Representative T.J. Shope facilitated a very productive exchange yesterday afternoon between Arizona lawmakers and A for Arizona school leaders at the Arizona House of Representatives. Nearly a dozen lawmakers joined with exceptional leaders from low-income ‘A’ schools across the state for a candid discussion on what the leaders do to achieve excellence for their students, and what obstacles can hinder their success.

Several school leaders in attendance spoke about the unique qualities that contribute to student success in their schools, and they made a case for actions that could set them up for greater success in the future. It was abundantly clear that while education advocates can spread the good word about what Arizona’s ‘A’ leaders are doing, there’s no more powerful voice than the teachers, principals, and administrators who are in the trenches daily.

Adrian Ruiz, Executive Director of Espiritu Schools in south Phoenix, exemplified Espiritu’s commitment to educate the whole student by setting high expectations that “transcend and transform communities.” Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) Superintendent H.T. Sánchez went on to say that not one of his teachers or principals looks at their kids and sees poverty; rather, they see “capacity for learning”. These themes of high expectations and a belief that every child can learn were common across all school leaders, as was their shared focus on strong and consistent leadership.

Not surprisingly, many leaders recognized the need for additional resources. Talking about the commitment they make to each individual student, Brian Holman from Empower College Prep said, “promises are expensive to keep, but worth keeping.” Another common obstacle our leaders shared was retaining highly effective teachers. Hilary O’Brien from Madison Camelview Elementary explained that more than half of her teachers have second jobs – not exactly a recipe for longevity in the field. TUSD leaders expressed similar experiences with teachers leaving for other opportunities and shared their desire to have more professionals in the classroom who are subject matter experts, even if they don’t yet hold a state certification.

Speaking as a key partner in A for Arizona, Jamie Jutila from the Walton Family Foundation discussed their intention to invest $1 billion into K-12 education over the next five years. To date, the Foundation has invested $13 million in Arizona and has its eye on what our state is doing to increase access for every child to high quality school options. Their vision aligns perfectly with A for Arizona’s ambitious goal to see 10 percent annual growth in the number of low-income students in ‘A’ schools.

Rep. Shope closed the session by calling on school leaders to get to know their lawmakers and to invite them to visit and tour their campuses, encouraging their role as leaders in creating an ever-expanding cadre of exceptional Arizona schools.

Many thanks to the leaders and legislators who took time out of their busy schedules for this important discussion. As Glenn Hamer said in his opening remarks, school leaders are doing the tough work – educating kids. Although difficult, the simpler policy job lies in providing the clear path and resources to ensure that these leaders who serve low-income students can continue to succeed and expand their impact.