Last July, Tempe Elementary School District Superintendent John Baracy brought in a Southwest Airlines marketing representative to tell about 120 district employees of the importance of providing "positively outrageous service" to customers and each other.
"We are in a state of choice — just like airlines," the Tribune reported him as saying, referring to charter schools and open enrollment. "Parents can go wherever they want."
Stodgy educrats harrumphed then and harrumph now at Baracy’s entrepreurial spirit, but he is an undaunted man on a mission. Baracy is among the few in the East Valley’s educational leadership who understand that the entire paradigm for grade and high school education in Arizona has shifted.
That is why the Scottsdale Unified School District governing board made the best decision it’s made in years Thursday in appointing him as its new superintendent.
Baracy’s winning formula, which includes spending his first few months simply listening to the community — he did the same after he took over Tempe Elementary in 1999 — will be repeated in Scottsdale when he starts work July 1, he said.
Baracy is an innovator who appears to revel in completely shaking up the old and unproductive to create something new and worthy. When several declining-enrollment Tempe grade schools faced closure in 2002, he instituted his "Start Smart" reminder program, sending out teachers and administrators — can you imagine the sight? — to walk residential streets in the summer sun to hand-deliver 40,000 fliers reminding parents that classes were starting soon.
It worked. Enrollment jumped and the schools stayed open, the revenue from those added students becoming the basis for Tempe Elementary’s avoidance of the kind of financial shortfalls that led other districts to cut back.
Despite many academic triumphs, the Scottsdale district has suffered far too long from scandal, from neglect, from inattention by its indifferent and self-centered administration. Three superintendents have come and gone in less than eight years, during which taxpayers called upon each time to pay to clean up the mess have yet to restore their confidence and trust in the district.
John Baracy offers a proven approach Scottsdale desperately needs and which should be emulated throughout the East Valley. The Scottsdale district governing board is to be commended for realizing that his turning the edu-hierarchy upside down — with students, parents and taxpayers at the top and administrators at the bottom — is Scottsdale’s best chance to resume its former reputation for excellence and service.