After high school, Rachele Piñero Reese was a bit adrift.
In college, she studied for a basic general education degree in Puerto Rico “because I had no idea what I wanted to do in my life.”
She was also struggling with what she later found out was attention deficit hyperactivity disorder.
“Severe ADHD,” she said, “so I had to learn how I could learn. They didn’t even know what ADHD was, so it’s not like I was diagnosed. I just couldn’t understand why I couldn’t focus. So, it took a group of people, including my parents, to keep me confident in my skills to learn.”
So, she empathizes with students with learning issues but doesn’t accept excuses. And she wants high schools to do a better job of leading students to discover where their skills can take them in the job market.
“One of the things that I have always noticed is the fact that when you finish high school, the advisor can give you a test and then say, ‘These are your skills,’” Reese said. “But there is really no real-life idea of what that job is going to look like.”
Now with a master’s degree and working as an assistant principal at Leading Edge Academy, she has been chosen to be the principal for the upcoming A+ Charter Schools for junior high and high school students. The school is being organized to emphasize project-based education, job marketability, higher education and life skills.
Reese has been involved in Maricopa education since 2000. She started as a substitute at Maricopa Unified School District for middle school and high school language arts, English Language Learners and Spanish during a tumultuous time at MUSD. While teaching, she was training as ELL coordinator for the district.
“High school is a big challenge, and I want to take that challenge,” she said.
Rebekah Krueger, the business manager of Arizona Charter Solutions, Leading Edge Academy’s management company, has known Reese 11 years and thought she was just the person to start up a charter high school.
“She’s just so enthusiastic,” Krueger said. “She’s passionate about education. She’s lived there in Maricopa many years, and her experience speaks for itself. And she’s fun to be around.”
During Reese’s third year at MUSD, the district experienced hypergrowth. She went from testing 200 students to testing 800. She had to train a group of people to help so the district could make adequate yearly progress. At the time, she worked out of the old elementary building at the Honeycutt Avenue campus.
When Santa Cruz Elementary opened in Tortosa, she went there as assistant principal, working one year with 1,000 students. When the academic coach was promoted to principal at the new Saddleback Elementary, she took Reese with her as assistant.
A year later, Maricopa Wells Middle School was having administrative issues, and Reese split her time between duties at Saddleback and doing teacher evaluations at MWMS.
“She is probably the top individual I’ve ever dealt with as far as evaluating teachers and instructing teachers,” said Mat Reese, who was an MUSD principal at the time and later married Rachele Piñero.
Maricopa Elementary was in corrective action academically and having discipline problems. When the principal was moved out, Rachele Reese went to MES as an assistant principal. Two weeks later she was the interim principal and in charge of a turnaround.
“We had a year to turn it around,” she said. “I met with staff and I made the analogy of a huge ship that needs at least 30 miles to turn around completely. We don’t have 30 miles; we have about a mile to turn it around. Typically, there are going to be casualties.”
That meant a “reduction in force” of 18 employees. That was the beginning of the end of her time at MUSD.
“I know there are people who don’t like my approach because of the turnaround aspect of it,” Reese said. “You can’t go in and pat people on the back and say, ‘You’re doing a great job,’ if they’re not.”
She said she had heard the excuse for low scores at MES centered on the high population of Native American and Hispanic students.
“I had to go in and build those kids up because those kids thought they were dumb,” she said. “I’m Hispanic myself, and I’ve always thought anybody can learn. If you just believe in yourself, you can do anything.”
Putting her hyperactivity to work, she also insisted on a better physical environment at the school, even getting out the paint roller to paint the cafeteria to be more inviting.
“What she did at Maricopa Elementary was phenomenal,” Mat Reese said. “She got that school from three points from an A. In six years they didn’t even approach a C.”
After Superintendent Jeff Kleck resigned, she said she “saw the writing on the wall” and turned in her resignation as well. She became a turnaround principal at Gila Bend. There were some improvements during her two years there but also decades of political baggage.
After taking a break, she took a part-time position helping Mat Reese create the local Leading Edge Academy charter school and began helping Laura Newcomb gain accreditation for her Autism Academy in Tempe. When Leading Edge opened, she became full-time staff. She has been with Leading Edge three years.
In 2018, Reese was named Maricopa Latin Heritage Person of the Year during the City’s Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations.
When Newcomb and Kreuger floated the idea of another charter high school, Reese told them Maricopa would be the place to do it.
Kreuger said they felt the kind of project-based high school they were envisioning was needed, and Reese’s knowledge of the city was vital.
“She can hit the ground running.”
This story appears in the February issue of InMaricopa.