WRUSD principals: restructuring did not negatively affect teaching

By Alastair Lee Bitsóí
Navajo Times

FORT DEFIANCE, Sept. 19, 2013

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According to the school principals of Tsehootsooi Primary Learning Center, Tsehootsoi Middle School, Window Rock Diné Bi Olta and Window Rock High, the restructuring of their schools has had very little negative impact on how they teach their students.

This update was provided to the school board last week on Sept. 11, and comes in spite of an effort by some parents, namely parent Marcus Tulley and the Window Rock Parents for Action, Change and Accountability Committee, to recall four of Window Rock Unified School District's school board members.

Last week, David L. Giddings, chief deputy for Apache County Schools, confirmed that he notified Tulley and the PACA committee the county had received their petition Sept. 10 to recall board president Emily Arviso and board members Albert Deschine, Lorraine Nelson and Richard Showalter.

Contrary to the beliefs of these parents who continue to disagree with the administration of superintendent Deborah Jackson-Dennison and the board members that allow her to "call the shots" and spend money however she wants, the restructure Dennison has implemented this school year is required to meet a declining enrollment and budget of $17 million for its four schools.

"I'll be honest with you, it has been a challenge bringing in two schools and combining them," Pandora Watchman, principal for Tsehootsoi Primary Learning Center, told the board and Dennison.

Last spring, the Embracing Change Committee -- consisting of a collection of teachers and principals -- recommended the school board approve the restructure plan for grades K to 3rd, meaning Sawmill Elementary and Window Rock Elementary were consolidated into Tsehootsoi Primary Learning Center with the now defunct Tsehootsoi Elementary.

At Tsehootsoi Primary Learning Center, there are a total of 577 students, with 36 teachers. Watchman said the five classrooms for the 133 kindergartners averages about 26-27 students, and that with the hire of another kindergarten teacher classes would decrease.

The newly hired kindergarten teacher would have a smaller class of 15 students because instruction would occur in a smaller classroom, while the rest of the other classes decrease to about 23 students.

"There will be more one-on-one instruction time for our students," Watchman added.

For first grade, there are six teachers averaging 26 students per class, while second grade is averaging a class size of 23 students. Third grade has an average class size of 21-22 students for 151 students.

Two preschools are also located in the Tsehootsoi Primary Learning Center.

"We are working on that and it has been positive," Watchman said about the changes at her school. She said teachers and staff are "moving forward" and in the process of developing a vision and mission statement for their school.

Watchman also pointed to collaboration among the teachers, who meet at least once a week, to develop strategies to meet the needs and literacy of their students.

"We have benefited from the professional development we have given to the teachers," she said. "The teachers have been very receptive É and feedback is given to the teachers."

At Window Rock High, principal Donna Manuelito said the reading and math statistics for students that took last year's Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards, a standards based assessment test, indicated her students scored better compared to most schools in the region and on the reservation.

Manuelito said 64 percent of students met or exceeded the reading level benchmark for the test, while 32 percent met or exceeded it for the math section.

As of last week on Wednesday, Window Rock High had an enrollment of 612 students and is above last year's enrollment figures, the principal stated.

"How do you monitor instruction?" asked Arviso. "What are your practices for monitoring instruction?

In response, the principal said informal observations, walk-throughs and formal observations are methods she uses to monitor instruction at the secondary level.

Dennison added that she's also been conducting training with her staff and teachers on the implementation of the Marzano Teacher Evaluation Model. This educational model measures the cause-and-effect relationship to student achievement.

"It's a whole new learning experience for our administrators and as well as for our teachers," the superintendent said, adding that's its an effective tool for student success.

She also said the school district is piloting with four others in the state to implement the educational model into its curriculum.

Based what's he heard about the model, board member Walter Showalter wondered if students would be "subjected to a more enhance monitoring system?"

"Yes," said Manuelito, adding that teachers will have access to online data that would create a causal chain that results in increased learning and achievement for all students.

The principals for Diné Bi Olta and Tsehootsoi Middle School also provided similar reports on the progress of their schools, which the board was pleased of hearing.

Contact Alastair Lee Bitsóí at 928-871-1141 or email at abitsoi@navajotimes.com.

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