COOLIDGE — On the cusp of retirement, Superintendent Charie Wallace says that among her proudest accomplishments is making sure none of them happened alone. Whether it was raising teacher salaries, passing a bond measure or reviving the district’s music program, Wallace believes that guiding the Coolidge Unified School District was a team effort.
“I believe that I hired knowledgeable, skilled and ethical people,” Wallace said, “and helped develop them to be leaders.”
One such leader Wallace praises as being invested in the community is CUSD Director of Human Resources Dawn Dee Hodge, who will be succeeding her as superintendent. Wallace said it was a “smart move” to hire Hodge and pave the way for a seamless transition.
Wallace, who has been superintendent since 2013, grew up in Coolidge and is a fourth generation educator. Beginning as a teacher at Santa Cruz Valley Union High School in 1974, Wallace has spent nearly five decades working within education in Pinal County. She was director of curriculum for Coolidge from 2006-07.
Wallace credited the CUSD Governing Board, currently led by President Michael Flores II, as supporting and assisting her throughout her eight years, especially during the pandemic.
Wallace is also retiring just as the first group of school bond projects nears completion, ranging from renovations to the high school track and performing arts center to the new aquatic center that will open in June.
Wallace’s father, Jim Roth, was Coolidge superintendent from 1965-1978, and as a child, Wallace said she would watch her mother develop lesson plans for her elementary school classes. Wallace said her family played a pivotal role in her choosing that career path.
“My grandfather wasn’t an educator,” Wallace said, “but he thought teaching was the most noble and worthy profession you could ever be in.”
Although Wallace said she loved teaching, at a certain point in her career she decided to shift toward administration and curriculum development.
According to Wallace, the biggest changes to education she’s seen, beyond just technology, are public perceptions of teachers and the relative difficulty of K-12 core subject material.
“What kids are doing in the first through third grades compared to what they did 40 years ago is amazing,” Wallace said.
While increased academic rigor is a positive development, Wallace said that state and standardized testing, dictated by politics, has become a hindrance for students and staff.
“I was really supportive of standardized testing at first,” Wallace said. “I thought this would prove we are accountable. But they keep changing the mark. One size doesn’t fit all. We are stifling kids’ creativity. One test shouldn’t define a kid, or a school, or a district. I have no problem with having tests but to have these tests give your schools a grade isn’t fair.”
Wallace emphasized that studies have affirmed students, on an individual basis, learn at differing paces and excel in different subjects.
Part of the problem, Wallace said, is that politicians don’t always consider educators as experts in their own field.
“They don’t make decisions for doctors or attorneys,” Wallace said. “The idea that public education is failing is, to me, the biggest falsehood perpetrated on the American public.”
With CUSD as a Title I school district, Wallace acknowledged that the administration has had to work hard to ensure students have the proper resources and learning environment.
“All kids can learn and be productive,” Wallace said, “but when you’re low income, you have to worry about health, food, shelter, any kind of racial injustice, so many things besides academics. It’s a huge, huge challenge.”
Even after providing students with devices like iPads, Wallace said the pandemic brought into focus the need to install hotspots and ensure internet access in families’ homes.
One thing Wallace is very proud of is the district’s ability to offer students free breakfast and lunch, and she credited district staff for preparing meals and making sure students didn’t go hungry during the pandemic.
Wallace also credited the community for being generous with scholarship opportunities, and for the district’s athletic coaches who she says “hustle” to get scholarships for student athletes. So far this year 16 student athletes have been offered scholarship money, including nine Coolidge football players.
Wallace said that all school districts, including Coolidge, suffer from chronic teacher shortages and budget battles, which exacerbate any learning gaps.
As the next superintendent, Hodge will have the challenge of mitigating the effects of the pandemic on students’ cumulative skills and learning.
Wallace said the CUSD staff has been spending months researching learning loss and recovery, and the district has been hiring paraprofessionals and reading interventionists to help with all grades. Coolidge will have a transitional program this summer for seventh and eight graders.
For teachers, the administration will be conducting surveys to assess their beliefs and attitudes about teaching standards and how best to help students going forward.
The district would also be continuing the online school, which will be run by teachers employed within CUSD.
“Dawn and I did a lot of research,” Wallace said. “We’ve got to be really strategic in what standards we use and how we teach. There’s theory behind what we’re doing and we’ve got it planned out.”
While Wallace said the pandemic was a “rude awakening” for everyone, she said it helped bring into focus priorities, including family, kindness and socio-emotional needs.
“Schools do play a role in child care,” Wallace said. “When parents depend on us, I don’t view it as them using schools for babysitting, but they have to have someone take care of kids during the day, and it’s part of our society.”
Although Wallace will be retiring in June, she said she’ll still be working two days a week as a transitional adviser for Hodge and the board. Wallace said she thought it was time for a “fresh perspective,” if not necessarily a complete change in philosophy.
Outside of that work, Wallace said she is excited to spend more time with her grandchildren and just enjoy life in and around Coolidge.
“I just love small towns,” Wallace said. “That’s why I’ve been around for so long. I like going to the grocery store and recognizing people. Coolidge is the best-kept secret around.”
COOLIDGE — A local family continues to ask for prayers and support for a young man who is recovering from a horrendous injury.
David Glaser, now 22, has been in an induced coma and a state of minimal consciousness. Almost ten months ago, while riding on U.S. 60 in downtown Phoenix, Glaser fell off his motorcycle and was thrown 160 feet over a highway barrier into traffic below.
Improbably David survived the fall, and was even reportedly alert when paramedics arrived on the scene.
Through dozens of surgeries, Glaser’s family, friends, supporters and various medical teams have fought hard to keep David alive. Even as the setbacks and near-deaths pile up, David is not only still alive, but has shown real signs of progress.
For the Glasers — David’s mother Karen and sister Elizabeth — who have stayed close by since the accident, David’s slow but continuing recovery is nothing short of miraculous.
“We were called in three times to say goodbye in the first 60 days,” Karen Glaser said. “Nobody can explain how he’s made it through all of this, other than through David’s own will.”
Karen said the first near-miracle was that among all the broken bones, David’s spinal column had stayed intact. The latest breakthrough came last month, when Glaser’s breathing tube was removed — he was switched to breathing with a trach collar — and he has since shown increased muscle movement in response to therapy treatment.
For several months after the accident, David was in the critical care unit at Valleywise Health Medical Center and has since been on a tumultuous journey through various medical centers in the Phoenix area.
David moved to Curahealth in Peoria in July, then in early September was transferred out of the unit. Unfortunately during the move, his right temporal lobe was left exposed, causing a new brain bleed and hematoma.
According to Karen, after issues with bradycardia and seizure activity, David went to NeuroRestorative Rehabilitation Center in Phoenix until mid-December. David was then moved to St. Joseph’s Hospital for much of the winter and has been at Heritage Court Post Acute in Scottsdale since late February.
David has been seen by numerous doctors and medical experts over the past months, including neurologists, pulmonologists and an orthopedic specialist for his foot and an ankle, part of which was ripped off in the accident.
Karen credits a number of things, from the medical to the spiritual, for both David’s recovery and her family’s well-being. From her perspective, David has received help in the form of both prayers and medical marijuana, which he’s had a dose for since he was a teenager.
Nevertheless, the realities of the pandemic have meant that the Glasers are frequently shut out from being able to see David, which Karen describes as being treated like a “yo-yo," while acknowledging that in such conditions, where hospitals are crowded and understaffed, doctors and nurses are overworked and struggling to help.
“COVID-19 has been hell on everyone,” Karen said. “Imagine your son is dying and they are telling you that you can’t see him, touch him or do anything. I cannot describe how horrible it has been.”
Karen says that every opportunity she gets, she tries to give David an opportunity to hear her, including asking hospital staff to put a phone to his ear, “to give him the strength to continue on each day.”
This isn’t even David’s first coma. According to Karen, he went unconscious for three days in 2012 when he drank the wrong drink drugged by locals who had been targeting his sister. When he was younger, David was also impaled by a screwdriver that went through his leg.
One important aspect of their struggle, according to Karen, is the need for individualized care. Recently, Karen said she was able to approve changes to David’s diet, because she was concerned about him losing muscle mass, in addition to concerns about what might affect his brain. Another problem they’ve faced is that their insurance and nursing home policies don’t provide patient bedrails, a policy designed to benefit the elderly but a potential hazard for someone like David.
“They are learning every step of the way themselves,” Karen said about his medical care. “But you can’t give up on someone just because they shouldn’t be here. I’m not just fighting for my son.”
The family is currently trying to raise money through a GoFundMe account, https://www.gofundme.com/f/david-glaser-recovery-fund, to help aid and continue with his care, including refurbishing their Coolidge home in the event he is able to leave the hospital.
Karen and Elizabeth got some donations for hotel stays in the first three months David was hospitalized. Since then, they have lived out of an RV David’s grandmother bought for them, staying close to where David has been. Elizabeth said she left two jobs, both at places shut down by the pandemic, to be there for her brother.
“My brother is strong and refuses to give up,” Elizabeth said. “As long as David continues to fight, we will do the same.”
Karen said living together in the RV has also brought her and her daughter closer together, although she acknowledges “when our anxieties run high, there’s no relief or place to turn, but we try to make light of things. We do joke.”
Although friends and family have had to keep their distance from David due to the pandemic — Karen said her grandmother has only been able to visit David twice — the crisis has brought them in touch with people online from all over the world who have expressed their support, or who have been through similar anomalous or extreme situations with family members.
“My family fights like hell for one another,” Karen said. “We tell David every day we see him that he’s got this. There are miracles out there.”
COOLIDGE — Whether the city gets a Burger King or brewery in the near future, the city will finally see existing restaurants become more open.
With COVID-19 case numbers going down around the state, Gov. Doug Ducey announced last week that bars and restaurants could “resume normal operations.” Although the move was criticized by some as premature, it was nevertheless a signal that venues could adjust operations back to a sense of normalcy.
“They feel like they can breath a little bit now,” Coolidge Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Lynn Parsons said. “Restaurants will continue to do as much safety as possible, but everybody is hoping that we are coming to the end of this.”
In the meantime, Parsons said there would be more opportunities for restaurants to receive funding through the Arizona Commerce Authority as a way to recoup pandemic-related revenue loss.
The Pita Patio Grill was one of the few full-service venues in Coolidge that was able to survive without dramatically adjusting operations.
Owner Nick Tsalikis said that he thinks the restaurant, which only opened a few months prior to the pandemic, was saved by its spacious outdoor seating area.
“During this whole pandemic, we barely get anybody to sit inside,” Tsalikis said. “That tells me they feel more comfortable being outdoors. We could have the whole place empty and people would choose to take the back corner table all the way at the end.”
Other restaurants in the city such as Tag’s Café and T&M Pizza had to either cut opening hours or switch to takeout entirely.
Another longtime local mainstay, the Galloping Goose, has not been open at all during the duration of the pandemic. The bar and restaurant is holding interviews this week for roles including servers, cooks and bartenders, as they look to open again.
Tsalikis said he’d been talking with the Goose’s owner, Scott Wohrman, about cross promotion opportunities as both have venues for bands to play. Tsalikis said that it would be nice to have a diversity of venues where people could go somewhere for dinner, and then go out later in the evening.
Shorty’s, a local bar that dates back to the 1950s, had planned to reopen prior to the pandemic but is waiting to do so.
On the flip side, several businesses were able to open downtown during the pandemic, including a Mexican ice cream parlor, Sabor la Michoacana, and Nana’s Coffee Shop, located just behind the Pita Patio’s courtyard.
In the near future, Tsalikis also said that he could open a brick oven pizzeria in one of the buildings he owns along Coolidge Avenue. At some point this year, Tsalikis said the Pita Patio and VFW will jointly put on a smoke barbecue competition, as well as another car show.
“We want to turn Coolidge into a destination,” Tsalikis said. “Bringing people out into the town, they can see the ruins, all these cool things here. It was scary being a business owner during the pandemic, but we made it through it and hopefully it doesn’t get bad again.”