New Santa Cruz principal brings passion for reading


“Skit skat skoodle doot. Flip flop flee.”

It’s a line from the favorite book of Maricopa Unified School District’s newest principal, who is passionate about reading. The rhythmic and playful “Chicka Chicka Boom Boom” gets children started early in a love of letters and books. It is not a standard alphabet book, but it is effective.

The education of Loraine Conley has been anything but standard.

A self-described military brat, she went to school in Spain and Germany and then Luke Air Force Base before landing in Glendale for high school. Higher education took her to Langston University in Oklahoma, Iowa State and then back to Arizona State University.

Now she will take the reins at Santa Cruz Elementary, where Principal Gina Chaffin is taking a leave of absence. The MUSD Governing Board approved her employment at its meeting Wednesday.

Conley said she has always wanted to be a teacher. “I have a passion for reading and learning, and I have a knack for working with kids,” she said.

“We’re very pleased to have Dr. Conley join our team,” Superintendent Steve Chestnut said.

She landed at the Phoenix Elementary School District in 2004. Around 2007, she was asked to take over the Montessori program at Dunbar Elementary, and has been principal there ever since.

Conley has lived in Maricopa for 10 years, following her sister, who bought one of the first homes in Rancho El Dorado.

Her 17-year-old daughter graduated from high school in December and has a track scholarship awaiting in Iowa. Her 15-year-old son recently moved to Arizona from Lee’s Summit, Missouri, to attend a high school where his aunt used to teach.

Though working in Phoenix, she said it has been important to her to be an active participant in Maricopa. She has attended community gatherings at Honeycutt Coffee and, through Maricopa Public Library, helped inform parents about the “Move on When Reading” legislation.

Conley said she had been applying at MUSD “for quite some time” when the Santa Cruz post came open. She said she was open with the Phoenix district about always applying for jobs and interviewing, “because you don’t want to lose your edge.”

She was drawn to Santa Cruz because it was a K-6 school and because it is a B school “that will certainly be an A school.” Though state assessments are changing, “I’m intrigued with the challenge of helping them go from a B to an A.”

Standards, assessments and labels will continue to shift in Arizona, which now has a priority on science. Looking at Santa Cruz’s data, Conley said the elementary and the district could also improve in writing as it faces AzMerit. Dunbar, too, has been developing a reading/writing component to meet the new standards.

***ADVERTISEMENT***Conley emphasized she thinks MUSD “has done a very good job.”

She said she took the post at Santa Cruz not because of convenience or money but because it seemed a good fit with her lifelong passion for learning.

Her first days for the 2015-16 school year will be spent building relationships, getting to know families and spending as much time in the classrooms as possible. She might also be sharing her favorite book.