MUSD Superintendent Steve Chestnut talks to parents about the district's letter grade Wednesday morning. Another parent meeting is scheduled for tonight. Photo by Michelle Chance

A week after the public learned the results of the state’s new letter grade system and the subsequent A-F labeling of local schools, a small group of parents met to hear from their children’s district on the issue.

Steve Chestnut, superintendent of Maricopa Unified School District, spoke to parents Monday morning at the district administration building.

Data from the Arizona Department of Education show that public and charter schools around the city struggled to improve their letter grades, leaving Maricopa children without any A-rated schools.

However, for some parents in the city’s largest traditional school district, the letter grades do not account for much.

Priscilla Behnke, who runs an independent mentoring program at local schools, is a parent of a Maricopa Elementary School student. Behnke questioned the importance of the state’s letter grade ranking.

MES lowered from a “B” to a “C”-rated school this year.

“We were going to send my kid to Ahwatukee, and I had a program at MES and I said to my husband, ‘We have to bring our kid to MES,’” Behnke said. “I don’t regret it and I don’t care about this grade – I really don’t – what they’re doing over there is amazing.”

Behnke and other parents in attendance agreed parents should also be held accountable for school performance.

Eighty percent of K-8 letter grade rankings depend on student scores on the AzMERIT standardized test. For high schools, that figure lowers to 50 percent.

“Everything is about what you put into your schools. That’s what counts. If you are active, if you care, if you participate, you get more out of it and so does your child,” said Monica Millo, parent of a second grader at Butterfield Elementary.

Millo transferred her son to MUSD this year after attending charter school Leading Edge Academy since kindergarten.

“I’ve been able to go into a charter school and I’ve been able to go into our Maricopa district and see the differences,” Millo said. “I have seen more from teachers here, and to me, that letter grade is a bunch of garbage.”

A handful of parents came to the morning meeting. Photo by Michelle Chance

Although the consensus of most parents in attendance was that letter grades did not accurately reflect their children’s schools, others argued negative issues in the district must be addressed to improve overall.

Since school began in August, administrative changes at Maricopa Wells Middle School and Maricopa High School – as well as apparent fighting and bullying issues between students at MWMS has caused some parents worry and confusion.

Dan Trevizo is a parent of a former MWMS student. Trevizo transferred his daughter to Leading Edge Academy over fall break for issues he said were due to unresolved bullying at the middle school.

“I think there are some issues and I think the letter grades are important. I think the states need to provide that information to parents who may not hold the overwhelming view that a lot of parents in here hold,” Trevizo said.

Trevizo said MUSD is a good district, but added administrative changes as well as sixth graders transferring this year from elementary to middle school have contributed to the bullying issues at MWMS.

“There are a lot of altercations going on (at MWMS),” Trevizo said. “The principals are being pulled around, there is really no leadership until recently when they decided to put these principals where they currently are.”

Chestnut said he is aware of the issues at MWMS.

“It’s been a weird year, I acknowledge that. The administrative changes have not helped at all, but we are working on it,” Chestnut said.

A second meeting for MUSD parents will take place 7 p.m. tonight at the District Administration Building.

MUSD Superintendent Steve Chestnut talks about the lowered letter grades at several schools. Photo by Michelle Chance


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