Lauded principal moves to Estes - The Explorer: Import

Lauded principal moves to Estes

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Posted: Tuesday, August 31, 2004 11:00 pm | Updated: 7:48 am, Thu Mar 24, 2011.

August 25, 2004 - Faculty members at Estes Elementary got a welcome surprise late in the summer when they learned Rocco Sugameli would be stepping in as principal of the school.

On the other side of the district, though, parents and students at Butterfield Elementary School lamented at the loss of what many considered an effective, well-liked administrator.

Still, the former Butterfield principal said he left the school in good hands with former administrative assistant Gayle Schmidt taking over his position. Sugameli said after 11 years at Butterfield it was time for a career change.

"I think change is good for all organizations," Sugameli said. "And I think at this point in my career, it just felt like a new challenge would probably be something that was good for me, and hopefully good for both schools."

Sugameli acknowledged that he will miss people at his former school. His co-workers, the parents and students there became like a second family, he said.

In part, his success can be measured by the list of awards the school received under his leadership. In 1997 and 2004 Butterfield applied for and received the A+ award from the Arizona Education Foundation, the U.S. Department of Education recognized the school as a National Blue Ribbon School in 1999 and Sugameli was awarded Arizona Elementary Principal of the Year in 2000.

But, Sugameli made it clear that the hard work of many people contributed to the school's success.

Now the principal is confident he will build similar relationships at Estes and foster the same scholastic achievements accomplished by Butterfield.

"One of the things I told the staff is we want to be the school that other schools look at and aspire to be," Sugameli said. "So we're setting our goals pretty high, but that's what I tend to do."

In mid-June, former Estes Principal Albert Siqueiros told the district he would be taking a position at Tucson Unified School District, said Assistant Superintendent Carolyn Dumler. The superintendent's office advertised the position and compiled a list of about 10 candidates in addition to offering the spot to Sugameli. When Sugameli expressed interest in accepting the job, Dumler informed the governing board at a closed meeting July 13 that the district could hire an outside candidate or move Sugameli to Estes. Sugameli was the logical option because he was familiar with the district and Schmidt, Sugameli's administrative assistant for three years, could become Butterfield's interim principal.

Sugameli's only regret is that the transition came so abruptly he did not have time to give more notice to faculty, parents and students at Butterfield. But, administrators and faculty at Butterfield generally understand why he made the decision.

While the former principal left quickly, he didn't leave any unfinished business at Butterfield, Schmidt said. He met with staff at Butterfield in the beginning of the year to explain his decision, and came to the school's assembly Aug. 12 so he would have some closure with the students, Schmidt said.

And the positive effects of his tenure have been felt throughout the school's community, she said.

"He cares about the students, the staff, the parents, and he really fostered community spirit in our school," Schmidt said "He got everyone involved and wanted everyone to feel a part of the school. And I think he did that while still maintaining the vision of the school."

Claudia Jensen, who teaches kindergarten at Butterfield, said she is excited for Sugameli as well as Schmidt. For the most part, teachers at Butterfield understand that when an educator has the opportunity to take a new position, he or she will take that option given the right circumstances, Jensen said. Also, teachers at Butterfield will continue to succeed because of the culture of leadership Sugameli created at the school, she said. Furthermore, teachers acknowledge that Sugameli can bring the similar success to Estes

"I think we realize that he is needed there and it was a move that would really benefit Estes," she said.

However, some parents and students are struggling with Sugameli's decision to switch schools. One parent, Stacey Trumbo, said she understands his decision but was very shocked by his departure. Sugameli's position as leader of the school was one of the reasons she chose Butterfield, noting that the school received the A+ award while he was principal. Trumbo has two children attending Butterfield, a daughter, Anna, in third grade and a son, Zech, in first grade. Sugameli had a direct impact on her son, Trumbo said.

"My son said he didn't want to go to school here anymore," she said about Zech's reaction to Sugameli's leaving the school. "My son still deals with it every day," she said.

With time, the students will be able to move on, said fifth grade Butterfield teacher Kay Wilson. Especially considering the effectiveness of Schmidt, the school's new leader. She said Butterfield was a positive place from the contributions of both Sugameli and Schmidt. She acknowledged that she was sorry to see him go, but like Jensen she was excited about the opportunity for Schmidt and was confident that Sugameli could make a positive contribution to Estes.

The transition to Estes has been quite smooth for the new principal. He's still trying to find his way around but he's taken the opportunity to meet faculty, students and parents whenever possible. Sugameli does not plan to work alone or make drastic changes at Estes, especially because teachers there are already enthusiastic about teaching their students, he said.

"We're all going to work together, roll up our sleeves and get the job done for our kids," Sugameli said.

For a while the teachers at Estes were unsure who their next principal might be, and they got excited when they learned Sugameli would be taking the position. A second grade teacher at Estes, Sherry McKeen, said the situation could not have turned out better. She said Sugameli has already met all of the faculty and he's been in the classrooms greeting as many student as he can. In fact, her only concern was that the loss might upset the Butterfield community.

Another Estes faculty member, Phyllis Teager, who teaches sixth grade, appreciated how much Sugameli encouraged input from teachers.

"He's set some goals based on the cues from the teachers," she said.

Sugameli said part of the way he views leadership is to have an active line of communication between himself and the teachers. This is important as he starts his job, because Estes is in a different community than Butterfield.

For example, Estes, with student enrollment at less than 500, is a smaller school than Butterfield, which has about 760 students. Enrollment at both schools has increased since last school year, when Estes had 361 students and Butterfield 687.

Also, data indicates students at Estes come from lower income families than those at Butterfield. For example, at the end of last school year, 34 percent of Butterfield's students qualified for the federal free or reduced lunch program, in contrast with 75 percent of students at Estes who qualified for the program.

And according to the 2003 results of Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards, or AIMS, test -an exam that measures students understanding of core subjects - 69 percent of Butterfield fifth graders met or exceeded the state standard for math, 64 percent met or exceeded the standard for reading and 68 percent met or exceeded the standard for writing.

In comparison, Estes fifth graders had 43 percent meeting or exceeding the standard for math, 55 percent meeting or exceeding the standard for reading and 42 percent meeting or exceeding the standard for writing.

With respect to national standards, according to the results of the Stanford 9 test - which covers the subjects of language arts, math and reading - Butterfield's 2004 results indicate that students in all grades and subjects performed better than the national average. On the other hand, Estes' 2004 results reveal that students there did not perform as well. Students in grades two, four and six exceeded the national average in math and reading, but not as much as Butterfield, and students in grade five exceeded the national average for math. No students at the school exceeded the national average for language arts and students in grade three fell below the national average in all subjects, while students in grade five fell below the average in language arts and reading.

Part of the reason the governing board approved Sugameli for the position of principal at Estes was to create similar success at the school, although a direct comparison of Butterfield and Estes can be misleading because of the differing communities, said Governing Board President Janice Mitich.

Regardless of test scores, Sugameli said Estes Elementary has a great learning atmosphere accompanied by wonderful students and teachers.

In fact, Sugameli said his acceptance of the position was a sort of homecoming. He began his career with the district 25 years ago across the street from Estes Elementary as a teacher at Marana Junior High School - now Marana Middle School. After working there he went to Tortolita Middle School where he was associate principal and then principal. Over a decade ago, he took the position at Butterfield Elementary and when former Superintendent Rick Lesko approached Sugameli in early June and talked to him about leaving his position as principal at Butterfield, Sugameli told Lesko he would only do it if the move took him closer to where he started his career. Sugameli said he really didn't think about switching schools during the circumstances surrounding Lesko's resignation, but when Assistant Superintendent Dumler approached him in early July and offered the position at Estes, he figured it was a way he could help the district. He considered the option for 24 hours, then accepted.

"What I think I bring to the job is a lot of enthusiasm and a great deal of passion for public education and for kids," Sugameli said. "I think that all kids need that, and certainly, the Estes kids are no exception."

Now, Sugameli intends to pursue his passion at Estes. He added that support from his staff was the main reason for his success at Butterfield and that he looks forward to working with the faculty at Estes.

"I really expect the same success here (at Estes) because I've got great people here too," he said.

© 2014 The Explorer. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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