ARIZONA CITY — Superintendent Denise Rogers has a lengthy history with the Toltec School District as she enters her 17th year working there.
Rogers worked her way up the ranks going from teacher to vice principal to principal then interim superintendent before becoming the permanent superintendent in 2018.
“I wanted to work for the school district in my neighborhood, I did not want to commute,” Rogers said during the Arizona City Chamber luncheon on Sept. 17.
“It was important to me to be involved in my own community and so I became a teacher. It was Toltec Elementary School at the time, which was the ACES campus.”
She recalled that when she was a vice principal and principal she could see that the situation at the district was not very good and was approached by different people about possibly becoming the superintendent.
“I was perfectly happy being a principal,” Rogers said. “The longer I thought about it, the more I thought, ‘I’m going to put my name in the hat because this district is so important to me.’ I had seen us go from being top standing to just falling downhill and it hurt me to see this happening.”
In 2017 Rogers was selected as the interim superintendent while she was still the principal at Arizona City Elementary School and then received a three-year contract as the full-time superintendent the following year.
“When I walked into the district office I knew things were bad but I didn’t know how bad,” she said. “I started making a lot of phone calls and I found out that right before I came in, our district had gone into a non-compliance status which means that there are so many findings on the audit and that there had been issues for quite a while that the state said, ‘OK we’re done.’ I also learned that the superintendent at the time didn’t even show up to a board meeting at the state level.”
Since then Rogers has managed to decrease the audit findings from 53 when she first took over the district to about 13 or 14 findings.
“We have a lot of great people working for our schools in Toltec and they deserve better from what they were getting,” she said. “So to get into a status of compliance, it’s quite a process, you have to make the changes and then you have to prove that those changes are sustainable.”
Rogers also spoke about upgrading the curriculum, repairing school facilities and adding school resource officers.
“It’s very important to me to support my community, to help grow within my community,” she said. “So when I look at a problem, I try to think outside the box.”
One of those problems is the teacher shortage. Rogers added that when she first started going to recruit teachers she had nothing to offer.
“It was embarrassing,” she said. “All I had to offer was a four day school week and it doesn’t snow in the winter. So I would go as a principal to staff who were not teachers, that I saw a talent and ability, and I would bring them into my office or walk them into a classroom while I was having a conversation with them and said, ‘Have you ever thought about becoming a teacher?’ Most of them would say no.”
Rogers would then map out how the staff member could become a teacher and how the school would support them.