Authors Articles byJohn Stapleton

John Stapleton

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Number 42. More than just a number—it’s a source of motivation for more than 30,000 runners, including many from the city of Maricopa, who are getting ready to participate in the 7th Annual Pat’s Run on April 16. 

Beginning at 7 a.m. on the 42-yard-line of Arizona State University’s football field, the 4.2 mile walk both honors Pat Tillman and raises money for the Pat Tillman Foundation, which helps provide educational support and resources to veterans, active service members and their dependents. 

Santa Cruz Elementary P.E. Coach, Tracy Carey, is participating for the fifth time. With her family, she’ll be running with a team of eight from Maricopa. “To get out there and run with everyone is awesome,” she said. “It’s truly overwhelming to be a part of it. To see the firefighters, the police officers, the service members, grunting and singing as they run, it really pushes you to run your heart out. And when you see Special Olympians out there with them, it can be emotional. You can’t help but feel like a very proud American.”

The life of Pat Tillman has been a source of inspiration for many Americans since 9/11 when he quit the NFL and its million-dollar perks to join the 75th Ranger Regiment to fight in Afghanistan, where, ultimately, he sacrificed his life.

In Arizona Tillman holds a more special place in the hearts of many. He was a star linebacker for the Arizona State football team that started unranked at the beginning of the 1996 season and then toppled the reigning powerhouse of the time, the Nebraska Cornhuskers, finishing their regular season undefeated.  They went on to the Rose Bowl and almost beat Ohio State in perhaps one of the most thrilling national championship games of all time.

As a student athlete, Tillman graduated from A.S.U. with an impressive 3.87 grade point average before being drafted by the Arizona Cardinals. Tillman was known for playing with all-out intensity, making him a fan favorite with both A.S.U. and the Cardinals.

Close friend, roommate, and former Cardinal teammate Zack Walz commented, “Pat always had a ‘no quit’ attitude about everything. Everyone saw that on the field, but, off the field, he was the same way. Even as he entered the NFL, they said he was too small or not fast enough, this and that, but the guy proved there was no challenge he couldn’t overcome. Even during our two-a-day practices in training camp, when everyone was taking a break and napping in between sessions, Pat was out there, still doing pull-ups and running around the track. He was one of the hardest working, most dedicated guys I’ve ever seen, and that’s with everything he put his mind to.”

Since the inaugural Pat’s Run in 2004, the event has grown from 6,000 runners to over 30,000 participants representing 48 states in 2010. Individuals, families, pro-athletes and corporations all participate in the event with many forming teams of runners. 

Carey added, “In my first year there, you could kind of make your way to the starting line; now it’s just massive. It’s like a parade; everyone is out there waving American flags, State of Arizona flags, Pat’s jersey, all kinds of banners, and there’s even those wearing patriotic costumes, Army fatigues and football pads.”  

The event has become so large and inspirational that there are additional shadow runs across the nation. Cities like Los Angeles, Denver, Austin, Chicago, Portland and Washington, D.C. will have their own rallies on or around that date.

“It’s awe-inspiring,” commented Walz. “This is exactly what Pat would have wanted because this is what he believed in—giving yourself to a higher cause. He might have been known as a football star, but he kept it all in perspective and, for him, he always put those that commit themselves to selfless roles like police officers, firefighters, those in the military fighting to keep our liberty, he put them as the heroes. ”

To still participate in the run, it will be $50. There is also a .42 mile Kids Run for children ages 12 and under. The Kids Run is $10 per child.

“It’s a perfect family event,” said Carey, “I saw moms and dads out there with their kids and their strollers. Even if the kids don’t understand what the event is really about—they’re going to have a good time, and, as they get older and keep going, they can really learn how one person can inspire millions of people.”

All proceeds and donations will go to the Pat Tillman Foundation. The Foundation annually awards educational scholarships through the Tillman Military Scholars program, and has awarded over $1.3 million in scholarships to 111 active service members, veterans and dependents.

“The Pat Tillman Foundation awarded $642,000 to the 2009 inaugural class of 52 Tillman Military Scholars and $709,000 to the 2010 class of 59 Tillman Military Scholars. Those selected for the program are connected by their intense desire to improve their own lives while continuing to serve their country and communities in a variety of ways.” said Lindsay Hansen, spokesperson for the event.  “Tillman Military Scholars are pursuing education at every level from freshmen undergraduates to PhD candidates and represent 46 different institutions across 28 states. We are hoping with this year’s event, we can double the amount of scholarships.”

“Everyone from Maricopa has to come and partake in this. It’s just a big celebration with people coming in from all over the nation,” concluded Walz.. “And the run is the staple for the foundation that is helping so many servicemen and women. Be prepared though—be prepared to be touched and moved in a way you never felt.”

For more information (including other planned events related to Pat’s Run) to donate, or to register: www.patsrun.com and www.pattillmanfoundation.org.

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Richard Joaquin was born in 1946 into the Gila River Indian Community, one of four federally recognized tribes of the Tohono O’odham Indian Community (Salt River, Ak-Chin and the Tohono O’odham Nation are the other three.) At one time, the Tohono O’odham community covered a large portion of the southwestern region of the United States and northern parts of Mexico.

Joaquin distinctly remembers when he moved to the Ak-Chin reservation.

“It was Sept. 3, 1961,” Joaquin says. “I always remember that date and I don’t know why. But I moved here to work on the farms. I didn’t enjoy school very much and wanted to work with my hands in the fields.”

It was among the fields and with the other men of the tribe he began to learn more about his culture. They would talk, and he would listen. They would camp out by the corrals, near old burial grounds. Under the stars, the elders would talk about their ways.

He went to a Catholic school growing up on the Gila River reservation where only English could be spoken. Though he speaks his native tongue, he acknowledges the effect on later generations to speak only English.

“I believe that was really the first cut to our ancestors,” Joaquin says. “When we began to lose our language, we began to lose our culture.”

Part of the culture is desert lore — the medicine man is supposed to have special powers that can see into a spiritual universe. Joaquin says it was very much a part of Tohono O’odham life, but over the years, Western society and medicine have taken on a much bigger and dominating role in the community.

Joaquin can only think of a dozen or so medicine men and women who are still around. Yet, they are still called upon for ceremonies that the outside world is not allowed to see, and they still practice the gift of healing given to them by their ancestors and from the creator, I’itoi.

I’itoi means “man in the maze” and the intricate designs often seen in traditional Tohono O’odham basket weaving and pottery is a tribute to the creator and the Tohono O’odham way of life.

Joaquin’s ability in becoming a medicine man was not taught to him by someone else. He says individuals are chosen by their ancestors and I’itoi. Through visions and their own understanding, medicine men receive their knowledge of herbs, remedies and healing powers.

“It’s a gift to a certain person in a role they are to take,” Joaquin says. “They slowly start doing what the gifts are and only those individuals will know. No one else will be able to learn them and each medicine man is different.”

Stories, ceremonies and secrets

Joaquin says there are different levels of spiritual awareness for a medicine man. Like the gift itself, a medicine man cannot learn his place in life, only accept it. The levels vary in their understanding and gift of healing, and in the past, he has known of medicine men who have had great healing powers.

“My brother-in-law had a broken leg and he went to go see this medicine man that was said to fix broken bones,” Joaquin says.

The medicine man began a process of praying while feeling the leg with his hands and moving his feathers back and forth over the leg. Joaquin says his brother-in-law’s leg was healed and the only advice the medicine man gave his brother-in-law was to “take it easy.”

That happened in the 1970s, and Joaquin says he hasn’t heard of any medicine man having that power since.

Joaquin also talks about his uncle, who had been diagnosed with diabetes and went to a medicine man.

“The medicine man told him about a plant he would find near Tucson,” Joaquin says. “He says ‘go over there, you’ll find it and it will help you.’”

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Progress – with a dark cloud on the horizon – describes Wednesday night’s school board meeting. From construction activities to academic benchmarks, many of the updates presented to the board were called “steps in the right direction” by Board Member Geoff Goddard.

However, it was evident that underneath the generally positive atmosphere, the forthcoming 2011-2012 budget, which is likely to include at least $3 million in cuts, was on everyone’s minds.

Positives noted during the meeting included recognition that Pima Butte and Butterfield Elementary Schools are now exceeding academic benchmarks and that many other Maricopa schools are “knocking on the door” of that achievement. It was also reported that the maintenance and operations warehouse is on target for completion in May and that the MHS Performance Arts Building remains on schedule for September completion.

Mary Urich went into detail about the progressive effects of the Turnaround Projects, a program that works with students and teachers to improve overall school success and help meet state academic standards. 

Goddard asked what effects budget cuts might have on the program’s positive results. Urich said it depended on the ability of the teachers. “We will have to be more creative but we still have to reach those requirements and work with what we are given. Our requirements will not prevent any cuts.”

Board Member Carrie Vargas reported on her recent trip to Washington, D.C. with the Arizona School Board Association, and talked about difficulties MUSD may face in fulfilling federal mandates for Special Needs Children without federal assistance to fund them.

She said it was critical citizens speak out and write their state and federal representatives to express their concerns about education funding so legislators take their opinions into account when making appropriations.

When it came time for Superintendent Jeff Kleck to provide an update on the budget, all board members voiced concern about the lack of general awareness of budgetary processes and difficulties among Maricopa residents and school district staff.

Because of reductions in property tax revenue and state funding, the budget for the fiscal year starting July 1 will require $3 to $3.4 million in cuts, according to Kleck. That comes on top of $5 million in cuts made last fiscal year and in addition to an anticipated $2.5 to $3 million in cuts in the 2012-2013 fiscal year.

March 23 is the tentative date the new budget will be presented for initial review and it is expected to contain a number of lay offs of teachers.

Goddard suggested holding a town hall meeting to inform people of the dire state of the district budget. Board President Scott Bartle said any such meeting should be structured to solicit constructive opinions and suggestions, not just scare residents.

Board Member Patti Coutre suggested preliminary meetings be held at individual schools to raise awareness about the choices that are going to have to be made.

Bartle asked if Kleck had been consulting with principals and department heads as budgetary cuts are determined. Kleck said he has welcomed input from those staff members in discussion, as “everything is on a big white board that the Superintendent Advisory Committee has been looking at.”

Photo by Steven M. Thomas

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It’s time again to sharpen those number two pencils.  For Maricopa Unified elementary and middle schools, next week, April 11 – 15, the students will be taking their annual AIMS tests.

Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS) are the standardized tests used by the Arizona Department of Education to evaluate students, schools and entire districts. 

“We think we’re going to do good this year,” said Krista Roden, MUSD director of curriculum. “I think we’re going to show that Maricopa schools have been making positive strides and that we’re a great district.”

Advice and tips to parents have gone out from each school, as well as the district office. They include the following:
•     Make sure your child gets a good night’s sleep.
•     Make sure your child has taken all necessary medication.
•     Remind your child not to leave any questions blank and to take the time to read carefully before answering.
•     Encourage your child to remain quiet and respectful of others while they are testing.
•     Please avoid being late or absent and, just as importantly, avoid the morning “rushing around” to get ready. The district recommends that a child is calm and relaxed as the day starts. 
•     Maintain healthy eating habits. Make sure the children have breakfast, and perhaps avoid food and drink with high sugar contents.

“Kids are just like us,” said Maricopa Elementary School Principal Rachele Reese, “They can have sugar crashes, and it could affect them. We really want to lessen as many internal and physical anxieties as possible and what they are eating can affect their energy levels, their ability to focus, and their moods. We want those moods to be positive and we want that to carry over into confidence, because they’ve worked hard in preparation for this.”

The district also emphasizes encouragement to the students, “We want parents to back their children’s efforts like they have all year. It’s important to give them words of support to do their best—that you believe in them. We want them to be happy when they’re coming in and to relax after school.” said Dr. John Flores, principal of Santa Cruz Elementary.

For the district, Maricopa Elementary and Maricopa Wells Middle School are currently in “Corrective Action” status, as their past AIMS testing have resulted in low scores. If the schools pass the standards, they would be monitored for two years before that classification is removed and changed to “Adequate Yearly Performance.”

Superintendent Jeff Kleck pointed to the positive gains of the district and believes all the schools will do well, “Of course we want all our schools to be classified as AYP, but progress is being made, and I look for it to continue.”

There will not be any early dismissals for the school week that aren’t part of normal schedules. Schools will maintain regular start and finish times, early dismissal Wednesday and afternoon lesson plans will be limited.

“It will be up to individual teachers if there is homework for the students,” said Dr. Flores, “They might provide some reading assignments to help students with the tests, but generally parents should expect little to no homework.”

Those students who miss a day of testing will be given the opportunity to do make-ups on April 18 and 20. Kinder and first graders are excluded from testing. High school students have already taken their standardized tests and will have normal classes.

Any parent with concerns, questions, or needing additional guidance for their child should contact their school administration or teacher:

Desert Winds Middle School (Joe Veras, Principal) 520-568-7110
Maricopa Wells Middle School (Rick Abel, Principal) 520-568-7100
Santa Cruz Elementary (Dr. John Flores, Principal) 520-568-5170
Butterfield Elementary (Dr. Ember Conley, Principal) 520-568-6100
Maricopa Elementary (Rachele P. Reese, Principal) 520-568-5160
Pima Butte Elementary (Korrin Ledbetter, Principal) 520-568-7150
Saddleback Elementary (Felicia Williams, Principal) 520-568-6110
Santa Rosa Elementary (Danielle L. Record, Principal) 520-568-6152

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April 9 is the official start date for Maricopa’s Youth Soccer League. This year, 716 kids ages 4 to 16 are registered, making for 61 teams in total. The league is part of the City of Maricopa’s recreation program, and each participant paid $45 to enter. The registration fee also included uniforms.

The younger age groups will play their games on Saturday mornings, while the older teenage group will play under the Saturday evening lights.
“The times are split to prevent children playing through the hottest moments of the day, but parents and coaches are advised to come well stocked with water to prevent dehydration.” said Maria Billingsley, recreation coordinator.
Daily practices will be conducted in late evenings at Pacana Park. Everyone is invited to bring their lawn chairs to watch either practices or games.
League play will officially end June 4, with a trophy presentation and an “end of season party.” No other summer youth sports will be offered through the city until the fall, when flag football begins.
Next summer, according to Maria Billingsly, the city plans to add an indoor summer basketball program for the youth.

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Last Tuesday 144 applicants showed up at the local McDonald’s as part of McDonald’s National Hire Day. The company held a nationwide search to add 50,000 new employees, 1,000 from Arizona.

“We had a great turnout,” said Rikki Allenby, general manager for both the John Wayne Parkway and Wal-Mart locations. “It kept us going all day.”

Because there were so many applicants, Allenby conducted group interviews and has already begun to narrow down her selections from Tuesday. She will now schedule sit downs with the candidates for individualized interviews.

Of the 144, she will set her potential candidate list at 25.  Of that number, 15 people will be selected for employment. She plans to hire 10 for the John Wayne Parkway location and five for the Wal-Mart location. 

The individual interviews will likely be set up for early next week, and all positions will start off as part-time employment.

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If you are looking for a job, on Tuesday, April 19, put on your best shirt, comb your hair, and head over to McDonald’s. 

In a nationwide search McDonald’s will be looking to hire 50,000 more employees. Arizona intends to hire over a thousand new employees and on the same day, here in Maricopa—they will be having open interviews between 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the John Wayne Parkway location.

General manager for both the John Wayne Parkway and Wal-Mart locations, Rikki Allenby will be conducting the interviews. “Locally, we are looking to hire about 15 people initially for part-time positions. However, at McDonald’s it’s up to the individual how far they want to go. We always promote from within, and we don’t have people come from other restaurants and just take a position our employees have worked for.”

Allenby is one of those McDonald’s success stories that can verify those long term opportunities and benefits. She started at the age of 15 and has been working with the company for 25 years. At a time when most people have experienced job instability or have seen businesses close, McDonald’s has been able to withstand the economically challenging times throughout its 60 year history. Besides stability, McDonald’s has traditionally helped employees pursue their educational goals.

“The corporation offers employees a chance at scholarships, management training and really allows you to make your own path in terms of education and employment.” said Allenby.

McDonald’s is the only restaurant organization recognized by the American Council on Education (ACE) for their restaurant management curriculum that can be used as credits towards a degree.

“Also, what’s good—is that if you are a student, McDonald’s offers flexible hours.” said Allenby. “We always work with our employees to find a schedule that works around their curriculum.”

For the new positions Allenby will be looking for more individuals that are flexible with their schedules, noting that availability will be a major key to their employment possibilities. “I’ll really be looking for people that can work the late nights or the weekends.  But if they are open to working any shift, it will help their chances a great deal.”

Even though they do hire 15 year olds, Allenby is asking for individuals 16 and over. “Senior citizens and anyone that wants to work are welcomed to come in and apply. We do E-verify, and ,if a person has criminal history, they will not be disqualified from the process and it will not affect their chances of getting hired. I will be looking more at the potentials of each individual, their skills and their desire to work.”

People may walk in and fill out applications anytime. They may also submit them on-line. If they don’t have the opportunity prior to the 19th, they will still be able to walk in that day and fill one out. A greeter will ensure each interviewee has their application ready and will assist anyone who needs help filling it out prior to the interview with Allenby.

What: McDonald’s National Hire Day
Where: McDonald’s, 20700 North John Wayne Pkwy
When: Tuesday, April 19, 10 a.m. until 5 p.m.
To apply on-line go to: www.mcdonalds.com/us/en/careers.html

Photo by John Stapleton

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Maricopa commuters are beginning to wince in pain as the prices at the pump have begun to rise again. They seemed to have momentarily paused in the month of March, giving everyone a temporary sigh of relief, but the relief is officially over.

“It’s not going down,” said Vimal Patel, manager of the Shell station on John Wayne Parkway. “Expect it to go up ten cents a week, and I don’t know for how long.”

In Arizona, the average price is currently at $3.65 with one gas station in Williams being at $4.19. According to Lundberg, an independent market research company, July 2008 marked an all-time high with the national average being $4.11.

Right now the national average is at $3.80 and has a chance at breaking previous all-time highs. With that in mind, many are wondering how high the rates will be with summer around the corner. Summer energy bills in Maricopa run between $250 and $300 a month. With an increase in gasoline costs, the burden may force many to seek alternatives in both their living and transportation needs.

Lori Alvarado commutes back and forth from Tempe. Last summer she averaged an electric bill of $300 a month. Her gasoline costs were around $400-500, add car payment, insurance and those items alone exceed her monthly mortgage.

“As a citizen, I feel somehow ripped off every time I go to the pump as I remember when I bought the house and was sold on the future growth of Maricopa. I feel more for the kids though, because, when the weekend comes, they want to go out and do things, but sometimes we just simply can’t travel back into town because it costs too much. Nothing has changed since I moved here four years ago.”

Like others in Maricopa, can Alvarado find ways to save on her transportation costs to offset the summer electric bills and family entertainment? Carpooling is always a preferred means to cut down on fuel and vehicle maintenance costs, and sites like erideshare.com and social networks like Facebook can connect people who share daily commutes. 

However Alvarado can’t see herself being able to carpool, “I don’t think it’s realistic when you have children, have to drop them off at school and work somewhere where there’s heavy traffic. How can I depend on anyone, or how can anyone depend on me?” said Alvarado. “It’s seems like too much of a risk. It would be nice, but I wouldn’t want to be in a situation where I’m short on time and have to either accept being late or take the blame if something came up that was out my control.”

For local public transportation, the Comet is operational and, at a dollar a day, provides routing through-out the subdivisions and local stores, including Harrah’s Casino. The Comet Express or “The Max” travels into downtown Phoenix, and for both Comet and “The Max”, stops and routes can be found on the city’s website, www.Maricopa-az.gov. Currently, both services operate Monday through Friday. There are no plans as of yet to include a weekend service.

Come summertime, as the serious money crunch begins, there are the usual recommendations from Electrical District No. 3 in regard to cutting home energy costs. Ceiling fans, window shadings, in particular—exterior window shadings such as awnings and reflective film, can reduce heat entering the house.  Of course, you can also raise the thermostat level, making for some uncomfortable times.

Many residents find themselves playing “catch-up” with the bills during the gentle weather of Arizona’s spring season.  That’s especially true for those receiving some form of Social Security.

Alterra subdivision resident, Bryan Bergland, is currently on disability and has to receive regular specialized medical treatments in Phoenix. If he doesn’t make his scheduled appointments, he is at risk of losing his benefits altogether. Just like anyone else in similar circumstances, the benefits do not adjust to the increase as higher living costs are demanded.  Since he is unable to drive himself, he usually spends about $80 dollars round-trip in taxi service, or pays a friend to take him.

“In the first place, they really don’t even provide you enough to live on,” said Bergland, “I don’t know how I’m going to make it if it all continues, except I’m going to have to rely more on family and friends. I’m worried that everything I have to budget for—is instead going to be spent on this. An extra five and ten, here and there, can add up real fast. It’s not just with gas either, it affects all the prices for everything else.”

Chris Cook of 5-Star Express Shuttle said, “Competitively speaking, average rates into Phoenix could be higher with other companies.” He also adds, “However, I don’t want to be like others and push the rising costs off to my regulars. I’m sure if I had a larger vehicle with less efficiency, I’d have to, but I’m willing to take the hit myself because I can’t afford to lose customers.”

Other local business will have to wait and see how significantly they will be affected. Mercy Vasquez, owner of Tacos and More, said, “I don’t want to raise any prices on customers, but if the cost of transporting food goes up, we’ll have to try to stay afloat and that may mean an increase.”

Despite the hardship that Maricopa commuters face, Mitch Royer, with Desert Canyon Properties, remains optimistic about it and the continued growth of Maricopa. “Though gas prices are up right now and people may be more conscious about it, last month there was still a reduction of houses on the market here in Maricopa, and I see that that trend continuing. Gas prices are always going to go up and down no matter where you are at.”

“That may be true,” commented Alvarado, “But unlike other places where you’ve got long commutes to work, people don’t have to drive like we do on the weekends just to take the kids somewhere, and I really don’t want to even think about the summer.”   

“The drive” as many Maricopa residents know it, may be a difficult one for now, but, hopefully, there will be some relief before those thermostats have to be uncomfortably adjusted. 

Photo by John Stapleton

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“Enunciate, enunciate!” yelled Danielle Crosbie from the corner of the lecture hall at Maricopa High School. “I can’t hear you from here!”

Crosbie is the director of “A Tale of Two Cities,” which opens April 8 and is a production of Maricopa Community Theatre. The theatre group is on its third play since Producer Carrie Vargas put it together last year, and they are rehearsing the toughest of lines and making last minute “tweaks” before it goes live to the public.
“I’ll be tweaking it until 30 seconds before the curtain rises,” said Crosbie. “As the performances become more alive, I keep making adjustments and trying different things so that the story comes across better. Especially in these times when revolution is happening all around us, I want people to see the historical connection.”
The play, adapted by Laura Eason from the classic Charles Dickens’ novel, is set in the time of French Revolution and revolves around the characters Charles Darnay, his wife Lucie and Sydney Carlton. Like other Dickens stories, it brings to life the injustices of the world, and the possibility of human redemption.
For this production, there are nine players and 20 “monkeys.” The monkeys are the production crew that will be working diligently behind the scenes, helping with wardrobe and props. The term is said with both appreciation and humor, except when Crosbie is shouting at them to move faster.
Like everyone involved in the play, Crosbie is doing this out of love for art. During the day, she teaches history, art, art history, psychology and sociology at Maricopa High School. Her thorough knowledge of the historical era and her experience in theater made her “the right director for this play because she is the queen of historical context,” said Vargas.
In other productions, Vargas wore the director’s hat as she also has 12 years of experience teaching high school drama. This time around, she is focusing on the art direction, and continuously working on getting the community theater group officially licensed as a non-profit group so that it can receive grants and endowments.
She’s hoping that will happen soon. Once it does, she believes there will be more elaborate productions as the group will be able to receive donations—particularly from local business owners who will benefit as well.
“I fully believe there is an economical chain reaction with community theater,” Vargas said. “When people go see a play or movie, they usually go have dinner too, or maybe they go for drinks, or go to the yogurt shop afterwards. Plus, when people are leaving town to go do things, it means the businesses are losing money too. It works for everyone. People have a good time and it all goes back into the community.”
Vargas has been keeping a close eye on the building of the new performing arts center at the high school. She is already planning the fall production and expects to be performing there. The lecture hall is very limited in size and doesn’t provide the best atmosphere for producing plays, making for some creative accommodations.
“The kind of space makes us really emphasize the acting aspect,” said Crosbie.
“Because we are operating on very little money, every aspect of production challenges us,” Vargas added. “We are loaned props and costumes and all the money we make on this goes into the next one.”
Vargas thanked the City of Maricopa Community Services Department for its partnership, along with the businesses that sponsored the play: Creative Occasions, e-Maricopa and Home is Where the Hound Is. 
“We are trying to keep art alive!” said Crosbie. “It’s more important than people realize. When you look back at the great civilizations, they are represented through their art and we can’t let that past go.”
Ticket prices are $10 per person and there will be 7 p.m. showings on April 8, 14 and the 15. There will be 2 p.m. showings on April 9 and 16. Tickets can be purchased at the door or at www.brownpapertickets.com/event/167318.
To find out more about Maricopa Community Theatre visit: www.maricopacommunitytheatre.com.

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“Summer, summer, summertime – time to sit back and unwind,” rapped Will Smith in his smash hit from 1991. We aren’t there yet, but the temperatures are starting to act like it. Maricopa topped 100 on Friday, and everyone is beginning to jump into their pools.

However, those without a backyard pool are going to have to wait almost two months to take a dip in the community pool on the official opening day of May 28.
“We’re still getting our funding together and finalizing a contract for a pool manager who will overlook all the activities we are coordinating with the city of Maricopa Parks and Recreation,” said Rotary Club President Cecilia Ashe. The Rotary Club has owned and maintained the Olympic-sized pool since the mid-50’s.   
Some of the planned summer activities include water aerobics, senior water aerobics, swimming lessons, beginning diving, technical endurance training and a program for special needs children.
With the city, the Rotary Club is also looking into the possibility of night swimming events. “We would really like to incorporate more of them,” Ashe said. “But with limited funds, lighting is our biggest obstacle. It’s definitely something we wish we had.”
Ashe is also keeping her fingers crossed in regard to several city grants that have been applied for to help with regular maintenance. In the meantime, the pool is waiting on the finalization of its budget  to determine daily rates and pass packages for individuals and families that use the pool.
“With the temperatures like this,” started Ashe, “We wish we could open right away!”
So for now, it looks like people will have to find a friend with a pool or “sit back and unwind” somewhere with a good air-conditioner.
For the City of Maricopa’s summer guide including scheduled pool activities and classes, go to: http://www.maricopa-az.gov/vns/index.php/government/community-services/activity-guide

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Maricopa resident Tara Clark has been selected out of 19,000 contestants as one of eight finalists to win “Macy’s Million Dollar Makeover with Clinton Kelly.”  

Clinton Kelly, co-host of TLC’s “What Not to Wear” and a stylist for Macy’s, launched the contest back in December through Facebook. It gives participants an opportunity to receive a $1 million prize package of products, services and cash to transform their life.

“I was bored one night, just going through Facebook, came across it, and on a whim, decided to enter,” said Clark, “I really didn’t think anything was going to happen.”
 
Clark was laid off from Verizon Wireless in 2009. Shortly thereafter, she went through a divorce, and is now a single mother of four, with her house in foreclosure, and no vehicle to get around. She’s been reliant on family and friends to give her rides to the store, or to go out in search of a job. With the job market still struggling to recover, Tara has attempted to generate her own means of income by creating her own business as an event planner.
 
“I had been kind of doing this for years, but I’ve never been able to get it off the ground. With all that happened to me before this, I was doing some soul searching and really looking for a way to make everything happen. In these times, I think my story is something that many people can relate to, and I think that’s why they chose me to a part of this exciting experience. I’m still saying ‘oh, my gosh, I can’t believe it!’”  
 
Clark remembers the moment she received the news: “I had to close my bedroom door and I started jumping up and down screaming. I had to go along with the confidentially agreement and I couldn’t tell anyone for three weeks. It was the most agonizing secret I ever had to keep!”
 
Clark has already met with Kelly in New York, where she received a complete make-over with a new wardrobe to help give her the look of a professional event planner. Since then, cameras have been following her constantly, as Facebook users have been allowed to track her and get an inside look into her life. 
 
“It’s been a little difficult for my boys to adjust to this, but they’re excited too,” Clark said. “They know how much it will mean.”
 
Right now, the contest is in the hands of Facebook users, who will decide who makes the top 4. Voting ends tonight, and the top 4 will be announced on Facebook April 4th.  More videos of the semi-finalists will be posted, and Facebook users will vote again to decide who will be in the finals.
 
“It really would transform my life,” said Clark. “I can save my home, buy a vehicle and get my business going for the long run. It would be a dream come true.”
 
 
To vote for her, go to www.facebook.com/macys

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Arizona has joined Wisconsin and other states in the struggle over public employee pensions. The State Senate recently passed a bill to reduce some pension benefits for public employees and require higher contribution levels. 

SB 1609 would stop the “double dipping” of retirees who return work, collecting both paycheck and pension. It would also increase contributions of employees from 7.65 percent of their pay to 11.65 percent. New hires would eventually be paying 13.65 percent into the pension fund. 

Pushing back age requirements for retirement is another major component of the Senate bill, as it would set a new minimum age or number of years worked before an employee can receive benefits. The bill would require employees to work 25 years to achieve “normal” retirement.

The House is considering a similar bill, Speaker Kirk Adam’s version of Pension Reform, HB2726. Both bills would apply to four statewide programs: the Arizona State Retirement System, Corrections Officer Retirement Plan, Elected Officials’ Retirement Plan and Public Safety Personnel Retirement System, which have a total membership of 360,000 employees and retirees.

Arizona hasn’t been alone in its attempts to cut pension benefits. Legislators and union organizations across the nation have been debating the matter, with Wisconsin being the most notable with its Republican, “Budget Repair Bill”, that takes away public employees rights to collectively bargain. Even in neighboring California, a Democratic governor is facing the realities of reform. According to California’s Little Hoover Commission, an independent fiscal committee, the combined funding of pension liabilities for the top 10 benefits systems in the state came up $240 billion short in 2010.

State Senator Steve Smith (R-Maricopa) commented on the reform efforts in Arizona, “Everyone was brought to the table on this. We worked with cops, firefighters, and everyone affected – I don’t see this as a Republican or Democrat issue. It’s not perfect but I think it’s a fair compromise.”

Roman Ulman, Executive Director for Arizona’s AFSCME (American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees) confirms that everyone has been working together and doesn’t see this as a Republican vs. Democrat issue either, but states, “I see it in the bigger picture as big business vs. working American. Both parties will have constituents that will be hurt. However, if we look at the two bills, I think the Senate version is something we can live with. I think the House version is using a meat cleaver to address this, rather than a scalpel.”

According to statements published on their websites, both the Fraternal Order of Police, which represents more than 6,000 police in Arizona, and the Arizona Highway Patrol Association oppose the Senate bill.

According to the FOP, "SB 1609 is a pay cut for every police officer and fire fighter in the state. By spiking our contribution rates, the Legislature is taking money out of our pockets … again. The average public safety salary in Arizona is about $39,000 per year. We can't afford to keep losing the pay and benefits we were promised . . . SB1609 is a bad bill."

In addition to the Senate proposals, the House Bill most notably includes eliminating the Deferred Retirement Option Plan, or DROP, by January 2012 for those not already in the program. DROP provides police officers and firefighters who defer retirement large six-figure, lump-sum payouts when they finally begin collecting their pensions. The House Bill would also end cost-of-living adjustments beginning this summer, however, current ASRS retirees have not had received adjustments in five years.

SB1609 passed in committee with 21 votes out of a possible 30. Smith expects a version of the bill to be passed through for the Governor’s signature. “As it stands, without this, people may not receive their benefits. Right now, in Arizona, the system is functioning with 65 percent fundability. We have to preserve the system or there’s not going to be anything left.”

Ulman has a different view, “It’s the banks and the mortgage crisis that has caused this problem. As the market recovers, so will these pension and investment funds. It’s a matter of time and there shouldn’t be a ‘hacking’ reaction as these systems were set-up for the long term, but we are willing to make adjustments to balance the budget.”

House spokesman Paul Boyer said SB1609 could make its way to the floor early next week.

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Elsia Kelly, Grace Gomez and Gwen Traylor point to different areas of the Pacana Park soccer field as they go over the last minute details for Friday night’s Relay for Life, an American Cancer Society event that has so far rasied more than $45,000 to fight the disease. It’s a first-time event for the city of Maricopa.
“This field isn’t going to be just any field,” said a smiling Grace Gomez, co-chair for the event. “It’s going to become a Field of Dreams.”
Elsia Kelly, Team Development co-chair, puts her arm around Gomez and gently squeezes, sharing the sentiments. It’s been a long journey in many ways for the three women, each of whom has lost someone special to cancer. Together, they have been working on the event since Grace and Gwen Traylor, the other co-chair, met a year ago.
Traylor, who recently lost her sister to cancer and herself is a surviving “warrior” going on 14 years, holds back tears as she reflects upon her sister and how “the dream” of defeating cancer inspires her every day. “It only pushes me more. You know, cancer isn’t prejudiced; young or old, rich or poor, it doesn’t matter – my sister would have wanted me to keep fighting.”
Their common dream is finally here. With the Relay just a day away, the ladies, along with other event volunteers, have stepped up their efforts, working around the clock and meeting with community members and businesses that keep signing on.
“For a first time Relay, we had a goal of 25 teams” said Traylor. “Not only did we reach our goal, but we doubled it! We’re really excited and still want as many people as we can get to come out and be a part of this.”
Kelly enthusiastically agreed: “We have over 400 hundred people participating in the relay, and that’s not including people and businesses that will be around supporting the walkers. That really says something about this community.”
Gomez added, “The mayor is the Honorary Chair and has really been supportive from the beginning. This is personal for him. And many other public officials and businesses have been stepping up to help.”
Other elected officials participating include Pinal County Supervisor David Snider and city council members Marqisha Griffen and Julia Gusse.
Businesses involved include Auto-Zone, Water and Ice, H&N Landscaping, MKH20 and many others. Harrah’s Ak-Chin Casino Resort not only provided relay teams but generously sponsored the Heroes, Survivors and Caregivers banquet at the casino. Traylor credits Tanya Alverado, Harrah’s Sponsorship Chairwoman, for all the efforts and support.
The Relay will begin Friday, March 25, at 6 p.m. Relay teams will walk continuously through the night, and finish at 6 a.m. A variety of entertainment will go on through midnight, including music and dancing. 
“We’ve been running around, still putting things together but I wouldn’t have it any other way, said Traylor. 
As the co-chairs left the field, Traylor stopped and reached into her handbag, which is like a portable office, overflowing with paperwork and files. She pulled out the official shirt that all the participants will be provided. “This one is going to be saved for my sister. She’ll still be walking with me that night.”
For more information visit: www.RelayForLifeMaricopa.com.

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Sixty teachers. Six library aides. Four custodians. In all, 74 district employees were issued notices that they were part of a Reduction in Force instituted in an effort to balance a budget that is expected to require $3 million to $3.5 million in cuts. Superintendent Jeff Kleck wasted no time at Wednesday night’s board meeting thoroughly explaining where the other cuts could be coming from and outlining the realities that the school district will be facing over the next couple of years.
“Last year, anybody that helped worked on this budget knew, we were near apocalyptic – well, we are here now. The override that didn’t pass has become . . .” Before completing his statement, Kleck paused and looked around at a chamber full of parents, teachers and legislators. “The voters spoke, and this is what we are faced with. The numbers are what they are.”
Eleven teachers at Butterfield Elementary; 10 teachers at Maricopa Elementary; 9 teachers at Maricopa Wells; 4 teachers at Saddleback; 6 teachers at Santa Cruz; 10 teachers at Santa Rosa. With those types of numbers, for some of the schools, only half of the teaching staff will remain, and the class sizes will generally increase to 28 to 32 children per teacher.
These drastic personnel cuts have led some to believe a merger of elementary schools is a possibility. The superintendent reflected that option in his presentation and expressed his objections to redistricting. “It would be an exercise in lunacy to try it,” Kleck said. “The schools would still have to be maintained.”
Kleck was immediately challenged as board members didn’t think enough options had been presented, but he stood firm, warning, “We are being careful of what we are eliminating, by cutting out things like sports and buses, people start fleeing to other districts.”
Kleck also noted that, by losing students, the district also loses money. He pointed specifically to the elementary schools that have lost more than 300 students. The high school however, gained in student population, which led to another line of questioning, as to why the high school and Pima Butte didn’t receive any RIFs for their teachers.
“I find it hard to believe all the teachers at the high school passed their evaluations,” said Board Member Geoff Goddard. Kleck admitted a different evaluation was used for the high school, and that the high school was still being affected with cuts in security and custodians.
Kleck repeatedly went through the evaluation process used at the elementary and middle schools, saying that several criteria were used to make the decisions, including certifications, academic training, previous disciplinary action and overall experience. He also emphasized that “the RIFs were not to be taken as an inadequacy in performance” and that evaluations on the border of pass or fail were often reviewed multiple times by different people.” He expressed his empathy and talked about how gut-wrenching the process has been for all the administrators involved.
Many teachers and parents spoke out, often with tears in their eyes. Amy Hogenes, a teacher at Santa Rosa who received a RIF notice, was repeatedly defended by peers, students, parents and her own father, who was unable to hide his emotions as he reflected on his daughter’s love for teaching. He described her at the age of 6, sitting down her 3-year-old brother and “having class.” Hogenes, who holds a master’s degree, was MUSD’s Certified Employee of the Year in 2006.
Zack Irvine, the Drama Club teacher at Maricopa Wells also received a RIF notice. He questioned the process by which he and others were evaluated, and stressed the importance of the arts on a student’s education.
Parents and students also approached the board in defense of Irvine, including Helen Ramirez. She spoke with tears about the effect Irvine has had on her daughter Olivia, and talked about how “a shy little girl was given a gift to speak out loud.” Ramirez, accompanied by several drama club students, including her daughter, talked about how the families and kids pulled together on the weekends, building sets and making props, and about all the fundraising efforts for the drama club. She thought it would be devastating to remove Irvine and the program.  
Time and time again, the process that determined the RIFs was questioned, especially with Pima Butte and the high school appearing to come out unscathed. Board members pressed Kleck further with Goddard suggesting that “the evaluation process was flawed,” and questioned whether a teacher was actually being judged by overall performance.
He also voiced concern with security cuts at the high school – a sentiment shared earlier in the night by Mark Perkins, a security guard at the high school, who stood before the board warning, “What kind of message will be sent to the parents when they see cops sitting in front of the school? Right now there is no relief for security and sooner or later, something is going to happen that the police can’t stop.”
Board Member Torri Anderson also spoke of the evaluation process, “I don’t see the equality in the distributed RIFs—Butterfield, 11, Pima Butte, 1?”
Board Member Patti Coutre said, “For me, it certainly raises a red flag.”
President Scott Bartle took a moment to remind everyone that, “MUSD is not alone. This is happening everywhere. What we have here is intellectual capital in our people, this is the time in which we have to change the way we educate, and to empower our principals and teachers.”
He also thanked everyone for their heartfelt responses and said the Board would take them into consideration moving forward. He also thanked State Representative Frank Pratt for his attendance. Of the meeting, Representative Pratt said he would take the community’s concerns to the capital, “When looking at a budget, it’s not just numbers – you realize the implications when you put a face and personality to it.”
 

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“It’s changing the way I do business,” Jennifer Ives said of her new IPhone. “When I’m out on the road, I can instantly check my e-mails, documents, text messages, but I don’t text until I stop at a red light. A red light gives me enough time to answer simple questions from clients who would otherwise have to wait for an answer.”

Ives, a real estate agent and Maricopa homeowner, may have to return to old ways of communicating with clients in the near future. Last Wednesday, the Arizona State Senate approved SB 1538, a bill that would ban text messaging while driving, including texting at a red light. The bill has moved to the House of Representatives.

The proposed law stipulates: “A person may not use a handheld wireless communication device to manually write, send, or read a written message while operating a motor vehicle.”

However, the bill does allow several exceptions, including allowances for drivers to use their phone to read and dial numbers and texting while stopped in a traffic jam. It also doesn’t prohibit handheld phone use, a law that California and other states have on the books, requiring drivers to use an earpiece. If the legislation becomes law, the penalty for texting and driving will be a $50 non-moving traffic fine, while the penalty for being in an accident due to texting will be $200.

State Senator Steve Smith (R-District 23), doesn’t think the law could be enforced. “How does an officer distinguish between punching in a number or texting? I think we have enough laws on the books right now and I’d like to see the police take a firmer stand on distracted drivers.”

The Highway Loss and Data Institute, which has been closely monitoring the statistical impacts of similar laws in other states, also questions their effectiveness.

HLDI President Adrian Law said, “The laws aren’t reducing crashes, even though we know that such laws have reduced hand-held phone use, and several studies have established that phoning while driving increases crash risk. These findings don’t match what we already know about the risk of phoning and texting while driving. If crash risk increases with phone use and fewer drivers use phones where it’s illegal to do so, we would expect to see a decrease in crashes. But we aren’t seeing it. We’re currently gathering data to figure out this mismatch.”

According to city of Maricopa Public Information Officer Latricia Woods, the city doesn’t have any statistical data regarding accidents caused by texting, as they would be classified as “inattentive related accidents,” a classification that covers a wide range of circumstances. The city also doesn’t comment on any pending state legislation, but Woods said, “it would be our job to enforce” the law if it passes.

In Arizona, Phoenix is the only city that restricts drivers from texting, but there have been only a handful of citations issued since the law went into effect in October. If the state bill is signed into law this session, it will take effect in Jan. 2012.

“I wouldn’t have problem with it,” Ives said. “My only concern is, where they draw the line? Women are putting on their make-up, people are eating — to me, it’s all the same, no matter what the activity — people have to be responsible when they drive.”

Prior attempts to pass the texting-while-driving ban have failed. House Communications Spokesman Paul Boyer said many legislators agree with Smith that existing laws dealing with distracted driving are sufficient. 

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The lawn chairs and sun umbrellas were broken out on a breezy Saturday afternoon at Pacana Park for the City of Maricopa’s Seventh Annual Fishing Derby. One hundred and sixty of Maricopa’s most prolific junior anglers, ages 5-12, participated in the event, sponsored by Fry’s Marketplace, Chitwood Feed and Hardware, and Lance Lane Insurance.

 
Brenda Campbell, special events coordinator for the city, said that in preparation for the derby, the pond was stocked last week with 100 pounds of Blue Gill and 250 pounds of Catfish, with many of them being over a foot long.
 
Local resident, Joe Sitko came out with his grandson, 5-year-old Bryson Kissling and commented on the event, “I’ve lived here for five years and this is the first time for us. Something like this really brings the community together. When you work out of town, the last thing you want to do on your time off is travel back into Phoenix or Casa Grande for something to do, so this is pretty cool.”
 
To ensure fair competition, Fry’s Marketplace provided complimentary fishing rods, Chitwood Feed and Hardware provided plenty of slimy night-crawlers, and Lance Lane Insurance handed out the water. A loud round of applause was given to the sponsors for their contributions.
 
The Derby was an intense 90-minute total-count competition, which meant the kids tallied their catches and released them back into pond. Winners of the event were separated by age. In the 5- 6-year-old group, Estrella Sanchez caught a whopping 24 fish. Kieren (Mark) Smith was the winning fisherman in the 7- 8-year-old group, hauling in 19. Breelyn Ralston dominated not just her group, the 9- and 10-year-olds, but the entire derby, catching an impressive 29 fish. In the 11- 12-year-old division, there was a three-way tie between Kylie Hickman, Hunter Lintz and Sean Smith, each of whom brought in a total of seven.
 
“It’s been a great event – we achieved our goal, and everyone had a nice time,” said Campbell. “The weather really cooperated, and we had great sponsors.”
 
After the contest, everyone attending was treated to hot dogs, brats, cookies and chips provided by Fry’s Marketplace. Judging by the smiles on everyone’s face, it was indeed a special and memorable day for all those involved. 
 
Photos by Shannon Williams

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Debt, debt, and more debt – that’s about all that’s talked about when it comes to political discussions. Nationally and locally, people are making their voices heard, that any government spending better be for absolute causes.

I think the debate is fine to have on the state and national level. Raise taxes or cut programs. But in Maricopa we should resist getting caught up in a mentality of pinching every penny regardless of the outcome.

Unlike most cities, Maricopa is in a unique stage of its existence. To compare our budget problems to the national discussion is a bit short sighted as Maricopa must keep investing in order to draw both residents and businesses to the area. Is it a gamble? Sure, but if you are tired of walking outside and seeing foreclosure signs everywhere, then you have to consider what would make people want to live here. 

Certainly, a casino down the road provides some adult entertainment, but imagine someone driving into the Tortosa subdivision for the first time – they would immediately realize the area lacks any stores, gas stations or quick places to eat. Tough place to live if you run out of toilet paper.

Investing is all about imagining the future. There has to be a perception that there will be growth. Maricopa at this point has to decide if it’s going to be a glorified truck stop or a legitimate city that can attract residents looking for more affordable living. Everywhere you look there are parcels of land full of weeds, just ready to be graded out and begging to be developed.

Maybe a city government shouldn’t be in the business development game, but it can definitely work to be more receptive to it. It can begin construction on its own, investing in new civil buildings and continue its work on the roads. People have to realize building creates a domino effect and does stimulate an economy. 

A carpenter has to buy nails and lumber, an electrician has to buy conduit from one store and decorative lighting from another. The supply stores have to maintain stock and keep up appearances, and the busier a store is, the more employees are needed. Even the guy stocking the vending machines has to get a delivery driver to drop off more soda, and the delivery guy needs a mechanic to regularly service his truck.

Both the delivery guy and the mechanic then have to use a laundry service for their uniforms, and someone that sees the need will astutely set up shop. The chain will continue and loop back around to the taxpayers, who will benefit from the newly-generated tax revenues as that money gets put back into existing infrastructure upkeep, stability for all civic jobs, and a way to pay back that investment loan.  

Unlike most cities, Maricopa is like a teenager going through puberty, experiencing awkward identity problems and growing pains. It can’t look at itself as a city that needs to cut back; otherwise it’s going to hinder the anticipated expansion and the foreclosure signs will continue to be posted.

It has to remain attractive, bold, and – most importantly – exciting. People driving in looking for houses have to feel the vibrancy and be assured any investment they make is really going to pay off. Investing takes vision and people have to ask what they want this city to be.

I think everyone notices there is a lot of work to still be done. It would be wise to not get caught up in a national or statewide debate about cutting every possible penny of government spending and stay focused on doing what is right for Maricopa.

John Stapleton is a Tortosa resident.

InMaricopa.com encourages readers to submit their thoughts and opinions on issues and events affecting Maricopa, Pinal County and Arizona. Please send 400 words or less to news@inmaricopa.com. Include your full name, phone number and e-mail address along with any attribution you want included. If you have a good headshot of yourself, please send that too, attached as a JPG file. Letters and opinion pieces may be edited for length.
 

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Wednesday night at 6 p.m. the MUSD governing board will hold its regularly scheduled meeting at the district office.

Superintendent Jeff Kleck will review the history and purpose of the Ak-Chin Grant, and Suzette Moe will discuss the federal mandate to raise school lunch prices.

The board will be asked to approve donations that range from athletic t-shirts for the softball team to computers for Maricopa Wells Elementary, a donation valued at $3,000. They will also vote on travel for both students and administrators. Five students from Maricopa High School were selected to attend the HOSA (Health Occupations Students of America) National Competition in Anaheim, Calif., with expenses paid for by the Central Arizona Valley Institute of Technology.

For administrators, two separate trips, one to Anaheim, another to Las Vegas, are both part of Grant Writing USA grant management classes and will be paid for by the Perkin’s Basic Grant with a combined estimated expense of $15,000.

The 2011-2012 salary schedules will be up for approval, as will personnel schedules which include resignations, terminations and new position requests along with any employment ratifications.

Discussion topics will include possible dating abuse policies within the health curriculum. A public meeting is required by law to define dating abuse and its warning signs while describing the characteristics of healthy relationships.

Board members will look at possible budget reductions. They will also discuss and vote on the services of a marketing and public relations firm. The services will be intended to prevent a loss in student population, to fight negative public perceptions of the district and to improve its messaging about goals and achievements.

To see the complete agenda for this meeting, click here.

If you go:
What:  MUSD governing board meeting
When:  Wednesday, April 27,, 6 p.m.
Where: District Office Administration Building Board Room, 44150 W. Maricopa-Casa Grande Hwy. 
 
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The Fox 10 News Whirlybird with weatherman Cory McCloskey dropped in on Maricopa Elementary Wednesday morning to visit and reward the achievements and progress of the school. For the first time in the school’s five-year history, all grade levels passed the state benchmarks for reading and math.

“Of course, all the students were in a commotion,” said Principal Rachele Reese of the Whirlybird visit, “but they behaved really well and our Diamondback spirit of success really shined.”
Reese started the school year as assistant principal and a month in was offered the head position. From there, it’s been her mission to change the culture and environment of the school.
“People had been looking at the school and the kids like they didn’t have a chance. I didn’t believe that for one minute. If these kids are in anyway disadvantaged, it only means we have to work harder to provide them that opportunity to reach their goals.”
Reese credits the PTO and her faculty and administrators who are committed to the program of “Character Counts” and its six pillars for success. Students are taught trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship.  
Each day, students who have demonstrated one of the six pillars are acknowledged in the morning before the Pledge of Allegiance and are given wristbands symbolically colored to show the trait they have displayed. Rewards are promised to the students when they reach their goals, and the Whirlybird visit was one of those rewards. Resse has also promised a 15-minute extended recess, popcorn and other treats in return for high achievement.
“It was good,” said Jayden O’Connell, a 2nd grader who was interviewed by McCloskey, “I got behind my friend at first because there was all kinds of wind and dust everywhere.”
Elizabeth Barton, Jayden’s mother, commented on the turnaround of the school and the Whirlybird: “In one year, it really has changed and what happened today was… crazy! Everyone seems to be really involved now, having bake sales, coming to the assemblies and taking part in whatever is happening. ”
As an example of positive change at the school, Principal Reese pointed out a chart posted on the door of Ms. Vasquez’s class that showed student reading speed increasing dramatically from 47 words per minute at the beginning of the year to 121 words per minute this month.
“It’s important as kids and parents walk the halls and sit in class that they are reminded of the success and where we want to go.” said Reese, “Give us a few more years and we’ll be the best school in the district and there’ll be plenty of more rewards to come.”
See a video of the visit here: http://www.myfoxphoenix.com/dpp/more_azam/hilites/Maricopa-Elementary-School-03302011

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Tanya Graysmark, who has operated Graysmark Academy for preschoolers and kinder-garteners since 2006, is opening a charter school in Maricopa with a unique curriculum grounded in the town’s past.

Holsteiner Agricultural School, slated to open in the fall, is enrolling K-6 students whose curriculum will be intertwined with farming and raising stock, a focus Graysmark believes will appeal to children and help them learn. “Incorporating a strong, agricultural-based science program to our student’s education can inspire and win a student’s heart and mind,” she says. “The City of Maricopa is distinctively qualified for this because of its historic farming community. We plan on using our local assets like Shamrock and Dugan Farms.”
Graysmark is still coordinating with the local farms to come up with specific activities, field trips and presenters that will be visiting the school, but come fall, a schedule will likely be in place. The school will also allow individual teachers to use their professional creativity for lesson plans that revolve around agriculture. Graysmark explains the benefits: “Rather than a teacher pointing to a picture of a plant and having the student read how plants grow, we’ll have a year-round garden. The kids will grow it themselves, care for it themselves, and they’ll understand how to make it happen with a more hands-on experience. This type of hands-on theme will put a responsibility on the students that they won’t receive at another school.”
For parent Candace Velazco, the new school is a blessing. Both her daughter, Alexis, 9 and her son, John, 8, were Graysmark Academy students and will be attending Holsteiner. “The Graysmark team has been wonderful. They are like family to my two children. My son is autistic and I look forward to having my children back under their care.”
Charter schools give administrators and educators more flexibility and opportunities to utilize their own methods of teaching than their colleagues have in public schools and with that, accountability is placed on the school rather than on a district. Charter schools still have to perform and adhere to state and federal standards like the public schools. 
Enrollment for Holstein is open to from March 21 until May 9, or until classes are full. Class sizes will range from 10-12 students. The school believes this is an optimum number of students per instructor, and increases the student’s ability to work within a group setting.   
For more information and registration details, visit Graysmark Academy in the Maricopa Business Center at 44400 West Honeycutt Rd. #105 or go to www.holsteinerschools.com.

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F.O.R. Maricopa’s 3rd annual Golf Tournament is coming May 7 to the Ak-Chin Southern Dunes golf course.

The tournament is a charity event to raise money for the organization that helps community members struggling through tough economic times. F.O.R., which stands for food, opportunities and resources, has been helping the Maricopa community since 2006.

This year’s goal is to help raise money for a bigger food bank.

“We want to better serve the continually growing needs of those in the Maricopa area. Some of the funds will also go toward helping the food bank make it through the summer months when the needs are often high, but, unfortunately, that’s also when donations tend to drop off.” said Wendy Webb, F.O.R. executive director.

F.O.R. operates with about 30-40 regular volunteers, and 100 that come and go. The organization is also involved in donating school supplies to MUSD, support to the New Life Pregnancy Center, assistance to the Eloy, First Baptist and Casa Grande food banks , and ,for the holidays, they help families with food boxes that include turkeys or hams. They also have a Christmas Carnival where they distribute gifts to over 1,000 children from all over the Pinal county area.

“My wife and I have always supported F.O.R. Maricopa since the beginning and have already registered for this year’s golf tournament” said Mayor Anthony Smith. “Wendy Webb is a very dedicated director, and, with her volunteers, they do an incredible job for the community. It’s very important what they are doing.”

For the golf event, Tickets are a $100 dollars each and went on sale, April 4, but there are incentives this year to sign up early and get other players involved. For those that get 10 others to join in on the event, a free ticket will be available. Registrants will also receive a raffle ticket for a one-week  time share stay. First responders, like firemen and police officers or sheriff’s deputies will be given a 10 percent discount.

Last year there were 24 teams with four members each, who raised over $20,000. Each ticket holder automatically gets entered into the raffle. 

“There are always prizes awarded,” said Webb. “Trips to Las Vegas, golf clubs and other great prizes have highlighted past events, but this year may top them all. California Pools is donating a trip to Hawaii while Freeway Chevrolet is the sponsor for this year’s hole-in-one car.”

Brian Banks, a manager for Freeway Chevrolet commented on their participation, “For us, it was a no brainer. This is our first time partnering up with F.O.R. Maricopa, and we liked what we saw from the organization.  They do a lot of good work. A lot of people from the area come to Freeway Chevrolet, and we really wanted to give back and give our support to the city of Maricopa as much as we can. We’re excited to be a part of it, and look forward to the event.”

To donate, volunteer, sponsors or enter the tournament go to www.formaricopa.org.

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First steps are always the most important. Saturday morning at the MUSD district office building, the district opened its doors to approximately 60 staff and parents who wanted to help take the first steps to rebuild the district’s image, to retain its student population and to figure out what is needed to bring back students who have left for charter schools or other districts.

In large part due to negative misperceptions that MUSD is a failing school district, and with recent budget cuts contributing to that, the district realizes it has to do something to ease parents’ fears about the future, while underscoring the district’s current success and achievement.

“Either we sit down and do nothing, or we go forward—and this is where we start,” said Superintendent Jeff Kleck.

Kleck began the informal and open dialogue as he talked about a conversation he had with his neighbor who was unaware of Kleck’s position. “He told me he heard the high school had a bunch of dropouts. ‘I said really? Where did you hear that from?’”

Kleck went on to humorously, yet poignantly, explain how “word of mouth” and “miscommunication of the truth” is hurting the district. With students leaving for other districts or to charter schools, the district loses more funding which, in part, has resulted in cuts to programs and layoffs.

“The truth is—we could hit an 80 percent graduation rate. The national and state average is at 70. Yet no one talks about that,” Kleck said. “Communication is important and requires two things—one a sender and one a listener. We have to do both.  But today is all about listening.”

It was also about brainstorming. MUSD Human Resources Director Tom Beckett laid out the ground rules: “not to trash charter schools, or to berate the Kyrene and Tempe schools that are taking students from Maricopa.” He also made it clear the discussions were not to be a blame game directed at legislators or community members.

Beckett put forth the district’s objectives in positively communicating a strong educational choice for families, how to dispel bad information and how to validate the good work being done. Statistical information presented showed district students performing at the same levels as their peers, and in writing they are excelling.  

Attendees were split up into three groups, elementary, middle school and high school, to honestly discuss parents’ complaints, failures to communicate achievements and ways to improve that communication.

Also discussed were better ways to bring the parents into the overall conversation and how to bring the schools together, so that their “united and committed spirit to achieve” is woven within the culture of the city.

The ideas were written down by members of the Student Recruitment and Retention Committee that will be regularly meeting to discuss all the proposals that ranged from chili cook-offs to parades and participation in town events to an initiative for a “kindness program.”

Maricopa Elementary Principal Rachele Reese proposed the kindness program. “Something like this would have the kids become actively involved in their community, and, in return, the community, in each neighborhood, would realize how important it is to be involved with what the children of our schools are doing,” she explained.

Joe Veres, Desert Wind Middle School principal and a committee member, commented on the town hall. “I thought today’s support was outstanding, a lot of good dialogue. I think MUSD is going to show how tenacious it will be in fighting those misperceptions. Right now, the negative is overtaking the positive. There’s a lot of hard work going on, and they’re still going to be committed to being the best district in the state.”

Former school board member, Tracy Davis, attended as “just a concerned parent.”  She said, “We’ve come out on the short end of the economy. We’ve been hit hard, and our overrides have not passed. However, as a community, we still need to rally behind our kids and schools, find ways to give them the support they need. It doesn’t help to tear each other down, and, more than ever, what we need to do, as parents, is to get involved, volunteer, because as community we’re in this together.”  

Beckett also thought the meeting was a success, “a good first step,” and talked about the next one. “If everyone brings just one person with them, it will have that ripple effect. That’s how it all begins.” 

Photo by John Stapleton