Caught in a riptide between tradition versus school reform, Tonto Basin Superintendent Mary Lou Weatherly resigned from her position a short year-and-a-half into her tenure.
Her resignation will go into effect on June 30.
At Tuesday’s board meeting, she gave a long and detailed superintendent’s report on the changes she said she has launched to prepare the tiny district for the incoming Common Core Standards.
“The parents don’t understand the state and federal mandates on teachers and administrators,” said Weatherly after the meeting.
She said the board originally hired her to refocus the district on improving academic performance, with state changes placing more and more emphasis on standardized test scores.
School board member Jackie Speer agreed Weatherly had been hired to improve the academics of the district.
“We went through the ASBA’s (Arizona School Board Association) hiring process,” said Speer after the meeting. “The community wanted to hire Weatherly.”
The Arizona Department of Education has labeled the Tonto Basin School a “C” school Weatherly reported at the meeting.
On the other side of the tide of change, parents Brandy Cline, Katy Taylor and Shayla Rose have pulled their children from the school because they felt the school was “no longer a safe, productive learning environment.” Reportedly, the tiny, 77-student, K-8 district has lost more than 17 students this year.
Taylor said that although Weatherly tried to improve academics, her administrative style caused strife and stress and conflicted with the school’s culture.
At the March 12 meeting in the school gym, parents, teachers, grandparents, children and members of the community filled two bleachers and spilled out onto the basketball court to watch the emotionally tinged meeting.
Some parents have complained about discipline and Weatherly’s decision not to put a teacher on administrative leave while an investigation into alleged problems with students continues.
Weatherly also upset some community members when she moved her office into a historic building volunteers had restored for a preschool.
Some residents rallied to her support on Tuesday.
“If they would go to the Bible more and Facebook less, things might not have gotten so bad,” said Johnna Kile. “Maybe we should go to the source instead with our complaints.”
Others, welcomed the decision. Longtime resident John Dryer spoke after the board accepted Weatherly’s resignation.
“Your people skills need to be honed — you pat them on the back and tell them there is a better way,” he said to Weatherly.
Then he referred to a 1980 loan agreement with the bank he had passed out to the audience that was between some of the community’s founding families to get a loan to bring the school building up to safe standards. Up until that time, the school was housed in a rundown shack, said Dryer. The state threatened to shut it down if the community did not improve the building. “What I passed out was history,” said Dryer, “I’m proud of that — it’s remarkable how far we have come.”
The school now serves as the center of the community, with weddings and funerals held on the basketball court — the largest room in the town.
After the meeting, school board member George Ewing reminisced about the school. Not only has he served on the board on and off for 25 years, but he graduated from the school.
“In the 1950s, it got down to two students, so my grandpa went to Globe to hire a family (to work on his ranch) with six kids,” he said.
All four of his children attended the school — and so do his five grandchildren. Ewing said dealing with the situation revolving around Weatherly had proved the most difficult problem he has faced.
“By far, this has been the toughest,” he said.
Kile, a parent, said, “What saddens me is the viciousness of the talk about Mrs. Weatherly. She cares about educating our children.” She said rumors and innuendo have so divided the community that many families now won’t speak to each other.
During her report, Weatherly focused on changes she had made — but concluded the school had a lot more work to do.
“We are a ‘C’ school,” she said to the audience. “We need to focus on bringing test scores up.”
Weatherly’s PowerPoint said all the teachers are now certified as “highly qualified” in their subjects, which wasn’t true when she arrived.
Her presentation noted that the Tonto Basin school was behind in reporting on its Title I audit information, but she managed to get the Arizona Department of Education to waive four years of audit information so the school could keep its federal Title I funding, intended to help low-income students.
The presentation listed all of the upgrades made during Weatherly’s time including a new air conditioning unit, water filters, new servers and switches to keep the school connected to the Internet, updated computer labs, laptops for classrooms, science lab equipment, and increased safety measures, including sheriff and fire access to the building in case of emergency.
“When I came into the job, the servers were barely working and the school was on different platforms,” said Weatherly after the meeting.
To improve academics, Weatherly’s said she had replaced outdated instructional materials, brought grading expectations in line with national standards, set up a system for teachers to share testing data on students, introduced a new teacher evaluation system as the Common Core requires, and familiarized teachers with tests designed to help students do better on the yearly Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS).
“That’s the name of the game now,” Weatherly said after the meeting. “We can no longer just get by with teaching to the middle percentile of kids.”
Weatherly wrote that even the withdrawal of 17 out of 77 children would not affect the school’s funding for next year because the students left after the 100th day of instruction.
She acknowledged that donations (Credit for Kids) had dropped, but suggested the economy had more to do with that than parent dissatisfaction.