PUBLIC PROFILE: Teresa Sayre, Superintendent at Phoenix, Talent School District
Phoenix-Talent School District spans three cities with five schools—Phoenix High School, Talent Middle School, Orchard Hill Elementary in Medford, and elementary schools in Phoenix and Talent. That’s 2700 students. Superintendent Teresa Sayre is retiring next year after 30 years in education; 18 at this particular district.
Sayre is known in the district for her emphasis on the human side of teaching, favoring project-based education over test prep and rote learning. After she took the job of Superintendent in 2013, she eliminated two positions in the Administrative department in order to funnel more money into the schools themselves.
In her final year, she plans to carry the revolution even further. Her 2016-17 Phoenix-Talent Vision outlines a path toward hope, engagement, well-being and skills for the “human economy” for all students.
Rogue Valley Messenger: You came into your position and restructured the administration of the school district. Why was that necessary?
Teresa Sayre: With education budgets so tight, I wanted to make sure we could get as much money to the buildings and at the student level as possible. So we started to look at an organizational chart that would actually reduce the number of administrators in this department. It ups their level of responsibility, but it’s saving us money and we’re more efficient. We wanted to implement these changes more slowly but we had some people who were leaving anyway, so the stars aligned for me in a way.
RVM: What makes Phoenix-Talent unique as a district?
TS: One thing we’ve worked hard at over the past three years is our innovative programs. What we’re working towards in our schools is traditional school mornings with reading and math, and then afternoons and sometimes full days will be spent on project-based learning.
RVM: What’s an example of this type of education in your schools?
TS: One thing we kept hearing from students at Phoenix High School is that they wanted a culinary program, and luckily our science teacher Jim Janousek had a culinary background. He started the program and took it to another level with urban gardening, partnership with Farm to School and the Ashland Food Co-op, canning and preserving. We now have our own bees, so who knows, you might start seeing some Pirate Honey out there!
RVM: How do you balance project-based learning with keeping up to the federal standards, testing, etc.?
TS: We have put a lot of work into instructional models… so we have clear targets and clear curriculum that goes with those targets. [We say to teachers,] ‘We’re not going to judge you by the fact that if you don’t get your scores up by, say, 5 percent. Let’s really work on this human connection, keep doing what you’re doing, and I’m betting on the fact that those scores are going to go up.’
And in fact, in just one year, we’ve seen an increase in attendance, we’ve seen an increase in our 9th graders being on track to graduate. What we’re striving for is, are students feeling safe so they can be engaged, do they feel connected to the school so that they want to come to school, and are they being enriched.
RVM: What do you look forward to in your final year as Superintendent?
TS: My final year is going to be about promoting this vision that the administrative team has created. Eight staff participated in a yearlong study of adverse childhood experiences, and it was a gift. We are starting to use these trauma-informed practices, understanding that we all have these experiences that cause us to behave in a certain way. It’s less of a punishment model and more of a problem solving model. So that is my big thing, is making sure we continue this work.
To read a full transcript of this interview, go to RogueValleyMessenger.com