Public Education's Image Improving In Arizona

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While somewhat critical of its political nature, Payson Unified School District Superintendent Herb Weissenfels felt Arizona Superintendent Tom Horne's state of education address was a positive statement.

Horne, who has been in office just one year, delivered the speech four times Tuesday at high-performing schools in Phoenix, Marana, Prescott and Flagstaff.

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The Rim Country Middle School band performs at a recent concert. Music and other fine arts programs need more emphasis, according to State School Superintendent Tom Horne and PUSD Superintendent Herb Weissenfels.

"I'm not in total agreement with everything he does, but I have to give credit where credit is due," Weissenfels said. "He has tried to create a positive image and feeling about education in Arizona, and I think this is a part of his effort to do that."

In the speech, Horne highlighted what he considers the accomplishments of the Arizona Department of Education over the past year and revealed three new initiatives for the coming year. The address was themed "Promises Made, Promises Kept."

Horne began by emphasizing his department's commitment to service.

"I am constantly getting comments on how much more service oriented the department has become, and how much more help it is giving to the schools in raising their academic standards," he said.

Weissenfels agreed with that assessment, but said the change began under Horne's predecessor, Jaime Molera.

Horne said the focus of his department in the coming year will be on better schools, better teachers and better curriculum, initiatives that are "at the heart of what makes a quality education."

1. School Improvement -- One initiative will be to identify outstanding Arizona teachers and administrators to serve on Solutions Teams that will be sent into schools that are in danger of becoming "failing" schools.

"Just as we never again want a student to graduate who cannot read his own diploma, so we want never again in Arizona to have a school where the student goes to school but does not learn," Horne said.

2. Highly Qualified Professionals -- This initiative focuses on the development of much larger numbers of highly qualified teachers and administrators through such measures as making it easier for bright students to enter the teaching profession and focusing on skills needed to be effective in the classroom rather than educational theory.

3. Content Rich Curriculum -- "One unfortunate, unintended consequence of the testing culture, has been that some schools focus on the subjects tested -- reading, writing and mathematics -- to the exclusion of the other vital subjects, science, social studies and the arts ... ," Horne said. "Sometimes, school boards, faced with financial problems, have cut the arts first thing. I have a direct appeal to them: Please don't!"

Weissenfels admitted that PUSD is guilty of placing too much emphasis on tested subjects.

"Because we're going to get labeled based on the results on those things, we have to perform there or we'll be in trouble," he said.

But he also agrees with Horne's renewed emphasis on the arts and other neglected subjects.

"We need the reading, we need the math, we need the writing," Weissenfels said. "But that's not the whole educational picture. I think we'd have some very narrow adults in our world if we didn't have it balanced with things like art and the rest of it, but we just have to come up with the money to pay for it."

It was the lack of any mention of school funding in Horne's address that bothered Weissenfels most.

Budget override

The school board will consider a resolution for a special override election at its regular meeting at 5:30 p.m. Monday.

Superintendent Herb Weissenfels said the money is needed to avoid cutting additional services and programs.

If the board approves the override resolution, it will appear on the ballot in May.

The school board meeting is open to the public and will be held at the PUSD office at 514 W. Wade Lane.

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