Ana Samaniego, Douglas Unified School District superintendent, addressed what the district is doing to make sure students get a good, solid education in her State of the District speech last week at the Douglas Visitors Center.
“As you all may be aware public education for our nation and state is currently facing a very challenging time,” she told an audience of more than 150 people in her opening remarks on Wednesday, May 8. “Many reformers have so enshrined the importance of choice and charter schools, vouchers, assessment accountability, letter grades, and job preparation that they have ignored the widely accepted purposes that have traditionally sustained free, public education in this country.”
Samaniego referenced the Red for Ed movement that sparked statewide strikes for many states including Arizona.
“At its peak, Arizona’s historic six-day walkout closed 1,000 public schools, attracted more than 50,000 protesters and impacted 850,000 students,” she said. “While strikes varied in levels of success for our Arizona teachers it meant their voices were heard. On May 3, 2018 the Arizona Legislature passed a state budget that included nearly $273,00 million aimed at giving teachers’ pay raises. For our teachers, it meant a 20 percent raise over the next few years. This was obviously long overdue and much deserved.”
Samaniego remains a strong advocate of public education, she said.
“I too was educated through the public-school system as an English language learner at Sarah Marley Elementary, the former Douglas Junior High, and Douglas High School,” she said. “Through the many opportunities afforded to me by outstanding teachers and from the public investment of the citizens of Douglas I was able to accomplish my own dreams and later obtain my degree at one of our very own public universities here in our state. And just like me, there have been many other young boys and girls who were also educated through our Douglas public school system and are now successful citizens and productive members of society.”
DUSD is a part of the public-school system where educators facilitate the progress of transforming the youth into functional independent full citizens, “where we put our 4,200 kids first and where education is a work of heart.” Samaniego said.
“It is also the story of many boys and girls being raised by parents, single parent homes, guardians, or relatives as they face the daily struggles of deported parents, language barriers, financial struggles, school violence, education disparity, and inadequate employment opportunities,” she added.
Samaniego identified key areas of strengths and needs for the district through its Integrated Action Plan.
“Our leadership is committed to sustaining a culture of high expectations for learning and growth of all students within a respectful, professional learning community for all staff. Strong, focused school-site leadership is a critical component in student and school success,” she said. “Through our principal leadership networks we were able to build bi-monthly professional development sessions that included observation and evaluation of instruction, parent engagement, and empowerment. Building leadership skills is not only an effort for teachers, but rather to include all staff and students as well.”
She also touched on effective teachers and instruction.
“It is a fact of life that teacher shortage in rural areas such as Douglas is even more challenging,” Samaniego said. “Finding teachers in the areas of math, science, English, and special ed, has become extremely difficult.”
As such, DUSD has developed a strong partnership with UA South.
“Within the last few years, UA South Education has graduated 10 students with a (bachelor’s) in Elementary Education, 11 students with (a master’s) in Secondary Education,” she said. “Currently there are five teacher candidates from Douglas enrolled in their elementary education program. The beauty of this, is that all former students are all employed by DUSD.”
Samaniego said through this partnership she hopes to “grow our own teachers in Douglas”
In order to help teachers grow as professionals, DUSD has a professional development program in place that includes depth of knowledge, rigor, engagement strategies, differentiated instruction, and data analysis during Thursday “Early Release” days.
“Throughout the school year we have hosted several professional development academies put on by our very own teacher experts focusing on instructional strategies for all grade levels,” she said. “Due to our location, many of our federal dollars are spent in professional development opportunities which are held in the Sierra Vista, Tucson and Phoenix area. For this I thank our governing board who is very supportive in developing the leadership capacity of our teachers, even though it is a significant expense to our budget.”
Samaniego said the Exceptional Student Services team of teachers and staff continue to support the 289 ESS students in the district through innovative teaching strategies, (autism) and non-violent crisis-intervention training.
“Our ESS department strives to create strong, legally sound programs that attend to the needs of each child and provide for and support their least restrictive environment,” she said.
Samaniego said with the assistance of the DUSD’s IT Director Marco Durazo and his staff, they culminated a cell-tower lease agreement which created funding for the purchase of new computers for teachers, security cameras, and two-way radios for district security. It also upgraded the internet connection from 90 megabits per second to three gigabits per second, purchased over 700 chrome books, 200 ipads and installed more cameras to ensure the safety of students and staff.
“They will continue to work on building at least three computer labs in every school,” she said. “And for the very first time they provided the support and infrastructure to our students for AZ merit, computer-based testing.”
She stated that as superintendent, it is important we continue to find ways through the assistance of our parents, community and business partners to provide the best school culture and climate for our students.
“This task can’t be done in isolation as much effort and investment is needed,” she said.
Samaniego added, “a well-balanced system of communication and collaboration between schools, district and parents, community and business partners, where all stakeholders have an equal responsibility in this partnership, will positively influence the life and achievement of a student.”
She noted DUSD is the largest employer within the city limits with close to 500 employees and for the second year in a row, the school board has approved raises for teachers, administrators and classified staff. She added that Douglas High School, Stevenson, Joe Carlson and Clawson Elementary all received a B letter grade for the 2018 AZ Merit.
Samaniego thanked Cochise College for its efforts in assisting DUSD students. Cochise College President JD Rottweiler, who was in attendance at the meeting, said afterwards Cochise College is pleased to be a partner in that.
“Good things are happening in the Douglas Unified School District, the partnerships are strong and I think the future is very bright,” he said.
Rottweiler added Cochise College is usually able to attract 50-60 percent of all DHS graduates.
“That’s a number that’s not seen anywhere else in the country,” he said. “We’re extremely proud of that but we also know we need to do more. We’re concerned about that other 40-50 percent that may not be choosing to go somewhere else. We’ve got to make sure that all of our students have an opportunity to achieve higher education.”
“I am humbled by the greatness of our children,” Samaniego said in her closing remarks. “Our Douglas students need your support as they will become the leaders of tomorrow. Let’s not give up on our kids because together we can make a difference.”