Dr. Jeff Smith Honored by Arizona School Administrators
Arizona School Administrators, an organization with the mission to promote and support education excellence in school leadership, honored Dr. Jeff Smith with the All Arizona Superintendent Award. When making the selection, the organization considered accomplishments in the following areas: relations with the Board, public, and community; long-range planning; leadership in curriculum and instruction; management of finances, personnel, student activities, and physical facilities; and overall professional qualities.
Upon his appointment as Superintendent of the Balsz School District, Dr. Smith closely examined the needs of the community. More than 92% of the students qualify for the National Free and Reduced Lunch Program, and all schools are designated school-wide Title I. Two of the five campuses were "Underperforming" and in danger of corrective action. Achievement was stagnant and the educational trajectory seemed oriented toward the status quo rather than student success. The district was at serious risk of being identified as failing and having its operations taken over. This critical situation needed immediate attention. Dr. Smith and the Governing Board decided to direct their collective resources and goodwill toward a decisive reform agenda.
Dr. Smith saw that the key to providing a higher level of performance is sufficient time and resources. He discovered a little known law allowing districts to gain 5% additional funding by increasing their year by 20 days. Extending the school year by a month would yield 11% more time for students to learn and teachers to teach. After working with his administration team and conferring with the Governing Board, Dr. Smith decided this could be the answer to turn the district around.
The next crucial step was to discuss with the community the benefits of a longer school year. Site level committees were charged with studying the proposal and making a recommendation for their school. Considering current research, student data, and surveys of all stakeholders, he proposed to leverage the additional 5% in funding to offer a 9% raise to teachers. In the spring of 2009 the Balsz Governing Board adopted a 200-day calendar, the longest school year for any school district in the United States.
After just two years, the extended school year is already closing the achievement gap for students in the district. Today all district schools are out of corrective action and rated “Performing," “Performing Plus,” or “Highly Performing." In addition, English Language Learners’ (ELL) reclassification rates have more than doubled, giving these students the skills necessary to be successful in school and in life.
This is the story of Dr. Jeff Smith’s efforts to transform the Balsz community and what his team has accomplished in just three years. It is evident the extended school year, along with a comprehensive package of school reform measures, are having a positive impact on student achievement. Dr. Smith’s reform agenda has energized the community and opened doors for continued success. Dr. Smith has helped the Balsz community deliver on the promise of success for our students.