An "F" for Effort

Sandra Dowling left a huge mess. Now she's trying to stop the cleanup

The district, the receivers continue, hasn't had a curriculum for eight years. Nor, for a time near the end of Dowling's tenure, did the Pappas elementary school have a special education program, as mandated by federal law. During a staff shortage, Dowling transferred the special ed teacher to a kindergarten class, Haas says. (Fortunately, the receivers have changed that.)

As I read the receivers' reports last week, I couldn't help but think back to a conversation I had with Sandra Dowling last June.

When I asked why Pappas students did worse than homeless kids in other schools, Dowling gave me a bizarre answer that only became truly appalling in retrospect.

Those statistics can't be right, Dowling told me. There's no way to break out test scores for homeless children in regular districts.

At the time, I wondered if I had my facts wrong. I didn't.

The receivers' report makes it clear: It was Dowling who didn't have the facts. The state can, indeed, track the scores of homeless students, no matter what district they're in. Haas, the ASU professor, did just that. Her study revealed how badly Pappas students were doing.

More than the financial improprieties, more than the self-promotion, that fact may be the scariest thing about Sandra Dowling.

She ran the special schools for homeless kids in Maricopa County for 16 years. She fought for, and got, a special exemption to keep them open, even as the feds shuttered homeless schools around the nation. She even wrote op-eds calling herself an expert in educating the homeless.

She never bothered to figure out what data was available on Arizona homeless kids' academic performance.

She had no idea these students could do better than bad, that other districts had figured out ways to help them learn.

She never did her homework.


I've got one more Sandra Dowling story, a story that should make it irrefutably clear that the state simply must revisit the oversight bill that Dowling has been lobbying against.

I heard this one at the receivers' meeting last week. And I'm still trying to pick my jaw up off the floor.

This meeting focused on the schools that Dowling's district runs for the Maricopa County juvenile detention centers.

And if Dowling did such a bad a job running the schools that were constantly in the news, you can only imagine how god-awful she was at running schools that no one really cared about. Haas says the detention schools "withered from neglect."

It's not just their textbooks, which, in some cases, were more than 20 years old. It's also the issue of course credit.

Kids in lockup are required, by law, to get four hours of school every day. As you can imagine, these students are traditionally far from motivated. Why should they be? For years, many school districts refused to accept credit for classes taken in the slam — or made credit transfer so difficult, the kids just gave up.

"The students would say, 'Why should I work hard here? I get no credit for it,'" says Dottie Wodraska. As the "correctional educational specialist" for the Arizona Supreme Court, she helps oversee juvenile detention programs run by the counties.

As Wodraska explained at last week's meeting, she understood that lack of credit was a real problem. So she took on the task of getting Arizona's juvenile detention schools accredited. That meant fairly rigorous education standards, but it also meant that credits could easily transfer back to "real" schools.

As Wodraska relayed, she shepherded every county juvenile detention system in the state through the accreditation process — with one exception.

And that exception is the big kahuna when it comes to juvenile justice in this part of the state: Sandra Dowling's fiefdom in Maricopa County.

At the meeting, Dowling's people were climbing all over each other trying to explain what happened, but the gist was pretty clear: Dowling dropped the ball.

The Supreme Court paid application fees for any county that wanted to go through the process. Wodraska says the only criteria was that the districts fill out the right paperwork and meet the right standards.

But at some point, Maricopa County dropped out of the process. Staffers told Wodraska that the district would handle accreditation on its own. Problem is, no one got around to it.

Dowling either didn't realize that until it was too late, or she just didn't give a hoot. Wodraska says that Dowling approached her after one of her presentations on the accreditation process. "She asked why Maricopa County wasn't involved," Wodraska said. Wodraska had to tell Dowling that the district — Dowling's own district! — had chosen not to participate.

Even at that point, Dowling failed to redeem herself.

Dowling didn't pick up the phone and call the principal of her detention system. Instead, Dowling told Wodraska to call him.

Dowling's arrogance is galling. She was too much of a big shot to call her own employee. She had to tell a state employee to do it.

Still, Wodraska made the call. But the principal told her that the district was choosing a different route. Wodraska then followed up with Dowling, telling the superintendent that she'd have to take it from there. "I can't give directives to someone else's employees," Wodraska explained.

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2 comments
rich
rich

How come this isn't considered child abuse, theft and fraud . Billions of dollars are spent on education and people still can't function in society.And she was trusted to lead us!! And look where she led us.now days have child pregnancies, drug abuse,racism and gang bangers, in general morale decay. Speaking from experience if you don't fit the schools ideal for a student they ignore you and you get left behind. School system is to conform our children into non American people that the Government can control without much effort.Not teach them how to function in society.(Examples)They won't teach how to deal with insurance companies,landlords,bad police Doctors, dentists, the list is endlessIt's kinda like in the ol'days an Indian not teaching their kids how to fish or hunt or farm. And then wonder "WHY IS HE HOMELESS OR CAN'T GET ALONG"The system is old out dated and needs a major over haul.

The systems old and needs to have a MAJOR over haul.

Joe
Joe

This just makes me sad; for the kids, the people of Maricopa County, and Sandra Dowling herself. What is gained by any of it? I would rather a good law be adopted for the wrong reason than a bad law adopted for the right one. In the end, the Senate chose to ingore the bigger issue; the proper and effective education of children.

 
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