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District leaders report on first year outcomes of new strategic plan at SUSD

photo of a classroom at SUSD
When it came to efforts around technological innovation, while the conversation was brief it did touch upon the potentials for an influx of artificial intelligence in the classroom. (File Photos/

Report: A first-blush look at 2022 strategic plan progress at SUSD

By Terrance Thornton | Digital Free Press

The Scottsdale Unified School District is reporting first blush results of key performance indicators, guidelines defined and goalposts set for a comprehensive strategic plan hinging upon five key elements of change.

Amid the June unveiling of KPIs at the district level, Scottsdale Schools leaders offered insights into initial data points illustrating success, failure and strategies to better meet goals set by its governing board.

“Under the goal of academic excellence, the first commitment is to ‘Provide learning opportunities that ensure all students graduate prepared for relevant and viable postsecondary higher learning and careers,’” Dr. Scott Menzel, superintendent at SUSD, told the Arizona Digital Free Press.

“The governing board has established Key Performance Indicators, several of which relate to this area of focus — including increasing the number of students who participate in Career and Technical Education classes (CTE) and earn industry credentials, as well as increasing the percent of students who pursue postsecondary education and training and persist after the first year of enrollment.”

At a June 6 public hearing, Dr. Karen Benson, associate superintendent at SUSD, provided overview comments and introduced thought and team leaders who have collaborated over the last year on strategic goals. Those goals are:

  • Goal 1 – academic excellence
  • Goal 2 – culture and climate
  • Goal 3 – talented and qualified professionals
  • Goal 4 – community engagement & partnership
  • Goal 5 – optimized resources

Dr. Benson offered reflections, feedback and data points she says represented the first year of implementation of the 2022 strategic plan.

“Just a reminder, the governing board approved the KPIs and goals just a year ago,” Dr. Benson explained of the positive results in certain areas. “Our most important step, I believe, has been the establishment of the five strategic action and co-leaders of these teams to [carry out] these initiatives.”

Broken down into teams — following a district and community-wide call for interested volunteers — Dr. Benson gave a breakdown of those internal and external thought leaders. They are:

  • Milissa Sackos, Cindy Bochna & Kim Dodds-Keran, Shannon Cronn & Matt Lins — multitiered system of supports or ‘MTSS’
  • Michelle Watt and Dr. Menzel — Innovation in teaching and learning
  • Alexis Wilson & Amy Goff — Attracting and retaining qualified staff
  • Kristine Harrington and Amy Downs — strategic partnerships
  • Shannon Crosier and Dennis Roehler — optimized resources

Dr. Benson provided to the Governing Board of Scottsdale Schools that initial data points are the tip of the proverbial iceberg.

“To truly make forward progress on initiatives of this scope a multi-year implementation timeline [is expected],” she said. “We will reassess as a team again this summer and make assessments on our timeline.

A brief dive into the five key strategic elements at SUSD

Dr. Milissa Sackos, who serves as SUSD associated superintendent of secondary education, offered the governing board with a brief update on year one efforts at the district level, which she described as an ‘integrated and comprehensive’ framework.

“We continue to refine and improve that understanding,” she said of the symbiotic relationship between academics and behavior. “Social emotional success: how do I help but also how do I enrich those who have already met those levels. When I say, ‘the framework it is not a program’ — it is a way of thinking.”

Dr. Sackos spoke to a common understanding of the tenets of MTSS a critical stepping stone for teachers to provide the best learning environment for all students.

“What do we do to readjust our instructional practices to ensure 80 of the kids are getting it the first time,” she said of common challenges in meeting benchmark goals. “There is a correlation between disruptive classroom and instructional knowledge. The big implementation key is increasing higher quality first-best instruction in the classroom.”

At the strategic partnership level, Kristine Harrington, SUSD director of communications, offered the nuts and bolts of growing community connections through collaborations that make good sense.

“We didn’t have any baseline data and while these thing were happening they were not being captured with any fidelity,” she said of initial efforts to understand what partnerships exist throughout the district. “The right tracking tool to track the conversations with those partners to follow up.”

Ms. Harrington explained district leaders are developing these analytics through a Sales Force platform that is allowing district leaders to create more, track better and explore new opportunities with community partners.

When it came to efforts around technological innovation, the conversation was brief but did touch upon the potentials for an influx of artificial intelligence in the classroom. Dr. Benson went on the record saying the effort is critical for educators to understand AI language models ‘to help learn and get out in front of that.’

An interesting observation the data suggests provided by Alexis Wilson, associate superintendent of HR at Scottsdale Schools, is the idea not everyone is looking to climb the career ladder but all want to find mastery of their given field or position.

“Not everybody wants to move up the career ladder but everyone does want to improve their learning at their current position,” she said of the results of the career pathway survey. “Less than two thirds feel they are ‘well-trained’ in their current role.”

Ms. Wilson points out SUSD employees have continually seen incremental pay increases in recent months and coupled with personal work development programs, a potent combination for attracting and retaining quality candidates for employment is emerging at all levels of the district.

Shannon Crohn, SUSD chief financial officer, brought forth findings around optimization of financial resources with efforts including improvements to software and alerting parents to the what programs are available to help monitor student performance.

At a June 6 public hearing, Dr. Karen Benson, associate superintendent at SUSD, provided overview comments and introduced thought and team leaders who have collaborated over the last year on strategic goals. (File Photos/
A few words from the Governing Board of SUSD

Dr. Libby Hart-Wells, who serves as an elected leader of the governing board, began discussion around the litany of anecdotal information provided by district leaders.

“I hope to continue this conversation in-depth,” she said following comments regarding MTSS goals and guidelines that revolve around the social emotional learning of students.

She went on to commend district leaders for the direct and open conversations regarding the confluence of AI in the classroom and concerns emerging in communities across the country.

“There are real concerns around it,” she said. “Thank you for the authentic conversation.”

Julie Cieniawski, governing board president, offered insights into a focus of new and emerging technology being introduced into Scottsdale classrooms but also innovative thought throughout the district itself.

“If we expect ourselves to be world class we need to be allowed to do these innovative things,” she said at the end of the June 6 public hearing. “I want people to feel like they can fail forward.”

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