Tags Articles tagged with "Education"


Butterfield Elementary showed off its new banner designating it as an A-rated school. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

How did they do that?

Butterfield Elementary’s successful strategy to rise from a C to an A school:
*  Revamp the master schedule
*  Use data results to set grade-level and school-wide goals
*  Use results-based funding to equip third through fifth grade students with 1-to-1 laptops
*  Reconfigure classes to better prepare students

Arizona Department of Education announced school letter grades during Fall Break at Maricopa Unified School District. For at least two campuses, that resulted in a buzz of emails, texts and phone calls to make sure everyone heard the news they had achieved the top rating.

Pima Butte and Butterfield elementary schools were given A ratings. Wednesday, the district and governing board formally recognized their achievement during a board meeting.

Butterfield Elementary had the most dramatic improvement, moving from a C to an A. It is the first A-rating for the school. To be sure, Butterfield was not a “bad” school a year ago. Superintendent Tracey Lopeman pointed out its previous C rating was just five points away from a B.

Similarly, other elementary schools in the district were only a few percentage points from the next grade up this year.

Maricopa Elementary, which achieved Lighthouse status, was 0.5 from an A. Santa Rosa Elementary 0.89 away from an A. Santa Cruz Elementary was 1.88 away from an A. The only MUSD elementary with a C, Saddleback Elementary was less than 3 points from a B.

“I think the district as a whole is really doing well,” said Betty Graham, who teaches fourth grade at Pima Butte Elementary. “They’re working wonders, going up and up and up.”

Pima Butte, like the high achieving charter school Legacy Traditional, is more old-hat at receiving A ratings, but it had to rise above a B last year after missing an A by just 4 percentage points. With ratings reliant on results of the AzMerit testing, there was a lot of pressure on third, fourth and fifth grade students and their teachers.

“That A rating didn’t come easy,” PBES Principal Randy Lazar said. “It was a lot of hard work on behalf of our teaching team as well as the assistants with our students and also the support of our parents. It was a collective effort by our entire team.”

Lazar said his main advice for other Arizona elementary schools trying to rise to a higher grade is to focus on student growth.

“We get our test results from the spring and then look to see how did each student perform,” he said. “If we have students that scored minimally proficient, that’s the group you want to put a lot of attention on the next school year. The way the state calculates the letter grade is when you have kids grow. It’s a growth model as far as earning the points.”

Butterfield Principal Janel Hildick expressed a similar sentiment for Wednesday’s honor.

“It’s not just about how many students are passing but how effective we are as teachers, how our students are growing. This year we scored 49.3 out of 50 possible points for growing our students.”

Teachers credited improvements to the voter-approved override, which allowed for more technology and more teachers to reduce class sizes. Funds helped buy carts of technology in Netbooks and Chromebooks. The new equipment allowed the students to get more practice in the basic use of a computer. Lazar said that is key when taking the online-based AzMerit, which is the state standard.

The district’s high school and two middle schools received C ratings.

Learn more about Pima Butte Elementary’s success strategy in the upcoming December issue of InMaricopa.

Pima Butte Elementary is again an A-rated school. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Judy Webster runs Camino Montessori in Maricopa. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

An open letter to the Maricopa community

By Judy Webster

As many of you are aware, Camino Montessori closed its doors at the end of the school day on Oct. 5. This was a gut-wrenching decision, and I am absolutely brokenhearted about it. It was my dream to bring affordable Montessori education to a community that did not have it. I have poured my heart and soul into this dream for the past nine years, and even two weeks after we closed our doors I continue to grieve over the closing. It is not something I ever dreamed would happen.

I feel terrible for the staff that gave their all to make this a successful school. I feel terrible about not being able to continue the mission of bringing Montessori education to the Maricopa community. Above all else, I feel terrible anguish for letting down the children and families that called Camino their school.
I totally understand the anger that some people have expressed about the closing and especially about the very short notice that was given. If we could have found any way to move forward without closing or if we could have found any way to keep the doors open longer (end of October, end of semester, end of the year) we would have pursued it. The fact of the matter is, we ran out of money.

Many may say that Camino must have known that there were money problems. The answer to that is yes, we knew it was going to be very tight. We lost a lot of enrollment during the second semester last year but managed to make it to the end of the school year. We were convinced that by adding enrollment over the summer, we would be able to continue to keep the doors open. During the summer we did indeed increase the enrollment to a number that would have supported the school but unfortunately on the first day of school, many of the new enrollees did not show up.

Through August and September, we looked at many options to keep the doors open including but not limited to the hiring of a management company to take over operations, combining classrooms, reducing staff, selling the property we had purchased, etc. In the end, we did not see a way to continue without building excessive debt. My husband and I have put a great deal of our own money into this school (our choice) but the well dried up, we did not have funds to meet the needs to continue the school. We seriously doubt we will ever recoup that money. We also understand that this is a risk of running a business.

There were other dynamics to the financial issues that I will not go into in this letter as we adhere to strict confidentiality when it comes to personnel, students, business and potential business partners. I will not “throw anyone under the bus.” Needless to say, all of it related to enrollment or, more fitting, lack of enrollment. The bottom line is, I was the charter holder, I was the director of the school and I accept responsibility.

It is very important for me to let everyone know that the school complied with all legal requirements for students. We alerted staff and families the day after the Board voted to close the school. Understanding that the abrupt closing was going to be difficult for the children and their families we tried to do everything we could think of to help make the change as seamless as possible. We gave families a list of charter, private and public schools along with contact information and provided a handout about home schooling. The day after we let the families know we were closing, we contacted nearly every school on that list to let them know that we were closing and got information about openings they had. We shared that information with the families as well. I offered to meet one on one with any families that wanted help finding new schools. We made copies of all student records and made them available to families on the last day so that they would have the information to give to their child’s potential new school. The staff and I did everything we could think of to make the last couple of days at Camino as positive experience as possible.

I would like to thank the Maricopa community for the incredible support you have shown for Camino Montessori. From government officials to businesses to the wonderful families and children, I will never forget you. I truly hope that someday you will find it in your heart to forgive Camino for the abrupt closing.

Very Sincerely,

Judy Webster
Camino Montessori

Deborah Kohls teaches English Language Learners in second grade at Maricopa Elementary School. Photo by Mason Callejas

By Michelle Chance

Deborah Kohls teaches second-grade English Language Learners (ELL) four hours every day at Maricopa Elementary School.

MES has four Structured English Immersion (SEI) classrooms that provide smaller class sizes and more resources for children learning a new language.

Kohls said the program is vital to the community. Kohls said she had a message to political leaders who’d like to see the tax pulled.

“One of the things that I think our country was founded on was a free, public education for everyone, and it was to make things equal for everyone. And if you’re pulling resources and money from us you’re not making that possible anymore,” Kohls said.

The majority of ELL students in Kohls’ class are Spanish speakers. The teacher instructs only in English and said children usually show immense progress by second quarter.

“When they’re amongst other kids who are growing at their same rate, their confidence is boosted,” Kohls said.

Photo by Mason Callejas
Deborah Kohls. Photo by Mason Callejas

SEI classrooms face challenges other than funding

The program at MUSD’s high school has its differences from the SEI classes at lower grade levels.

Emily Panter, fluent in English and Spanish, is the only SEI teacher at MHS and said she has trouble motivating older students to perform well on tests, adding many of them feel more comfortable with their friends in SEI and fear transitioning out.

“I really explain to them how it’s to their own benefit to put in the effort,” Panter said.

Additionally, she said the class often has an isolating effect on her students, who are separated for half the school day from mainstream classrooms.

And, though the program provides high schoolers more technology resources, Panter said the state needs to change requirements to ensure small class sizes.

“In order to have an SEI classroom, you have to have 20 students within three grade levels, which I’ve always had that, but not enough to make it two classes,” Panter said.

Of Panter’s 26 students this year, 23 are Hispanic. The biggest challenge in class, Panter said, is the majority of students speak the same native language – and continue to prefer speaking it in class over English.

Last year, the SEI class at MHS was split between ability levels, with 20 basic English learners in Panter’s morning class and six intermediate level learners later in the day.

“The afternoon class always did better because it’s easier to separate them,” Panter said. “If you’re going to have this structure, it really needs to be super small.”

Emily Panter is the only SEI teacher at MHS. Photo by Michelle Chance

How are students placed in SEI classes?

Students are required to test in instances when their registration paperwork indicates they speak a second language at home, Panter said. Other times, teachers will refer students to testing.

Based on results, students are labeled pre-emergent, basic, intermediate or proficient. The first two categories require four hours of daily SEI study; intermediate requires two.

Destiny Cruz and her classmate Graciela Brambila, 15, spend four hours every school day under Panter’s instruction. For the past four years, Panter has developed the curriculum based on state standards and what her students need to succeed.

They take lessons on writing, reading, grammar and listening and speaking in English. Panter’s instruction includes lectures and lessons through technology platforms.

“For me, it was very hard the first day. It’s difficult because I don’t understand everything,” Brambila said.

Brambila and Cruz help each other in their traditional studies, like math, outside of their SEI classroom, where teachers usually do not instruct in Spanish.

MUSD desegregation funding divisive issue

This story appears in the October issue of InMaricopa.

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Destinee Cruz and Graciela Brambila spend four hours in Structured English Immersion each day. Photo by Michelle Chance

By Michelle Chance

Destinee Cruz is a sophomore at Maricopa High School with a life like most teenagers. She has a large circle of friends and is dedicated to her studies.

Born in Arizona, she moved with her family to Mexico at a young age and spent the next 13 years immersed in the culture and language.

Cruz’s return to the States, her birthplace, was met with obstacles inside the classroom, like navigating favorite subjects in a different language. But the challenge doesn’t keep Cruz from working toward her goal.

“I came back to study English,” she said.

Maricopa Unified School District receives $1.29 million annually to assist English Language Learners like Cruz.

That funding recently came under fire by state politicians, arguing the tax that delivers desegregation dollars to school districts like MUSD should be killed.

The debate began as the state shifted the funding responsibility from taxpayers statewide to those in districts that receive desegregation money. The change resulted in increased secondary property taxes for Maricopans.

That tax funds the program and salaries of 25 teachers who instruct ELL students.

Photo by Mason Callejas

Senate Bill 1529, signed by Gov. Doug Ducey and passed by the Legislature in May, alleges secondary property taxes “levied pursuant to this subsection do not require voter approval.”

State Rep. Mark Finchem (R – LD 11): “This is not a new tax, it is a tax moved from one funding source to another, putting the responsibility for funding on the community that uses the school system, and not other communities that do not have a segregation compliance problem with the U.S. Department of Justice Office of Civil Rights.”

MUSD could join in a lawsuit with Pima County and Tucson Unified that would ask a judge to rule on the legality of the state’s action to change the desegregation funding source without a vote of the people.

Pinal County and the City of Maricopa have expressed solidarity with MUSD as news of the tax source broke – going so far as to publish a seething press release in August, stating in part: “The State Legislature passed a law that instituted a secondary property tax without putting it to a vote of those affected, which we believe is illegal and unconstitutional. The City of Maricopa, the Maricopa Unified School District and Pinal County did not raise your local property taxes. The state Legislature and the Governor did.”

No matter the funding source, the program remains active. And teachers in non-SEI classrooms who have ELL students said the program is invaluable.

Desert Wind Middle School instrumental music teacher Roger Wagner criticized the view of some politicians that desegregation funding should be ousted altogether.

State Sen. Steve Smith (R – LD 11): “[Desegregation funding] is a bad tax that the local level should eliminate and get rid of it altogether.”
“Beyond it being a tax issue, I think you may also have potentially a discrimination issue,” he said.

Wagner, one of thousands of Arizona teachers to support the #RedForEd movement earlier this year, expressed frustration with the governor and the Legislature, who have touted increasing teacher salaries – while also working to shift the burden of desegregation tax to the local level.

“You can’t light a house on fire and call 9-1-1 and be the hero,” Wagner said.

The faces of MHS desegregation funding

This story appears in the October issue of InMaricopa.

Murray Siegel

By Murray Siegel

There is no question understanding and utilizing technology are vital tools for a successful career. Those considering the social sciences, the financial industry or the arts for one’s vocation must be able to function with technology, and it is helpful to have a strong background in science.

An article in the Aug. 7 edition of New York Times (page A23 “Make Your Daughter Practice Math) highlighted a researcher who is concerned about preparing young female students for a world where competence in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) is a requirement.

Barbara Oakley, the author of the article, is an engineering professor at Oakland University in Rochester, Michigan, and authored the book “Learning How to Learn.” Oakley is convinced research demonstrates the key to STEM success is a solid foundation in mathematics.

Parents of daughters must be concerned about their children’s mathematical development. Research results show boys and girls have similar abilities in mathematics, while girls generally outperform boys in reading and writing. Many girls believe they are better in language arts than in math and translate this into a belief that they are really not good in math. This leads to a lack of effort in math lessons. The basis for this behavior is false since girls can excel in mathematics the same as boys.

Mathematics is the language of science, engineering and technology, and as a language it is acquired using in-depth practice.

Professor Oakley writes, “Unfortunately, thinking you’re not very good at something can be a quick path to disliking and avoiding it, even if you do have natural ability. You can begin to avoid practicing it, because to your mind that practice is more painful than learning what comes more easily. Not practicing, in turn, transforms what started out as a mere aversion into a genuine lack of competence. Unfortunately, the way math is generally taught in the United States – which often downplays practice in favor of emphasizing conceptual understanding – can make this vicious circle even worse for girls.”

What is the professor’s advice for parents of girls? She emphasizes, “Do your daughter a favor – give her a little extra math practice each day, even if she finds it painful. In the long run, she’ll thank you for it. (And, by the way: the same applies to your son.)”

Murray Siegel, Ph.D., has 42 years of teaching experience. He is a volunteer teacher of advanced math classes at Butterfield Elementary School.

This column appears in the October issue of InMaricopa.

Murray Siegel

By Murray Siegel

The school year has started, and many 12th-grade students and their families are experiencing the college admission application process.

If a student waits until the senior year of high school, he or she has waited too long. The process should begin in elementary school where the student can develop a productive work ethic. Completing all homework assignments, studying for tests and starting early on assigned projects and reports will develop behaviors that will maximize grades in high school.

Once the student arrives in ninth grade, a folder should be maintained listing all activities (both in-school and off-campus – athletics, music, academic competitions and student government are prime examples), including a description of the efforts made by the student. A similar folder should be created for each grade level in high school. Colleges are very interested in activities as well as grades. A student who has participated in time-consuming activities and who has good grades has learned to budget time and will most likely be successful in college.

Starting in 11th grade, the student should start examining possible colleges. Some questions that should be asked about each school are:

  1. Is the school’s location what I want? Some students may wish to be close to home while others may want to be far away.
  2. What size student population is desired? Will a student be happy with a campus of 1,000 students? How about 30,000 or 50,000?
  3. Is there an academic program that covers the student’s career interests?
  4. If the student should change his or her mind about the major, are there diverse majors available?
  5. How likely is the student to receive sufficient financial aid?

There is help available, starting with the high school counselor’s office. Ultimately, the student should visit the campus of each school that appears to be a good choice. Ideally, visit the campus on Friday and attend classes. Stay over to Saturday to see what type of activities exist for those residing on campus.

It is wise to invest time in seeking financial aid. There are all types of scholarships. Students who have a parent who served on a U.S. Navy submarine are eligible for a special scholarship, as are those whose parents or grandparents worked in the shoe industry. Many church-based colleges offer financial aid to students who are active members. An excellent scholarship program is the ROTC Scholarship, which pays academic costs and provides a monthly stipend to help with room and board.

Financial-aid research is an important part of early preparations for college.

Murray Siegel has a PhD in MathEd and 42 years of teaching experience. He lives in Maricopa.

This column appears in the September issue of InMaricopa.

Bernadette Russoniello

By Bernadette Russoniello

Are you applying for post-secondary education and need Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA)? The process is easier than ever.

 First, visit FAFSA.gov. You must create your FSA ID. You will need to have your Social Security number (SSN), full legal name, birthdate, current address and a personal email address. It is imperative students do not use their school Gmail address as it cannot receive responses from outside the organization. The process takes 5-10 minutes. A parent must create an FSA ID for themselves to electronically sign the FAFSA.

Once you have your FSA ID, create a new application. The FAFSA application opens Oct. 1 for the 2019-20 school year. You will need your parents’ SSNs and 2017 federal tax return. The best part about the online system is that when you enter your parents’ SSNs, the FAFSA automatically links to the IRS database and imports all financial information.

Complicated family situation? For the FAFSA, the “parent” is the legal guardian, biological or adoptive. If a student is living with an alternate family member or friend, information must still be reported for the parent. If parents are divorced, the student should report the parent who either they live with most or provides the most financial support. A stepparent income must also be reported.

Even more complicated? The financial aid offices of your applicant schools will work with you to help sort out the complexities of these situations. Unfortunately, for the federal government all students are considered financial dependents of their parents until the age of 24, regardless of living arrangements and reality.

What if my parent(s) are not legal residents? As long as you are a U.S. citizen, you can qualify for FAFSA. If your parents do not have an SSN, enter all zeros for the SSN.

Parents: How can you help? File your taxes on time so your child can be eligible for maximum support.

Be prepared with your applicant schools. On the FAFSA application, you can share your financial information electronically with up to 10 schools. You want to be intentional and purposeful in this selection. Once you confirm the schools have received your info, you can change your submission to 10 other schools. However, it can take the receiving institutions up to eight weeks to process your data, so be sure to prioritize.

The anticipated aid amount for the federal Pell Grant is $6,095. Federal grants can be used for community college, trade schools and universities, public or private. Grants are renewable up to four years if you pass all your classes and maintain full-time enrollment.

Once you submit your application, you will immediately receive an email from the Department of Education. This email is not a congratulations on completing the form; it is the confirmation letter with your anticipated aid. The letter will include your expected family contribution (EFC) and your anticipated aid. The EFC indicates the amount of money you are expected to contribute toward your college education.

Maricopa High School will host a community Financial Aid night Oct. 22 for families struggling with the process or wanting additional support.

Bernadette Russoniello is the Career and College coordinator at Maricopa High School. She can be reached at BRussoniello@MUSD20.org.

This column appears in the September issue of InMaricopa.

Shianne Holman guides students through the process of reading local news and using traditional media as they learn to consume information. Photo by Mason Callejas


In an age dominated by digital platforms, Shianne Holman’s fourth-grade students learn hands-on, practical skills like public speaking, reading a paper map and writing checks.

But it’s the teacher, with her bubbly personality and welcoming smile, that motivates students to come to social studies class at Sequoia Pathway Academy.

“She makes me feel joyful, happy and calm,” said 9-year-old James Newman.

Shianne Holman brought a background in education – from security to secretary to paraprofessional – to her newest position as fourth-grade teacher at Sequoia Pathway Academy. Photo by Mason Callejas

A native of Hawaii, Holman is in her second year teaching.

Prior to earning her master’s degree in Elementary Education, she built her resume with wide-ranging school positions in Washington state – from security to secretary to paraprofessional.

And she covers it all in class, too.

With segments in government, economics and state history, Holman’s students are exposed to real-world applications of modern-day issues.

In September, they begin lessons on current events. The children study news of the day from magazines and newsprint collected by Holman from local outlets.

“They need to know what’s happening,” Holman said. “They need to know what’s going on.”

Technology has evolved the education system. Its effects are present in every school’s computer lab and digital smart screens. Holman’s students, likely having navigating hand-held devices since a young age, are exposed in class to the idea that tech can – and does – fail.

That’s why students receive teachings from traditional textbooks, dissect and create map legends, and use their hands to flip through the tangible pages of a news magazine.

Through those lessons, Holman’s students learn to identify the structure of informational texts and gain experience with traditional mediums still produced today.

Photo by Mason Callejas

“I hope they are able to use their experiences that they’re learning now and apply it to become better for us,” Holman said. “They’re our future. Who’s going to take care of us?”

Being informed is an important key in Holman’s teaching philosophy.

Every year her students compose a classroom constitution and submit votes to a handmade ballot box.

“I try to make everything into a real-life situation. I tell them if our parents and grandparents hadn’t gone through what they went through, we wouldn’t have the things we have now, such as technology,” Holman said.

Holman’s educational nostalgia even reaches into the scripts of penmanship – with occasional worksheets on cursive handwriting.

Her fourth-grade teaching colleagues say Holman’s love for educating is illustrated not just by her personality, but also her sundry lesson plans.

“Shianne brings such a passion to teaching, and it shows because her students are always excited to enter her class,” said social studies teacher Dillon Shosted. “Shianne is always looking for new ways to reach all of her students with instructional practices.”

Holman has lived in Maricopa since 2014 with her husband Jonathan and their three daughters Tiani, 11, Nara, 9, and 6-year-old Azaria.

The new educator said she considers former and current students family and hopes her hands-on teachings will produce future leaders.

“I feel like maybe it will inspire one of the kids,” Holman said, “and if that’s one, then that’s better than none.”

This story appears in the September issue of InMaricopa.


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Murray Siegel

By Murray Siegel

Sequoia Pathway has two principals, one for the elementary grades and one for the secondary grades.

Last year’s high school principal, Dr. Alfonso F. Alva, was promoted to assistant superintendent. The new secondary principal is Diane Silvia, who grew up in New York and started her career in retail management. Seeking a slower pace and better climate, she and her family moved to Arizona, where she discovered a passion for teaching. She earned a master’s in educational leadership and joined Pathway in 2009, holding various teaching and administrative positions.

Last year, Pathway piloted several new programs to enhance the quality of curriculum and instruction, such as Galileo and Alpine Data Management Systems. Silvia believes these programs will continue to improve the school’s effectiveness. When asked about the new school year, she stated, “I am excited about spearheading our mission at Pathway, which is to cultivate a community of excellence through pride and appreciation for our surroundings, education and self.”

The elementary principal is Rachael Lay, who grew up in Houston, Texas, and holds a bachelor of science degree in elementary education from NAU and a master’s in administration and supervision from the University of Phoenix. She has been in education 13 years and has been principal at Pathway for seven years.

Lay points to the introduction of the Galileo set of academic tools and assessments this year, which has enhanced the daily classroom instruction. She looks forward to the new academic year due to the departmentalization of teaching in grades four through six and the addition of intramural sports.

Mat Reese is the principal at Leading Edge Academy (LEA) and was raised in Niagara Falls, New York. He left New York to attend ASU and received his undergraduate degree there. He received a master’s degree in administration from NAU. Reese was a teacher, coach and principal in public schools for 32 years. He joined LEA as its first principal in 2008.

He points with pride to the student- and parent-friendly nature of the campus, and he has an open-door policy that allows parents to see him without an appointment. His excitement for the new school year is the same anticipation he has each new year, watching students grow academically.

At Legacy Traditional School (LTS), the principal is Amy Sundeen. She grew up in Chicago and received a B.S. from Northern Illinois University. She moved to AZ in 2006 and decided to pursue a career in education through the post-baccalaureate program at Rio Salado College and obtained a master’s degree in educational administration. Joining LTS in 2008 as a special education teacher, she became school principal in 2016.

Sundeen believes in the success of the back-to-basics curriculum which is combined with a fine arts program. She is looking forward to continued success with the new VEX Robotics program this year.

This column appears in the August issue of InMaricopa.

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Bernadette Russoniello

By Bernadette Russoniello

‘Where are you going to college?” “What’s your major?” “Where do you want to go to school?” Unfortunately, these questions are far too common for the average teen. We place incredible pressure on students to pick their college of choice; we even measure or judge students by their college ambitions.

The focus of meaningful college and career-ready conversations needs to shift to career. What career do you want? What major will help you attain your career plans? Where do you want to work?

The entire purpose of post-secondary education is to attain specific skills, knowledge and experiences to better prepare us for a career. At the secondary level, we tend to put too much emphasis on the two to eight years of college we prepare students for, rather than the 40 to 50 years that will span their working life.

We need to shift the conversation from college and career to college FOR career.

Why the push for college? Estimates from the Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate the average earnings for those with college degrees or certified credentials almost double that of a high school graduate. The same statistics show unemployment rates decrease by the same margins.

What is college? When I speak with students, I explain that college is any form of post-secondary education or training that prepares them for a career. College can take many forms apart from the four-year university, including trade schools, certification or licensure, community college, apprenticeships or the military. I challenge students to first consider what they want from life – what do they value? Is it money? Family? Lifestyle? Purpose? What do they consider a “good income”? Once these questions are prioritized, we can dive into possible directions and pathways for their consideration.

When students consider career options, they need to consider how potential careers match their income needs and how the job fits their lifestyle needs and desires.

There are many resources available online to help provide students guidance and direction in career aspirations. A good starting point is the Myers-Briggs-type indicator. Most universities have some form of an interest profiler and major match available on their websites.

Arizona State offers the Me3 assessment, an online picture-based inventory while University of Arizona offers Degree Search, a clickable interactive checklist of criteria to help match students with their best possible field.

Remember, a goal without a plan is just a wish. Research and set your career goals, determine what school or program will best fit those plans, and start building relevant skills and experiences to achieve your dreams.

Bernadette Russoniello is the Career and College coordinator at Maricopa High School. She can be reached at BRussoniello@MUSD20.org.

This column appears in the August issue of InMaricopa.

Bernadette Russoniello

By Bernadette Russoniello

Since the early 2000s, educational policy has placed increasing expectations on accountability through testing. Conversely, our public universities in Arizona chose to make admissions tests optional. Students can gain admittance to Arizona’s big three universities without a qualifying test score. What is the significance of traditional college admissions testing and why does it matter?

Regardless of whether a university requires a test score, the answer is, “Yes,” your test scores matter, and you need to plan and prepare to do your best on these exams. The majority of scholarships students earn are based on academic merit, a combination of grades, course rigor and test scores. If you or your child want free money for college, then preparing and studying for admissions testing is a must.

The SAT, developed by the College Board, a private, nonprofit organization, originally tested a student’s aptitude for the rigors of college. The assessment helped prestigious and exclusive colleges across the United States determine if a potential applicant had the skills requisite for success. Since the 1990s, the mission of the SAT changed to promote excellence, access and equity in education, connecting students to college success and opportunity.

The suites of assessments offered by the College Board, including the PSAT and PSAT 8/9 and PSAT 10, offer students the ability to predict AP potential and connect students at younger ages to universities and colleges matching their interests and abilities.

The ACT (American College Testing) originally offered a variant to the “traditional” aptitude testing of the SAT. The ACT was designed to measure what a typical high school junior should know and be able to do, across subject areas including mathematics, reading comprehension, language and scientific reasoning.

For decades, universities aligned with one test philosophy or another. The standard now is that all universities accept either test for admissions.

At Maricopa High School, we encourage students to take both exams. You never know which test you will perform better on. Many students report that the SAT feels harder than the ACT, but often students score better on the SAT than the ACT. Both exams take three hours and a Saturday morning to test. Exams are offered nearly every month at schools around the state. Registration is done entirely online, and each test costs $46. Fee waivers are available through school counselors for students qualifying for the National School Lunch Program or receiving other forms of public assistance.

Increasingly, competitive universities (schools that accept fewer than 35 percent of applicants) require SAT subject tests. The SAT subject test is a course-specific assessment that demonstrates a student’s credential within that field. SAT subject tests help competitive schools determine program readiness and course placement.

Students need to research admission requirements to their schools of interest and be ready to meet those expectations.

Bernadette Russoniello is the Career and College coordinator at Maricopa High School. She can be reached at BRussoniello@MUSD20.com.

This column appears in the July issue of InMaricopa.

Maricopa Unified School District Administrative Office

After a false alarm Wednesday, the Maricopa Unified School District announced Thursday it would reopen at the end of the week.

All nine of MUSD’s school sites will resume classes May 4, according to a district statement.

“We are excited to begin the teaching and learning process again with our wonderful students,” the statement read.

Like the announcement May 2, Thursday’s statement confirmed students and staff will not need to attend additional school days to makeup for the week-long absence due to the teacher walkout.

The last day of school is May 25.

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Bernadette Russoniello

By Bernadette Russoniello

I can’t afford college.”

“I didn’t apply. I didn’t think I could afford it.”

These comments resound among students in Maricopa and present a challenge for parents and educators. News media is filled with reports on the rising costs of college and the declining worth of college degrees – and students are internalizing the message. Giving up; abandoning hope and potential without even considering the options.

However, many of our Maricopa students have plenty of affordable options; they simply do not realize it.

Maricopa Unified School District is a Title I district, indicating 50 percent or more of students qualify for Free and Reduced Lunch programs. These students are highly likely to qualify for the Federal Pell Grant – an award of up to $5,920 annually – for the pursuit of college, university or trade school programs.

Many colleges and universities provide matching funds for qualifying students. Northern Arizona University awards “University Grants” of $6,000 to students who receive Pell Grants. Arizona State University offers College Attainment grants that cover all direct costs and fees. Numerous Maricopa graduates receive more funds in grants than the actual cost of attendance.

The more competitive the school is, the greater the financial award. Competitive colleges accept fewer than 35 percent of applicants and usually have more intense requirements for college admissions. Many of these schools cover 100 percent of financial need. Consider Harvard, America’s oldest and most prestigious college. Harvard’s Financial Aid Initiative requires no contribution from families earning less than $65,000 per year. For families earning under $150,000, students will pay no more than 10 percent of their income to cover college costs, making the most coveted school’s attendance cost lower than in-state universities. The only catch? You have to be accepted.

If a student doesn’t apply for Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA), he or she will never know what awards they might be eligible for. The application process does not commit students or parents to accept awards; it simply informs families of what aid is available. Students can apply anytime; for rising seniors (current juniors), the application window opens Oct. 1, 2018.

If a student wants to earn these scholarships, they need to set that goal early. Before even attending high school, a student should decide to take the most rigorous classes and to earn the best grades they can. NAU offers the Lumberjack Scholarship to students who meet all university admissions requirements and maintain all A’s and B’s in core classes. Having this goal set before starting ninth grade helps students attain their best performance.

Bernadette Russoniello is the Career and College coordinator at Maricopa High School. She can be reached at BRussoniello@MUSD20.org.

This column appears in the May issue of InMaricopa. 

Masters in software engineering graduate Stefano Chang poses for a portrait outside the bookstore on Tempe campus April 20. Photo by Deanna Dent/ASUNow

By Scott Seckel, ASU Now

Stefano Chang of Maricopa had a good job in his field and was one class away from a master’s degree in software engineering from Arizona State University.

Then his vision went wonky.

He saw double because of a tumor in his head. Work, school, and everything else came to a screeching halt as he went to Mayo Clinic for treatment.

While he was there he wondered if there was a way he could take his final class online. He asked Kevin Gary, the graduate program committee chair for software engineering, about it.

“I didn’t want to delay more than I already did,” said Chang, the first in his family to earn a college degree. “It was the only thing I could do in terms of moving on.”

While enduring eight-hour treatments, he hunched over his laptop, wrapping up his degree.

“It felt good,” he said.

Question: What was your “aha” moment, when you realized you wanted to study the field you majored in?
Answer: I always knew I wanted to get into computers, and that’s what I did. I had zero programming experience coming in. I moved here when I was 15, and I didn’t know anything about this country. … My school didn’t offer anything.

Q: What’s something you learned while at ASU — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you, that changed your perspective?
A: It takes a lot more effort to finish grad school, knowing that you already have a degree and might not necessarily need it. I already had a job; I was already working before I graduated. This doesn’t really give me a pay bump or anything like that. It’s a lot more than taking exams or reading books; it shows a lot of determination, that you can finish something that you started.

Q: Why did you choose ASU?
A: My brother, my dad and I moved here (from Paraguay). I don’t think my dad finished high school. Nobody had an education, so to say, in my family. It was just me figuring it out. My high school counselor said, “Just apply.” I applied — all local colleges. I got accepted to all three major ones. I was reading the brochure for ASU in computer science. It had a bullet point list of things they specialized in. None of the other colleges had it, so I thought, “OK — I’ll go to ASU.”

Q: What’s the best piece of advice you’d give to those still in school?
A: Don’t quit. You’re going to look back and you’re going to say, “I was wise about that,” once you get through it. It’s just like my treatment. I look back on it and say, “It was a piece of cake. Nothing.” But at the time…

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus, whether for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life?
A: The Brickyard building. That’s the computer science building.

Q: What are your plans after graduation?
A: I started my LLC while I was going through treatment. I didn’t want to waste (time usually spent in school) once I graduated. I thought, “I’ll start my own business and make it work.” I took on some contract jobs. It’s a software consulting business.

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?
A: I think getting autonomous cars to the point where they’re fully autonomous. I don’t think $40 million would be enough. If it’s fully autonomous it’s a lot safer.

Reprinted by permission from ASU Now. Chang is a graduate of Maricopa High School. Photo by Deanna Dent of ASU Now.

Maricopa teachers were among those marching at the capitol Thursday morning, the first day of a walkout. Photo courtesy Jennifer Miller

Maricopa educators rallied afterschool Wednesday on the eve of the statewide teacher walkout.

The demonstration at Copper Sky Recreation Center April 25 included a march around the lake and speeches by various community members.

The activism driven by the #RedForEd movement has permeated the state, driving teachers and school staff into action.

Educators dismissed Gov. Doug Ducey’s salary proposal last week and are demanding increased funding for school children and competitive pay for support staff.

And although teachers were in high spirits and proud of their efforts Wednesday, a subtle unease crept in.

“I’m really proud that after all these years teachers are finally getting together and standing up for everything,” said Maricopa High School art teacher Maria Pour.

“I’m anxious because I know what the kids are going through. I’m anxious because I know the sacrifice that the teachers are making. I’m anxious because I just want a quick resolution and the very least time away from my kids and my classroom,” Pour added.

The walkout closed schools Thursday, and classrooms will remain empty Friday. The length of the walkout is unknown.

Pour said she believes her colleagues would endure a prolonged strike.

Maricopa teachers rallied at Copper Sky Wednesday evening. Photo by Michelle Chance

“I think it would be the overwhelming majority that would be for keeping the walkout,” she said.

Amalia Clark, owner of the Our Children Matter organization, attended the event with boxed food packs for children affected by the walkout.

The Maricopa Unified School District announced it would feed students while its nine schools are closed, but Clark said her agency would step in for those who need additional help.

“I think that a lot of people use the school system not only for learning, but they also use it for nutrition, and now that it’s closed down, they’re realizing there is a big importance to our school system,” Clark said.

Educators awoke Thursday morning and commuted to downtown Phoenix instead of their school sites.

They marched in a statewide demonstration to the Arizona capitol building alongside thousands of others.

Maricopa High School Teacher Jennifer Miller said the experience was “incredibly positive.”

“Teachers from all over the state are talking to each other and encouraging each other – even teachers from rival schools are here in solidarity,” Miller said. “I’ve never seen a group of educators this unified for a cause.”

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The impending walk-out of local educators is expected to close all of Maricopa Unified School District’s nine schools Thursday and could also affect area charter schools.

Known agencies providing walk-out childcare:

Children’s Learning Adventure, 20600 N. John Wayne Parkway


Registration fee will be waived, and all new families will receive their first day free.

Copper Sky, 44345 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.


Free childcare provided by Maricopa Springs Family Church and other local churches at Copper Sky from 8 a.m. – 4:30 p.m. There are 500 spots available; seeking 70 childcare volunteers. Morning snack, lunch and afternoon snack provided.

Click here to register.

Rockstar Cheer, 12501 N. Murphy Road



Located at Rockstar Cheer gym from 7 a.m.–5 p.m. $25 per day, per child. Includes pizza lunch. Snacks and drinks for sale or bring your own. Ages: Kindergarten through eighth grade. 50 spots available.

Food Disbursement:

With help from Our Children Matter and Maricopa Pantry, food boxes will be dispersed at a #RedForEd teacher-led event at Copper Sky Wednesday at 5 p.m. to parents of affected students.

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Gov. Doug Ducey

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced Thursday afternoon his proposal to increase teacher pay by 20 percent by fall 2020.

The announcement comes the day after a statewide teacher walk-in.

“I’ve been listening, and I’ve been impressed,” Ducey said during a press conference April 12.

The pay increase figure aligns with Arizona Educators United pay-increase demand, albeit over a period of two years. The increase includes the 1-percent increase paid to teachers in 2017.

Ducey projected the average teacher salary in two years will be $58,130.

The plan first needs to be passed in the state Legislature’s budget session, which is expected to end in the coming days.

If approved, teachers would receive a gradual pay increase:

  • 2017: 1 percent increase
  • 2018: 9 percent increase
  • 2019: 5 percent increase
  • 2020: 5 percent increase

Additionally, Ducey proposed $371 million for Arizona school districts’ “most pressing needs,” including: infrastructure, curriculum, school buses and technology.

“We can do this and do it in a responsible and sustainable way,” Ducey said. “As a result of Arizona’s thriving economy and Arizona’s record population of 7 million residents, our state revenues are on the rise. With a reduction in state government operating budgets, strategic efficiencies, case load savings and a roll-back of some of the Governor’s Office proposals of fiscal year 19 executive budget, more dollars are available to invest into two of Arizona’s most important priorities: Arizona’s teachers and Arizona’s classrooms.” 

Maricopa Unified School District teachers wore red to address the school board Wednesday night. Not all were on board with Gov. Doug Ducey’s Thursday proposal. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Maricopa Unified School District Board Member Patti Coutré called the move “a step in the right direction.”

“I just want to know more details,” Coutré added. “You know what they say, ‘the devil’s in the details.’”

Maybe I’m an optimist but I’m hopeful,” said Allie Krigbaum, a second grade teacher at Butterfield Elementary. “I feel like the #RedforEd movement made a difference and that Ducey was able to see communities come together in support of teachers and kids. I feel hopeful that he means what he says.”

Not all local teachers were convinced.

MUSD Technology Integration Specialist Christine Dickinson said she applauded the state’s decision to take action, but it failed overall to address the movement’s demands.

“I am concerned that this action puts a Band-Aid on the teacher-pay issue and opens wounds elsewhere,” Dickinson said.

Many, like Dickinson, viewed the announcement as addressing only a portion of demands from the Arizona Educators United coalition.

“It misses the point of this entire movement,” said Maricopa High School English teacher Becky Gaul. “Teacher raises were just one part of the much larger picture. Where’s the money for our support staff?”

In addition to salary increases, teachers want to see competitive pay for support professionals, permanent teacher salary structure with annual raises, a restoration of education funding to 2008 levels and no new tax cuts until per-pupil funding reaches the national average.

Janean Jump teaches fourth grade at Saddleback Elementary. She fears Ducey’s proposal could strangle AEU’s efforts to raise salaries for support staff.

“Right now, we are almost backed into a corner with this. If we stop our movement because we received the raises, we will leave out those who are in just as much need as teachers. Pushing forward with our movement after this announcement will allow us to be painted as greedy and not satisfied with our raise, when, in reality, that was only one of our five demands.”

AEU leads the #RedforEd movement, and coalition leaders announced earlier this week a possible walk-out event could be a possibility.

“I say keep fighting. We will still be behind,” said Sue Swanno, a teacher at Saddleback Elementary.

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by -
Murray Siegel

By Murray Siegel

This is the second in a series of columns featuring the principals at Maricopa’s district and charter schools.

Loraine Conley, Ed.D., principal at Santa Cruz Elementary School in the Maricopa Unified School District, received her

Loraine Conley

undergraduate degree from Langston University (Oklahoma), has a master’s in educational administration from Iowa State university and her doctorate in education from ASU. In her 25 years in education, she has been an elementary teacher, a middle school language arts teacher and an assistant principal.

She is most proud of the numerous awards received by the school, its students and faculty. Dr. Conley looks forward to sustained improvement at Santa Cruz with the continuing support of the school community.

Maricopa’s principals come to us from all over the United States, and one principal started out overseas. Eva Safranek, principal at MUSD’s Santa Rosa ES, was born in the Czech Republic and arrived in Tucson at age 13. Her BA in elementary education was received at ASU, and she has two master’s degrees from University of Phoenix. During her 15 years as an educator, she has served in various teaching, coaching and coordinator positions before coming to Santa Rosa six years ago.

Eva Safranek

A major accomplishment at her school this year is the implementation of the new math curriculum, which is challenging and brings more rigor to the study of math. She is excited about the improvement expected from the Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS) program. Ms. Safranek’s credo as a principal is building relations with students and staff to allow all to be the best that they can be.

Felicia Williams is the principal at Saddleback ES at MUSD and grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio. She received her undergraduate degree from Ohio University.

Felicia Williams

She obtained masters degrees at University of Phoenix and NAU. Her 16 years of experience include teaching positions in a number of elementary grades, academic coach and principal. She has been at Saddleback for eight years.

When asked about this year’s primary accomplishment, she points to the enhanced use of technology by students which was led by Enna Post, a phenomenal technology teacher. Mrs. Williams looks forward to the total implementation of the PBIS program next year. Her guide as a principal is a statement by Harvey Firestone: “You get the best of others when you give the best of yourself.”

Murray Siegel has a PhD in MathEd and 42 years of teaching experience.

This column appears in the April issue of InMaricopa.

Tracey Lopeman , Ed.D.., fields questions during a public forum with the three final candidates for MUSD superintendent. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Tracey Lopeman stood in front of Walmart to meet Maricopans in an effort to get to know the community when she was a candidate to be the next superintendent of Maricopa Unified School District.

Monday night, she became the last person standing after the governing board voted unanimously to begin contract negotiations with the long-time administrator from Alhambra Elementary School District. The evening started with a 90-minute forum for community members, teachers and students to get to know the three finalists.

“The more I came to Maricopa, the more I just loved it,” said Lopeman, adding she had little familiarity with the community before she applied for the job.

This is her 28th year in education, starting as a junior high teacher. She is now assistant superintendent for strategic planning, implementation and accountability at Alhambra.

“That’s a big title; it’s a big job. It means I get to get into everybody’s business,” she said.

MUSD Board President AnnaMarie Knorr said Lopeman has the “energy and enthusiasm” the board was looking for, adding all three finalists were highly qualified.

Heather Cruz of Litchfield and Cort Monroe of Queen Creek were also up for the job. The district culled the finalists from 30 applications.

Previous superintendent Steve Chestnut left for a post in the Scottsdale Unified School District.

Moderated by Karen Gasket of the Arizona School Board Association, the three finalists were asked wide-ranging questions from dealing with growth, safety and parental involvement.

Lopeman said she appreciated the board’s efforts in transparency in having a public forum that allowed community members to get to know the candidates. She said a key to strengthening community and parental relations with the district would be to have more such forums, “and ask you the open-ended questions, ‘What are your hopes and dreams for the kids here in Maricopa?’

“I know for me it’s that every one of them graduates from high school ready to innovate, create and be successful.”

Lopeman said she sees the next big challenge for MUSD as growth. A recent study projected the K-12 student population to grow from 6,729 to 11,587 in 10 years. 

Murray Siegel

By Murray Siegel

2017 was a great year for the city of Maricopa. Building began on new stores and restaurants, ground broke for the long-awaited railroad overpass and the mayor set challenging goals for the city and its citizens. You might not have noticed that Maricopa Unified School District’s K-8 blended learning program was awarded the Golden Bell Award by the Arizona School Board Association. What is blended learning and why should Maricopans care?

To answer those questions an interview was conducted with Jackie Hahn, a sixth-grade teacher in the blended learning program at Maricopa Wells Middle School (MWMS). Hahn brings a unique perspective. This is her first year teaching in the program. She taught sixth-grade math and science at Maricopa Elementary School the previous four years, so she can see the program from a teacher’s point of view. She is the mother of a seventh-grade student in the program at MWMS, so she can address the value of the program as a parent.

Hahn has an industrial engineering degree from Rutgers University and spent years working as a problem solver for Johnson & Johnson, a large multinational manufacturing company, allowing her to see the future benefit students receive from blended learning.

Hahn says teaching in the MWMS blended learning program is her dream job, one that allows for flexibility and provides her with opportunities to uniquely address student interests and needs.

Students in the program, which blends in-class and online teaching, master self-regulated learning, become independent and inter-dependent learners, develop creativity and learn time-management skills. She says students are being prepared for work in the high-tech world of the 21st century, including critical thinking and collaboration to solve problems. Most students who start in the program remain in blended learning. Some folks raise concerns that students in this program will have difficulty adjusting to the more traditional style at the high school. Hahn said her students understand how to learn and can do so in any environment.

The school days are filled with passion for learning for both students and teachers. Teachers in the program meet regularly to make adjustments as they fine-tune lessons and projects to best meet their students’ needs. Perhaps parents who are sending their middle school students out of town will reconsider the value of Maricopa schools’ blended learning and allow their children to get an award-winning education in this program.


Murray Siegel has a PhD in MathEd and 42 years of teaching experience and is a volunteer teacher of advanced math classes at Butterfield Elementary School.

This column appears in the February issue of InMaricopa.

AnnaMarie Knorr (left) inherited the presidency of the MUSD board from Patti Coutre on Wednesday. Photo by Michelle Chance

The gavel is in the hands of a new school board president this week.

MUSD Governing Board to host community reception
Jan. 17 at 5:30 p.m., the Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board will host a reception for staff and community members who would like to provide additional input related to the search for a new district superintendent. The reception will be at the District Administrative Offices, 44150 W. Maricopa-Casa Grande Hwy. At 7 p.m., the Governing Board to hear an Arizona School Board Association report generated from the recent E-Survey related to the position of district superintendent. All are welcome to attend. For more information: 520-568-5100 or www.MaricopaUSD.org.

The Governing Board for the Maricopa Unified School District elected AnnaMarie Knorr president during its first meeting of the year Jan. 10.

Knorr previously served as vice president and has been on the board since 2012. The new president has lived in Maricopa for 13 years and is the Government Affairs manager for Western Growers Association, according to an online biography.

Her new role is one Knorr cautiously grew into after she declined her first presidential opportunity in 2017.

“I can tell you that I know it was the right decision last year not to step into this role and that I do feel comfortable doing it today,” Knorr said. “With your help, I know that we can continue to progress and move forward and become the A-rated schools that we want to be.”

Before motioning to elect Knorr, the board’s former president, Patti Coutré expressed confidence in her abilities to lead and thanked the board for its support.

Coutré, pressing a fingertip to the corner of her eye, wiped away a tear as she gave her last speech as president – a position she has held for the past three years.

“I have to thank Dr. Chestnut. He’s really helped me develop into the leader that I am, so thank you. I am confident and very pleased … and I know that Vice President Knorr is ready to take on this task. We’ve spent numerous evenings in conversations and I know that she’s ready to do this. It is such an awesome feeling to lead this board and to be a part of this board. We’re amazing and I know that under Mrs. Knorr’s leadership we will continue to be amazing,” Coutré said.

Coutré will finish her term in December as a board member.

Knorr’s first agenda item as president included electing the person to fill her vacant VP seat.

The board unanimously elected Board Member Gary Miller.

Miller, a Kansas native, has lived in Maricopa since 2005 and works in behavioral health. His new leadership position comes after three years’ service on the board.

Coutre and Miller began their current term in 2015. Miller expressed his gratitude for her leadership.

“You’ve done a wonderful job, and I’m very honored to have got to know you better because I do definitely look up to you,” Miller said.

Among some of Knorr’s immediate responsibilities will be leading the board through its upcoming superintendent search.

The board will host a community reception regarding the search Jan. 17 at the district administration office at 5:30 p.m.

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Murray Siegel

By Murray Siegel 

This is the second of a two-part column on preparing today’s students for tomorrow’s science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs. Read Part 1

There are two methods to promote learning in elementary math classes that have proven to be successful.

The first is to have all students in a particular grade have math at the same time. During that time students are assigned to a classroom based on their individual mathematical abilities and achievements. This method allows for flexibility, so a student is not “stuck” in a class if the student’s level of math ability changes. A student in the remedial class who catches up and can now function in a grade-level class can be moved.

Some teachers are concerned that this type of program puts all the behavior problems in the lowest class. This concern is not realistic since students are placed based on ability. Some weak students become behavior problems when they see no hope for progress. By placing students in a class at an appropriate level, loss of hope quickly disappears. Any disciplinary role is the responsibility of the principal.

It is important each teacher is properly equipped to teach math at the level to which he or she is assigned. The teacher of the remedial class must believe all students can learn if taught properly and the teacher must have the appropriate tools, including alternate arithmetical methods that engage the students.

The second method is to have an elementary math specialist assigned to each elementary school. This method has been used successfully in Texas. Qualified teachers could be provided with appropriate professional development. The specialist would teach an advanced math class in grades three, four and five. All classes in a grade would have math at the same time. For the remainder of the school day, the specialist would work with individual students or small groups, especially in remediation. The specialist would work with teachers conferences, classroom observations and demonstration lessons.

Besides having a qualified teacher responsible for the mathematical learning of the most able students, using a specialist means the math classes would be reduced in size since some students would be attending the advanced class.

Concerns may be raised before either method is adopted, but the overriding concern must be to develop the math skills of more American children who will be the scientific leaders of the next generation.

Murray Siegel has a PhD in MathEd and 42 years of teaching experience. He and his wife Sharon are volunteer teachers of advanced math classes at Butterfield Elementary School.

This column appears in the December issue of InMaricopa.

Murray Siegel

By Murray Siegel

If we are to have a massive increase in new high-salary jobs, we need to increase the supply of Americans with sufficient technical knowledge to be qualified for these positions. Some will require a four-year college degree in a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) program while others call for the completion of a vocational-technical program like ones available at Central Arizona College.

What has hampered Americans from completing the appropriate education is mathematics, especially in college STEM programs. Most of those programs require the successful completion of two semesters of calculus, while degrees in physics, engineering and mathematics require four semesters of calculus.

For years researchers have sought to increase the number of American students who can successfully navigate first-year calculus. College courses have been revamped and placement programs have been developed. Some researchers attempted to improve the preparation of students for calculus by seeking a solution at the high school level. Some have provided speakers and field trips to middle school students to motivate them to consider a STEM career.

To date these efforts have not borne fruit. What is the problem? The efforts to better prepare students for success in a STEM program were in the wrong school grades. It is in elementary schools where many students learn they cannot “do math.” Others see that math is a set of meaningless rules and give up on pursuing advanced math courses. What is the problem in our elementary schools?

Elementary classes are constructed to include students of all ability levels.

A fifth-grade class might contain a few students who still cannot add or subtract whole numbers as well as students who can already operate with fractions and decimals. The remaining students are at various locations on the learning curve. The teacher complies with the required curriculum. Students at the low end give up. Students at the upper end get bored. The origin of mixed ability classes is a desire to avoid labelling students (some may recall the Bluebird and the Redbird groups of the 1950s).

To demonstrate how illogical mixed ability grouping in elementary school math classes is, consider this scenario. Imagine all college freshmen had to take a Calculus 1 class as first semester freshmen. Students who had taken Advanced Placement Calculus in high school and who should be exempt from this course are required to be in the class – that is the rule. Students who barely passed math in high school and who should be in a remedial class are in the Calculus 1 class – this is the rule.

This scenario is both unfair and irrational, yet that is exactly what occurs in most elementary school math classes. What can be done? A future column will provide reasonable answers.

Murray Siegel has a PhD in MathEd and 42 years of teaching experience. He and his wife Sharon are volunteer teachers of advanced math classes at Butterfield Elementary School.

This column appears in the November issue of InMaricopa.

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

MUSD Superintendent Steve Chestnut. Photo by Michelle Chance

By Steve Chestnut

The Arizona State Board of Education recently developed a new A-F letter grade system for all schools. As a result, all public schools in the state were given new letter grades based mostly on the results of the 2017 AzMerit state tests. For elementary and middle schools 80 percent of the new letter grades are determined by the state tests and for high schools 50 percent of the new letter grade is determined by the state tests. The new letter grades were released to the public on Oct. 9.

The 2017 letter grades for schools in the Maricopa Unified School District are:

  • Butterfield Elementary: C
  • Maricopa Elementary: C
  • Pima Butte Elementary: B
  • Saddleback Elementary: C
  • Santa Cruz Elementary: B
  • Santa Rosa Elementary: C
  • Desert Wind Middle School: D
  • Maricopa Wells Middle School: D
  • Maricopa High School: C

We are not satisfied with these letter grades and our goal is for each school to be A rated. To help us achieve that goal we have implemented four major K-12 initiatives in 2017-18. First, as a result of override funds, we have 50 additional certified staff this year making class size lower at all schools. Lower class size allows teachers to give more individual attention to students. Second, with override funds we are able to provide additional instructional technology to students to assist them with their academic work. Third, we have implemented new K-12 math curriculum materials and teachers have received professional development training concerning how to use these materials. Finally, K-12 teachers are now using a new “benchmark testing” platform three times during the year so student progress on the state’s curriculum standards can be determined. Teachers received training in how to use the new testing system.

At the elementary schools, the middle schools, and the high school additional things are being done to improve student achievement. Students in grades K-3 are using a new phonics curriculum to build student reading skills and teachers have received professional development training in its use. At the middle school level, two additional blended learning classrooms have been added at Maricopa Wells Middle School. The high school started Ram Academy for credit deficient juniors and seniors which will help to improve the school’s graduation rate.

We know that letter grades are not the only measure of a school’s success. We are also very proud of our excellent staff, the innovative learning opportunities we provide for students, our high quality fine arts programs, our outstanding extra-curricular programs, as well as the safe learning environment we provide at each school.

To learn more about the letter grades for the Maricopa Unified School District, you are invited to attend a Parent Meeting with Superintendent Steve Chestnut on Wednesday, October 18th. You can attend the 10-11 a.m. meeting or the 7-8 p.m. meeting. Each meeting will be the same. Both meetings will be held in the MUSD Governing Board Room located at 44150 W Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway.

Steve Chestnut is superintendent of Maricopa Unified School District.

MUSD and other schools in Maricopa saw their state letter grades drop this year.

The majority of local schools have received lowered A-F letter grades since the scores were last released by the state in 2014.

The district will hold two meetings for parents regarding the A-F letter grades on Oct. 18. The first meeting will be held at 10 a.m. and another at 7 p.m. at the MUSD Governing Board Room, 44150 W. Maricopa Casa Grande Highway.

Schools received their letter grades for the 2016-17 school year from the Arizona Department of Education last week. The results were formally released to the public Oct. 9.

The state’s “A-F Accountability system” was recently adopted in April and measures new testing and achievement standards.

“Arizona’s new transparent A-F system has clear objectives and metrics that focus less on the results of one test, but place a greater emphasis on student growth,” said Tim Carter, president of the Arizona State Board of Education in a press release on Sept. 25.

Letter grades are partially based on results from the AzMERIT standardized test and a combination of other factors including proficiency, growth, English Language Learners’ growth and proficiency, and acceleration/readiness factors.

Indicators are weighted differently for K-8 schools and high schools. For example, 80 percent of K-8 scores are dependent on AzMERIT proficiency and growth, whereas high school scores in that category make up 50 percent.

The 2016-17 letter grades are the first to be released after the state took a “two-year hiatus allowing for a transition to higher academics and a new assessment.”

Legacy Traditional School and Pima Butte Elementary, the only formerly “A”-rated schools in Maricopa, lowered to “B” ratings.

Both middle schools in the Maricopa Unified School District, Desert Wind and Maricopa Wells, lowered from “C” to “D” ratings.

Saddleback Elementary “C”; Santa Cruz Elementary “B”; and Maricopa High School “C”, all maintained their letter grades.

Butterfield Elementary, Maricopa Elementary and Santa Rosa Elementary all lowered from “B”-rated schools to “C” ratings.

Charter school Sequoia Pathway Academy rated “C” in both its K-8 and 9-12 schools. Leading Edge Academy received a “B” rating.

Holsteiner Agricultural School, Camino Montessori School and nearby Mobile Elementary School did not receive ratings.

According to an ADE press release “the State Board voted to not assign FY17 letter grades for schools exclusively serving grades K-2 and small schools.”

Those ratings are scheduled to be released to the smaller schools in mid-January, and opened to the public in February.

Regionally, Stanfield Elementary School received the lowest “F” rating.

Maricopa’s largest public school district, MUSD, has for years publicly campaigned to become an “A”-rated district.

However, challenges most schools experienced adapting to the new standardized test and letter grade system have proved that goal is still ahead of the district.

“We knew that this was a tougher test (AzMERIT) and more demanding curriculum standards, so we knew that it was quite possible that letter grades could drop,” said MUSD Superintendent Steve Chestnut.

The district’s recent efforts in passing an override, hiring 50 additional teaching staff, and implementing new technology in schools are all ways the district plans to improve scores in the future, Chestnut said.

“We believe that we have good strategies in place to continue to improve and that’s our goal,” Chestnut said.

This year, the district opened Ram Academy, an alternative program for high school students with credit deficiencies. Chestnut said those students’ scores will be included in next year’s state letter grades for Maricopa High School because the academy is not considered separate from MHS, at least for now.

The district will hold two meetings for parents regarding the A-F letter grades on Oct. 18. The first meeting will be held at 10 a.m. and another at 7 p.m. at the MUSD Governing Board Room located at 44150 W. Maricopa Casa Grande Highway.

Thad Miller to return to MHS Monday

Maricopa Wells Middle School

After a week spent on a leave of absence, Maricopa Wells Middle School Principal Rick Abel returned Friday to his duties on campus.

Rick Abel

Maricopa Unified School District’s Human Resources Director Tom Beckett said the district still cannot comment on the reasoning behind the leave, “but I can tell you that we are all very happy to have Mr. Abel back in his administrative role leading Maricopa Wells Middle School.”

Abel could not be reached for comment.

Filling Abel’s position temporarily was Maricopa High School’s new Assistant Principal Thad Miller, who had previously held the same role at MWMS.

Miller was transferred to MHS early in the school year, switching positions and schools with one of MHS’s assistant principals, Mallory Miller, no relation.

“(Thad) Miller will be returning to Maricopa High School on Monday, Sept. 25,” Beckett said.

District and charter schools return to class

Brody and Madden Rastad are ready to return to school at Pima Butte Elementary. Photo by Anita McLeod

Brothers Brody and Madden Rastad are never far away from Mom, even at school.

Brody, 9, is entering fourth grade at Pima Butte Elementary School, where Madden will be a first grader and their mother, Yurosha Rastad, teaches second grade.

“We high-five each other in the hallway,” Yurosha Rastad said.

Brody and Madden are two of more than 6,300 students returning to Maricopa Unified School District for the 2017-18 school year.

Brody said he is happy about getting back together with friends at Pima Butte and its nice teachers.

“Everyone gives you a chance to do something amazing,” he said.

While Brody thrives in math, Madden, 6, said he liked the ABC Countdown in kindergarten and is excited about heading into first grade. Like her sons, Yurosha Rastad has best friends at Pima Butte. Several had children around the same time and now see them as students in the hallways, too.

All three Rastads will be back in their family-within-a-family when school starts Aug. 7. Some things might look a little different, though. At district and charter schools a new school year brings some surprises.

Here is a snapshot of updates parents and the community can expect at some Maricopa schools:

Maricopa USD

In addition to its high school, two middle schools and six elementary schools, Maricopa Unified School District will open an alternative school, Ram Academy. The district will implement a newly-adopted math and reading curriculum as well as a new testing platform across each of its schools.

With the successful passage of the budget override last year, MUSD hired 50 new teachers and gained new technology for classrooms. The district will see a slight change in its calendar, but won’t see a completely modified schedule until 2018.

Classes for all MUSD schools begin Aug. 7.

  • High Schools

Maricopa High School will receive six override teachers, and Ram Academy will receive seven. The high school’s sports programs will be headed by former Athletic Director Brian Winter, who replaces Mark Cisterna. Its alternative school will be run by Assistant Principal Steve Ybarra with an estimated enrollment of around 125 students with credit deficiencies.

  • Middle Schools

The 2017-18 school year will see Maricopa Wells and Desert Wind Middle Schools reintegrating sixth-grade students. Sixth graders were transitioned into district elementary schools four years ago.

Maricopa Wells Middle School Principal Rick Abel said his school will receive six new teachers from override funds and eight sixth-grade teachers who previously taught at MUSD elementary schools. Abel said enrollment at Maricopa Wells will be 850 to 900 students by the time schools begins. The middle school will acquire a full-time assistant principal in Thad Miller.

Desert Wind Middle School will absorb around 200 sixth graders in August.

  • Elementary Schools

Half of the positions funded by the override will be dedicated to elementary schools, including three counselors, one librarian and one teacher on special assignment.

MUSD elementary schools are reconfiguring as they return to the K-5 model. Pima Butte Principal Randy Lazar said his school’s enrollment dropped by 60 students from the sixth-grade transition, and he anticipates an enrollment of 480 to 490 students. Lazar hopes to keep key grades, like kindergarten and third grade, between 20 and 22 students per class.

Pima Butte, Santa Cruz and Butterfield Elementary schools will implement the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports initiative. The schools received the grant and subsequent training for the program last year. PBIS promotes schoolwide expectations for student behavior.

Maricopa Elementary School will attempt to be one of four of schools in Arizona to become a “Light house school.” The process involves a readiness review in October that focuses on the school’s “culture, academics and environment,” said MES Principal Jennifer Robinson.

Leading Edge

Leading Edge Academy implemented a waiting list in some grade levels for the first time this year. Principal Mat Reese said the school is near capacity at 776 students. The charter school offers K-8 instruction and an online high school.

Reese said new reading and math curriculum will be introduced this year as well as two new fulltime physical education teachers and a new dean of students, Sherreis Moreland. Assistant Principal Rachele Reese will shift her responsibilities from the elementary to the junior high, and Moreland will eventually take over discipline.

Facilities at Leading Edge will get upgrades, including a ramada with picnic tables, new art room inside the cafeteria and additional classrooms for first, second, fourth and fifth grades.

The first day of classes is Aug. 3.

Sequoia Pathway

The campus director at Sequoia Pathway Academy is not the only new addition to the school. Alfonso Alva, who came on board over the summer, said Pathway is adding four advanced placement classes: AP Literature and Composition, AP Psychology, AP Biology and AP Studio Art.

The school will also introduce a new music teacher and an expansion of its art program with a 3D studio arts course.

Classes begin Aug. 2.


Legacy Traditional School started classes July 24 after adopting a modified schedule that adds an additional week to fall and spring breaks. A teacher pay raise also went into effect, and Dino Katsiris joined the administration.

Principal Amy Sundeen said they are adding a yearbook elective in junior high as well as a robotics club and culture club.

(Raquel Hendrickson contributed to this story.)

This story appears in the August issue of InMaricopa.


On your child’s first days of school, it is important to find out as much information about their teacher’s method of instruction and the scheduled curriculum. It is just as important, however, to establish a reliable line of communication with the teacher so your student can have the best learning environment. This can be done by asking five simple questions, according to Maricopa educators.

1 What is your preferred method of contact?

Find out if the teachers like to use email, text or phone calls to communicate. Some schools allow teachers to have their cellular phones on in class, and though they are often not able to take calls freely, they can often respond quickest via text. During school hours, email is seen as the second-best form of communication, with phone calls being reserved for emergencies or when there is a lack of electronic response from the teacher.

2 If my child is struggling, what can I do at home to support them?

If your student is falling behind or unable to keep up in class, parents will likely be contacted by a teacher either via a note sent home with the child or a direct email or phone call. If no contact is made by the teacher, and a child is expressing frustration with certain material or a lack of understanding, parents are encouraged to contact the teachers via their preferred method of communication.

3 If my child has more advanced knowledge of material than I do, how can I still help them?

Being the parent of a child who is smarter than you about certain subjects can be difficult. However, resources are plentiful. Teaching and study materials are typically available through your child’s school, often directly from their teachers. Most teachers are happy to share photocopies of instructional materials with parents so they can help their child at home. There are also numerous online resources through the National Association for Gifted Children (www.nagc.org) and MENSA for Kids (www.mensaforkids.org). YouTube.com is also a resource for parents to watch instructional videos on certain topics. However, use caution with this method as not all information on YouTube has been vetted for accuracy.

4 If my child will experience chronic absences due to exceptional circumstances (e.g. medical, personal), what should I do?

Parents aware of their child’s need to miss class on a continual basis should work with teachers to learn the teaching schedule to avoid missing class at key moments of core instruction. Emergency situations aside, doing this ensures minimum impact on your child’s education.

5 If there is a complicated family dynamic at home, what should I do so my child is less affected at school?

It’s not necessary for teachers to know every little detail about a student’s personal life. However, it does help the teacher provide a more conducive learning environment when they’re aware of certain circumstances that may interrupt a typical routine. That can involve a different parent picking up the student on certain days, or a child going through a home relocation that could alter their transportation plans or abilities to participate in extracurricular activities.

This story appears in the August issue of InMaricopa.