In just four years, this distinguished superintendent from Wyoming has roused students at the Clarkdale-Jerome School to excel, while at the same time allied with them and local parents to make the school a top-notch educational institution.
"Our kids tend to achieve very well," Superintendent Kathleen Fleenor said. "If kids can get a good education, they can go out and achieve at anything."
When Fleenor first arrived in Clarkdale from Yuma, the K-8 school was under-performing. Now the school holds the rank of highly performing.
"The first thing I did when I got here was look at student achievement data," Fleenor said. "The first thing we looked at was math -- if you want to bring up a school academically, you look at math."
Fleenor teamed up with teachers, students and parents and began reviewing each student on a personal level. She and the teachers looked at all academic levels, reviewing math, reading, vocabulary and now writing. Two years ago, the school's sixth graders were third in the state for math.
Through close monitoring of students, examination of piles of charts and targeting those who need help, Fleenor has been able to create a standout scholastic atmosphere. She said that when she first arrived at the school, people were not really looking at the data. She said the key is to realize target areas and focus on them. It is important to find where each child is, what they need to succeed, and find the best way to make that happen.
"We have vigorous academics," Fleenor said. "We have sports, but we are heavy on the academics."
Fleenor said she feels like she has been in education her whole life. Her parents were both teachers in Wyoming.
She laughed when she said, "I would try to help my mother tutor a child when I was in second grade."
When Fleenor first entered college, she studied nursing and explored other various career directions she could take, including business. Ultimately, she decided she would pursue a degree in education.
"I called my parents and said 'I'm getting into education,'" Fleenor said. "They said, 'yeah, that's what we thought you would do.'"
Sitting under framed documents showing her numerous accomplishments and degrees, Fleenor explained how she got to where she is today. She taught at Northern Arizona University, as well as elementary, middle and high schools in various towns and cities. She has been in education for 39 years. She has been an administrator for 28 years She was a principal for 15 years in Yuma. She said the city was large and she desired relocating to a place where she could be in closer contact with the students and parents. She said Yuma never felt like home.
"The Verde Valley feels like home"
So, she moved to Clarkdale on July 1, four years ago.
"To me, it is the best of both worlds," she said. "The nice thing about the school is it is more of a family setting with seventh and eighth graders helping to tutor the younger ones. There is more interaction among the grade levels. Families like the smaller setting. I would describe this as a community school."
She said the one downside about working at a smaller school is that she must wear a number of different hats.
"You write the grants, you're the principal, you do almost everything -- you're always busy."
Fleenor can handle that. She said she likes to multi-task. However, the one thing she would like to spend more time on is looking at charts and talking with parents rather than spending time with No Child Left Behind forms.
"For me, it's like doing your income taxes four times per year," she said. "There are parts of it that are pretty good, but I don't think it is very productive."
She said the forms are about 40 to 50 pages long.
With the number of students growing as the population increases in the Verde Valley, this, as well as reviewing charts and homing in on each student, can be a daunting task. But Fleenor is up to the challenge.
She said people need to understand that working in the field of education has to be a calling.
"It's not for the money; you have to have a passion. It is [the passion] that makes one want to come to school everyday. Once that is not there, then it is time to let it go."
There are about 400 students at the Clarkdale-Jerome School, with numbers rising every year. Fleenor said they are about 100 students away from saturation level.
The school used to be a kindergarten through 12-grade school. When the high school was built in Cottonwood, the school became what it is today.
Fleenor said she liked teaching high school, but is very happy teaching younger students.
"If you can catch a troubled child when they're young, you can turn them around," she said.
With the student achievements at Clarkdale-Jerome School, no one could doubt that Fleenor certainly has the ability to turn a school around.
Fleenor has two sons, and her husband has two daughters. By October, she and her husband will have six grandchildren, all under 4 years old.