The Mesa Public Schools (began a new chapter last week with the appointment of Dr. Andi Fourlis as superintendent.
Dr. Fourlis is smart and well respected – which is beneficial, given that the district is facing challenges that will require innovative approaches and tough decisions.
Fortunately, MPS is positioned to accomplish great things with a solid balance sheet, including recently passed override and bond elections, and many of Arizona’s best teachers in the classroom.
With that said however, there are at least four priorities that need immediate attention:
Respect teachers and principals. The foundation of any district is its instructional team. With the continual decline in the number of teacher candidates in Arizona, Mesa must do everything it can to retain and recruit quality teachers and principals.
This means our compensation, benefits, opportunities for development, and professionalism need to be industry leading. We can do better.
The practices and policies of the past will not be good enough to propel Mesa to the forefront, especially in today’s competitive environment.
Rebuild trust. Would the override election pass if it were being held this November?
We cannot do anything about the mistakes of the past, but we can learn from them. We have four years before the next override election. A comprehensive community engagement plan must be prepared and implemented as quickly as possible.
In the meantime, here is one simple suggestion: Mesa is home to thousands of retired teachers from all over the United States. Why not leverage the skills, available time, and experience of these individuals, as well as other community volunteers, to support our efforts?
Let’s engage these retired teachers and make them goodwill ambassadors by launching robust volunteer centers at all campuses.
Prepare now for financial distress. Two weeks ago, the City of Mesa laid out its plans to balance its budget. It included a hiring freeze, elimination of part-time positions, and delayed projects.
MPS needs to follow the City’s example of being “ahead of the curve” and immediately form a task force to discuss ways to weather the coming storm, without screwing up the first two priorities mentioned previously.
Make sure everyone is represented at the table including certificated and classified employees, as well as parents and the community.
This needs to be an all-hands-on-deck initiative. Also, remember what we learned in 2008. You cannot cut your way to greater academic achievement. Which segues to my final priority.
Expand and strengthen partnerships.
The education challenges of the future are too great to tackle alone. Take a cue from Dr. Michael Crow at ASU, the king of leveraging partnerships to improve outcomes and increase opportunities.
MPS has several relationships already in place, but it is time to take all of these to the next level.
How do we leverage Arizona State’s new ASU for You? How about GCU’s after-school tutoring? What would it take to triple the number of MPS students at EVIT? How do we co-op City of Mesa or Mesa Community College resources?
Now that SRPMIC no longer has a high school, how do we strengthen that relationship? Finally, how do we partner with our business community to a degree we never thought possible?
Thank you, Dr. Fourlis for taking on this demanding responsibility. We look forward to supporting your efforts as you work to improve outcomes for our children.
Rich Crandall is a former MPS Governing Board member and state legislator as well as a parent to 13 MPS alumni and students.