Brenda Case plans to use her 27 years in the Arizona education system to turn around the Payson Unified School District.
Pretty fitting since Case spent most of her years in administration as a turn-around principal for schools whose students had low scores.
“Ten of my 12 years in administration were in pre-turn-around middle and elementary schools,” said Case. “The challenges were to peel the onion and find deficiencies.”
Case plans on a two-pronged approach, attacking both academics and behavioral issues.
She has a head start on what to do as she came to Payson in January to consult with the district on maximizing student achievement. Her report includes a three-year plan to attain the highest levels of student achievement.
Superintendent Ron Hitchcock found Case when the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) suggested he hire her as a consultant.
“At conferences and meetings, Ron had asked what anyone could suggest to facilitate student achievement,” said Case. “The ADE put him in touch with me.”
At the time, Case worked as an elementary school turn-around principal. She also consulted on the side and could afford to spend a month on a job.
Case said the first thing she noticed about the Payson Unified School District was that every student attends every school, unlike most other districts that have multiple elementary schools that feed into a middle and/or high school. She also noticed the schools lacked consistency in certain key areas, such as safety.
“All students should feel safe at all campuses,” said Case.
She submitted her report and thought that job over.
However, after the school district posted the Director of Student Achievement position, a friend at ADE suggested it would be perfect for her.
As it happens, Case spent the summers of her youth in the woods at her family’s cabin, fishing in Horton Creek and splashing around in Fox Canyon.
“I would basically go out in the morning and come back at night,” she said.
She has planned on moving to the Rim Country for years, she was just not sure what it would look like. Now she knows.
Case’s mantra for academic change is three words: assessment, accountability and achievement.
The new Common Core standards fit in perfectly with her approach to improving academic performance. The Common Core seeks to create life-long learners, not just answer getters.
“It’s (education) no longer about teaching, it’s about learning,” said Case.
Likening the assessment part of her approach to training for the Olympics, Case said she will help translate the goals the Common Core wishes to reach, and then teachers and students can work backward from there.
“If an athlete wants to perform in the Olympics, they have to figure out — what do I have to get to, to contend,” she said. “So, once a mile runner knows the time they need to reach to compete, they run that mile over and over to reach the goal.”
Her involvement with the accountability piece includes professional development, or teacher training.
Hitchcock said that instead of sending teachers out to conferences and incurring the travel expenses for a few teachers, the district has decided to bring the teacher training to the schools and teach all the teachers at once.
“All of this is a reorientation to bring the expert to us,” said Hitchcock.
He said part of Case’s job is to work with principals and a few key teachers to spread the word on teaching techniques based on what works according to data and research.
Case clarified a concern many teachers have regarding the Common Core — teaching to the test.
Case said the test is “like an autopsy report — you can’t change the results once we get it,” she said. She hopes to inspire principals and teachers to create students ready for the changing world. “We want facilitators of learning,” said Case. “I will say to teachers, ‘You’re teaching students to go into careers that don’t exist.’ That requires knowing more than the answer. It requires a learner.”