Education innovation partners: Scottsdale Charros, MLFTC and Scottsdale USD


Erik Ketcherside

The mission of Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College calls for mobilizing people and taking action to improve education; two imperatives that can’t be addressed without partners outside the college. One partner — Coronado High School in the Scottsdale Unified School District — is currently hard at work on a major initiative made possible by another.

The Coronado Success Initiative is a collaboration to identify strategies to improve education for students and teachers at CHS. The effort is funded by the Scottsdale Charros, an all-volunteer, nonprofit group of business and civic leaders serving the community through support of youth sports, education and charitable causes. Established in 1961, the Charros take their name from the tradition of “gentlemen cowboys” in central-western Mexico; skilled horsemen who wear ornately embroidered formal suits. The organization has more than 200 members, all pledged to leading efforts to create a community where residents can live, work, learn and have fun.

Education has always been a particular focus for the Charros, evidenced by twin, $60,000 grants to Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College and CHS to fund the Coronado Success Initiative.

Defining the problems

Amy Fuller (EdD ’04) is the SUSD district administrator overseeing the initiative. She said the district’s goals for the partnership are to prepare every CHS student for success with post-secondary opportunities, and to give all students the support and tools they need to define and achieve personal success.

“We are addressing many challenges,” Fuller said, including the lack of necessary systems. “The many inconsistencies in students’ grades, attendance, graduation rate, college- and career-readiness, and others were due, in great part, to systems or processes not being in place.”

Another of Coronado’s challenges is funding. Other SUSD high schools may be affluent, but Coronado is not. Fuller said that makes the role the Charros have taken on more necessary and welcome.

“The Charros have been a true partner to the Coronado Success Initiative,” Fuller said. “They are funding many academic needs for our students, professional development for teachers, and the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College student teaching program that provides a lower ratio of students per teachers. They also provide CHS with college and career speakers and internship opportunities.” Another aspect of the CSI, Fuller said, is a mentoring program through which adults from the community, including members of the Scottsdale Charros, share their experience and advice with CHS students.

The Charros’ support for SUSD through Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College has included two scholarship funds. The Charros Foundation Education Fellowship, offered from 2009 through the current academic year, provided three-year scholarships of $15,000 to teachers from the district seeking master’s degrees. And the Charros iTeachAZ Scholarship goes to 10 students who select an SUSD school for their student teaching. This year, in coordination with the Coronado Success Initiative, the Charros gave $20,000 for scholarships — in addition to the two $60,000 grants — to support MLFTC seniors and juniors who intern at Coronado.

Designing for success

The Charros grant to MLFTC that funds the college’s participation in the Coronado Success Initiative will have impact beyond the current collaboration. Directed to the MLFTC Innovation Fund, it was the lead gift toward establishing community design labs that will assist Arizona schools in meeting their most intractable challenges. The grant made it possible for the college to assemble a team that is facilitating similar partnerships with the Avondale, Kyrene, and Madison elementary school districts.

MLFTC Dean Carole Basile said, “Through these labs, a great college of education can combine its convening power, intellectual capital and human capital in an open-ended design process that values local context, diverse perspectives, intrapreneurial thinking and iterative testing of solutions. We are building a flexible process through which our faculty, staff and students, working with partners in schools, can address issues of different scale.

“It’s important that our community design labs do not become instances in which a university simply applies its expertise in schools,” Basile said. “Principals and superintendents don’t need yet more people coming into their schools and saying, ‘You’re doing it wrong.’ This is about deep collaboration in which our faculty, staff and students work closely with administrators, teachers, parents, school students, community foundations and others to ask the right questions, define problems and test prototypes.”

The Coronado Success Initiative began on Jan. 21 with an MLFTC-hosted Community Design Day at ASU’s Skysong Innovation Center. The one-day session welcomed more than 160 participants committed to the success of Coronado High School, including students, parents, teachers, community members and SUSD administrators. These were followed by two half-day Design Days for Students at CHS, attended by more than 60; and Design Days for Teachers, with more than 50 CHS faculty members. An evening session in Spanish was also offered for Spanish-speaking families.

Based on input from the partners at CHS, a series of workshops was scheduled for Coronado teachers with the goal of improving daily teaching and learning practices, and a broader aim of imagining what might be possible at Coronado in the future. The first two workshops were Sept. 30 and Nov. 4 at CHS. More are scheduled for Feb. 24 and March 24.

Community support is key

Rick Carpinelli, a Scottsdale real estate executive, was chairman of the Charros’ education committee when the Coronado Success Initiative was created and funded. “We learned last year that Coronado High School was graduating only 68 percent of its students, and only six students took the ACT,” Carpinelli said. “The Charros saw a significant need and we were ready to help. In a collaborative meeting with the Scottsdale Unified School District and Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College, we learned how we could support SUSD’s efforts to rebuild the school.”

Carpinelli said the Charros hope the collaboration will help build a new educational model for Coronado that will allow all CHS students to graduate and succeed as productive community members after high school. “Ultimately,” Carpinelli says, “we are hopeful the model developed through the Coronado initiative can be used to improve other schools inside and outside of the Scottsdale district.”

Jason Klonoski, current chair of the Charros education committee, said the Coronado Success Initiative proposal was one of many. “We get as many as 60 requests from individual teachers or administrators,” Klonoski said, “sometimes multiples from a single school. Each application is from a champion looking for some immediate need to be funded. We look at the impact it will have, the quality of the ask and its specific relevance to perceived needs at the moment."

What sets the CSI and the college’s design lab approach apart is their creation of connections. Punya Mishra, MLFTC associate dean of scholarship and innovation, oversees the initiative’s design sessions. He said a common theme that emerged was the need for increased interaction. “This idea played out in different ways with different groups,” Mishra said. “Connections between school and community, students and teachers, administrators and the school community, content and pedagogy, and technology and innovation.”

Mishra said, “For too long, opportunities for creativity in education — to think beyond traditional boundaries — have been limited. By bringing together teachers, students, administrators, community members and business leaders, our design-thinking approach seeks to break from traditional dichotomies that have typically resisted educational reform.”