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Kyrene Charts Course for the Future, with Emphasis on Early Literacy

Posted July 2023


Kyrene School District has a new roadmap for the next five years, and early literacy is front and center. The Kyrene Governing Board approved the final pieces of the District’s next strategic plan during a virtual, public meeting on June 27. Thrive! Ready for the Future (Kyrene Strategic Plan 2023-2028) outlines the Kyrene community’s collective vision for the future, the transformation that needs to happen to realize that vision, and specific goals to reach by 2028.

A Focus on Early Literacy

It’s a sweeping plan, but Kyrene Superintendent Laura Toenjes says it all starts with literacy. Acknowledging gaps among students nationwide, the Superintendent spoke in the June 27 meeting about planting a flag around early literacy.

“We felt really strongly that we’ve got to get that right,” the Superintendent told the Board. “We’re going to go all in.”

Kyrene is putting more than words behind its early literacy commitment. It’s also putting dollars to work. The District is making an additional investment in staffing that will reduce target class sizes for kindergarten through third grade, beginning this year. Class size targets are not a guarantee, but classrooms that grow past the target range in Kyrene receive additional staffing and support, such as dedicated instructional assistants, to ensure all student needs are met and that students continue to receive individual support.

Additionally, Kyrene will be covering the cost for teachers to earn a new state-mandated Literacy Endorsement by 2028. Kyrene is the only district in the state to receive a grant that will fully cover the cost for every K-5 teacher to receive a training license for Language Essentials for Teachers of Reading and Spelling (LETRS). Completion of the LETRS training fulfills the coursework requirement for Arizona’s Literacy Endorsement and will provide teachers with a deep understanding of the processes and research behind learning to read.

Building a Blueprint for Progress

Kyrene began the strategic planning process in the 2021-22 school year by engaging stakeholders through focus groups and visioning surveys, to better understand the community’s aspirations for Kyrene students. More than 4,000 families and staff members participated in the survey and hundreds more stakeholders, including students and community partners, engaged in the focus groups. Kyrene used their insights to shape the direction of the strategic plan.

What emerged was a vision for a district that measures its achievement not only on the success of its current K-8 students but on whether they are prepared for future success in high school, college, career and life. Technology is advancing at hyper speed, and as a result, our world is rapidly evolving. It is difficult, if not impossible, to know exactly what higher education and working environments will look like years from now. So, Kyrene aims to equip students with the skills and traits needed to thrive in any environment.

Those traits are outlined in the Portrait of a Kyrene Kid, rolled out in 2022. The portrait became the first cornerstone of the strategic plan, along with the Kyrene Promise, which articulates the District’s vision, and the Key Values, which identify the guiding traits of Kyrene educators.

“When we say educators, we mean all Kyrene teachers, staff, and leaders,” Toenjes says. “The National Education Association’s code of ethics states that ‘the education profession consists of one education workforce serving the needs of all students and that the term educator includes education support professionals.’ Kyrene believes the same.”

Addressing all Kyrene leaders at a summer retreat, Superintendent Toenjes shared the story of President John F. Kennedy’s visit to NASA in 1962, when he asked a janitor about his job, and the janitor famously replied, “Well, Mr. President, I’m helping to put a man on the moon.” The Superintendent emphasized that every single employee in Kyrene contributes to the future success of students, and it will take everyone in Kyrene to ensure the strategic plan goals are met.

Focus on Accountability

Kyrene’s goals include, in addition to early literacy: academic progress, sense of belonging, and equity.

Early Literacy:
Beginning with the kindergarten class in 2024-25, at least 85% of kindergarteners will meet end-of-year DIBELS reading benchmarks, so that by 2027-28, at least 85% of students in grades K-3 are meeting end of year benchmarks. [Kindergarten Baseline in 2022-23 is 74%]


Academic Progress: By 2027-28, increase the District’s Academic Progress percent to at least 70% as measured by the weighted average of students passing, growing, and on-track on state English Language Arts and Math assessments. [Baseline in 2022-23 is 59%.]  


Sense of Belonging: By 2027-28, the percent of favorable responses on the sense of belonging items on the end-of-year Panorama survey will increase by at least 10 percentage points for students in grades 6-8. [Baseline in 2022-23 is 39%]


Equity: By 2027-28, student groups will be more proportionately represented in advanced coursework, gifted identification, discipline referrals and in and out of school suspensions.


The Kyrene Governing Board praised the accountability measures built into the strategic plan.

“I appreciate how actionable it is and how clearly laid out the goals are,” Board member Triné Nelson said during the June 27 meeting. “People will be able to see how the dollars are aligning with our values, and I think that’s really important to provide results and data to show progress to the community.”

Board President Kevin Walsh added, “Very rarely do districts hold themselves accountable, but that’s what we have to do. We’re going to have to look at these numbers on a regular basis and say are we achieving these goals, and if not, why not? And what do we need to do to change that?”

Next Steps

The District’s new plan is organized into three focus areas, identified as strategic imperatives: Optimal Operations & Resources, Highly Engaged People & Culture, and Future Ready Schools. Under each imperative, Kyrene has identified initiatives that represent the work to come over the next five years.

While Kyrene’s new strategic plan is focused on the future, it is built on 135 years of experience and academic excellence, a fact that is not lost on District leadership.

“Our community includes children, parents, grandparents, great grandparents, who have attended Kyrene schools, generation after generation,” Toenjes said. “Kyrene earned its reputation for excellence by constantly evolving to meet the needs of each one of those generations. For the newest generation of Kyrene kids, that means preparing them to thrive under any circumstances, because if our students are thriving in the future, it means they’ll be making the world a better place for all of us.”

Board President Walsh echoed the Superintendent’s sentiment in his introduction to the strategic plan, stating, “We built this plan together, and it will take all of us working together to put it into action. Thank you for your unwavering support as we embark on this exciting journey to ensure all Kyrene students are ready to thrive in high school, college, career, and life.”

Read more about Thrive! Ready for the Future (Kyrene School District Strategic Plan, 2023-2028) online at