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Superintendent’s Report: Kyrene Strategic Plan Yields Results in Year One, District Outlines Plans for Year Two

One year into the Kyrene Strategic Plan 2023-2028: Thrive! Ready for the Future, I am proud to share that Kyrene School District is already seeing results, and we intend to use the momentum from the first year to drive our plan for year two. Stakeholder input was critical in the development of our five-year strategic plan, so I want to provide the community with an update on what we have accomplished so far, and the work ahead in the 2024-25 school year.

The strategic plan is organized around four specific, measurable goals that we aim to achieve by 2028:

  • Early Literacy: 85% of students in grades K-3 will meet end-of-year reading benchmarks by 2028.
  • Academic Progress: 70% of students passing, growing, and on-track in state assessments.
  • Sense of Belonging: 10% increase in students reporting sense of belonging on the annual Panorama survey.
  • Equity: Proportionate student representation in advanced coursework, gifted identification, and discipline.
Superintendent Laura Toenjes with two young students sitting at a desk.

To achieve these goals, Kyrene has identified three strategic imperatives: Future Ready Schools, Highly Engaged People & Culture, and Optimal Operations & Resources. Within each of these areas are initiatives that will be implemented throughout the five-year plan.


Future Ready Schools

Our primary focus in year one centered on our Early Literacy initiative. This initiative aims right at the heart of our Early Literacy goal of 85% of K-3 students hitting reading benchmarks. The 85% goal is based on research that shows we can always expect about 15% of a student population to need reading intervention for various reasons. We targeted early grade levels because third grade is the age at which children transition from learning to read to reading to learn.

In year one, Kyrene committed to covering the cost for teachers to earn their Literacy Endorsement by 2028. They earn the endorsement by completing Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS), which provides a deep understanding of the processes and research behind learning to read. We also made an investment in staffing to reduce class sizes in early grade levels. This ensures that any classes above the target range receive additional support, such as instructional assistants.

End-of-year benchmark test results showed, district-wide, Kyrene students grew 2-4% in every K-3 grade level. This is an encouraging early outcome, and we intend to build on those results in year two.

Kyrene will continue to implement and expand the LETRS training this year with all teachers having completed the training within two years of their hire date.

A significant focus in year two will be our Social-Emotional Wellness initiative, which aims to increase the integration of developmentally and culturally appropriate social emotional learning throughout the school day. The foundation for this work was established in year one, with the development and adoption of Kyrene’s first-ever Social Emotional Learning and Wellness Policy (Policy 5-412). The policy cements the Governing Board’s commitment to providing an academic environment where each student feels safe, has a sense of belonging, and is developing as a well-rounded learner.

Kyrene’s year-two priority will be the implementation of Character Strong, a middle school curriculum that promotes belonging, well-being, and engagement among students. Students will grow their skills in the areas of self-awareness, self-management, relationships, social awareness, and responsible decision-making. These are traits that contribute to academic success and help ensure Kyrene students will thrive in high school, college, career and life.


Highly Engaged People & Culture

To truly prepare students for the future, we have to be courageous enough to reimagine the one-teacher-one-classroom model. In year one of the strategic plan, Kyrene began expanding on our pioneer efforts to rethink staffing – not only for the benefit of students but also to help address the nationwide teaching shortage and the changing landscape of education. The Innovative Staffing Models initiative gives schools the opportunity to do things like remove walls and surround students with multiple educators in a single learning space.

This work began even before the development of the new strategic plan, at Kyrene de las Manitas Innovation Academy, where teachers work together in multi-age learning studios, and expanded last year with a middle school model and Kyrene Aprende. Students at Manitas and Aprende have shared with us that they feel a great sense of belonging with their peers and connection with their teachers. Aprende is seeing improved ability to address discipline matters, and just one year after taking the team-teaching model full scale, Manitas earned an A rating from the state of Arizona.

The expansion will continue in year two of the strategic plan, with similar teaming models on half a dozen more campuses, each tailored to meet the unique needs of students in the individual school community.

Also in year two, Kyrene will be finalizing our Portrait of a Teacher, which will identify specific competencies, knowledge and skills needed to support high-quality teaching and learning. The Teacher and Leader Portraits initiative will complete a series of portraits that began with the Portrait of a Kyrene Kid, a cornerstone of the strategic plan.

We can only ensure excellence in education with the close partnership of our staff, families and community. In year one, as part of the High-Leverage Partners initiative, Kyrene conducted a review of current partnership programs and potential barriers to community engagement. The district will use the findings of that review to identify opportunities to engage educators, students, families, and community partners in collective decision making.

Optimal Operations & Resources

Kyrene students and educators can only thrive when our systems are designed to maximize resources in ways that are efficient and equitable. To support the Program Evaluation initiative, Kyrene has begun studying Academic Return on Investment (AROI), a process used to evaluate programs and initiatives to determine if they are achieving the intended outcomes and at what cost.

As articulated by Kyrene Associate Superintendent Chris Herrmann, with AROI, “more strategic and tailored decisions can be made to enhance, refine or replicate the activities involved in a particular program. The AROI process also helps with launching future initiatives because there is clear communication on the desired goals and outcomes, along with an understanding of how those goals will be measured.”

In year one, Kyrene developed an AROI evaluation for reading intervention, so that we will be able to determine what approaches are working as we strive to meet our early literacy goal within the strategic plan. This is a great example of how the various initiatives within the plan are cross-functional to support the plan as a whole and ultimately achieve our 2028 goals.

The common thread among all of our initiatives under Optimal Operations and Resources is financial responsibility and transparency. Kyrene is a model in Arizona for fiscal accountability, having earned the prestigious Meritorious Budget Award from the Association of School Business Officials two years in a row—the only district in Arizona to win the award in more than a decade. Kyrene has also been awarded the Government Finance Officers Association Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting for 27 straight years.

These are just a few of the initiatives we will focus on in year two. Strategic planning is an active, continuous improvement process with oversight by the Kyrene Governing Board. Accordingly, the plan itself is a dynamic one, and I encourage the community to follow our progress online at