Master of Her Domain

County schools chief Dowling is still a one-woman school board

Still under 30, Wood looks like she could be a student. But she's accomplished for any age. She taught at the Pappas school for a year, then spent another year at one of the district's high schools before being asked to help create a middle school. She did that, then served as principal.

Wood is not afraid to talk about her experience at the district. Much of it was good, she says. In a more structured, traditional environment, she never would have been given such opportunities so young. But she's critical of the way Dowling runs the district, and she's no fan of the Pappas school.

Wood was hired in 1992 as Pappas' only high school teacher. She began with half a dozen students in a single room; by Christmas, she had 65 students in a single room.

"When I said, 'Well, what am I supposed to teach if I'm the only teacher?' I was told, 'Well, you're certified in English, so teach that. And history's kinda close to English -- teach that.'"

Wood recalls, "It was fine at first, because I researched and did my own curriculum.... But it got complicated when, at Christmastime, I had kids put in who only needed a half credit to graduate, so they only needed economics, so I'd pull an economics curriculum from somewhere. And then someone needed geometry -- so it got pretty difficult."

One of the most frustrating aspects of the job, she says, was the constant interruption by Dowling, who seemed to have more of an interest in getting good press than educating kids.

"The teachers were told that the week prior to Christmas needed to be blocked off, and there could not be instruction, because that week was the week that corporate sponsors were coming in and business people were coming in to give donations and there had to be parties.... My high school students could not afford a week" without instruction.

Similar interruptions went on throughout the year. "As well-intended as everyone is, it was a constant disruption to learning."

Wood left the district when she was told she would be reassigned to Pappas -- this time as principal. She wanted to stick with high school kids, and Pappas focuses mainly on elementary education.

She found a job as assistant principal at Saguaro High School in Scottsdale. Wood says she misses working with disadvantaged kids, but does not miss the Regional District's bureaucracy. She actually took out an election packet, planning to run against Dowling, but changed her mind. She's finishing her Ph.D. in the fall, and an election didn't mix well with her plans.

Too bad. Wood is a Republican, and while she's never run for office, her administrative background would have given her a leg up over Redburn.

On the bright side, Redburn does support the multi-person board concept, something Dowling's pooh-poohed in the past.

"I've had thoughts on that.... It would take a good push to get that changed," Redburn says. "I've always thought that one opinion is a dictatorship."

Contact Amy Silverman at 602-229-8443 or at her online address: amy.silverman@newtimes.com

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