• State of the District 2023Dr. Curtis Finch at his desk

    As the calendar flips over into a new year, one often thinks of a “fresh start,” as a chance to make drastic changes and begin the “new you,” but this is not the case at the Deer Valley Unified School District (DVUSD). Signs that point to an already healthy organization have been realized by its sustained excellence and an atmosphere of continuous improvement. Jim Collins, Stanford PhD professor of the internationally recognized book series, “Good to Great,” said it best this way, “Good is the enemy of great.” Deer Valley Unified isn’t looking for a fresh start; we are looking to improve each day, each week, each month, and each year. Only then will we push forward our mission of providing #extraordinary educational opportunities for students.

    DVUSD completed another outstanding calendar year spanning from the end of a pandemically-impacted school year to a successful start of our first “normal school year” in a while. The hope is that COVID-19 is in the rear view mirror, and remains so into the future. This State of the District is designed to assist students, staff, and community members to grasp the breadth and depth of DVUSD, its mission, vision, and to recognize some impactful accolades on our school community. The 33,000 students, 4,000 employees, and thousands of parents, grandparents, aunts, uncles, and community members should always be apprised of the accomplishments of DVUSD.

    The value of a calendar-year summary is that it reminds us about the end of the last school year and the beginning of the current school year, tying the two together. The work accomplished in an academic year can often be seen bearing fruit in the next school year – educational planning, execution, and improvement are cyclical. The final prediction of the 2022 State of the District was the future of DVUSD “shining brighter” – this prediction proved to be spot on. With our supportive students, staff, parents, and community members, the tough times seem manageable and the great times are celebratory; teamwork truly does “make the dream work.”

    The Deer Valley Unified School District continues to lead the state in educational programming, innovation, and expertise. We enjoy helping other staff, buildings, and Arizona districts that request our assistance with meeting spaces, professional development, learning opportunities, and educational expertise. As one of eleven national model Professional Learning Community (PLC) districts, with extra support from Project Momentum through the Governor’s office, we are often requested by other districts to share the same knowledge and practices that help produce consistent results in an ever-changing and challenging environment. After three years of making the Arizona list of Top Midsize Employers, Forbes recognized DVUSD as the 2022 #1 Midsize Public School District Employer in the entire nation; a feat never achieved before in our district’s history. The PLC, Project Momentum, and Forbes recognitions sum up what DVUSD stands for in the world: we value teamwork and positive culture - the secret to #extraordinary results.

    DVUSD continues to lead our peer districts in a 92% A or B school rating for each of our 40 schools, the highest percentage of A+ Schools of Excellence schools, and the only mentor K-12 Project Momentum large school district in the state.  The year 2022 was filled with academic, athletic, Career and Technical Education (CTE), and fine arts titles, awards, and recognitions for students and staff. The hundreds of #extraordinary accomplishments are online to be viewed at www.dvsud.org/extraordinary.

    Much of the groundwork for any public school district’s success is established over time and takes even longer to show the fruit of its labor. In school systems of this size, well-thought-out and systemically executed plans are the only way large districts achieve long-term success. It is imperative that all employees are on the same bus and the same road or DVUSD students will not reap the rewards of these efforts. That roadmap to success in DVUSD is called the five-year Strategic Plan. DVUSD successfully executed the tenets of the previous 2017-2022 plan, laying the foundation for the new 2023-2028 Strategic Plan. The good news is that our community, parents, and staff recognized the successes of our previous five-year plan and helped make the process easier to confidently point five more years into the future. When you have found the educational ingredients to a successful formula, you keep rolling in the same direction! Once again, the year-long Strategic Plan process had significant contributions from community, parents, staff, and students, helping to improve the new plan and bring our primary objectives into laser focus.

    DVUSD will continue to “R.A.I.S.E. the Bar” of an #extraordinary education through our core values of Respect, Accountability, Integrity, Student-Driven, and Excellence. Respect refers to treating each other with dignity. Accountability points to fulfilling our commitments. Integrity describes honest and ethical behaviors while Student-Driven action puts students first in our decision making. Lastly, Excellence spurs DVUSD on to be #extraordinary. Core values should rarely change if they are a reflection of organizational values: R.A.I.S.E. embodies DVUSD’s core values.

    Equally important, the Mission and Vision of DVUSD should not drastically change if the organization believes and lives it every day. If any company doesn’t hire, train, and retain around its Core Values, Mission, and Vision, then these components are not imbedded in the system. The DVUSD Mission from the previous Strategic Plan remained the same - “Provide extraordinary educational opportunities to every learner.” The Vision also stayed consistent - “Graduating life-long learners who will successfully compete, lead, and positively impact the world.”  These school community commitments will carry DVUSD into 2028.

    The calculated and systemic continuous improvement approach has spurned a consistent level of academic, athletic, fine arts, and growth improvements. Recent accolades in academics and student opportunities for success helped impact the choice of DVUSD’s four Strategic Priority Areas. Three areas of excellence remained the same: Student Learning, Workforce Performance, and Stakeholder Relationships. The fourth area honors the importance of Organizational Improvement. Since the new plan is an extension of the previous successes and areas needing improvement, the work may proceed on schedule, the very definition of continuous improvement. The new Strategic Plan may be viewed at www.dvusd.org/strategicplan. This plan was approved at the final Governing Board meeting of 2022 in preparation for 2023 organizational plans, staff hiring, and economic decisions.

    A new Portrait of a DVUSD Graduate, spelling out the necessary “soft skills” needed to succeed in life, was added this year to give parents and students a reminder of what the school and home community can accomplish when working together. Soft skills are often referred to as areas where students can learn to effectively and cooperatively work and interact with others. The five areas of focus DVUSD students need to develop before their graduation are: to become a Community Contributor, an Effective Communicator, Intellectually Curious, a Problem Solver, and embody a Sense of Self and Others. Current DVUSD students were significant contributors to the Portrait of a Graduate as they reiterated the need for more soft skills trainings during their educational journey. This process will only be completed successfully with parental and community support working together to emphasize the value of soft skills in life. The Portrait of a Graduate may also be viewed at the same link as the Strategic Plan at www.dvusd.org/strategicplan.

    January 1 to December 31, 2023 is gearing up to be another exciting year. Much has happened in the political world in both Arizona and the United States. As public schools continue to be used as political footballs, the task for the DVUSD staff remains the same - stick to our Mission, Vision, and Core Values, focusing on our 2023–2028 Strategic Plan. School districts may be distracted if they try to be the best at everything, resulting in excelling at nothing. A disciplined focus on what is important separates struggling districts from those that excel.

    There are many new variables that will impact DVSUD’s ability to successfully execute plans in the future. The Arizona State Legislature, the Governor, and economics (local, state, and national) will be contributing factors. The Arizona government will be a divided body where political posturing will increase and budget negotiations will most certainly be delayed, typically bad news for any planning that occurs for public education systems. The good news that may come from divided government is the increase in bi-partisan work, deal-making proposals, cooperative approaches to problems, and the art of the compromise. All of these processes take time to complete, so expect wild swings of expectations and emotions coming from downtown in 2023. The moral of the story for 2023: patience; those who wait and don’t overreact will be rewarded.

    The economic variables that will continue to impact DVUSD are just beginning to accelerate. The largest, and newest impactful community member, the Taiwan Semiconductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC), and its 40-plus supply companies, will stretch DVUSD’s flexibility to enroll and adjust to new students joining throughout the school year calendar. Although the exponential commercial and residential building projects for 2023 may slow down from “extremely crazy to mildly wild,” Maricopa County will continue to be one of the fastest growing counties in the nation. TSMC’s location in the geographical center of DVUSD will have a major impact on the population growth surrounding the $40 billion dollar factories, especially as the projects near their completion within the next five years. DVUSD must be prepared for this projected growth.

    The Arizona and United States economies are connected, but are capable of being opposite mirrors of each other, because of the population and economic growth in Arizona, specifically Maricopa County. Although national inflation may take off in early 2023, it may not impact our region as severely as projected because of that steady growth. Deer Valley Unified School District will be in better shape economically if the district continues to steadily grow in student population, remain fiscally responsible, and carefully plan incremental expansion steps into the future.

    The DVUSD future was “brighter” in 2022. The future in 2023 will be “cautiously optimistic.” DVUSD hopes that our state governmental bodies work together, the local economic impact of TSMC continues to rise, and the national economy will slow but not stall, and the recession period will not be elongated. DVUSD is in a good position to weather the storm. Even if all of these variables turn out to be more extreme, the ability of the Deer Valley Unified School District to succeed with our core values will not be deterred. When DVUSD leads with Respect, Accountability, Integrity, Student-Driven, and Excellence, we like our chances for another successful year of raising the bar of an #extraordinary 2023!


    Curt Finch, PhD

    Deer Valley Unified School District