Tracey Lopeman is beginning her second year as superintendent of MUSD. Photo by Kyle Norby

 

How would you describe your first full year at MUSD?
I’ve been able to meet so many great kids and great families along the way and really enjoy the benefits of a close relationship with city partners and business partners. So, it’s just been a wonderful experience.

How did that come about, being able to grow those relationships with the city, for instance?
Well, we started off by having a large stakeholder meeting where we articulated the Maricopa Why. And we invited the mayor, the city manager. We had police representation there. We had city agencies like Be Awesome, parents, students, of course, teachers and administrators. That was in August of last year. They took us up on the invitation, and we were able to identify all the dreams we have in common for the kids of Maricopa. When you have those kinds of commonalities, it’s a pretty good start.

What in your background prepared you for some of the challenges you’ve faced in the past year?
Actually, as a school-level administrator, I spent a lot of time building relationships with parents. It always came back to those core values – if we all want what’s best for kids, the differences we bring are less disruptive and can be turned into the strengths of the final outcome. I came into the work in Maricopa ready to meet people and ready to listen. From our beginning, starting with the Maricopa Why, and having superintendent’s advisory councils with certified, classified staff, parents and students, it really fit well with all my professional experience but also my professional passion.

What were some of the district’s successes during the past year?
It’s a pretty long list. For starters, we have a new website. It’s a much more effective representation of who we are to the rest of the world. We are launching a preschool in July. From the day I started, we had to begin planning for growth at the high school. Of course, that’s a multi-year project. We have been rewarded from the School Facilities Board $23 million to begin that project. The Legislature funded that, so we know we have a future for a high school vision as well. Plus, we had to have an intermediate plan that was agile. If you go over to the high school right now, you’ll see there are 16 classrooms, some of them are brand new, some of them are one-year used, gently used, pre-owned. We’re proposing a 5-percent raise, and we believe our board is going to definitely approve that when they adopt the budget, so we have been able to effectively allocate our resources to get the money back in the classroom, keep the money in the classroom.

When did you know you would need a new school? Was that before you took the job?
Before I arrived, the early spring of 2018, the district completed a demographic study. It was very evident then that a new high school was going to be necessary. Really, I think that just validated what everybody knew.

Can you describe what funding options are available, including the bond?
I mentioned we have the $23 million from the SFB. The board has given very serious consideration to calling for a bond election. That decision is on the horizon. But we began capital planning with a Capital Planning Committee last fall. We’ve had probably a half-dozen meetings with a diverse group of stakeholders, faith-based, business, elected officials, teachers, administrators, parents and students to develop consensus around what was most urgent, in addition to a high school. Our buildings are anywhere from 10 to 12 to 15 years old, so roofs and air conditioning are also a necessity. So is transportation. So is security. Those kinds of things, that’s all part of the funding needs that we have in addition to a high school.

Is there a certain tact you expect the district to take if they go for a bond when you just had the voters approve an override?
We’re committed to communicating the value of education, not only to the individual student or the individual family but the value of an educated population here in Maricopa. What it brings in terms of wealth to the community. If a child has a high school diploma, they have a certain expectancy for income, and how that is so exponentially increased once they have a college diploma. The more educated our city is, the more tax revenue there is, the less crime there is, it’s a more attractive place to live. We don’t want to just sell a bond. We want to promote the idea of making Maricopa a destination city. Part of that is doing our part as a district to educate our children.

While this was your first year as superintendent, there were also changes among the administrative staff. How did that work, with you bringing them up to speed while also still learning the ropes yourself?
I’ll go back again to what we articulated in our strategic plan. We have some very clearly articulated vision and mission statements, and that produced some very powerful goals and strategies. It minimizes the time you have to get people on board because we already did that. We already spent a tremendous amount of time and energy and dedication to articulating what we want for this community. We identified blocks and obstacles, so that already captured any resistance we might face, any obstacles along the way. So, we’re prepared to link arms, not only as professionals but with our parents, with our students, with our elected officials, with our business partners, with our faith-based partners. We’ve got the path already laid for us.

What was your biggest surprise of the last year?
Probably just how many great kids I met. I’ve had a couple of surprises actually. I thought I was going to be stuck in my office all the time. My admin assistant and I made plans to get me out into the schools. I was surprised at the welcome. I was surprised at the warmth. I was surprised at the partnership that I felt continued beyond the articulation of the plan, the partnership that continued beyond the superintendent’s advisory councils. It just was personal. I was surprised at the personal nature I was able to enjoy. It really drove me to get out there more and to listen more and to get out there the next time. It’s just an upward spiral.

Where would you put the level of transparency now compared to when you first came in?
Transparency is a priority for us. We have applied that concept and that philosophy across all departments and throughout all levels. We want to be open and communicative with our parents and with all the constituents in Maricopa. In terms of our communication, part of that is just being available. The website is better, as we mentioned, but we also made sure we had a human answering the phone. We had one of our stellar, superstar Maricopa Unified office people picking up the phone every time someone called. That’s the first part of transparency, saying, “We’re here to listen.” So, we can have a two-way conversation. We’ve also this past spring changed some of our administrative procedures to create greater transparency around our budgeting processes, the way we’re allocating resources and how we’re sharing leadership and ownership in much greater fashion at the school level.

 


This story appears in the July issue of InMaricopa.

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