Keegan and New Way Learning Center

There is a very interesting post on the East Valley Tribune forums by “Leila” regarding Deputy County Manager, Lisa Keegan, and her effort as a board member to shut down another school in Scottsdale. The private school, New Way Learning Center, provides education to children with learning disabilities and is supposedly one of a kind in the southewest.

The post also refers to Cindy McCain and her family foundation’s donation of playground equipment to the school (was that all?).

I am re-posting the comments here on Sonoran Alliance:

Hijacking of School for Learning Disabled by Lisa Keegan, School Board’s Chairman and McCain’s Educational Advisor

At a small private school in Scottsdale, Arizona, a controversial situation is unfolding that curiously involves two people very close to presidential hopeful John McCain: his wife and his education advisor, Lisa Keegan.  

New Way Learning Academy is a small non-profit private school dedicated to serving children with learning disabilities and the only school of its kind in the southwest. Ten years ago, Cindy McCain was obviously impressed when she met Dawn Gutierrez, New Way’s Director of Education, and toured New Way. The Hensley Foundation, which is funded and controlled by Cindy McCain’s family, generously donated all the playground equipment that the children of New Way are currently using.  Cindy told Dawn, “Whatever you want for the playground, you can have.”  

Ironically, just this month Lisa Keegan and her Executive Board have hijacked the school from shocked and outraged parents, students, and teachers by firing Dawn Gutierrez. The firing occurred without the knowledge of the full board and at a time when everyone had left for spring break so that no one would be present. As parents and teachers have united in calling for the reinstatement of Mrs. Gutierrez, attention has turned to the how and why of this situation. 

In the search for answers, it appears that this was actually part of a long-term plan, which began in 2005 with the changing of the school’s non-profit by-laws to place total control in the hands of the Executive Board.  At that, time Lisa Keegan was a member of the board. In 2006, Lisa Keegan became Chair of the Board, creating an Executive Board consisting solely of people with whom she is associated in some way outside of the school.

While examining this situation, Keegan’s long history of controversy has not gone unnoticed. When she was Arizona’s Superintendent of Public Instruction she instituted the controversial AIMS (Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards) test.  As a consultant to Maricopa County, she was involved in the closing of the Thomas J. Pappas School for the homeless, and while serving as the head of the Education Leadership Counsel, there were allegations of mismanagement of federal funds.

The apparent take-over of the school comes immediately on the heels of its mortgage being paid off with large donations solicited from parents by Richard King, the former Secretary of the Board. New Way parents have attempted to enter mediation but the Board is unwilling to discuss the parent’s and teacher’s demands, instead installing Richard King as the new leader of the school. Obviously, this is unacceptable to the parents and teachers. Neither the students nor the highly-trained special education teachers will return to the school next year under such an administration, which will leave this well respected school in ruins. 

Although it appears to many at New Way that a carefully crafted plan to take over their school has been executed the question remains: Why? Why would anyone allow such a unique and well respected school to be destroyed by their actions? Why does Keegan refuse to step down from a volunteer position when petitioned to do so by almost 100% of the teachers and 90% of those paying tuition? Why? The only answer given: “No Comment.”


  1. I worked for Keegan at DOE in the mid-90s then was a charter school principal where I became familiar with New Way and Dawn Gutierrez. The New Way program was very effective and well-regarded, a decade ago anyhow.

    My experience with Keegan is that she is extremely smart and strong-willed. When she encounters something (or someone) she doesn’t like, she is ruthless in making a change. Unfortunately, she has a short attention span and has never been very committed to cleaning up a mess and fixing things once she has blown the situation up. That was her pattern at DOE with AIMS, as well as the Pappas situation. It’s unfortunate the staff and parents at New Way will suffer because of that modus operendi.

  2. Buddy Breon says

    Lisa Keegan revealed her personal integrity when she was in the Arizona House of Representatives. I don’t think she was married to Keegan at the time, but you wouldn’t know it by any overt actions on her part. She continued the string of self-serving approach to public service when at the Dept. of Education. I can not fathom anything more poorly done than AIMS. Her conduct in Washington, D.C. is documented in court records, search warrants, press reports, and a stinking mess that destroyed what little was left of her reputation. Still, her perky little walk and flirtatious dealing with those in power got her a temporory job at the County. She used it to punish Sandra Dowling and hurt homeless elementary school children. She was rewarded for her comptemptable closing of the school with a bigger job and lots of money.

    That she now hurts handicapped children is no surprise. Given the opportunity, what would you have expected her to do?

  3. wondersnevercease says

    So is the money on her being McCain’s pick for the US DOE czarina? Sounds like a scary thought given the information posted in the blog and comments to date.

  4. That is a big “no” on her being a cabinet level anything anywhere beyond Maricopa County.

  5. I find it interesting that commenters here have a tendency to throw personal attacks on female politicians that they don’t do on males. Ad hominem attacks are thrown on Napolitano for her non-frilly appearance and here Keegan is attacked for acting too feminine.

    But when was the last time you saw someone commenting about a male politicians appearance or attacking his “manliness”?

    Food for thought.

  6. Antifederalist says

    Trust me, REAL conservatives don’t hold their tongues. We let everyone have it equally. You want an ad hominem attack on a guy? What is it with Bob Stump’s plastic hair? He’s also a momma’s boy. No man should be so concerned with his hair. Reminds me of John Edwards. Also, every man needs to cut the apron strings. Satisfied?

    This is FURTHER evidence that McLame is scum and a prime reason why I WIL NOT vote for him. He’s surrounded himself with scum: the Gullets, Keegan, Mo Udall, Tom Daschle, Russ Feingold, and the list goes on and on. His influence on Arizona politicans is insidious. I’ve got one thing to say: BOB BARR ’08, baby!!

  7. So I hear that Richard King resigned yesterday. Another one bites the dust under the leadership of Keegan.

  8. Cindi Lane says

    Parents hail return of principal, (Arizona Republic, Monday June 2nd, 2008) and other local news reports regarding New Way Learning Academy, is nothing but politically motivated hype that does not tell the story of what really happened at New Way Learning Academy this last spring.

    Ms. Lisa Keegan and then Executive Director, Mr. Jeff Watkins, were unfortunate scapegoats and were “thrown under the bus” to divert attention from the real problems at New Way. The media has spun the firing of Ms. Gutierrez into a political propaganda story because Ms. Lisa Keegan sat on the board and is now an advisor to the McCain campaign.

    I am the ‘one teacher’ mentioned in the Republic. I left in the midst of all the controversy. Behind what the news media portrays, lies the true story of how things have been twisted for political purposes.

    The real story is that the Board voted nine to one to terminate Ms. Gutierrez. The real players here are not anyone well known, just a group of teachers who have been at New Way for years. They are well connected to parents who are wealthy and have funded many things for the school and perks for teachers over the years. The teachers have a huge influence on these parents.

    Negative views about the job Ms. Gutierrez was doing as the Director of Education were held by many of the teachers I worked with. Teachers were unhappy about general mismanagement, the larger than advertised student-teacher ratios, and the lack of follow through with students and many issues at the school. In addition, there are a group of parents who filed complaints about Ms. Gutierrez and New Way Learning Academy with Raising Special Kids, a non profit agency to aid families with children who have disabilities.

    When Ms. Gutierrez was fired, why did teachers change their views and suddenly stand behind her so passionately? Why would they get parents to band with them, and spin a story that “Lisa Keegan hijacked the school?”

    Mr. Jeff Watkins came to the school in October, 2007. He visited classrooms, met with each of the teachers and made it clear that he had plans for the high school and wanted input from teachers. He was very approachable and open to discussion. He also was very proactive in establishing new procedures for purchases, and many other school practices that needed attention. He followed through on every issue, task, or request which was a nice change.

    Most of the people I worked closely with felt that it was inevitable that Ms. Gutierrez would leave, either by resignation or termination. It was the timing of the firing that was unexpected.

    A very important fact that is not well known is that Mr. Jeff Watkins initiated a Human Resources audit at New Way, just a few weeks before Ms. Gutierrez was fired. All teachers were requested to submit their official transcripts and certifications as soon as possible. Why? These documents were missing from many of the personnel files of teachers.

    Mr. Jeff Watkins and the Board wanted to be sure New Way was in compliance with state and federal laws as New Way is funded by school districts- to the tune of $300,000 this year-about one third of their operating budget. This is taxpayer money. The intent and idea of having a Board of Directors is to oversee these sorts of things for a nonprofit school. Their intent is not to be involved in the day to day dealings so they can feel the “climate” of the school. That is not their purpose.

    In order for a private special education school to be approved by the Arizona Department of Education, which New Way proudly proclaims to be, private school teachers who teach district funded students must be certified in the area of special education for which they are approved. New Way is approved by the State Department of Education to teach students with learning disabilities. This means that New Way teachers must be special education certified in learning disabilities.

    A teacher once approached me and actually asked me to scan a certificate from a professional development course, delete the name on it and type in her name. I could not believe it! This began my suspicion about valid certifications.

    After I left New Way, I submitted a list of teachers who work at New Way to the Arizona Department of Education Private School monitoring unit.
    The Program Specialist for state approved Private Day schools verified that a comparison of the list submitted with the staff list submitted by New Way showed that two staff members certifications have expired; four who are on the list are not on the certified staff list submitted;. In addition, there are other teachers listed that do not appear on the list submitted and all of the other staff had current certifications.

    Prior to this, a call to the Department of Education certification unit revealed that the most vocal of the teachers through out this controversy, are not certified in special education by the state of Arizona! And the one quoted in the above named article is not a certified teacher at all! This is public information that can be verified with the Department of Education.

    This not only speaks to the integrity of some New Way teachers and Ms. Gutierrez, but it also confirms that the Department of Education has failed to monitor this private school which receives federal funds!

    Soon after Ms. Gutierrez’s firing; an anonymous mass email went out to most of the parents and teachers at the school which spewed out all kinds of accusations and vicious attacks on Ms. Lisa Keegan, Mr. Jeff Watkins, and some board members with no substantiation, and none of it has been proven to be true! Whoever wrote the anonymous email convinced many parents that there was some sort of conspiracy and Ms. Lisa Keegan was at the center of it. This is where the story got spun.
    (Please read the attached ‘anonymous email titled-LISA GET OUT OF OUR SCHOOL!!!)

    This group of teachers orchestrated this entire revolt, from undermining Mr. Jeff Watkins through mass emails, open criticism to parents and the anonymous email. As mentioned earlier, teachers have a lot of influence over parents and more importantly, there was something the teachers did not want: scrutiny of state certifications by the human resources audit and the scrutiny of the Department of Education.

    Ms. Lisa Keegan and the many people who have served on the board are non-paid volunteers whose primary function is to oversee the administrative aspect of the school. These board members have spent many volunteer hours because they cared about the students. Where is the thank you to them? Instead they were lambasted by a bunch of paranoid parents who were blindly led by this group of teachers. Where are the public apologies to the people who were so publicly humiliated and viciously attacked?
    Ms. Lisa Keegan’s tenure as Chairman of the Board was to end in May, and she publicly said she would resign then, which she did. Of course, this is conveniently left out of all the articles as well.

    The reason for not divulging why Ms. Gutierrez was fired has to do with student privacy issues as Ms. Keegan stated.
    Why can’t people accept that? Just because Ms. Gutierrez signed a release to publicly explain the reason for her firing does not mean that someone else who may have been involved also signed a release. In the real world, people do get fired from their jobs, it’s not outrageous, it is a fact of life and it is usually confidential information between the employee and employer.

    I am in touch with families that have left New Way since Dawn’s firing. Some of these families have been with New Way for many years and they were not aware until they left, that they had no legal rights as far as special education laws and regulations are concerned while at New Way. However, New Way is accountable for federal and state regulations to be followed for their district students.

    All of these families that left saw the good positive things that Jeff was trying to implement. They also saw the resistance to these changes and were dumbfounded by the overreaction to Dawn’s firing, and outraged by the behavior exhibited towards those who did not agree with them, the board members, and especially Lisa Keegan and Jeff Watkins.

    Lisa Keegan was right when she said, “Change is uncomfortable.” I just never thought it would be taken to the extreme that it did.

    Written by:
    Ms. Cindi Lane

  9. Well, at least no one out there is bitter, vindictive, stubbornly misinformed, or overly obsessed with the situation…

  10. Mrs. Lane, surely you didn’t quit to spend two months researching this news. Or, did come knocking? Good riddance.

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