Author Archives: Ember Conley

Ember Conley

About Ember Conley

Recently appointed Deputy Superintendent of Maricopa Unified School District (MUSD), Conley was previously the principal of Butterfield Elementary School, in addition to being the director of assessment and accountability for three years at MUSD. She received the Outstanding Doctoral Student Award in Arizona from ASA Higher Education in 2010 and has presented at numerous conferences, including the National American Indian Educators’ Conference, Native American Grant Schools Association and Arizona School Administrators.


From Development to Realizing Dreams: Encouraging Students’ Growth

Last night as I am turning off the last light before bedtime, I hear “singing” (if you can call it that) coming from my daughter’s bedroom. As I peaked in the door, she had her eyes closed, iPod headphones plugged in her ears, singing as loud as she could. It reminded me of a Christmas holiday that I shared with my daughter years ago when she spent hours wearing out her gift from her aunt, a Hannah Montana karaoke CD. Not only did she sing to this CD, she turned the karaoke machine as loud as it would go and dressed up like Hannah Montana. Part of her dress up attire was a pair of four-inch high heels that were hand-me-downs from her teenage cousins. She would wear the heels until she went to bed; they looked great with her pajamas, and she would put them on as soon as she was out of bed. I was worried she was going to fall down and seriously injure herself. Everyone else was crazy because they made a unique clicking sound as she walked through the house (probably because they were four sizes too big!). Her dream was to be a dancer and singer. Aren’t dreams great?

I think when we reminisce back to our childhood, we can all remember those dreams, some coming to fruition, others changing as our lives mature. As the deputy superintendent serving Maricopa Unified School District, I am reminded constantly of the maturation of our young people’s lives. It is always amazing to see the changes our students undergo during their physical and mental development as a student. Many times, it is pure joy and astonishment.  These changes, however, are never overnight.

With ACTs, SATs, prom and graduation upon us, it is important for us as parents, and as educators, to encourage that growth and development that will lead our children down the path to one day realizing their dreams. Whether it happens sooner, or takes a student a little bit longer to get there, it is ever-important to remind them that the end is in sight and to never give up.

We as adults must never minimize the daily growing process of our students, nor must we minimize the influence we have in their lives. We must gently encourage them, embrace their growth and help them follow through to their completion of high school and beyond. This time in their life is challenging and difficult and our tolerance to them acting out their dreams is significant. Just as our tolerance to my daughter’s high heel clicking, loud singing and crazy dancing was a major challenge to us, it allowed her to enjoy and grow during this time in her life.

Insightful Organizations

Insightful Organizations Must Revolutionize The Way Students Learn

Changes in our world are occurring at warp speed. Whatever form it takes, change is upon us. Insightful organizations will be ready; Maricopa Unified School District (MUSD) is ready to be insightful. Today’s students must be able to quickly adapt to an increasingly chaotic, yet opportunity-filled, global environment. In this era of uncertainty — globalization, innovative thinking, rapid technology breakthroughs and stunning emerging opportunities for student growth — students must learn new leadership skills that are critical to addressing future situations.

In the book “Leaders Make the Future,” author Bob Johansen notes that “most of our current leadership models are based on the present and past, not the future … in the years ahead, there will be fewer problems that can be solved. Instead, our students will have dilemmas, which are basically unsolvable problems, and these will require a different set of leadership skills.” Organizations that ignore the trend toward greater diversity and inclusiveness will lack the skills to overcome these dilemmas.

I recently returned from Alexandria, Va. where we were the only Arizona district invited to the National School Improvement Symposium, hosted by ASCD (formerly the Association for Supervision and Curriculum Development).

ASCD is an insightful organization, and their new “futuring” statement, titled “Revolutionizing the Way We Learn,” is driven by the need for school organizations to renew relevance in the classroom, create new solutions to challenges facing 21st century learners, and to define the niche, or “Blue Ocean,” in our community and state.

By adopting this statement for MUSD, we are defining our niche by critically facing our challenges, openly embracing our diversity and striving toward excellence. In order to achieve these imperatives, we must revolutionize the way we lead, which, in turn, requires us to think and act in new ways. The current thrust of leadership and boardsmanship at MUSD is centered on building leadership and stimulating value creation. The entire district’s work is intense, experiential and applied; rich in skill development; fully practical and oriented to student achievement and increased learning results.

The thrust into our future requires students, teachers, parents and community members who are predisposed to imagine what does not yet exist, to move forward with intention and purpose, to create new reality and meaning, and to address practical challenges. We at MUSD are, and will continue to be, a community dedicated to student success.

This implies thinking differently, collaborating in the face of uncertainty. Thinking differently means encouraging divergence of thought, rather than seeking convergence, while at the same time remaining focused on the objective.

Learning differently — seeking out different viewpoints and experiences — immersion in a variety of perspectives and cultures is critical for the leaders of tomorrow to compete globally.

School District

What Parents Should Look For In A School District

School districts Valleywide are often being faced with losing students to nearby districts. When this happens, a district must do what it can to keep their current students, bring in new students and bring back students that may have moved on. To do so, it’s necessary for a school district to highlight what makes them great in the first place. Be it the skill level of teachers, the grading label given to a particular school, the athletic department or state-of-the-art facilities and cutting edge classes, each can attract a different parent or student to one particular district.

The following are a few things parents should be looking for in a school district, and what school districts should be highlighting to attract parents and students:

State-of-the-Art Facilities

How modern and updated are the facilities offered to students on campus and within the district? With the technology and amenities that are available in this day and age, state-of-the-art facilities will ultimately be a big draw.

Case in point: MUSD’s Performing Arts Center (PAC). With a grand opening for parents, students and the community in the coming months, the PAC, while located on the Maricopa High School campus, is a facility used by all Maricopa Unified School District (MUSD) schools and is currently hosting elementary and middle school students to watch performances by various MHS students and programs, offering them a glimpse of what’s to come in their education and programs they can look forward to taking part in.

Not only will a state-of-the-art facility such as this become a focal point of a school district and a community, the facilities itself offer a multitude of uses and ways for students to learn everything from lighting, sound and drama to dance and other performing arts.

Excelling Schools

The new grading labels being released by the Arizona Department of Education is a measure being used to help redefine what makes a school outstanding and urge continual student improvement. When looking into school districts in your surrounding area, these grades and their corresponding achievement profiles (Failing, Performing, Excelling, etc.) can be an indication of how any particular district is doing in terms of teaching and testing students.

Case in point: In 2011, MUSD received grades A-C for every school in its district; similar to those of the surrounding districts, in addition to receiving Performing, Performing Plus and Excelling achievement levels for all of its schools.

Class Offerings

More and more schools are diversifying class offerings and programs in order to allow students a broader education on a variety of subjects and tailor their educational experience based on their future career goals (or try a variety of courses in order to narrow down what those career goals may be).

Case in point: While MUSD offers the general course work that one would see in any district statewide, there are many unique classes that students may not find elsewhere. For example, culinary arts, jewelry making, graphic design, AP studio art, speech and debate, fire science, EMT, law enforcement, marketing and many others.

Whatever educational “assets” a school or district may have, it’s important for parents to take them all into consideration and for school districts to put their best foot/feet forward. Providing the best educational opportunities for children is the focus for MUSD, and we are planning to debut the best-blended learning model in the state of Arizona for our middle school students. We are combining state of the art technology with master teachers to create a learning environment that invigorates our students’ minds and enhances their opportunity to maximize their potential. This new program is just one of many programs that shows we are truly Maricopa UNIFIED! A community dedicated to student success.