GILBERT, Ariz. -- As students in one East Valley school district head back to class Wednesday, they have a new superintendent looking out for their interests.
Parents are hoping for an improved environment under the leadership of Dr. Christina Kishimoto, who was elected by a 3-2 vote.
The district has been plagued by contentious board meetings and widespread resignations among its leaders, including eight principals. Many of those who left the district said they did not like the direction schools were heading.
The resignations were described by many as a "mass exodus." It had parents more than a little concerned.
"Those of us with children in this district are worried," said one mom during a standing-room-only board meeting in late March. Hundreds of parents were there. The public comment session at that meeting went on for more than an hour.
Kishimoto, who came to Gilbert from Hartford Public Schools in Connecticut, says she has restructured the district's staff and hopes to bring a shared vision to the board.
"We're going to be focused on the quality of education, focused on getting our kids ready for college and careers," Kishimoto told 3TV's Tess Rafols Wednesday morning. "We'll focus on our core work. … We'll really focus on excellence."
In addition to its personnel issues, Gilbert Public Schools also is facing budget problems.
After voters rejected a $6 million budget override, the school board approved a budget that cut 80 teaching positions and at least a dozen support staff.
While in Hartford, Kishimoto helped raise $60 million in a three-year period.
"First, have to focus on fundraising, partnership raising, and then look at how we leverage these partners to see if we can, in fact, fundraise to help with extending the academic offerings, even beyond the wall of the school," Kishimoto said. "The partnerships are really about how do we fund potential opportunities for internships, opportunities to experience and apply their learning in the world."
Kishimoto and several community leaders and elected officials are taking a bus tour of three of the district's 40 schools -- Desert Ridge High School, Greenfield Junior High and Play del Rey Elementary.
Gilbert Public Schools serves about 39,000 students.