William Coniam Discusses the Issues
What is the biggest issue facing Dysart Unified School District?
Hiring and retaining quality teachers! (Posted 6/18/22)
Hiring and retaining quality teachers! (Posted 6/18/22)
For too many years Arizona has ranked at or near the bottom of the entire country for teacher pay. A recent Gallup poll showed that K-12 workers have the highest burnout rate of any industry, nationwide (44% said always/very often, compared to construction or community/social services that were half as much!) Teachers are leaving the state and the profession, and we are left with many vacant teaching positions. As all business owners and managers know: if you want to recruit and retain high quality employees, you have to treat them right and pay them appropriately - otherwise they will leave you for another position that will appropriately compensate them for their skills.
A recent poll of Arizona voters showed that 88% supported raising teacher pay, another poll showed that 78.2% of voters said that they believe K-12 teacher salaries are too low.
Clearly it is important to voters. It is important to me as well, that is why I have spent years advocating for increasing teacher salaries.
There are 7 people running for Dysart USD Governing Board, only one other candidate has publicly called for more funding from the state legislature, why won't the other 5? This is a genuine question, a plea, even.
If you want to represent Dysart, you have to advocate for Dysart. We need Governing Board Members that understand this.
Let me be clear: I'm not talking about raising taxes; there is currently a $5 billion surplus in the state budget. Nor am I saying to just let school districts spend it however they want. I am saying that at least some of that surplus must be used specifically to increase the annual salaries of K-12 public teachers. There are approximately 60,000 teachers in Arizona. If we used just 20% of that surplus to raise their salaries, that would be an increase of $16,666 per year for every teacher!
I've been calling on all Dysart USD Governing Board Members and candidates to join me in contacting our legislators and demanding they stop their political games and act now to increase teacher pay.
Critical Race Theory (posted 7/9/22)
When I am talking to voters, I am often asked about "Critical Race Theory"
Let me start with a short answer:
Critical Race Theory is not taught in Dysart schools and it is against Dysart policies (more on this later), I want to be clear on that point.
With that said, just for the sake of argument, if someone wanted Critical Race Theory taught in Dysart schools - NO, I would NOT support that.
Critical Race Theory does not belong in K-12 public education. It is absolutely not being taught in Dysart schools. In fact, this is clearly addressed on the Dysart website, under curriculum FAQs:
Is Critical Race Theory part of the curriculum?
No. Dysart Schools do not have a curriculum for or teach Critical Race Theory, nor has the Governing Board or administration had any discussions related to the exploration, adoption or implementation of this theory.
That type of instruction goes against Dysart governing board policies - in particular I recommend reading sections 9.5 (Curriculum Adoption) and 9.45 (Teaching About Controversial/Sensitive Issues).
For more information about how instructional materials are selected and available for review by the public, refer to sections 9.21-9.24. I also recommend reviewing Dysart Procedures, section 9.22.P.1. (Textbook/Supplementary Materials Selection and Adoption).
If it's not currently taught, it would be against multiple current policies to teach it, and no one is even proposing the idea that we begin teaching it, why are we even talking about it, then?
Well, many politicians and political candidates know that fear gets votes, so they use that as the basis of their campaigns. They create some sort of "boogeyman", tell you to be afraid of it, then portray themselves as the only ones that can save you from it. We've seen this in countless forms from all sorts of politicians. Don't fall for it.
1619 Project (posted 7/14/22)
Similar to CRT, 1619 Project is not taught in Dysart schools.
This is specifically addressed in the Dysart Curriculum FAQ.
Social-Emotional Learning (posted 8/1/22)
My original post for this topic became rather lengthy, so I decided to start over and keep this as brief as possible.
It has been my experience that when you take the skills that Social-Emotional Learning tries to teach children (e.g. setting & achieving goals; persevering to overcome obstacles; adopting a growth mindset; making constructive choices about personal behavior; social interactions based on ethical standards, safety concerns, and classroom/social norms), and ask someone if they support them being taught in school - the overwhelming answer is yes. The "controversy" comes from people claiming that there are other things being taught to Dysart students as part of this. I have heard claims that SEL is teaching racism or that students should not take responsibility for their actions. It is quite the opposite.
With that said, I support Social-Emotional Learning in Dysart, but I would not support teaching negative traits such as racism or lack of responsibility/accountability.
Universal Expansion of the Empowerment Scholarship Account (ESA) Program (posted 8/20/22)
I can explain why I oppose the universal expansion of the ESA program in Arizona in one sentence:
If you support fiscal accountability and transparency with tax dollars, you oppose ESA expansion. Period.
The differences between the rules for public schools and private schools are so extreme that it becomes an absolutely absurd double standard to try to argue otherwise.
There is no public reporting of how the taxpayer dollars are spent
- No review by the Auditor General
- No fiscal audits, or budget reviews by the public or publicly elected governing board
It’s also very important to note the lack of academic accountability.
- Students do not have to take the state assessment
- Students do not have to take a national assessment (like the ACT or SAT),
- They don't have to show student outcomes, such as grades, or whether their students graduate from high school or go to college
- There are no required qualifications for teachers in private schools. NONE
- There’s also no public process to evaluate or provide input into the curriculum used. Private schools could literally be teaching students ANYTHING, or even NOTHING at all, and our tax money is funding it.
Any school receiving tax money should be held to the same standards. Either remove these requirements from public schools (district & charter) or require private schools to comply.
Links to further information on this subject are below.
Education Forward Arizona: School Vouchers Explained
2022 article from Arizona Center for Economic Progress
This article is from 2017, but it provides a good explanation of the lack of accountability with ESAs.
"Greater Phoenix Leadership, Southern Arizona Leadership Council and Northern Arizona Leadership Alliance, representing more than 200 CEOs across Arizona, have made it clear that they are against the expansion of vouchers in Arizona and have voiced support for our public education systems."
This letter was written in 2021, when they tried to make 70% of Arizona students eligible for ESA, this year it is worse, with 100% eligible.
Vouchers are an irresponsible use of taxpayer funds with little to no accountability or transparency. Private schools don’t have to open their books no matter how much public funding they receive.
Private schools and homeschools won't have to demonstrate academic achievement.
Funding multiple schooling systems is massively inefficient and wasteful. Taxpayers will pay the price.
The vast majority of voucher funding will be an entitlement for wealthy families who are already enrolled in private academies.
Private schools can reject students on the basis of gender, religion, and sexual orientation – even when accepting public funds.
Special education students forego their IDEA disability rights when accepting a voucher.
Improve Academic Achievement (as measured by state assessments) (posted 9/13/22)
(This post was inspired by this news article from Arizona's Family)
Standardized tests, despite their flaws*, can help us to measure what is happening in the classroom and improve instruction where necessary.
Dysart’s scores for the past two years:
2021: ELA: 40, Math: 33
2022: ELA: 46 , Math 41
Despite the significant drop that all schools experienced during the pandemic, Dysart is above the state average. I won’t discount that, but I’ve never wanted to settle for average. I want Dysart to be a top-performing district that other public schools strive to emulate.
Charles F. Kettering (inventor, engineer) said: “High achievement always takes place in the framework of high expectations.”
I have high expectations for Dysart students. I know they are capable of greatness and I want to see them successful - not just in school, but for the rest of their lives.
Academic success provides options for the students after high school. I want Dysart students to have the options to pursue their own interests and aspirations, whether they be collegiate or vocational. How great would it be if every student was set up for success and the opportunity to pursue their dreams; perhaps they are offered a full-ride scholarship, a paid apprenticeship in a trade they want to pursue, or both!
That is why one of my top priorities as a Governing Board Member will be to improve our test scores (particularly at the Title I schools, where scores are significantly lower than other Dysart schools).
One thing I want to stress, however, is that if you have a business where production is not meeting your goals, you do not treat all of your employees poorly. “The floggings will continue until morale improves” is not an effective leadership strategy. Driving away your best employees is NOT how you improve production. That is why I have been stressing that recruiting and retaining high-quality employees is the most-pressing issue Dysart faces.
*Whenever we are discussing standardized assessments, we must caution relying too heavily on them, but to avoid getting on that tangent here, I’ll simply refer to this article from the Harvard Graduate School of Education.
Career and Technical Education (CTE) (posted 9/21/22)
As I mentioned in my post last week: I have high expectations for Dysart students. All students are capable of greatness and I want Dysart students to have the options to pursue their own interests and aspirations, whether they be collegiate or vocational.
I understand the importance of Career & Technical Education (CTE). As a risk management/loss control consultant*, I work directly with businesses across Arizona in a wide variety of industries and trades. As I regularly meet with business-owners and executives, the thing I have heard consistently over the past couple of years is how desperately they need skilled employees. Dysart can help meet that need for our local businesses and simultaneously provide great careers to our Dysart graduates. We can provide the academic and vocational skills necessary to set them up for success.
As your Governing Board Member, not only will I advocate for supporting our existing internal CTE programs and partnerships with West-MEC, but I also have ideas to expand our programs. I will work with Mr. Grieshaber (Director of Career and Technical Education) and Dr. Croteau (Assistant Superintendent for Support Services) to see about implementing them.
* If you want to read more about my “day job” you can visit my LinkedIn
School Safety (Candidate Forum Response, 9/30/22)
If the safety of Dysart students and staff is important to you: vote for knowledge and experience, vote for William Coniam.
Increasing Parent Involvement (posted 10/2/22)
I believe we need to increase the level of parent and community involvement in Dysart schools. Research indicates engaging families can lead to higher grades and test scores, improved attendance, and better behavior. It will also help increase the number of volunteers helping out at their local schools, volunteers that are desperately needed (just ask your local PTA 😊). While getting parents more involved might seem like a hyper-local issue, I think there are still ways that we can influence it with a top-down culture that promotes community involvement and service.
Some ideas for increasing communication from administration, both at the district and school levels (some of these may already be in place at some schools, but certainly not all):
Social events like “Meet the Principal/Assistant Principal” and “coffee talks” to promote conversations about what is going on at the schools, sharing the positives and addressing issues.
Focus groups for issues (members would depend on the topic, but could include parents, students, teachers).
Regularly share calendars for the week and month of any upcoming events and meetings. Encourage parents, teachers, and students to attend PTSA/PTSO meetings.
Principals sharing S.M.A.R.T. goals for the year and periodically updating on their progress. These should include goals not only for academic assessments, but also for parent involvement (could be measured based on the number of volunteer hours at the school, for example).
Provide resources for parents to help their children with homework or work on areas they are struggling.
Consistently encourage parents to volunteer! Provide a wide variety of volunteer opportunities. That means providing things beyond serving on the PTSO/PTSA. Be inclusive! Provide opportunities for those that don’t like social interaction, those that don’t have time on weekdays, etc.
We could create an award for the schools with the top 5 volunteer hours logged. It could be as simple as a social media post, or it could be a plaque with room to add plates for subsequent years the award is won. We could also have an award for the largest increase in volunteering (year-to-year or semester-to-semester).
Let’s bring back the Dysart PTSA/PTSO Council. The “SEMPTA” council was around a few years ago and I believe it was a valuable resource to all of the PTSAs (and PTSOs) in Dysart. It would include a representative from each PTSO/PTSA. They could meet quarterly to share best practices, discuss common issues and how to resolve them, discuss fundraisers (what works, what doesn’t), etc.
Increased communication with parents about issues at the schools and encouraging them to discuss them with their children. For example, if there have been a series of fights at a school, tell parents about the issue and encourage them to talk to their kids about it even if their child is not directly involved, they should discuss what students should do when they become aware of issues. Don't just "sweep it under the rug" for appearances. When parents think we are hiding information, we lose their trust. I believe that earning their trust will increase the likelihood of parents being more involved.
Additional benefits to parent involvement would be that they would have better knowledge of what is (and is not) happening at the schools. So when they see misinformation on social media, they won't be as inclined to accept it as fact and instead will know to reach out to school administration. They will also know what the school's needs are and may be more inclined to contribute.
The teachers and schools are there for the children, but home life is also a crucial role. Being involved with your student - speaking to them about things happening in their day, helping or just being aware of their school work and progress is beneficial. Parents need to be involved with their child’s education. Ask them about their day, don’t just settle for “okay” or “I don’t know”. Ask more specific questions such as “Tell me something you learned” “Tell me one thing you liked” “Tell me one thing you didn’t like” Attend parent-teacher conferences.
Encourage open communication with teachers. Parents/guardians should first contact the teacher if there is a concern in the classroom. If it isn't addressed satisfactorily, take it up the “chain of command." Administration can’t address issues they aren’t made aware of, so allow administration the opportunity to address issues rather than going straight to social media or the Board. Continually remind the community about Dysart’s Guide to Solving Problems and Getting Answers Fast.
When there are issues in life, I always feel that rather than simply complaining about an issue, we should be thinking “What can I do to help?” Let’s focus on finding solutions. We need to bring people with different backgrounds and perspectives together and work collaboratively to solve our most-pressing problems. The more parents and community members are involved in Dysart, the greater success we will have solving any problems we may face.
Let's work together to move Dysart forward.
Sex Education (Human Sexual Growth and Development) (posted 10/17/22)
This is essentially a "fact check" post because I am fed up with candidates spreading misinformation and disparaging our district for votes.
NO. Dysart is not teaching:
"The National Sex Education Standards (“comprehensive sex ed”) devoted too; social, racial & reproductive justice and equity, intersectionality, language inclusivity and teaching sexual content as young as kindergarten."*
Literally none of that is taught in Dysart.
Dysart's "sex ed" (human sexual growth and development) occurs in 6th grade, it is entirely opt-in (if a parent does not explicitly sign a permission slip, the student will not receive any of the instruction), and it is a very basic course where the boys and girls are split-up then taught about their own biology and puberty (boys are taught about boys, girls are taught about girls). Like all of Dysart curriculum, it is available online for public review. You can read the entire curriculum here.
*Screenshot of full quote below.
(See above for responses to the other parts of that screenshot.)
Governing Board Transparency (posted 10/19/22)
Tina and I have been saying that one of our top priorities is to rebuild trust in our district through accountability and transparency.
We say this because our Board has lost the trust of a lot of the people in our community due to their recent actions, culminating in the forced resignation of Dr. Kellis by three of our Dysart Governing Board Members (Densmore, Pritchard, and Chaffin). In the process of doing so, they BROKE STATE LAW and went against the will of the voters.
Prior to this, Dr. Kellis had the strong support of the community and Dysart staff. In surveys of parents and staff, Dr. Kellis had very high approval ratings. For 2018-2021, his average approval ratings were¹ :
School staff: 94.67%
District staff: 94.67%
A very large number of people came to the 5/11/22 Board meeting to speak in Dr. Kellis’ defense. Tina Mollica and I were among them. I begged the Board not to follow through with what they were planning, but they didn’t listen. Just as they didn’t listen to the Mayor of Surprise, City Council member Chris Judd, Former City Manager Bill Pupo, former Dysart Governing Board Members Jennifer Brown-Tanner and Jay Leonard, and many others that addressed the Board (not to mention the others that were present to show support but chose not to address the Board). [See post comments for links to video of each]
Those three Board Members chose to ignore the will of the people. They chose to go against the desires of 86% of parents and 95% of staff.
One would hope that they had a very good reason to make such a contentious decision. If they did, they refused to say anything during the meeting or in the five months since.
They hid all of their discussions in executive sessions and then used that as their excuse for why they wouldn’t provide justification for their actions. This is a very political spinning of the law. You can not discuss specifically what was discussed in executive session, but you *can* and *should* provide reasons for their votes. During that meeting, two Board Members explained why they were voting no [see post comments]. The other three refused to say anything at all. They could have given the most simple and vague of reasons, something like “I’m not happy with the test scores” but they did not. Even if they had a just reason to force out Dr. Kellis, operating in this manner does not encourage trust in the Board and, by extension, the district. One of the three, Dawn Densmore, is now seeking re-election. During the Candidate Forum on 9/30/22, I discussed this issue and provided Densmore this “easy out” excuse she could use, but here we are 3 weeks later (5 months since the vote) and still she refuses to provide *any* justification for the most significant and contentious vote by the Dysart Board in a very long time.
Their supporters would have you believe this was a voluntary resignation and hint that Dr. Kellis likely did something very bad that he didn’t want to go public. Quite the opposite is true.
At the 8/11/22 Board Meeting, Jennifer Brown-Tanner (who served on the Dysart Board for 12 years) addressed the Board regarding their discoveries from public records requests of Board Member emails. Among these emails, she found an email where “Dr. Kellis specifically requests to exercise his legal right for the discussion of his contract to be held publicly rather than behind closed doors, under the umbrella of confidentiality that exists with executive session."²
The Dysart Governing Board ignored his request, in violation of state law! [If the public body proposes to discuss a personnel matter in an executive session, and the affected officer, appointee, or employee requests that the discussion occur in a public meeting instead, then these discussions must be conducted in a public meeting and not in an executive session. A.R.S. § 38-431.03(A)(1)]
If this was a voluntary resignation, at his farewell event (7/29/22) would his wife have said "it was a really rotten way to throw him out"?
If he had done something bad, would the Utah State Board of Education have made him Teaching and Learning Coordinator, where he will be going around the state teaching their Principals and other administrators how to be better school leaders?
This was also a fiscally irresponsible decision. Dr. Kellis had one year left on his contract. They could have simply chosen to not renew his contract. By forcing him to resign, the Board decided to pay him a lump sum payment of $312,532.23!
As Governing Board Member, I want to stop the political games and get our focus back on the basics: educating our students. I will work to rebuild trust in our district through accountability and transparency.
Please check back, I will be adding to this page over time.
Would you like to suggest an issue to be discussed here? Contact me.