The new track around the refurbished football field on the campus of Miami High School is a visual reminder of the stabilizing effect solid, long-term leadership can bring to an institution, and under the guidance of Glen Lineberry and Dr. Sherry Dorathy, the school has recaptured some of the shine that made it one of the best schools in the state for many years.
Lineberry’s nine-year tenure at the helm of MHS will end at the beginning of June, but he leaves behind a school that is measurably better than the one he walked into nearly a decade ago.
It took a few years to build momentum for change, but once that happened the work toward improving the academics and culture of the school really took off.
“The first thing we did was to sit down and consider what it is we needed to provide our students within the long-term and answer the question, ‘when they graduate, what have we given them?’” Lineberry says of his early days as principal. “What we settled on is that the students we graduate need to be literate: Not just with literacy skills, but a habit of literacy because reading isn’t just decoding letters and words, it’s being habituated to gathering information and communicating it well.”
Before that could happen, the Miami Unified School District rolled up its sleeves and began a concerted effort to rehabilitate a building that has been in use since 1967.
Lineberry, who worked at San Carlos High School as a teacher and assistant principal for four years before he was hired at Miami, says they started out small with new paint around the campus as the administration sought funding to help pay for the larger projects to come.
“The facilities had been allowed to slide. We had dozens of roof leaks and heating and air conditioners systems that didn’t work,” Lineberry says. “We didn’t have much of a budget, so we started off by just doing things like painting doors around the campus.”
In order to fund the initial work, the district enlisted Freeport-McMoRan, which pitched in to help rehabilitate the science labs and the shop classroom that had been shut down because the ventilation systems no longer functioned properly.
What followed over the course of the decade was a total facilities overhaul that was just recently completed with the re-sodding of the football field and a new roof on the high school.
“We’ve gradually done an enormous amount of stuff,” Lineberry says. “We fixed up the baseball field and built a new varsity softball field; we’ve redone the tennis courts and we’ve painted the entire facility.”
Under Lineberry’s leadership, the auditorium has also been rebuilt to the benefit of the entire community and internet access has been improved throughout the campus.
Getting instructional spaces functioning again allowed the school to expand educational opportunities to include more arts, science, math and Career and Technical Education.
Improving school culture
As facility improvements took shape, school administrators began to work on creating a campus-wide culture of personal responsibility and respect.
On Lineberry’s first school day, there were four fights at the high school that often had 100 to 200 physical altercations annually, he says.
“We’ve worked to reduce confrontation within the building and only had two fights in the high school last year,” Lineberry says. “We’ve done this by teaching students the idea that we’re a community and we work things out rather than fight.”
Part of the strategy included reducing drug, alcohol and tobacco use on campus. Lineberry says that in the early days of his tenure, it was common to find more than 500 items each year indicating on-campus use including, alcohol bottles, needles, burnt pieces of tin foil or marijuana joint remnants.
That number has been reduced to 20 to 30, according to Lineberry, who credits the reduction to the school’s efforts to get students to take the issue seriously and creating an atmosphere that discouraged drug and alcohol abuse.
One tool used was the Arizona Youth Survey (AYS) of eighth, 10th, and 12th-graders conducted every two years by the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission. The voluntary questionnaire asks students to self-report alcohol, drug and tobacco use, as well as gambling, firearms, gangs, school safety, family issues, and other matters.
The survey also assesses “the presence of ‘risk’ and ‘protective’ factors that can affect anti-social behavior by adolescents,” according to ASU’s Morrison Institute for Public Policy.
“We’ve worked with our kids to take this seriously and have seen self-reported student use and exposure has dropped off sharply,” Lineberry says. “When the pandemic hit, kids reported far less use of tobacco and vaping devices, and far more use of alcohol because they were not on campus. It led us to believe that the data we’d collected was pretty accurate.”
At the beginning of the 2017-18 school year, the District rolled out a new theme throughout the school known as “There is NO ‘D’ in Miami – No Drugs, No Drunks, No Dummies, No Drama.”
The program was funded through a High School Health and Wellness grant from the governor’s Office of Youth, Faith and Family and included teacher training called “Capturing Kids’ Hearts,” encouraging “respect for all” throughout the District.
Lineberry also reduced pages and pages of rules of conduct and dress codes to a handful of rules that addressed specific problems that were causing disciplinary challenges.
“We worked to shift away from the idea that discipline is consequences: it involves consequences and we hand those out freely, but we do it by sitting with the student and the disciplinary matrix and looking together to see what the prescribed consequence is,” Lineberry says. “We’re not Pollyanna. We understand that too many of our kids are doing things we wish they weren’t doing, but if you can make campus a place where that’s not done, they will use less, and if the message gets through to them they have a place where they can nurture that approach.”
Academics and extracurricular activities
Miami High School was established in 1916 and during the heyday of mining in the region was one of the premier schools in Arizona, with winning athletic programs and classrooms that produced students who went on to become state and national leaders.
“Miami is interesting in that the school is more than 100 years old and there was a time when it was probably one of the very best high schools in the state,” Lineberry says. “This was a town that was doing well economically and was mixed socioeconomically. The people who ran the mines lived here and their kids went to school just like the people who went in with pickaxes, so the schools were well supported. They produced a lot of really solid people.”
Academic and athletic excellence was rewarded by statewide championships in sports from basketball to wrestling and for many years the Arizona Association of Student Councils held its State Student Council Conference in Miami.
But the mines closed, people moved away and public school funding formulas changed. A shift towards standardized testing altered the way students were taught. Lineberry says that none of those factors were Miami-specific problems, but general challenges for public education that hit economically challenged rural areas harder than well-funded schools in the state’s population centers.
“We punch above our weight on curriculum, but have a long way to go in terms of rigor as measured by standardized test scores,” Lineberry says. “But those test scores are written for suburban, middle-class kids by people whose kids are suburban, middle-class kids. They’re well-intentioned, but they don’t get us where we need to be.”
In order to create a more focused curriculum, MHS bulked up its math program up to calculus and the science program through advanced physics. Lineberry also added filmmaking, poetry and creative writing to the curriculum.
The District worked out an agreement to bring zero-tuition, dual-enrollment classes through Northland Pioneer College. The program that allows high school students to take college-level classes for credit eventually moved to Eastern Arizona College to bring it closer to home.
Lineberry also revived the CTE program to seven career paths, including culinary arts, graphic and web design, early childhood education, journalism, agriculture, construction, and software and app design. CTE prepares students for “real life” jobs and in order to help prepare them for the world beyond high school, CTE became a requirement for graduation.
“We wanted to build choices into the curriculum just like you build choices into the diet when you’re feeding kids,” Lineberry says. “Kids don’t come to school for five-paragraph essays and geometry proofs: They come to school to see their friends, to participate in sports and other extracurriculars and to take the electives they like.”
He adds that in order to get the most out of the school’s resources, MHS realigned teaching assignments and adjusted hiring practices so that every teacher in the building is highly qualified in the area they teach.
To balance out the academic side of the equation, the District also focused on bringing back sports programs that had been dropped over the years, including wrestling, track and cross-country.
As part of the overall facilities upgrades, the floor of the gym has been refinished and the football field was moved eight feet in to accommodate the new rubberized track. There is also more coordination between sports departments at MHS and Lee Kornegay Intermediate to set younger students up for success once they get to high school.
“We brought back track after a 20 or 30-year absence from the school: We brought back wrestling after a 15-year or so absence from the school, and we’ve added cross country for the first time since the ’70s or ’80s,” Lineberry says. “We did this because there are kids who are interested in it, but we also did it to help our multi-sport athletes stay in shape during the off-season.”
While Lineberry survived and thrived for nine years at the helm of MHS, the renaissance of the District could not have happened without stability throughout the entire organization beginning with Dr. Dorathy, who is in her 10th year at the helm.
“Continuity in leadership is huge,” Dorathy says. “Because they’re on the ground and you’re not having to retrain a new person, it helps us implement district as well as school initiatives. They know the importance of the programs. They know the importance and the impact it can have on student achievement. I am here to support my admins, my teachers, and my staff, and they are way more important than I ever will be.”
Dorathy believes her role is to support administration, staff, and students to implement District policy to further the educational goals of the institution. She says that learning to communicate is a big part of that, and when there is continuity, that gets a lot easier.
In the two decades prior to the hiring of Dorathy and Lineberry, MHS had eight principals, and the MUSD had five superintendents. According to Lineberry, it can take two to three years for an administrator to settle in, and if there is a new principal every other year, forward momentum and teacher respect are difficult to achieve.
“That kind of turnover has a whole lot of negative impact,” Lineberry says. “When you’re the new leader in an organization, it takes a while to identify the strengths and the places that need work, then it takes time to identify and design a solution set that fits the particular context. If all of that work just gets stuck in a folder in a file drawer because there’s a new superintendent or principal coming in, then you’ve lost all of that and in the meantime, made no forward progress.”
For Dorathy, who has worked in the San Carlos and Miami education systems for more than three decades, consistency and expectations go hand-in-hand with stability.
“With building administrators being long-term, consistency happens much more easily,” Dorathy says. “People know what to expect, not just from me but from their building, to support students to increase academic achievement.”
Dorathy says that affects everything from student discipline to staff retention and morale.
The seeds of stability planted when she took over the District are paying off now, as the upcoming school year will see the principals of all three schools in the MUSD—MHS, Lee Kornegay Intermediate and Charles A. Bejarano Elementary—will be long-term instructors who have been promoted from within. Incoming MHS principal Shawn Pietila; 20-plus-year veteran Kevin Hull and Rhiannon Oldfield, a former MHS English teacher for more than a dozen years.
Pietila has been athletic director and Assistant Principal under Lineberry for four years, so has plenty of MHS-specific experience to begin his tenure.
Janet Acevedo has taught and coached generations of Miami and San Carlos students—including Pietila’s wife Crystal who now teaches and coaches at the school—and has seen her share of administrative turnover in her 30-plus year career. She is a third-generation MHS graduate and has been teaching at MHS for 17 years. Prior to that Acevedo was at San Carlos High School for 12 years after beginning her career at Camp Verde.
In addition to the numerous principals she’s seen in Miami, she also worked for eight during her time in San Carlos. She says she is glad to see stability as her career eventually winds down.
“Shawn’s a good guy, so I think as far as transition goes, it’s gonna be smooth for him and for us,” Acevedo says. “Glen has brought a lot of really good things to the district and has probably been a good mentor for him.”
Acevedo gives Lineberry a lot of credit for the improvements to physical education infrastructure, including projects she has wanted to see completed since she first started working there.
In addition to funds for site improvements, the District also received COVID funding to purchase PE equipment as well as air filters for the entire school to help with the overall health of everyone on campus.
Institutional stability also helped the schools get through the COVID pandemic, which was not a small feat in a remote, rural part of the state without the resources of larger urban centers.
“Because we worked so well together, our admin team knew what my expectations were,” Dorathy says. “People were probably sick to death of me sending out memos or robocalls to keep them informed, but I figured if I over-informed, at least they couldn’t accuse me of trying to keep a secret.”
For Lineberry, who will move on to a network attempting to fill instructional gaps for rural students and schools, and teaching in principal preparation programs, the successes of MHS are not the work of one individual, but of everyone from the community to the superintendent’s office.
“Improvements have come due to continuity and tenacity,” Lineberry says. “Many things the district tried did not work the first time and had to be rethought or rejected outright in favor of a new tack. This is really not me. It’s not administrators. This is a result of student effort, of significant teacher effort, of a really deep and continuing support from our district office and from the governing board. This is a school with really helpful and positive traditions. Half our faculty are alums and there’s an embedded sense of community within the school that we have worked to support and recognize and where necessary, rebuild.”
Journalist, writer and editor who has worked for community newspapers for more than 15 years. After four years at Davis-Monthan AFB and a few years living in Tucson, moved to California to find his fortune. He is happy to be back in Arizona, in the mountains he loves.