Dr. Shannon Goodsell:
Superintendent, Casa Grande Union High School District
Interview by Elaine Earle and Bea Lueck – Holiday 2014
GC LIVING: Dr. Goodsell, please give me your bio. Where were you born and raised?
DR. GOODSELL: I was born and raised in the Tulsa, Oklahoma area. That’s where I grew up and that’s where I went to school. Several generations of my family have been in Oklahoma. I started off in the education business as a teacher in Oklahoma. I taught social studies. Later at the age of 27, I was a high school principal, an athletic director, and at the ripe age of 30, I became superintendent in the state of Oklahoma.
I’m now 45 so this is going on my 15th year to be a practicing superintendent for public education. As far as educational background, I have two Bachelor’s Degrees, both from Oklahoma State University. I have a degree in Business Management with a minor in Marketing, a degree in Social Studies Secondary Education with a minor in Economics. I have my Master’s degree from the Northeastern State University in Oklahoma, and then I have my Doctoral degree from Oklahoma State University in Education Administration.
GC LIVING: So were you a good student throughout your schooling?
DR. GOODSELL: Actually I was. I will tell you that extracurricular activities were my motivator to be a good student. I, of course, played football in high school and my father always told me that if I did not bring home adequate grades, that I would not play. And so thus, I made sure that my grade point average was sufficient enough to make sure that I could play football.
GC LIVING: What position did you play?
DR. GOODSELL: Safety as a matter of fact. I was a pretty good strong safety. We’ll just leave it at that, and so we had a great time playing football. It is my love. Actually, my father was my coach throughout most of my career, growing up through elementary, middle school and even in the high school. So he was a very good motivator for me in regards to both football and in regards to education.
GC LIVING: Did you play football in college?
DR. GOODSELL: No. I had offers to go play college football but I had an academic scholarship that was worth more money. So, I was the first person in three generations not to take their college football scholarships to go and play and I took an academic scholarship instead.
GC LIVING: What school was it offered at?
DR. GOODSELL: It was an academic scholarship to the Oklahoma State University, which covered tuition and books. So, it was a very nice lucrative scholarship, and that was based upon grade point averages that I earned in high school and also with my participation in extracurricular activities.
GC LIVING: Were you valedictorian or salutatorian?
DR. GOODSELL: No, but I was in the top 5.
GC LIVING: Very good. Who is your favorite teacher in high school?
DR. GOODSELL: I will tell you that probably my favorite teachers in high school would have been my football coaches. But what I can tell you is one of my favorite teachers of all time was my fifth grade teacher, and that was my mom. I will tell you that I did spend more time in on recess duty, writing sentences and got into more trouble my fifth grade year than I did any other year in school, but it was worth it.
My mom was a great teacher and she had a really great emphasis in regards to math, and so that’s kind of where I think that I started to advance and excel in mathematics was based upon the instruction that I got from my mother.
GC LIVING: Is that why you went into education, because of her?
DR. GOODSELL: Yeah, I think so. Both my mother and my father had the value system of education that you’ve got to give back. They are very invested in our community. They’re very invested in children and in my family, both on my side and my wife’s side; there are an estimated 25 teachers, coaches, administrators, superintendents in the business of public education. So it’s kind of the family business and it is a commitment of giving back to your community and someone made that commitment for them in order for them to receive the education that they did. Part of that value instilled in me was to pay it forward.
GC LIVING: Why did you make the transition between teacher to administration?
DR. GOODSELL: I originally got into education because I wanted to make a difference, and of course I also wanted to be a football coach, and I felt that being an administrator, you have an opportunity to have a greater impact in regards to a larger numbers of students, in order to be able to make that difference. The downfall, I will tell you, of being an administrator is when you move from being a teacher to a principal, you are one step further removed from students, and when you move from becoming a principal to a superintendent, you’re another step further removed from students.
I still believe that I’m in education because I have an opportunity to make a difference for children. For me, the only drawback to being a superintendent is that I am a little bit further removed from the classroom than what I would like because I still do miss being around kids and being a teacher.
GC LIVING: That was my next question, do you miss teaching…
DR. GOODSELL: Oh absolutely, absolutely. But I still am able to fulfill some of my coaching types of duties. I work very hard with our Casa Grande Football Association, our little league that we have for our younger athletes in our community, and I’m a volunteer football coach for those little guys and have brought some of those up through the stem from fifth grade, sixth grade on and that has been a really, really great rewarding experience.
GC LIVING: So why Casa Grande? You lived in Oklahoma and now you’re in Casa Grande.
DR. GOODSELL: Golf and sunshine. It was time for a change.
GC LIVING: Which first?
DR. GOODSELL: Ahh sunshine. The snow and the ice is awful in the eastern part of Oklahoma. The other reason was really for family opportunities. Casa Grande is a good school district, and that’s one of the criteria if we were going to make any kind of a move as a family. Obviously, we want to move to a good school district. Public education is something that both my wife and I hold in high regard, and so that was the first criterion.
The second is we were interested in moving to a place where we could have some family time, some family vacationing time, and Arizona provides that as an opportunity for us. One of our goals as a family is about every fifth weekend we try to treat either the area or the state as if we are a tourist. So we take advantage of all the tourist opportunities that Arizona provides.
GC LIVING: So what are some of the challenges that the Casa Grande Union High School District faces?
DR. GOODSELL: I would say the first one is funding. The state of Arizona is probably in the bottom 5% in regards to the amount of money that it contributes towards public education. That was a result of the downturn in the economy. It used to not be that way and I think the biggest challenge we face is trying to provide all the programs, all the coursework for graduation requirements, and all the elective opportunities that the kids would like to take in order to fulfill their dreams of what they want to do past high school.
It’s difficult without funding. Obviously, you have to have teachers. You have to have equipment. You have to have materials, and you have to have supplies. Balancing that budget is a very, very difficult process, and sometimes you have to make difficult decisions based upon the monies that you’re provided.
GC LIVING: Approximately how much is the school district’s budget?
DR. GOODSELL: We operate on about a 23 million dollar budget, and that sounds like a lot of money, and it is a lot of money, but when you have 3,800 students, that money does not go very far.
We have an estimated 25 advanced placement or pre-advanced placement courses and they have a curriculum that is over and above the regular education setting. And a matter of fact, that curriculum is so rigorous that once that student gets done with that class, they get the opportunity to take a test. If they do well on the exam, then they have earned college credit at the high school level, and we want to provide that as a nice supplement for college tuition because it is incredibly expensive for our students once that they graduate.
We provide some 25 elective opportunities for our students to expand their horizons and provide them with the opportunities to do what their heart desires for future careers. We provide over 40 athletic and extracurricular opportunities including band for our students.
So when you’re trying to offer all these different opportunities for kids, that money does not go very far. We still have the gas bill, water bill, and electric bill; the utilities that still have to be paid on maintaining the buildings. We still have our busing expenses. Our school district covers approximately 1,200 square miles, so transportation is a bit of an issue for our school district in making sure that all students are able to come to school to take advantage of the opportunities of education they desire and need.
GC LIVING: To put that in perspective, the square mileage is about 1/5th of Pinal County.
DR. GOODSELL: That is correct. Casa Grande Union High School District in essence is the second largest school district in the state by geographical land mass so we try to streamline our buses as much as we possibly can because gas is expensive and the buses do not get great miles per gallon averages.
GC LIVING: Some of the other challenges you face is hiring educators.
DR. GOODSELL: It has been.
GC LIVING: You had to make some very drastic moves this school year.
DR. GOODSELL: Yes, we have. One of the things that I am not willing to accept, either as a superintendent or as the parent of a child who is attending one of our high schools, is a long term substitute teacher. We want highly qualified teachers teaching our students, and that gets to be very difficult because for the state of Arizona when we start talking about graduation requirements and credits, we are looking at individuals who are specifically licensed in physics; people who are specifically licensed in chemistry; people who are specifically licensed in American history; world history, economics, mathematics, English, etc.
It’s a very, very specific person that we’re looking for. In addition to complicating this factor is that we have started our S.T.E.M. academy, our science, technology, engineering, and mathematics programs, and those programs are also very specific and very high-end in regards to the academic requirements and curriculum structures for those classes.
Finding those folks is difficult. That problem has grown exponentially because of the funding in the state of Arizona. Our salary schedule scale is not where it needs to be in regards to attracting and maintaining these highly qualified teachers. We’re very fortunate and blessed to have the teachers that we have, but we have got to be able to attract more certified and highly qualified teachers because the end result of not being able to do that means we have to put a long-term substitute teacher into those classes who is not highly qualified, and that is not acceptable for me as a superintendent, and it’s not acceptable for me as a parent.
Our first objective was to look locally to see if there were individuals who were highly qualified who could teach in our classrooms, and we did not find them. Then the next opportunity we had was to look statewide, and that was not available for us either. The third option that we had was to look inside the geographical boundaries of the United States and we were able to aggressively attend job fairs. We were able to get some teachers to come out of Pennsylvania.
Our fourth and final option was to look internationally in regards to individuals interested in coming to the United States and coming to the state of Arizona, specifically in Casa Grande, for the opportunities to teach our students.
All the teachers that have come internationally have bachelor’s degrees. Some of them have gotten master’s degrees. Some of them have double master’s degrees, and even a few of them are almost finished with their doctoral degrees.
My daughter is in those classrooms. I asked her how her chemistry class was going because her chemistry teacher is from the Philippines. Her report back to me was that chemistry was hard, and I said, “Exactly. That’s how it is supposed to be, and so everything is running well with those classes. We’re very fortunate to have those teachers here with us.
GC LIVING: Tell us more about the S.T.E.M program.
DR. GOODSELL: The elementary school district has been able to get a grant so they have started the S.T.E.M. Program at Casa Grande Middle School. Those students will then leave the middle school and continue to the high school and graduate not just with a high school diploma but with a high school engineering or a high school biomedical diploma. That then gains them admission into Central Arizona College for their S.T.E.M. Program because we want our children to stay here. We want Casa Grande to support Casa Grande.
GC LIVING: So the curriculum flows from middle school to high school to college?
DR. GOODSELL: That is absolutely correct. Once those students get those advanced degrees, either through ASU, UofA, NAU, Grand Canyon University, or wherever it is that they want to finish or complete their degrees, then we want them to come back to Casa Grande because we need them working in our hospitals, in our businesses and industries in Casa Grande because that is how our community is going to grow. And so this is a program that’s not only just an investment in our students; this is an investment in the future of Casa Grande.
GC LIVING: Where do you see education trends going?
DR. GOODSELL: A lot of that depends upon funding. People ask me what my thoughts are on school choice. I don’t mind school choice as long as the playing fields are equal. We do not need to have one system that has a direct advantage over another. Parents need to have an opportunity to send their children where they believe their child is going to get the best appropriate education. I agree with that. For me personally, I believe that the best educational opportunity is in the public education system that we have right here in Casa Grande.
I also believe that we’ve got to make sure that the laws, rules, regulations, and funding sources of parents’ choices are equitable across the board. We do not want to make one system have an advantage over the other. It has to be fair and equitable for everybody to make the best opportunity and educated choice in regards to where and how they want their children to be educated.
GC LIVING: Are more students looking for a career path, a trade school type education or are they more college focused?
DR. GOODSELL: Well, here’s the thing that I would say. Number one is that not every high school graduate is going to college and we need to have that as a reality and that is not necessarily a bad thing. There is absolutely nothing wrong with a high school graduate who has learned the skill, who has learned the trade, who has attended the career and technology programs that are offered. And by the way, many of our career technology programs are linked into our colleges and you can receive some college credit for participating in our career and technology education programs. But there’s absolutely nothing wrong with someone earning a skill, learning a trade, entering the workforce and becoming a productive member of the Casa Grande community.
We at the high school district make sure that our academic structure is for career and college-ready. So that means that we have got to spend time and energy on both focuses because both are absolutely 100% important. They’re important in regards to development of the student. They’re important in regards to that student being able to go out and contribute to Casa Grande, either as a college-bound student who is going on to attend higher universities’ educational opportunities, or a student who is entering the workforce. Our job is to make sure that a student is ready for both.
GC LIVING: Expand on S.T.E.M.
DR. GOODSELL: Okay.
GC LIVING: How is that benefiting the student, the community, and the future employer?
DR. GOODSELL: S.T.E.M. stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics. The purpose of this program only to have the high-end academic accountability for the student or to provide the high-end academic opportunity for the students; but the purpose of the program is to show them how the theory of the classroom applies to the real world.
I’ll give an example of that in action. Just recently our freshman bio-medical class was having conversations, lectures, discussions on a unit about blood; blood typing, cross-matching blood, different types of properties of blood, blood borne pathogens and viruses. One of our partners in our S.T.E.M. program is our local hospital, Banner Regional Medical Center. The laboratory at the hospital was able to take time out of their busy day and provide an opportunity for our students to come and tour the actual lab of the hospital. Licensed medical technologists provided in-service and lecture opportunities and had conversations with students about what they do in the hospital specific to the unit that the teacher was teaching.
After that, the students were actually able to go and tour the lab. They were actually able to look at the facilities. They were actually able to see medical technologists at work doing what they do through the chemical analyzers to the blood banking operations to the microbiology types of facilities that our hospital provides our local communities and the goal, which was achieved, to link the theory of the classroom to the real world applications of what that theory meant. And the kids absolutely loved it.
We want to provide that as an opportunity for our students. To take the high-end academic requirements of the S.T.E.M. program and show them how those real world applications apply. Because once you do that, then you get those kids hooked. And they get hooked on something that’s real and hooked on something that is a goal they can look forward to for the purpose of graduation which is, “I’m going to go work in that job.” Or, “I’m going to go work in that particular field,” and it just makes everything real for our students. We are doing that with some great success.
GC LIVING: Where are our graduation levels, our statistics now? Many years ago, only about half of the students were receiving diplomas.
DR. GOODSELL: I think that that has changed significantly for us. I don’t have that data in front of me but I will tell you that most are receiving diplomas. We also have instituted some programs at the school in order to help kids to get their diplomas. We have instituted the Desert Winds Learning Center. If a student has gotten behind or has failed some classes at the comprehensive high schools that would be Union, Vista, or Verde then they would go to the Desert Winds Learning Center.
The specifics of that program are to provide an opportunity for that student to catch up. So they would be able to take their current course work plus the additional classes that they failed in order to catch up with their cohorts of students to graduate at 18 and to graduate on time. Many students are taking advantage of that program and I will also say that that credit recovery program is very quickly becoming a model program for the state of Arizona, and we have been selected to present that program at this year’s Arizona State School Board Association Conference Meeting.
GC LIVING: Okay, let’s turn the field just a little bit. You had your 15 minutes of fame but not in a good way back in May of 2014.
DR. GOODSELL: Sure.
GC LIVING: There were some problems on campus?
DR. GOODSELL: Yes there were.
GC LIVING: And there was a video?
DR. GOODSELL: Yes there was. We have two primary focuses for our school district. The first one is we are charged with providing our students with educational opportunities and we are charged with producing graduates for the children who are in our school district. The second charge that we have is making sure that our campuses are safe and secure.
We had a situation at Union High School which was not safe. Our students wear their student ID so that we can make an accounting for every child, for every student, to ensure not only their educational opportunities but to make sure that their safety is secured.
There was a video taken of me in regards to a reaction that I had to a student who was being very disrespectful towards authority. A student was very disrespectful in regards to adult intervention. The adults were trying to get that student to comply with school rules so we could make our campuses safe. The video was unfortunate, but it was my reaction to the disrespect that was generated from a student.
GC LIVING: This isn’t just about high school. These are young adults getting ready to go to the work force.
DR. GOODSELL: Absolutely.
GC LIVING: Employers have rules too.
DR. GOODSELL: Yes they do. We have to ensure that high school has an opportunity to mimic our society and our culture. You do have rules in the workplace. If you cannot comply with those rules, policies, and regulations, then more than likely you will not be able to maintain your employment with that employer. Many of our employers require, as a part of their employment, individuals to wear ID badges. That ensures that their facilities are safe and secure, as well as to keep track of the comings and goings of their employees. That is standard operating procedure.
We utilize our IDs in the same fashion. The rules are designed to be respected. The rules are designed to be followed. When an adult is there to enforce the rules for a student, the responsibility of the student is to comply with those rules. That is the expectation we have from our young adults. We have that expectation across the board now in our high school campuses and it’s very nice to see our young students behave appropriately and it’s very nice to see their academic performance in the classrooms.
GC LIVING: What are some of the things you’re most proud of at the districts right now? What accomplishments?
DR. GOODSELL: Well, the one thing that I am very, very proud of is the Desert Winds Learning Center. For far too long, we had a graduation rate that was not where it should be. There was not that opportunity for remediation. There was not that opportunity for recovery.
We have provided that safety net because we absolutely refuse to give up on a kid. We refuse to say that a child is just simply going to drop out and not finish high school. In order to do that, we have to provide the moral support, the character education and the instructional assistance that that child may need whether that be in math, science, English, or history, at which they need some help. We have to provide a system and an opportunity for that child to receive their credits, to make up those credits and to graduate on time and be the proud recipient of a diploma just like all of their other classmates. And so, I am very, very proud of that program because I think it’s providing a tremendous opportunity for those kids who didn’t have that opportunity before.
GC LIVING: One last question, earlier in November was the election for the bond override? How do overrides work?
DR. GOODSELL: For high school districts, they’re funded a little bit differently. The State of Arizona has set the requirements for graduation that a student must have four years of English, four years of math, three years of history, three years of science, and eight electives. For the state of Arizona, if they have set that as a requirement, then they are responsible to fund that at a minimum level. But interestingly enough, that requirement is only for regular education students.
If our students want any opportunities beyond that, then the State of Arizona says that we’re supportive of that, but we’re just not going to provide it in the form of funding. That is the responsibility of the local community. As an example, the 25 advance placement opportunities that we have for our students; that is the responsibility of override funding; everything from ROTC to band to culinary arts to agriculture to DECA to marketing. All of those opportunities that our kids have, for 3,800 students, which is quite a bit, all of those extras are provided by override funding. All extracurricular opportunities that we have for both boys and girls in competitive sports; from band to football to swimming to golf to tennis; all of those are the responsibility of the local community.
We also utilize override funds to help with our salary schedule scale. We need to try and increase it more so we can attract and maintain highly qualified teachers so we can teach our students. These override funds are, in essence, a part of our budget because without these funds, we would not be able to provide all of the opportunities that our students have. Minus these funds, I think our community is going to see a reduction in those opportunities and that’s very unfortunate. Our students need every opportunity that they can in order to fulfill their academic needs and to basically move forward as a graduate and a productive member of our community.
GC LIVING: Dr. Goodsell, it was a pleasure speaking with you. Best of luck in your endeavors!
DR. GOODSELL: Thank you! It was my pleasure as well.