Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

September 24, 2008

Host: Ted Simons

Roosevelt Elementary District

  • This summer Phoenix's Roosevelt Elementary District faced a state takeover because of poor academic performance. Now there are indications that the district is turning things around. We'll talk to the district's superintendent, Mark Dowling, about the challenges the district is facing and the progress it is making.
  • Dr. Mark Dowling - Superintendent, Roosevelt School District

View Transcript
Ted Simons:
>>> This summer, the Roosevelt elementary school district in phoenix was facing a state takeover because of poor academic performance. But evidence of improving test scores, persuaded the state board of education to let the district continue operating under local control. Here now is the district's superintendent, Dr. Mark Dowling. Good you have to on the program. Thanks for joining us.

Mark Dowling:
>> Thanks for having me on the program.

Ted Simons:
>> You bet. What changed. Why did we see this improvement? What happened here.

Mark Dowling:
>> It was a combination of factors. The Roosevelt school district a few years ago I guess when I took over, he took a look at the curriculum and it wasn't correctly aligned with the Arizona standards and with the aims examination and we brought in experts to work with us. Larry McMiles with Arizona foundation education resource really helped us in our work. We trained our teachers on that. That was one of the pieces. But I think if we looked at the big picture, we would say we really made the focus the child. And we made the focus every individual child in the district and so I think in making that kind of change, we had a result of improved test scores.

Ted Simons:
>> When you mention the curriculum here, give us an example of what was happening before? Was it too many schools doing too many separate things? What was a taught before snow how is it taught now?

Mark Dowling:
>> I think a simple way to explain it is just what we were providing our teachers as guides and curriculums had gaps in them. They really didn't have all the essential Arizona standards for our children to learn. So we believe that that was, you know, one of the first fundamental pieces for us to put in place.

Ted Simons:
>> were there other changes Ms. Philosophy? Did the past board or leaders look at things a certain way differently? If so, how?

Mark Dowling:
>> I believe we made this change. We are looking at it the context of what we call the new deal. For the governing board and superintendent work together collectively with the children as focus. We spent a lot of time on Saturdays. We had a lot of Saturday meetings where we had a simple fundamental discussions about what are we about as a district? What has led news the wrong direction? And, you know, we talked about really the kind of things that needed to take place to change. Fortunately together as a leadership team we are in full consensus and moved forward with a plan.

Ted Simons:
>> In the past we had heard accusations of racism, nepotism, all sorts of cronyism going on within the district. How accurate were those accusations?

Mark Dowling:
>> I certainly think they were overblown but i do think the district has a history of some kind of internal decisiveness. Some push and pull. Efforts to influence who is selected as employees. Because one of the things that we had to fundamentally change when i started as a superintendent was that kind of thinking and that kind of philosophy. Fortunately the board was very, very willing to have that dialogue and conversation to make the necessary changes.

Ted Simons:
>> How much did the threat of a takeover impact the improvement? In other words, did the big stick make a difference?

Mark Dowling:
>> no, actually I would say we probably would have improved at even a faster rate without the big stick because prior to the big stick, we were going in the right direction. We had already embarked on a partnership with the Arizona department of education to again a variety of several key consultant who were direct consultants for Arizona’s department of education to make systemic changes in Roosevelt. I think the problem with the big stick was that it really did upset teachers and administrators and parents and people generally felt inhibited. Yet at the same time what's absolutely remarkable it really shows the strength of our focus in the new deal for the individual child. So that despite a kind of big stick pressure philosophy, we were able to achieve.

Ted Simons:
>> without that threat it would have happened anyway?

Mark Dowling:
>> Absolutely, absolutely.

Ted Simons:
>> How do you keep the improvements going? It's one thing to go from very low to a little bit higher. How do you keep it going higher?

Mark Dowling:
>> Yeah. It is part of our work. I mean we, first of all, we believe that the work itself shows that we are on the right trajectory. We have made changes in our curriculum. We have made changes in our philosophy of our teaching. We have made children our focus of our program and that is seen in the work with the administrators. It's really a matter of refinement and, you know, examples of things we do differently. Today, you know, myself and associate superintendent we actually go to schools and spend hours and hours with principals walking through classrooms, sitting with them and going through the different things they are doing. So we are actually ensuring that the schools are on track.

Ted Simons:
>> Last question in a nutshell, what can other struggle districts learn from Roosevelt?

Mark Dowling:
>> I think the first thing any struggle district can learn is that with the right kind of thinking, the right kind of discipline, with research-based practices and the whole idea of working together, you can significantly increase student achievement.

Ted Simons:
>> Very good. Thank you so much for joining us. We appreciate it.

Mark Dowling:
>> Thank you.

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