Q&A with Dr. Chad Gestson

Since this website is a case study, we are attempting to tease out of those directly involved in the program at CBHS more information as to how they proceeded in various parts of the project as well as keeping up to date as the programs evolve. Here are Dr. Gestson’s recent responses to four questions about the programs there.

1. On how Dr. Gestson initially aligned the CBHS staff to his vision:

This was a long process that really begins with focusing NOT on buy-in but rather more on empowerment and ownership. Leaders often seek buy-in from their employees – leaders create grand visions and initiatives and then spend time lobbying and politicking their way toward sufficient buy-in. I choose to let our employees help develop the mission, vision, and initiatives. They determine needs and direction of the organization. Then, as a result, they “own” the vision. Their commitment to the vision goes far beyond buy-in. They feel vested in making sure that the mission and vision is realized.

At Camelback, we took months (actually, over a year) creating the mission and vision for Camelback. We started by identifying all of our challenges. We analyzed our data (attendance, achievement, etc.). We then spent months studying research, visiting exemplary schools, and trying to find common links between highly effective schools. We then spent months connecting what we learned from the research and the visits to what our challenges were. We started to flesh out some real possible solutions to our challenges. Then, we began to finalize what our plan would be to address those challenges. Advisory is probably the best example of this. We realized that one of our biggest issues was a largely disconnected student body. Students were anonymous. No adults on campus were responsible for tracking the success (or failure) of students. So, after a lot of work and planning, we implemented an Advisory period to banish anonymity. For the past four years, Advisory has truly been the key vehicle for change at Camelback.

2. On the latest changes to Peer Tutoring program:

peer tutoringTutors at Camelback HS are morphing to mentors.

The Success Is Mandatory tutoring program is evolving into a mentoring program as well with the tutors also being tasked as mentors to the incoming freshmen. Mentors meet with their mentees each week to ensure they are on track in several ways as indicated on this form they fill out at each meeting.

Mentee Weekly Tracking Form (.pdf)

3. On academic rigor improvement efforts:

Increasing academic rigor this year has been successful. It is a work-in-progress and will take a few years to get to the level that we all want. We divided our campus into three large “learning teams.” The teams are:

  • Humanities (English, World Language, Linguistics, Reading, Social Studies),
  • STEM (Science, Business/Technology, GEARS/Engineering, Math) and
  • Kinetic (PE, Health, JROTC, Performing Arts, Fine Arts, Family and Consumer Sciences)

Each team chose their own instructional initiative. They determined their

  • timeline for implementation,
  • need for professional development,
  • accountability structures and
  • measures of success.

At this point the Humanities team is far beyond the other teams. They have already moved onto phase 2 of their plan. The STEM team has made excellent progress but is still on phase 1. Kinetic is still struggling with implementation and is having another training next Saturday to assist with implementation.

4. On tracking the college outcomes for the 2013 gap scholarship recipients:

As of their 2nd semester of their freshman year, we have confirmed that all gap students are enrolled in school and doing well academically, aside from one student. We have not been able to contact one student who enrolled in a community college in central Arizona to play basketball. We continue to try to make contact with this student. Interestingly, to date only two students have asked for the funds for their second semester tuition scholarships. Likely, this is because they have not received notification from their schools that their tuition is due in full. As we have found out with other students, universities often start reminding students of their full tuition payment deadlines a month or so into the semester.

U R Beautiful

urbeautifulThis is a guest post from Dr. Chad Gestson, principal of Camelback High School from Valentine’s Day 2014.

As you can imagine, Valentine’s Day is a very difficult day for many high school girls.  Though to the public this is a day of love and romance, this really is a day of heartache, heartbreak, and loneliness.

A group of Camelback girls, in anticipation of this being such a terrible day for their peers, collected 100’s of blank Post-It notes and rolls of tape this week from as many adults on campus as possible.  They then went around campus handing out the blank Post-It notes and asked their fellow Spartans to write notes of love and inspiration.

Then, after school yesterday, when everyone was gone, they snuck into the main girls bathroom and created this “U R Beautiful” wall so that every sad and lonely girl who escaped to the bathroom today, and even those with smiles and Valentine’s teddy bears who just wanted to check their makeup, were met with messages of love and hope.

If it were easy …

This guest post was written by John DeWulf, Chair of the Executive Committee of Social Venture Partners

Of course, if it were easy everyone would be doing it. Dr. Geston’s program of improving a school by changing its culture – changing the way students and teachers think of themselves and their school – seems like common sense. But I have discovered that fundamental change in a school, or any organization, isn’t easy and there will be set backs along the way. The key is strong and visionary leadership at the top and dedication and patience from those implementing the change. Camelback had both.

I’m proud of the role Social Venture Partners has played in Camelback’s extraordinary transformation. I look forward to helping Camelback continue to prosper and applying Chad’s ideas in other schools.

John DeWulf
Chair, Education Committee
Social Venture Partners

Fashion Club and Beyond

Hi Bruce and Happy New Year!

The website is looking great and thanks for including me in the launch. It’s exciting to see Chad’s vision along with SVP’s partnership continue to evolve.

I am proud of the Fashion Club and now the Career and Technical Education class Fashion Design and Merchandising 1-2 that has come into existence because of connections made with SVP and a principal willing to listen and take a chance on a teacher getting certified in a new area because of talent witnessed in an afternoon club setting that could lead students to numerous career opportunities in the future.

We began three years ago with donations of material and magazines from sources that Maurine Karabatsos knew about. From there she connected me with numerous members of the community who had talents in interior design, clothing construction and also wanted to mentor our amazing students! Most of them are connected to SVP in some way.

This is the short version of the story. Carol Clemency of SVP has also been at my side every step of the way and continues to support the students and me with her generosity and more importantly her time as the club and class progress.

I hope to meet you in person very soon.



School Climate Survey

This post was written by Carol Cox, retired human resource Senior VP at PetsMart.

Dr. Gestson and I met several times and reviewed human resource issues which included the need to find out if the changes at CBHS were having an effect on the students and what was important to them. Many businesses use attitude surveys to measure employee attitudes and concerns and we decided to use this approach.

We asked Dr. Antony Peloso, a professor of economics in the ASU School of Business to join us in developing a school climate survey. The survey was administered to the students during their advisory class. Survey Monkey was used to gather the information.

The survey covered the following areas:

  • teacher academic support
  • teacher personal support
  • peer academic support
  • peer personal support
  • academic competence
  • school and classroom satisfaction
  • teacher support
  • consistency and clarity of rules and expectations
  • student commitment/achievement orientation
  • students’ input in decision making (school)
  • instructional innovation/relevance
  • support for cultural pluralism
  • student perceptions of teacher efficacy and the safety climate

Examples of the results include:

  • my teacher cares about how much I learn
  • my teacher wants me to do my best school work
  • in this class, other students care about my feelings
  • I feel safe at school and I want to learn

The results obtained were excellent. They validated that the climate (“culture”) changes were real at Camelback High School.

The survey is now in its third year and continues to point out opportunities and concerns that are workable.

A heartfelt letter of thanks

This letter was written by Julia Bourdo, Marketing Teacher at Camelback High School. You can reach Julia at bourdo@phoenix union.org

Thanks for giving me the opportunity to share my thoughts concerning SVPAZ and Camelback Partnerships’ work at Camelback over the past three years. It was so exciting to be part of the group this past Friday that is proactively helping to sustain the progress that has been made over the four years since Dr. Gestson took the lead. My fear is that without a strong person at the helm, we will slide backwards.

I have been at Camelback for the past 22 years. I teach marketing and am the DECA Advisor. There has been a high turnover (14 give or take a few) of principals since I started at Camelback. Some were more effective than others but Dr. G is definitely at the top of my list. In my view, Camelback High School was a place that no quality teacher would want to transfer into, unless they had another motive. Many people referred to CBHS as the step child of the district. Now, when attending district marketing teacher meetings, the marketing teachers all wish that they had a leader like Dr. Gestson. I have always been proud to be a Spartan, but now the whole school including students, staff, administration, and community see the great things that are happening, and we stand united as CBHS Spartans.

The SVPAZ partnership has been fantastic for the Marketing/DECA Program at Camelback. The program is co-curricular including Marketing content instruction, a student-run store inside the classroom, and DECA, the professional student organization. Dr. G has introduced me to some of the most amazing people. One in particular that has touched my life is Rick West. He has shared his personal story with my students, invited a group of my students to the Vincent’s restaurant sharing session each year and shared the importance of paying it forward. He has also critiqued DECA presentations for those students that were competing at DECA State and National Competition and attended our annual Toastmaster’s Luncheon. If you want to know more about DECA, visit the website (deca.org or azdeca.org). It is the second largest professional high student organization in the US. It offers over one million dollars in scholarships and provides students numerous opportunities to gain leadership skills.

Park & Michelle Howell were also introduced to me by Dr. G. Their youngest son transferred from a Scottsdale school, and they enrolled him in my marketing and advisory classes. Mr. Howell has shared his experience and expertise with my students by teaching my class each year about the art of storytelling. This has prepared my students for DECA Regional and State Competition. Also, the Howells helped chaperone a New York City field trip with 55 students in the spring of 2011. On that trip, Park arranged a visit to one of the largest advertising firms in the US for our group. He introduced me to Goodwill executives, proposing a job readiness skills center on Camelback’s Campus. He continues to be a great support for both the marketing students and myself.

Because the Camelback students always seem to be at a social disadvantage at regional and statewide competition, I introduced Toastmaster’s to my program many years ago. This helps our students with communication skills in speaking and listening. Each year we have the top ten students from the marketing classes give their speeches at a high end restaurant. We make it an event so the students practice how to dress like professionals, how to dine in an upscale restaurant, and how to be appropriate audience members at a formal event. Dr. G continues to invite a group of the SVPAZ Partners each year to join us. Last year, a student told her story about how difficult it was to be a young mom, and a SVPAZ individual heard the student’s story and was moved to help. The results were an amazing Christmas for the family, a day at the spa, a dress for the prom and a four year paid educational opportunity to Grand Canyon University! Yet another SVPAZ Partner, Carol Cox, has brought in her hair dresser and esthetician for the day to teach my students how to do their hair and makeup for competition. She and her friends have also judged competition in class, at DECA regionals and state. By the way, Camelback is the only school in the whole district that is sending students to competition at the National level this year!

One of the most amazing introductions was Scott McIntosh. He introduced me to his passion of becoming an entrepreneur through social consciousness. His focus was introducing these concepts to our youth. He offered scholarships, an entrepreneurship club, and an after school program for Junior Achievement. Scott made it all happen. He provided the opportunity for students to visit ASU Polytechnic for the Tom’s Shoes Marketing Director’s presentation along with a campus tour. He gave the students opportunities to earn money with entrepreneur social consciousness ideas and offered to pay for an ASU Entrepreneurship Summer Camp. Furthermore, Scott gave $12,000 worth of scholarships away at an event where students pitched their business idea in a competitive setting. Besides all of this, Scott and his wife, Jan saw the potential of one of my students and that student’s life is now changed. Edward works for Scott’s new concept MAC 6 and has a full ride scholarship to ASU thanks to the McIntosh Family. After being introduced to Arizona DECA, Scott is now helping at the regional and state level with all the events associated with Entrepreneurs. He also introduced me to SCOREs (mentors that help the Small Business Association with first-hand knowledge of business plans) and two of the men are very dedicated volunteers, spending two afternoons a week in the marketing room helping students. Scott continues to touch many of my students’ lives.

My students have had the opportunity to attend and work at” Fast Pitch” the past two years. Fast Pitch is a ninety second presentation by nonprofit organizations that need additional financial support. Social Venture Partners gives money to those organizations that they feel are the most worthy. This allows my students the opportunity to see first-hand why hard work, great communications skills, focus, passion, and social consciousness are so important in today’s world.

SVP also brought Amy Armstrong and Support My Club to CBHS which is a huge benefit to our high school. This idea has allowed more students to participate in clubs and sports whom might not have been able to afford the dues or other fees necessary. Several of my students took this creative idea to DECA State Competition and won. Amy and her mom have been so supportive of the students by helping them prepare for this National Competition. They are also now volunteering on my advisory board for marketing which focuses on overall program improvement. I am also personally doing a professional learning externship this summer at Support My Club.

Furthermore, I have met two other amazing ladies, Nancy Anderson and Becky Wolf whom are raising money for “gap scholarships”. These are scholarships for the Camelback students that have earned scholarships but are $1,000-$5,000 short of the costs, and who might decide not to attend college because their families do not have the money. Nancy and Becky are selling monopoly squares. My students helped by generating some of the monopoly pieces. I also just met with them requesting a scholarship for one of my marketing students.

There are others from SVP that have not been mentioned that have greatly influenced the Marketing/DECA program at Camelback. I just know that over the past three years, this group of dedicated individuals has impacted my own and my students’ lives in ways that I did not think were possible. They made ideas, dreams, and goals become reality for so many students. SVPAZ has made me a better teacher and person. Your organization emulates your name of Social Venture Partners. You give your time and talents to make this a better place to live.

Thank you from the bottom of my heart,

Julia Bourdo
Marketing Teacher, Camelback High School

A Master Toastmaster Mentor

This post is Jeff Stevens’ description of his work with the DECA and Toastmasters classes over 27 years. Jeff is a local architect.

In February of 1987, I was approached by a fellow member, Doug Ullrich, of my Toastmaster group who asked if I would be interested in helping him develop a Toastmaster program at the local high school. He had recently graduated from Arizona State University and was an alumnus of Camelback High School. His former marketing teacher, Ms. Charlene Lyons, was asking for help in developing a program for her junior level class. They had had some prior Toastmaster instructors who would not commit to more than one class at a time. Also some of the instructors were older and had trouble relating to the students. Ms. Lyons believed that a program could be established which would help her students learn basic speaking skills and business etiquette, i.e., resume writing, interviewing skills and social etiquette skills.

Doug believed I would be a good “fit” since, at the time, I was still fairly young and had recently graduated from Architecture school. I explained that I was not a teacher, that I had never taught a course and especially a high school speaking course. Finally Doug talked me into calling Ms. Lyons. She was very excited and told me she would handle all of the grading and any disciplinary items that might arise. This had been a great concern of mine since I was not really looking forward to disciplining 25 juniors in high school – let alone teach them public speaking skill. Ms. Lyons suggested I come over to the school after the last class and she would talk to me and introduce me to a few students.

Ms. Lyons was really a very friendly and outgoing teacher. She was what I would categorize as a strict high school teacher. I remember thinking as I left her after that first meeting that I would have probably have given her all kinds of “crap” if she had been my high school teacher. Please do not misunderstand me; Ms. Lyons was an excellent teacher who, over the next twelve years gained my complete respect and admiration. Her dedication to her students was a testament to all teachers. I just had a conflict on her teaching style of being a very strict disciplinarian – which in hindsight is probably what the students needed.

A quick note on the make-up of Camelback High School during this time period- late 1980’s to the mid 1990’s. Most of the student population was Caucasian and coming from middle class to upper middle class families. There were a few minorities mostly African-American and Hispanic students. The teaching staff was comprised mostly of Caucasian teachers with few minority instructors. The teachers were older and were very strict and not too compromising when it came to understanding the minority student’s problems. This of course was my view which may not have represented the entire teaching roster at Camelback. I was exposed to only several teachers around me, mostly from the Business Department and Math Department – all who shared the building I was to teach in. The administration was very foreign to me since they were housed at the far end of the campus, away from the business building. I remember it was not until a year later when I first met the principal at a student luncheon and how blasé he seemed about what I was doing in the marketing classroom.

Finally I decided to take on the 3rd period Marketing Class of Ms. Lyons. Toastmasters International (T.I.) had a program dedicated to teaching public speaking to students. They called it “Student Leadership.” I sent for the program and in a few weeks I received a package of manuals entitled “Student Leadership Manual.” I spent the weekend looking this over and decided that if I was to walk in and try to teach from this manual; the student’s would probably hang me. I contacted Doug Ullrich and he agreed that the T.I. method was a little out of date and did not have much relevant to students in the 20th Century. So I immediately, with Doug’s help, went into panic mode. I decided to just teach the class like a regular Toastmaster meeting is conducted. I would shorten the time period, from 90 minutes to 50 minutes, and cut back on a few of the unnecessary functionaries. The speeches would be shorter and the evaluations would be decreased in time. In fact by the time I was finished the class was more of a “hands on” teaching style and less of me up front teaching. I would always become the General Evaluator – giving out individual speaker evaluations at the end of the meeting and summing up what was great about the meeting and what we could improve upon. The students would really run the show with individual students acting as the Toastmaster, Jokemaster, Ah counter, timer and Topicmaster – changing positions every week. This would also involve more students and give them a chance to learn new skills. We added other positions over the years such as Wordmaster (introduction of a new word) thought for the day and Hullabalooer. The Hullabalooer is a position where a student gets up in front and gets everyone excited for the day’s meeting. This was a little risky since I was literally opening myself up to whatever a student wanted to do. But it has strictly remained a senior function and it is always done with good taste.

My first day was one of mixed excitement and fear. I was really scared and worried that I was not going to be able to pull this off. I walked into the class and was immediately accosted by a student who asked me if I was the “dude” who was going to teach them public speaking. That student was Kia Hollstein who is currently married and has two children and is a divisional manager for a huge Midwestern Auto Rental Dealer. I still get a message every now and again from him. The second student who came up to me was Freda Wahl (now Freda Sullivan and a successful entrepreneur who was one of the first students at ASU to graduate with a degree in Supply-Chain Management). Freda was the class President and proceeded to introduce me to her fellow classmates. The class, to my surprise, was a hit. I think one of the successful things about it was it was being taught by an outsider, someone who had little or no connections with the school. I was an outsider, someone from the real world, someone who was there on his own accord. I can remember the start of one year when one of the students asked me how much I was paid to do their Toastmaster class. When I told her I was a volunteer and did not get paid, she was amazed and I immediately earned her respect.

Over the next twenty-six years I continued to do the Marketing or DECA (Distributive Education Clubs of America), HERO (Home Economic Related Occupations), FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America) and the COE (Cooperative Office Education) classes. At the beginning of 2014, the only class left at Camelback High School is the DECA or Marketing classes. For several years in the 1990’s, I team taught several courses with Mr. Doug Ullrich and Ms. Karen Payne, all at Camelback High School. After these individuals left, several other individuals came forward to help teach a Toastmaster related class. Those were Mr. Tim Hedger, Ms. Jojo Miller and Ms. Molly Sosa. The latter two were former students at Camelback High School’s Marketing class.

During the late 1990’s Camelback had become a true inner city high school with the majority of students receiving some form of school aid. In 1998, Ms. Lyons retired and Ms. Julie Bourdo took over the senior classes. Ms. Bourdo immediately gained my respect for her hands on approach to the students and their problems. Her understanding of the “inner city” student made her class more challenging but also more interesting. Ms. Bourdo also brought with her a strong desire to get all students involved in the State and National DECA Competitive events. We were able to use the Toastmaster class as a stepping stone to get the students involved in making formal presentations. Last year (2013) Ms. Bourdo took fourteen students to the national DECA Conference in Los Angeles, California. Camelback was the only school in the entire Phoenix Union High School District to send students to this competitive event.

Over the years I have been able to bond with many of my former students, giving out advice, attending graduations, weddings and the birth of children. I am currently advising and mentoring about 62 young adults – all out of high school with the majority in college and universities. Those two students from my first class still contact me and I have regular lunches with Freda on a monthly basis.

One of the nicest compliments came to me a few months ago when I was having lunch with one of my former students from the class of 2000. She was having some difficulty at work so we met to go over what she should do. After about an hour and having successfully come to a decision about her current work situation, she leaned across the table and told me she wanted to tell me something. She calmly told me that she considered me one of her childhood friends. She had known me longer then some of her other friends and she could not remember a time when I was not there to advise her. Her father had abandoned her early on and her mother was trying to raise her and three other siblings. I have had the pleasure of also having many former Marketing students work in my architectural firm. Currently I have four former students working for me in various capacities.

I believe that over the years the Toastmaster program at Camelback High School Marketing Classes has opened many doors for our students. Many of my former students are always reminding me of how important this was in their education. Several of the alumni who I keep in contact with are very thankful that we did Toastmasters during their class. Along with the classes at Camelback I am involved with several other activities with my former students. These are as follows:
1). the Splendiferous Book Club. This book club meets once a month to discuss a book or books and is composed of fourteen former students and myself.

2). the Camelback Conscious Art Club. This art club meets once a month to discuss a particular art theme (Pop art, gothic, etc.) and is composed of four (by choice) former students and myself.

3). the Annual Camelback High School DECA Alumni Day. This is where we gather all the alumni available in early August and have them speak frankly about college, career and life to the new junior and senior classes.

4). every year the current Camelback High School Marketing Class takes a four day spring break trip to either New York City or Chicago. This is an exclusive trip with an educational flavor including stops at most major sites and visits to wholesale and manufacturing facilities. I have accompanied the students on most trips since the year 2000.

5). I have consistently accompanied the current Marketing students to the Regional and State competitions. I have been to the DECA National Competitions in Orlando and Salt Lake City as a chaperone and a driver.

An ongoing conversation

My Turn

The goal of this website is to tell the CBHS story and keep updating it with its successes and stumbles. A case study of sorts.

The hope is that those who find this website and look at what has happened at this once troubled school will find hope and suggestions for how to improve the outcomes at their community’s schools.

Please feel free to post your suggestions, critiques, stories, etc. so that this website can become a fertile place to nurture future successful outcomes. Let us know how to reach you in the comments below, and we will contact you about creating a guest post for this blog.

And we expect to provide here more in depth explanations from those involved in the Camelback experience of their particular involvement and contributions, such as the input below provided by Carol Cox who oversaw the student surveys and Julia Bourdo, one of the teachers involved in many of the SVPAZ programs.