Though she’s only served a few days as superintendent, Haukeness isn’t new to the district. She’s a graduate of Montezuma-Cortez High School and in a 22-year career with the district, has served as a teacher, principal and assistant superintendent for public instruction. She worked closely with former superintendent Alex Carter and filled in as interim superintendent after he resigned in January.
Her appointment comes as the district is at a crossroads on high-profile issues. The Board of Education faces an important decision on the asbestos-tainted retired high school on Seventh Street. The district is dealing with a shrinking budget and a teacher shortage.
The new district boss says she has a plan for those issues, and she’s excited about moving the district forward.
“We have so many challenges, and we know where we need to be to address them,” she said.
The Journal recently sat down with Haukeness to talk these and other district issues. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Community relationsWhy is improving the district’s public relations a priority for you?
Haukeness: The district has some incredible things going on as far as student achievement and opportunities we’re giving the students. We need to take more responsibility to get that out to the community and our parents. As we think about how we do that, one part is to be a stronger partner with the newspaper. We’re working on a Facebook page, for parents to see what activities going on. We’re redeveloping our website to be more user-friendly. We’re trying to have students have more community presence. Sometimes we’re so focused on what’s happening in the schools that we don’t necessarily give the community the opportunity to see what’s going on or participate in district events.
Mesa, Manaugh and Kemper elementary schools are involved in a University of Virginia turnaround program. What progress have those schools made?
Haukeness: The program emphasizes supporting student achievement and improving the culture in our schools to create a dramatic change. The schools are moving forward. The program is a two-year program, and we are nearing the end of that. But the university has created a Year 3 phase that they’re inviting districts to participate in. Research shows it takes five to seven years to make systemic change. It’s very exciting that district was asked to apply. It’s quite an honor. If we’re accepted, we’ll go into the third year this fall. The purpose is to build sustainability going forward. To do tha,t we’re drilling down and looking at student learning at each individual level, through district and classroom assessments. From that, we’re looking at data and seeing what we need to do for the next steps for students to learn. We’re creating teacher leaders in each building and they’re responsible for helping lead their grade levels and building leadership in each building.
Another focus is the culture and climate of our schools down to the student level. We have to have a positive environment — students have to want to come to school in order to learn.
What happens after the third year of the program?
Haukeness: After the program is over, the system continues forward, regardless of the personnel in our schools. That system defines who is the best fit for our students and who will be the best fit to carry the work forward. It not only supports student achievement in the schools but also supports the culture and climate of the schools. The University of Virginia program is a marriage of what’s best for student education and the district business model. It’s combining the two models to run a really effective system that promotes student achievement.
What’s happening in the schools that isn’t involved in the UVA program?
Haukeness: In the other schools, we’re doing a hybrid plan. We focus in on the three priorities that the school is moving towards. Then we go in and have district support visits from the administration level. We do walkthroughs and evaluate to see how we can support the schools. It’s a model where you push support but also accountability down to the student level. We’re targeting low-performing schools but creating a larger system as a district.
Are graduation rates improving in the district?
Haukeness: We’ve been focusing on raising graduation rates, and we’ve seen some success in increasing that. We’ve had some dramatic change at the high school. Our goal is 100 percent ultimately, that’s what we want.Research is showing that the jobs in the next several years are not only jobs that require associate’s or bachelor’s degrees or above but also vocational jobs. Some feedback that (M-CHS principal) Dr. Jason Wayman has had at the high school is that students are wanting other pathways to a diploma. We’re developing opportunities to have industry pathways. You develop these pathways for students that will really engage them. Traditionally we haven’t had that. We’re developing those for next year. That’s one focus too, to try to provide for our students so when they graduate from M-CHS they have skills they need, as well as the background in the area where they want to continue their education or career. We’re hoping to provide apprenticeships and partner with community colleges for vocational tech tracks and things like that. We’re still working on the programs. The high school is developing specialized industry tracks to meet needs of students.
One of our goals has been to reduce our dropout rate. We have done that, but our dropout rate is still higher than the state average. We need to continue to work on keeping our students. We’re losing students from eighth to ninth grade. Two years ago, we started the freshman academy to address that. We bring students back early to high school, and the academy gets them familiar with the high school before school starts. That’s been very successful. We need to identify students that are at risk of dropping out between eighth and ninth grade and see what we can do to keep them in school.
District facilitiesAt what stage is the process for dealing with the retired high school?
Haukeness: The retired high school task force has convened twice. They’ve worked out some options, as well as barriers the board should consider if they go with those options. The committees are working together to finalize some of the options. They’re working on recommendations at this time to make them more formal, and at the May 17 Board of Education meeting, there will be a work session specifically dealing with the recommendations for the retired high school from the task force. At that time, they’ll present recommendations to the Board of Education.
How do you plan to address the issue of aging district facilities?
Haukeness: It was very exciting to see taxpayers support the new high school for our students. The high school is truly built for 21st century learning, but our other schools are not. The majority of our schools were built in the 1950s. The maintenance and custodial departments have done phenomenal jobs keeping them updated, and our schools are still very prideful, but they’re aging. We don’t have the infrastructure behind the walls to support the technology we need to have in our classrooms.At some point the school district and the community as a whole will have to come back and look to see what we can do with our aging schools in the district.
Now that the district has had a year to settle in to the new high school, how is it working out?
Haukeness: Since the new high school was opened in August, the amount of usage the school has seen, not only with extracurricular activities, but also the amount of community activities, has really increased substantially, which is exciting. It would be nice to have more facilities like the high school that the community could also use. That would be an unexpected positive, the increase in community involvement in the high school.In talking with the high school students, part of what they’ve said is that they feel like the culture is more positive. When the high school teachers and administration moved in to the new high school, everyone got specific training for improving the culture and climate of school and positively interacting with students. The students got training of how to interact with one another. So part of that could be the new building but part is definitely our focus on improving the culture and climate.
Recruiting and retaining teachersHow can the district find and keep teachers?
Haukeness: That’s one priority we’ve been focusing on in the UVA program. Before we were accepted into the UVA program, they assessed our district and administration. They asked what our strategy is to recruit and retain teachers. That made us go back and reevaluate how when we get these incredible teachers what are we doing to retain them. We’re not competitive with salaries. At this point, we’re not even competitive with our surrounding districts.So what can we do with the constraints of our budget? One strategy is alternative licensures for people who already have a degree who might be interested in teaching. We have a lot of people in the community who have had another career and are interested in teaching. They’re getting teacher certifications through the Boettcher Foundation. We’re trying to create a grow-your-own model of teachers. These are people who are invested in our community. They have lived in our community, and they are staying in our community. We have 10 or more teachers right now that are participating in alternative licensures or the Boettcher program that are becoming licensed teachers that live here in our community.
There are a lot of expectations we have of our teachers right now. For new teachers, it really is a challenge. Through a grant we created a part-time teacher mentor position. His responsibility as a licensed teacher was to work with new teachers and provide guidance for them, to coach, team-teach and work with them. We had about 34 new teachers coming in last year, this year we’re looking at 17.
We’re moving forward, but we’re always going to have that struggle and that shortage especially with math, science and special education. Those are hard positions to fill. That’s a nationwide issue, but we’re especially feeling it. That will continue to be a struggle until we can provide competitive salaries ideally with the state, but at least with our surrounding districts.
Tribal relationsHow will you maintain and improve the district’s relationships with neighboring Native American tribes?
Haukeness: The success of our Native American students will be focused on relationships. It’s all about having a strong relationship with the Ute Mountain Ute and Navajo students, having two-way communication and making sure that relationship lasts. The other part is working with tribal students and trying to incorporate more of the culture into our schools and understanding the culture. We need to work to support our students in order to blend the cultures, so when they come to school they see that representation of their culture.A very strong start is the new high school. When it was developed, tribal members were asked to come in and give feedback for the design. It honored the culture we have in our district. If we are more thoughtful in including them in a blending of cultures, then we will have increased student attendance and achievement.
Last year, through a Title 7 grant, we created a position to help Native American students succeed at the high school. That person worked with Native American students and with the tribes. The position was really individually focused on students and being a liaison between the school and the tribe. That’s important to create that liaison between school and tribe so we can work together to be proactive for our students. That position started last year and will continue this year.
A new eraYou have been involved with this district for 22 years, but this is a new phase for you. What are you looking forward to?
Haukeness: I’m looking forward to continuing the work with instruction in schools. I’m looking forward to working with the high school on the new pathways they’re developing. I’m looking forward to talking with the students that have graduated from here and getting feedback on what they felt was strong with their education, as well as what they feel was weak or made it a challenge for them as they went on to pursue their next phase of education.I’m looking forward to building the partnership between district and community. I’m a graduate from this district and I’m very prideful of the community. I’m looking forward to building that partnership and supporting the teachers, but also communicating some of the wonderful work that’s going on in this district. Everyone deserves to know that we have a lot of prideful things happening in our district. We have incredible students and I’m looking forward to being the spokesperson for that.
I’m looking forward to working with the Board of Education. They have realized the work we’ve done through the University of Virginia program and the potential that work has to take us to the next level.
I’m looking forward to working with the community, the board, the teachers and the students and moving this district forward.