowan said.
He said he does not know about any morale issues at Kino, and the high turnover rate this summer might be a natural consequence of changing administrations and uncertainty about the future. Rhodes Junior High School in west Mesa, however, also hired a new principal this spring without seeing a spike in teacher turnover.
Salce, who declined to talk about events at Kino that happened before his arrival, said he welcomes the challenge of taking Kino to a higher level of performance.
"I see it as an exciting new beginning," he said. "You have new employees bringing new ideas, mixed with veteran ideas and things that work."