Dr. Chris Lineberry is an educator, author, professional speaker/trainer and an education advocate who has testified in AZ Senate hearings. His last school was selected as one of three schools nationally to be featured in a series of documentaries for the Center for Disease Control (CDC) that will air this fall. He is one of only three national Ambassadors to Active Schools US. He is also the new principal for Apache Junction High School.
“I advocate for the whole child – academically, physically and socio-emotionally,” said Lineberry. “What matters is what I do here every day with kids.”
Best known for his integration of health and wellness in the classroom, Lineberry emphasized, “We can’t be ruled by the ‘Tyranny of Or.’ Some people say that you can focus on either academics or health and wellness. My experience has been otherwise. When we focused on the whole child, the schools turned around academically and were recognized for their health and wellness programs.”
Examples include Harmon Elementary School in the JO Combs district, which moved from borderline Low Performing to Performing Plus under Lineberry’s leadership; and Richfield Elementary School in North Carolina, which, in two years, grew from a borderline Low Performing school to a North Carolina School of Distinction, ranking in the top 10% of the state.
Even so, when the AJUSD Governing Board confirmed his hiring in special session on Friday, May 17, it was a split decision: 3/2, with Board members Cami Garcia, Christa Rizzi and Chelsea Connolly supporting Dr. Lineberry, who is currently principal at Stanfield Elementary; while Jodi Ehrlich and Dena Kimble favored Patricia Goolsby, principal at Tempe High.
Those who were in favor of hiring Lineberry cited his personality and his ability to connect with students and families. “When watching the two candidates, there was one who stood out to me more than the other as far as the connection,” said AJUSD Board Vice President Cami Garcia. “For the first time in a really long time; I actually had a sense of relief. We are increasing teacher salaries, we’re working on stipends, and we have somebody [for the AJHS principal position] who just might be able to have it all: [leadership and] a connection with our students.”
Those who favored Goolsby were adamant that her more recent experience at the high school level and her academic focus were more in line with Board Goals. “Yes, the communication issue has to be improved;” said Board President Jodi Ehrlich, “but our kids deserve #1 in academics… At the end of the day, we are in the business of educating students, first and foremost.”
With the votes cast, however, Board members rallied behind the decision. “Boards sometimes make difficult decisions,” Ehrlich condeded. “The district continues to make progress toward our strategic goals. We welcome Dr. Lineberry and he has our full support.”
During an interview with The News, Lineberry took the criticism in stride, reminiscing about a similar situation when he interviewed for his first principal position at an elementary school in North Carolina. With his teaching experience limited to 9th grade language arts, sports medicine and weight training, the interview team wondered: “You’ve never taught elementary school before; how can you be an elementary leader?”
His reply now, as he faces the inversion of that earlier critique, is the same as it was then: “Strong instruction is strong instruction is strong instruction. Engaging kids, whether at the high school or elementary level is a tangible, visible thing...There is a difference, certainly, in how you engage the kids, but at the end of the day, how well you connect with kids, how well you know your material and how well you know the process, is going to determine what your outcome is.”
He added, “I am absolutely smart enough to know that I don’t know everything. I think that’s really important. Strong leaders find people who are strong in those areas where they aren’t and empower them to fly. And that’s my plan.”
On his part, Dr. Lineberry is looking forward to the new challenge. He has already attended a training on the AVID program, along with teachers from Cactus Canyon Junior High and AJHS. “Seeing the connectedness of those two groups – so much so that I wasn’t sure who was a high school teacher and who was junior high – is very cool. What that says is that there are a lot of people here who are aligned with and rally around the same or very similar foundational beliefs. That’s exciting to me.”
The AVID program has been in place at CCJH for a year now, and will be implemented for the first time at AJHS beginning next year. “What AVID is really about is solid relationships, strong teaching strategies, keeping kids accountable and promoting self-awareness and self-responsibility. It’s promoting the value of asking questions, building relationships and building trust.”
As to how he intends to integrate health and wellness into a high school format, he replied, “The Comprehensive School Physical Activity Plan (CSPAP) has different ways to embed movement throughout the day; I know that we are starting a health and wellness class this semester, and I’m excited about that; and I would love to be able to start a Student Wellness Advocacy Team (SWAT). There are a lot of things we can do. It’s important.”
AJUSD Superintendent Dr. Krista Anderson added her support in an email response to The News: “Dr. Lineberry comes to AJUSD with a diverse background that includes teaching high school, developing and leading an online educational learning system for students in grade 6-12 and spending several years as an elementary school principal. This diverse background will allow Dr. Lineberry to bring a new perspective to the school and district.
“As we transition principals at AJHS, we will establish opportunities for staff and parents to meet with Dr. Lineberry to begin building the necessary relationship needed to achieve our goals.
“I want to welcome Dr. Lineberry to Apache Junction Unified School District officially. I am confident that he is passionate about kids and their learning and will do everything in his power to increase academic achievement at our high school.” #WeAreAJ