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Peoria Unified Preschool Director Wins Education Award

Peoria Unified School District’s preschool director, Dr. Debbie Pischke, received the Linda Levine Outstanding Leadership Award for 2021 from the Arizona Division of Early Childhood Education. 


Pischke was nominated in January and officially received the award in February. 


“She is pivotal to our organization,” said Ali Bridgewater, executive director of elementary education with Peoria Unified School District. 


“She provides students with the early interventions needed for them to be successful in school. Her family outreach is what sets her apart. She truly partners with families to ensure their children are provided with services that will greatly benefit them in the future.”


While Pischke said she feels honored and humbled to be given the award, she credits the exceptional teachers for their commitment to their students.


“It’s nice to be recognized, but the people that really deserve it are the people that are doing the hard work with the kids every single day. I just feel like maybe I drive the snowplow so that they can get through,” she said. 


Going on her 39th year as an educator, Pischke started as a kindergarten teacher and now serves as the early childhood director for the Peoria School District, primarily overseeing the preschool program. 


“When I started it was a very small preschool program,” Pischke said, “It just kind of grew. We started with four classrooms and 60 kids and we’re now, in a non-COVID year, with over 1,000 kids.”


Pischke has played a crucial role in getting the proper funding for the district’s early childhood development program. Most recently, Pischke helped secure $250,000 in extra funding after the state announced monies were available due to COVID-19.


Additionally, after a year in the works, Pischke helped facilitate a program and partnership with Glendale Community College that allows interns at the college to work with preschool students. 


“It was a totally different model than we’ve done anywhere else, but it is hugely successful, and it is a gorgeous campus. The college has been great. They even redid the entire playground,” she said. 


In regard to her success and leadership ability, Pischke said the key is “finding the opportunities and figuring out how to take advantage of them.”


As the school year continues, the Peoria school district is one of the few commits to a modified virtual learning curriculum. Preschoolers have been back on campus since Sept. 8, with half of the students attending in-person on Monday and Tuesday, the other half on Wednesday and Thursday. 


During the pandemic, Pischke and her co-workers have been adapting to a new way of learning and teaching. 


For the preschoolers, Pischke said cleaning procedures have been a major priority in limiting cases of COVID-19. Puppets and dress-up clothes have been stored away, as they’re difficult to sanitize. Toys are divided to ensure the morning kids aren’t playing with the same toys as the afternoon kids. 


“We know that online is not how young children learn best,” Pischke said. “We brought them back last year, and everyone is wearing masks. They are spectacular at wearing masks.”


As for what Pischke hopes to see in the future for the district: “A normal year. A typical year would be really, really nice,” she said.


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