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Education

Murray Siegel

By Murray Siegel

The new school year is beginning, and articles will be written about new curriculum, new programs and new staff in our schools. Little will be written about one part of the Maricopa Unified School District administrative area that is saving a significant amount of funds by using the expertise and dedication of its personnel.

It is in Business Services and in Maintenance where these savings are quietly being realized. It is about time that the residents of Maricopa are aware of these actions.

Working with Gordon Ponticello and Shari Payne in maintenance and Chad Whittle in grounds keeping, Business Services Director Aron Rausch has initiated the following money-saving programs:

  • An exterior lighting project using LED lights on all campuses is saving the district $135,000 per year.
  • A project to install energy efficient interior lighting will save the district $450,000 per year.
  • A behavior management program to use energy more effectively will save $40,000 per year.
  • Replacing old heating/air conditioning units with brand new equipment paid for by stare funds, costing the district zero.
  • In the near future, a web-based energy controls system combined with the use of solar power is expected to produce additional savings.

Rausch’s willingness to add the duties of maintenance director to his responsibilities when the former director retired, without receiving any additional salary, has saved MUSD real money.

Rausch lives in Maricopa with his wife Becky, who is an academic coach at Butterfield Elementary School. It seems making our schools effective is a family focus.

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.

Murray Siegel

By Murray Siegel

Many high school students are advised to consider a four-year university education following high school graduation to prepare for adult life. For some this is great advice, but, for many, a four-year degree may not provide opportunities for a high-paying job.

Add the outstanding debt accrued to pay for that education, graduates (and those who could not complete a four-year program) may find that upon reflection, a university degree was not the proper path. University graduates with degrees in liberal arts typically find the job market for those degrees limited to positions that are not known for their outstanding starting salaries.

Thanks to a leader with real experience, Central Arizona College (CAC) offers residents of Maricopa an opportunity to obtain leading-edge training to prepare students for high-paying jobs with a real future. Dr. Jackie Elliott, the new CAC president, knows Pinal County has great potential for young people with the right technological education. She brings 27 years of experience as a senior-level community college leader.

The college has an Advanced Manufacturing program, which has started training students for immediate positions requiring knowledge in modern technical skills. Abbott Nutrition and Frito Lay, each of which has a major production facility in Casa Grande, have signed on as advisory board members for the program. These corporations will insure the graduates of CAC’s program will have the skills to enter their employ.

Lucid Motors is opening a plant to construct electric cars in Casa Grande in 2019, and this company is coordinating with CAC to guarantee that Advanced Manufacturing Program graduates will be ready to enter the line at their plant.

Engineering and Technology Department Chair Kristen Benedict has gathered an instructional staff with the knowledge to give students what they need to be successful in the world of modern manufacturing. One program in Advanced Manufacturing is a two-semester sequence leading to a certificate in one of three pathways: Production technician, production maintenance and industrial maintenance. These certificates are stackable, which means that they can lead to a two-year associates degree and to a four-year degree through Northern Arizona University. 

CAC is providing the education that will assist Maricopa in recruiting new high-tech manufacturing facilities to our city.

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 July issue of InMaricopa. 

Murray Siegel

By Murray Siegel

Special Education is a branch of education focused on students with special needs, such as learning disabilities, behavioral or physical challenges, or difficulty in communicating with others. Educators have a responsibility under federal law to create an environment in which a student’s difficulties are overcome.

One type of student with special needs does not generally have those needs addressed in school. This is the academically-gifted student.

Most folks would say the gifted student does not need any help. School is easy for him or her, so why bother with spending money? Yes, gifted students typically learn at an accelerated rate, but there are challenges.

How does a classroom teacher deal with a gifted student who completes the week’s lessons on Tuesday? Two typical strategies are to give that student busy work or ask that student to help another student who is struggling. Busy work is boring and a student who is gifted may not have the patience to work with a struggling student.

The fourth-grade teacher is conducting a lesson on long division. A gifted student in the class raises his or her hand and declares, “I have a better way to divide.” The teacher, if not educated in dealing with the gifted and/or without a deep knowledge of math, may simply tell the student to learn the method being taught. This will frustrate the gifted child.

Maricopa schools (MUSD) responded to a parental appeal for an elementary gifted program and hired a teacher to work with the gifted in grades three through six. One day each week, gifted students in a particular grade at all six elementary schools spend the day with Zoe Redfern, MUSD’s teacher of the gifted, at Saddleback ES. The program is managed by Gretchen Brown, director of multiple programs. Ms. Brown coordinates with a parental gifted committee. This committee is hoping to see the gifted program expanded to the middle schools and to open honors programs to gifted students beyond English and math.

An important component of the MUSD gifted program is the placement of a liaison for the gifted among the faculty at each elementary school. The liaison is helpful in explaining to teachers both the nature of giftedness and ways to maximize the learning experience of gifted children in the teacher’s class.

Gifted students do not simply learn faster. They have deeper insights and ask many “what if” questions.

Is it worth spending additional funds on these bright students? It is the gifted student, if properly challenged and allowed to flourish, who might someday discover a cure for cancer, create a pollution-free method for burning coal for energy or redesign the traffic flow at Sky Harbor Airport. MUSD’s gifted program will provide a positive return on investment.

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.

 

Maricopa Wells Middle School students made a presentation to the governing board during a regular session Wednesday night. Photo by Michelle Chance

By Michelle Chance

It was a pageantry of student success Wednesday night during a presentation inside the Maricopa Unified School District Board Room.

Students from Maricopa Wells Middle School spoke to the MUSD Governing Board about their experiences, some of them life-changing, in programs that ranged from music to drama to athletics. Some of these activities, however, take place after the school day ends, and that is where the issues begin.

MUSD Governing Board looks at budget numbers. Photo by Michelle Chance

MWMS and other secondary schools at the district do not offer transportation to these students due to a lack of grant funding.

“Listening to this presentation tonight … and what Maricopa Wells has done, is nothing short of amazing,” said Board President Patti Coutré. “You can see where they’re heading … and unfortunately transportation is one of the resources they will need to continue without having another grant.”

Principal Rick Abel said families make do by working together to ensure children make it home safely. Coaches are even known to stay until 6:30 p.m. to wait with students until a family member picks them up, Abel said.

In addition to traditional extracurricular activities, MWMS also offers after school academic opportunities like “eighth hour” for students who have fallen behind in their coursework. Abel said the school saw increased attendance in the program when it still had after-hours transportation.

The Board addressed the issue in previous meetings by proposing funding from additional district revenue and has deliberated for weeks on where and how to spend the money.

The district has over $1 million to spend in various categories for the upcoming school year. The figure makes up 3 percent of the district’s overall maintenance and operating budget.

In the most recent proposal, a boost to employee salaries and after-school transportation require the most cash.

Superintendent Steve Chestnut said the transportation cost for the three schools that would use the after-school activity buses would take close to $200,000 of that budget.

Not all board members were convinced of the price tag.

“I would like to see the cost come down,” said Board Member Torri Anderson, who consistently advocates for higher teacher salaries during meetings.

Out of 18 proposed expenditures, making “progress on employee pay” is the most expensive category for next year’s budget. 

The board’s proposal allocates $600,000 of the additional revenue to district personnel, which Chestnut said “would be roughly 2 percent increase across the board for all employees.”

However, Anderson thinks the district can do better.

“I would love to be the highest-paid school district in Pinal County. Then we’ll have a waiting list of teachers coming to our school district,” Anderson said.

Board Member Joshua Judd said the board needed to find a “happy balance” between the two categories.

The board tabled the draft budget for an upcoming work session. Chestnut said he expects the board to confirm an official budget by late June or July. 

The Maricopa Unified School District indicates it is on track implementing override funds despite fighting the tide of a state-wide teacher shortage, and a few hiccups with the formation of an alternative school.

The first of the initiatives tied to the override funds – the purchase of new computers and electronic curriculum enhancements — has experienced little to no difficulty in implementation, according to MUSD superintendent Dr. Steve Chestnut.

The other two initiatives – the establishment of an alternative school for credit-deficient and non-traditional students, and the hiring of 50 new faculty to reduce student to teacher ratios – have experienced a few hold ups.

As for the alternative school, the Ram Academy, MUSD was able to secure a site at Maricopa High School and staff the program, save for one science teaching position. Chestnut said the district hopes to accommodate up to 120 students at the Ram Academy. The first year it will likely see only about 100, and administrators hope to build from there.

“I’m optimistic,” Chestnut said.  “[MHS Principal] Renita Meyers is on it, and I think we’re going to get there.”

The district started sending letters in January to family members of credit-deficient students who will be juniors or seniors next year, Chestnut said. A follow-up letter is going out to those same students in the next week or so. After that, phone calls will be made to non-respondents.

As for the 50 new teachers, the district has filled 41 of those positions created by the override, Chestnut said. Furthermore, he feels despite other non-override positions being vacated, the district is on track to fill all 50 positions in time for the start of the school year next August.

Maricopa, like the rest of Arizona, suffers from lower than average faculty retention rates, and as the 41 positions were being filled over the past four months, another 24 were vacated due to assorted personal reasons including retirement.

“This is the time of year when people start to make plans for next year,” Chestnut said. “We always have attrition like any school district.”

Currently, with the nine vacant override positions and the 24 vacant positions, MUSD has 33 positions to fill by next fall, a fact that doesn’t seem to have Chestnut concerned.

“In some years, we hire up to 50 certified people anyway,” Chestnut said.

He went on to say the number of vacancies could grow as more teachers begin to prepare for next year. However, Chestnut said, the MUSD’s director of Human Resources Tom Beckett has participated in numerous job fairs throughout Arizona, as well as three fairs out of state, to promote MUSD and he is confident the positions will get filled.

The voter-approved budget override measure passed last November will generate enough revenue to implement three new initiatives within the district, each aimed at improving the quality of education.

Anyone interested in learning more about those positions or other opportunities of employment within the district is encouraged to contact the Maricopa Unified School District.

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Murray Siegel

By Murray Siegel

It is springtime, and along with baseball and allergies, it is time for students in Maricopa to take the AzMERIT. The results of this testing are used to determine the grade for each school, and for each school district. Teacher evaluations are partially based on these test scores. Do AzMERIT results have any merit?

Consider an analogy. Once a year, all the people who are patients at a medical practice are tested – blood glucose, blood pressure, cholesterol, kidney function and body mass are all measured. Then the results of the testing are used to evaluate the medical practice and its staff. Payments from Medicare and private insurance companies would be based on the results of these tests. Medical professionals would be up in arms. A patient who is told to change his diet, stop smoking, increase his amount of exercise and take his prescribed medications follows none of these recommendations, yet the doctors are penalized for the patient’s poor test results.

Any rational person would object to this process as unfair.

Yet students who are abused at home, subject to malnutrition, do not get sufficient sleep, do not have parental supervision of homework or do not see a pediatrician regularly have their AzMERIT test results used to evaluate the school and the teachers. This is just as unfair as the medical testing narrative. And we as citizens do not object.

There is more to consider about this testing. The state has indicated it wants more data about each school’s performance than a single test score. The State Board of Education recommended in 2014, “Schools must not be penalized for low scores if significant gains are made over the course of the academic year.” Despite this recommendation approved by a vote of the Board, the latest methods of evaluating schools, especially elementary schools, disregard that guidance. Mark Joraanstad, executive director of the Arizona School Administrators, has said it is troubling that “over-reliance on a single test score is the dominating feature in the system.”

Why does the state Legislature pay no attention to this continuation of an unfair system of evaluation? Residents of Maricopa who desire quality schools and who know that home values are somewhat based on the ratings of neighborhood schools should contact their state representatives and demand this unfairness be addressed immediately.

Nicholas Sherrod took the road less traveled to earn his high school diploma. Photo by Mason Callejas

A Maricopa man has at last earned his high school diploma with the help of a program recently created by his employer – McDonald’s.

Nicholas Sherrod, 20, dropped out of Maricopa High School three years ago, and now, with the help of a new program at his work, he was finally able to get his high school credentials.

Born in Everett, Washington, Sherrod moved with his parents to Maricopa when he was 14. Both were managers at a McDonald’s in Washington and relocated to the Phoenix area to help with several new locations.

While attending MHS, Sherrod got a job at a Maricopa McDonald’s locations almost as soon as he was eligible to work. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for him to begin to struggle with his work schedule and keeping his grades up.

“School wasn’t really for me,” Sherrod said. “It got to the point where I was getting bad grades but I passed every test I got.”

Sherrod’s problem wasn’t attendance or exams; it was homework. He would never complete his regular homework due to his busy work schedule.

After struggling for a few years to fit the typical high-school mold, Sherrod decided to leave the dream of a diploma behind and embrace the reality of work and the steady income it provided.

Fast-forward three years. After he worked his way around several McDonald’s locations and toyed with the idea of returning for his diploma, Sherrod’s fiancée, Kayla, successfully convinced him to go and get it. After spending a brief time with another online diploma program, he learned about the Archways to Opportunities program, launched in early 2016, and knew instantly it was right for him.

Photo by Mason Callejas
Photo by Mason Callejas

Through the program, McDonalds offers eligible employees a free online high school diploma through Career Online High School, not a GED.

His experience through the Archways program was considerably better than his previous online school experience. The teachers, he said, were much more involved, calling and emailing multiple times a week. This accountability Sherrod believes created a better, more thorough, learning environment.

“They don’t let you wait until the last minute,” Sherrod said. “They cut it up so you don’t get behind.”

At the time of Sherrod’s exiting from MHS, there were not many options for people like him. Now, as the Maricopa Unified School District ramps up its recently founded alternative learning program – The Ram Academy – Sherrod feels he “probably” would have benefited from the program.

“I’m just glad that people will have the opportunity now,” Sherrod said.

Getting his high school diploma is not the end of the road for Sherrod, by far. Currently he is engaged to be married, and is in the process of buying a home. After settling in he hopes to get his real estate license and become an agent.

Archways spokesperson Katy Reeves said the program is designed to help employees move up and out into other industries.

“McDonald’s knows they are going to lose really great people and they’re OK with that because they want to help them reach their goals,” Reeves said.

In barely a year, the program has helped more than 200 McDonald’s employees in Arizona, and has invested nearly $200,000 in the program.

The Archways to Opportunity Program also offers eligible employees, those with nine months of employment, the chance to learn English through the English under the Arches program, college tuition assistance and an advising service to help their employees achieve their goals.

Murray Siegel

By Murray Siegel

The Maricopa school system (MUSD) is in the process of hiring 50 teachers to fill positions created by the passing of the override in November. Many of these teachers will be working in elementary classrooms.

This is the third in a series of columns about the preparation of elementary mathematics teachers. The first discussed the importance of the teaching of math during the elementary grades and included responses from two new MUSD teachers. The second article examined how Northern Arizona University prepares future elementary teachers to teach math from the point of view of two math-education faculty. This installment investigates how some future elementary teachers see their mathematics education.

Students were asked to write brief essays about their NAU math-education courses. One wrote, “I feel that many pre-service elementary teachers have a poor attitude about math because they often reflect on their poor experiences when they were learning math. My courses have taught me methods that will help those students who may struggle with certain concepts.”

Another student admitted, “As a student myself who has struggled significantly in mathematics, I can relate to these feelings of fear and lack of confidence. However, I have conquered the majority of those fears and I have developed a sense of confidence in my ability to do mathematics.”

Another student wrote, “I imagine it will still be difficult to teach to students. I think that because I was not fond of math when I was in school I have a preconceived notion that all students are going to hate math.”

These students are typical of many future elementary teachers in their lack of confidence in being able to teach math, and the university recognizes this challenge. Its content and methods courses do a significant job at helping students overcome their math-phobia.

A fourth student wrote, “At NAU, pre-service elementary teachers are given a multitude of resources that create a level of comfort and confidence in future educators.”

Another student echoed this sentiment when talking about the math methods course: “This class was the exact class we needed to boost our confidence and help prepare us for becoming teachers. This course has gotten me excited about becoming a math teacher.”

Dozens of student responses were received and the quotes included in this article are typical of the sentiment expressed by these future elementary teachers. Anyone who cares about the learning occurring in MUSD elementary schools should hope that many of the new teachers will have taken these classes.

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 March issue of InMaricopa.

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Steve Chestnut

By Steve Chestnut, Ed.D.

The Arizona State Legislature is currently considering four bills, SB 1431, SB 1281, HB 2394 and HB 2465, that would dramatically expand Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs), often referred to as “vouchers.”

ESAs can currently be used to pay tuition and fees at private schools, online learning, tutoring, etc., for students who qualify. Public school districts and charter schools cannot accept ESAs since these schools are free to children in Arizona.

The state began the ESA program in the 2011-12 school year and only 115,000 Special Education students qualified at that time. That year 115 students participated at a cost to the state of $1.4 million. Since then the Legislature has expanded the number of students eligible to use ESAs to 250,000 of the state’s 1 million K-12 students.

This school year, 2016-17, there are 4,102 students participating at a cost to the state of $37 million. Since the first year of this program, the state has spent $99.7 million on ESA scholarships. I believe this proposed legislation concerning the expansion of ESAs raises two important questions.

First, why would the Legislature increase an educational option that costs the state more money than what they currently spend on district and charter schools? One of the arguments in support of ESAs is that they save money since the ESA amount is 90 percent of the state provided per-pupil funding. There would be a savings if ESAs were 90 percent of state “base funding” only. However, the amount of each ESA is 90 percent of state “base funding” plus “district additional assistance.”

The result is that on average every K-8 student that receives an ESA costs the state an additional $1,083 above current funding levels. Every high school student that receives an ESA costs the state an additional $1,286 above high school funding levels.

Feb. 14, the Joint Legislative Budget Committee published a report stating the proposed expansion of ESAs could cost the state $35 million per year by 2020-21. If only half of the state’s 45,000 private school students take advantage of this expanded ESA proposal the cost to the state would be $125 million annually by 2030.

Second, why is the legislature considering an expensive expansion of ESAs when public schools (district and charter schools) are still so poorly funded? The Center for the Future of Arizona recently completed a study of teacher salaries, and the study was verified by the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University. The study showed median pay for Arizona elementary teachers adjusted for the cost of living, ranked 50th in the nation in 2015.

In my judgment the Legislature should not consider an expansion of the ESA program until all public schools in the state are adequately funded.

Steve Chestnut is the superintendent of Maricopa Unified School District.

Principal Chris Lineberry with children and the book he co-authored. Submitted photo

Chris Lineberry had a heart attack when he was 35 years old. He was the principal of an elementary school in North Carolina at the time. The medical event changed his life as well as the lives of his students.

He took dramatic steps to get rid of unhealthy foods and increase physical activity and stress-coping mechanisms at the school. As students’ body-mass index decreased, academic achievement improved. It was named a School of Distinction.

Now a resident of Desert Cedars in Maricopa and the principal of Stanfield Elementary, Lineberry has written a book with like-minded educators aimed at improving student fitness.

The book, “Recess Was My Favorite Subject: Where Did It Go?,” is subtitled “Improving Academic Achievement and Addressing Childhood Obesity in Your Classroom by Integrating Best Health and Wellness Practices with Required Instructional Standards.”

With the advent of more rigorous, standardized tests, many school districts across the country decreased or eliminated recess and physical education classes to make room for more academics. Lineberry saw that as an ill-informed response that did more harm than good.

“There is a significant body of research that demonstrates the connection between physical activity and achievement,” Lineberry said.

His goal is to show teachers and administrators how to keep recess a regular part of the daily schedule without limiting academics or spending money. He is doing so by example at Stanfield.

“We are the first and only school in Arizona to ever win the Gold with Distinction award from the USDA,” he said. That is awarded for a high level of physical education and nutrition.

Kindergartners exercise while counting to 100 at Stanfield Elementary. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson
Kindergartners exercise while counting to 100 at Stanfield Elementary. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

In October, Stanfield Elementary was awarded a $100,000 fitness center from the National Foundation for Governor’s Fitness Councils. It was presented by Jake “Body by Jake” Stienfeld, the director of NFGFC, and is open to students and staff. Lineberry said the district may also provide access to the public next year.

In January the state Board of Education’s A-F Accountability Committee discussed adding points for PE/Health Education.

Melissa Sadorf, superintendent of Stanfield Elementary School District, spoke to the ad-hoc committee, telling them that as a former PE teacher, she found it imperative to address the whole child.

“Every student at Stanfield gets at least 30 minutes of physical activity daily,” she said. “Out-of-seat time is expected every hour in every classroom; oral hygiene, which is the No. 1 cause of student absences, is also addressed.

“Health and wellness are just as much a priority as student achievement and should be recognized as such for the districts that choose to take those opportunities on,” Sadorf said.

This week, the state House of Representatives gave preliminary approval to a requirement that elementary school students be given at least 50 minutes of “unstructured recess.”

Stanfield Elementary was awarded a $100,000 fitness center from the National Foundation for Governor's Fitness Councils. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson
Stanfield Elementary was awarded a $100,000 fitness center from the National Foundation for Governor’s Fitness Councils. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Lineberry and his co-authors are passionate about educating the “whole” child. William Shane Hesse is a lecturer for Arizona State University and was the state’s Middle School Physical Education Teacher of the Year in 2011. Lynn Miller is the principal of Sandra Day O’Connor High School. J. Allen Queen has been a professor at UNC-Charlotte for 25 years. Queen also owns the Writers Edge Press, which published “Recess Was My Favorite Subject.” All have doctorates in education.

“Most teachers got into teaching because they love kids, they love to interact with kids, and they want to help make their lives better,” Lineberry said. “Test scores are part of that. I’m not anti-test scores and I’m not anti-accountability. I am anti-accountability at the price of the health of our students and our future.

“The misconception is that we have to choose – either healthy kids, active kids, or highly-performing, academically-strong kids. We don’t have to choose. The two go together.”

He said the basic human need to be active, well-nourished and healthy is interrelated to the ability to problem-solve, read, do math and formulate a cognitive perspective.

The book leads educators to programs and lesson plans that work physical activity into the classroom. Lineberry said he does not schedule recess periods but leaves that to the teachers. He also encourages teachers to feel free to take the kids outdoors when they are getting squirmy and antsy.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the obesity rate for children age 2-19 years in the United States is 17 percent. The rate has seen a significant decline for ages 2-5 years, from 14 percent in 2004 to 9 percent in 2014, while other age groups showed little change. The percentage of American youth considered overweight is around 40 percent.

“The time has come for a paradigm shift,” Lineberry said.

www.corepurposeconsulting.com/store.html 

From left: Lynn Miller, Chris Lineberry, Jake Stienfeld, Gov. Doug Ducey and William S. Hesse. Submitted photo
From left: Lynn Miller, Chris Lineberry, Jake Stienfeld, Gov. Doug Ducey and William S. Hesse. Submitted photo

Murray Siegel

By Murray Siegel

In December, Maricopa Unified School District (MUSD) was one of only four Arizona school districts named to the seventh annual Advanced Placement Honor Roll. Many citizens of Maricopa might ask, “What’s the big deal? What is important about Advanced Placement (AP)?” and “Is this just another meaningless public relations announcement?”

The AP program is conducted by The College Board, a nonprofit corporation whose purpose is to allow high school students to take college courses while still in high school and receive credit via a national exam managed by the Educational Testing Service, also a nonprofit corporation. The AP program is trusted by the vast majority of colleges and scores on AP exams are used by colleges to award credit to incoming students.

The AP Honor Roll recognizes school districts that maintain successful AP programs. Among students enrolled in AP courses there are at least 30 percent who are from underserved minorities or at least 30 percent who qualify for free/reduced lunch. AP students at Maricopa High School qualified on both standards. Only four Arizona districts met the requirements for the Honor Roll, thus MUSD’s receipt of this award is quite significant.

MHS has increased its AP course offerings to 11 – Studio Art, English Language, English Literature, Calculus, Biology, Chemistry, World History, U.S. History, Government, Economics and Spanish. It takes more than qualified AP teachers to obtain student success in AP. The coursework students take going back to elementary school must build a level of knowledge and work ethic that prepares students to meet the challenge of an AP class.

Given the success of MUSD’s AP program, credit must be spread throughout the district schools.

Special notice must be given to the high school’s AP teachers. As challenging as the coursework is for the students, the teachers must have the subject-area knowledge to meet the demands of an AP course. This is national curriculum and topics cannot be skipped. Failure of the teacher to cover the course curriculum thoroughly will result in low exam scores. Obviously, the scores of MUSD students validate the qualifications of their teachers.

Indeed, MUSD being awarded a place on the AP District Honor Roll should bring pride to our community. The teachers and administrators of the district should be congratulated for their contributions to the success of the AP program in Maricopa.

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 February issue of InMaricopa.

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Principal Janel Hildick introduces Butterfield AMIC students and discusses the AMIC program. Photo by Mason Callejas

Butterfield Elementary teachers and students presented Maricopa Unified School District’s governing board an update on the programs at the school during a board meeting Wednesday night. They specifically addressed the Advanced Mathematics Intervention Class (AMIC).

Maricopa Wells Middle School

The Maricopa Unified School District’s governing board voted Wednesday to approve the relocation of sixth grade classes from the district’s six elementary schools to its two middle schools.

The decision came down as a result of the recent override measure, which will expand elementary school faculties by an average of four teachers per school, reducing the number of available classrooms.

To accommodate this growth the district has decided to move sixth grade classes to Desert Wind and Maricopa Wells middle schools, where Superintendent Steve Chestnut believes the sixth graders belong.

“Those schools were designed to be middle schools,” Chestnut said.  “I’m a former middle school principal, I love middle schools and I think sixth graders thrive in that environment.”

Board member Torri Anderson voiced her concern over the possible infringement on special-needs and blended learning programs, which currently use space at Maricopa Wells that sixth grade classes will be occupying in the future.

Chestnut acknowledged there will be some issues with relocating those programs, but classroom space is available elsewhere in the district which can be utilized for those smaller programs, he said.

No decisions on the relocation of those programs has been finalized.

Anderson also inquired about the move effectively reversing a 2013 board decision, which resulted in the relocation of sixth grade to elementary schools. The move was in part designed as a cost-saving effort by the district. However it was also meant to encourage parents to retain their children in MUSD for as long as possible.

“That was one of the deciding reasons as to why we moved them,” Anderson said. “Because, we thought, ‘Oh, if we can keep them here for sixth grade, then guess what, they stay here for seventh and eighth.’”

It’s unclear if the effort did, in fact, have an impact on the retention of students, as Chestnut did not have statistical information to present on the topic.

Relocation of the sixth grade classes is set to begin with the 2017-2018 school year.

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Maricopa Unified School District Administrative Office

Maricopa Unified School District was one of four Arizona school districts receiving national recognition for its advanced placement program.

MUSD was named to the College Board’s seventh annual Advanced Placement District Honor Roll. Other Arizona school districts are Vail, Tucson Unified and Diocese of Phoenix Catholic Schools.

“I am honored to congratulate these four Arizona school districts on their hard work to enhance student learning through their progressive Advanced Placement Programs,” state Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas said in a statement. “This accomplishment highlights the dedication of both students and teachers in their efforts to reach the highest levels of academic achievement.”

To be included on the honor roll, school districts were studied on three years of data, 2014-2016

Schools were judged on increased participation in and access to AP courses (at least 4 percent in large districts, 6 percent in medium districts and 11 percent in small districts), increased percentage of minority students scoring at least a 3 on an AP exam and increased percentage of students scoring a 3 or higher from 2014 to 2016.

The percentage of students who qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch is also considered.

MUSD Superintendent Steve Chestnut said the high school increased its AP offerings from 8 to 11. “I think that’s a new high for us,” he said.

In Maricopa, under-represented minority students – defined as “African-American, Hispanic/Latino and American Indian/Alaska Native” – are in the majority. Chestnut said the school has a white population of 36 percent. And 57 percent of students are considered low-income.

“We try to send more and more teachers to AP training,” Chestnut said.

As part of the district’s strategic plan, the district budgeted for the extra training and AP textbooks to provide more access to the advanced courses.

“We are pleased we scored well,” Chestnut said.

In AP exams, a score of 2 will allow high school credit but not college credit. A score of 3 or 4 provides college credit.

MUSD was among 433 districts in the United States and Canada to qualify for the honor roll.

Murray Siegel

By Murray Siegel

What does the word “elementary” mean when considering elementary school?

Many would say elementary means simple or basic. Actually, what students learn in elementary school is the foundation of their future learning, both formal and informal.

Are our state universities giving future elementary teachers what is needed to prepare them for the elementary classroom?

To answer these questions, two MUSD teachers were queried. One, a fourth-grade teacher and graduate of Northern Arizona University, is in her second year of teaching. The other, a sixth-grade teacher who had a business degree and obtained her academic preparation for teaching via an online program at a community college, is experiencing her first year in the classroom. Both believe their preparation was adequate, but each pointed to enhancements that would have been a great benefit for a new teacher.

Specifically, each would have liked more practical experience in the classroom before completing the program, and both agreed they should have been provided with more resources. Entering a school without a toolkit of resources leaves the teacher scrambling to find activities and teaching methods once that teacher is assigned to a specific grade level. The university might believe the school district will provide this, while the district assumes that a library of resources is something the new teacher obtained at the teacher-training institute.

Despite different backgrounds, both professionals feel their respective programs fell short in two important areas – sufficient knowledge of constructing lesson plans, with emphasis on meeting district/state standards, and dealing with students with a variety of behavior problems.

Lesson plans are required and a specific structure is defined. With little experience creating lesson plans in diverse subjects while using specific guidelines, the new teacher can plan on spending an inordinate amount of time meeting the school’s lesson-plan requirement.

Anyone who has spent more than a few days in a public school classroom knows misbehaving students are a fact of life. The behavior can vary from simply speaking out of turn to a significant demonstration of disrespect and even violence against other students. A new teacher, without another adult in the classroom, needs to have the preparation to confidently deal with the problem student when confronted with serious misbehavior.

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

You would be surprised to learn that an airline pilot responsible for the safety of 150 or more passengers earned an annual salary of $40,936. You would be shocked to learn that a family doctor is receiving an annual salary of $40,936.

Yet you would neither be surprised nor shocked to learn that a teacher in the Maricopa School District with five years of teaching experience, and responsible for the learning foundation of 25 to 200 students (depending on grade level and subject area), has an annual salary of $40,936.

Yes, but teachers get three months off in the summer so the difference in pay is understandable. A pilot’s hours are limited by the FAA. Most pilots have time for a second source of income. Some own a travel agency or dabble in real estate or fly for the Reserves or the Guard. Many physicians take time off, perhaps every other Wednesday or they leave early on Friday. Certainly patient hours in the evening or on weekends can be left to associates.

What is the reason for the significant difference between a pilot, a physician and a school teacher? All three professions demand knowledge, have a certification process, and impose serious responsibilities upon the professional.

If one flashes back to the mid-20th century, one will find almost all airline pilots and most physicians were men, while the vast majority of teachers were women. There is no question that the disparity in earnings between teachers and other professionals is based on the gender inequality that existed 60 years ago, and that inequity has persisted.

Another interesting difference between teachers and the other two professions is how the individual is evaluated. A doctor whose patients fail to follow health advice is not castigated if those patients become severely ill or die. An airline pilot is evaluated on flying skills. If passengers fail to heed the pilot’s warning to fasten seat belts and are then injured due to violent turbulence, the pilot does not suffer a poor rating.

A teacher, however, is evaluated based on the performance of his/her students. If many of the students have uncaring parents, subsist on a poor diet, live in a dysfunctional family or are abused, these factors are not considered when viewing the students’ scores on standardized tests.

If our schools are to provide students with the education needed for success in the future, should we not demand the very best teachers, provide salaries that are commensurate with a teacher’s abilities and evaluate those abilities in an equitable manner?

Murray Siegel is a Maricopa resident. He has a PhD in Math Ed 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 October issue of InMaricopa.

Murray Siegel

By Murray Siegel

In this column published a few months ago, it was suggested teaching undergraduate students might not really be the primary purpose of a university. Despite most Americans believing universities are there for student learning, and despite statements from universities proclaiming the importance of teaching, research is the primary criterion for evaluating and promoting university faculty. That article promised that possible means to improve college teaching would be offered in a future column, and this is that column.

First, let us define how college faculty are classified. Adjunct faculty are part-time instructors, hired by the semester who get paid a small amount per class and receive no benefits. Contract faculty are full-time faculty with a contract for one, two or three years. They are paid a salary and do receive benefits but are restricted in how they can serve the university. Tenured faculty, who are the professors, are at the top of the pyramid and have salaries considerably higher than contract faculty. They are required to perform research and teach fewer classes in order to have sufficient time for research. New professors are “tenure track” until they are granted tenure or are asked to leave. The tenure track can take as long as six years.

How are college faculty evaluated as teachers? The primary tool is an online evaluation completed by students. Participation in these surveys is voluntary and, thus, this method suffers from voluntary response bias, a well-documented bias caused by respondents who are negative or angry being more likely to complete a survey. There are rare classroom observations by peers, which my experience indicates are not valid.

During my eight years at ASU, I was observed only once, and the evaluator was a biologist, despite the fact I taught mathematics. To the best of my knowledge that evaluator received no formal assessment training. Compare this to my experience as a high school department chair where I received extensive training in classroom observation and teacher assessment prior to being able to evaluate teachers in my department.

What can be done?

A simple solution is to create two classifications of tenured faculty, research professors and teaching professors. Research faculty are primarily evaluated by their research. They teach the most advanced courses and are expected to mentor undergraduates and advise graduate students. Teaching faculty would be primarily evaluated by regular classroom observations by properly trained assessors. Student evaluations of teaching professors would be conducted in structured face-to-face interviews with a random sample of the professor’s students. Teaching professors would be expected to write articles for academic journals and/or make presentations at professional conferences, but would not be asked to perform research.

This approach should improve the quality of teaching at the college level and most likely cause better retention rates among faculty members who will be the teaching professors.

Murray Siegel is a Maricopa resident. He has a PhD in Math Ed 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 September issue of InMaricopa.

Gov. Doug Ducey (center) with Legacy Traditional Schools Executive Directors Aaron Hale, Becky Hale, Laura Gregory and William Gregory in Maricopa. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Legacy Traditional School in Maricopa was Gov. Doug Ducey’s first stop on his annual Back to School Tour.

The governor arrived at the campus on Tuesday morning and was guided around the campus by school administrators, including new Principal Amy Sundeen and LTS executive directors.

Students performed music for the governor and his staff, including “The Star-Spangled Banner,” “You’re a Grand Old Flag” and “Dance to the Music.”

The Maricopa campus of LTS was chosen for its “demonstrated academic excellence, exemplary teachers and school leadership.”

It is one of 12 Arizona schools in the Legacy charter organization.

MUSD Board President Patti Coutre. Photo by William Lange

By Patti Coutré

I truly believe that public education should be supported by our elected officials on every level, local, state and federal; and I will always vote for those who will best represent my interests.

It was no surprise to see Steve Smith’s opposition for the MUSD Override.  Per his voting record, he never has supported public education in Maricopa and will never get my vote.  It is extremely frustrating to have two local City Council candidates, Nancy Smith and Dan Frank, not take a position either in support or opposition of the MUSD Override.  How much time would it take to get the information that they need in order to take a stand?

Joshua Babb, newcomer to the political arena, was able to attend an Override Committee meeting and with a few follow up emails get the information that he needed to support the Override.  Why can’t Nancy or Dan do the same?  Do they think that education is not important to the City of Maricopa?  Do they think that because they have previously served on the Council that they should be elected to do so again?  Are they worried that they will lose voters if they take a stand one way or the other?

Maricopa does not need wishy-washy elected officials making, or not making, decisions for our City.  My concern is if either of them is elected as council member, what other future issues will come up that they don’t have the time to research or take a position on?  Education is vital to the growth of our community.  We need more businesses and we need an educated, employable workforce.  Improving our schools will help grow our economy and raise our property values.

The MUSD Override will accomplish this by putting more teachers in the classroom and improving instructional technology.  Going to the polls and voting should not be like pulling the lever on a slot machine, hoping for the “jackpot” but end up with a “bust.”


Patti Coutré is president of the Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board.

Murray Siegel

By Murray Siegel

Across America there are many parents who have no concern about paying for their child’s college costs, due to the parents counting on their child’s athletic ability to be rewarded with an athletic scholarship. Unless these parents have experience as a scholarship athlete or as a high school coach, they may be in for a rude awakening.

There are dangers involved with counting on athletic scholarships. The very first caveat is to know the odds against receiving an athletic scholarship. For example, there are more than 1 million boys playing high school football, yet across all NCAA Division I and II schools there are only 19,000 football scholarships (odds of 50:1).

Among non-revenue sports such as soccer, tennis and track, the number of scholarships is limited. For example, a Division I soccer coach has a maximum of 10 scholarships. To attract enough quality players, these scholarships are split so two-star players might get a full-ride and 16 other players receive a half scholarship. Another concern not understood by most parents is that athletic scholarships are not guaranteed and must be renewed annually. An injury to an athlete or a new coach with a different set of tactics may cause an athlete to lose the scholarship.

How good is the young athlete and what changes may occur as he or she matures? I spent many years as a high school girls’ soccer coach and had a number of players who were not as competitive as 16-year-olds as they had been at 14. The difference was physiological changes that took place as puberty set in. You may not be able to predict the size of your 12-year-old when she or he is 17. Few college coaches want a 4-foot-11 female point guard or a 5-foot-9 male shooting guard.

Also, many parents think because their child is the best athlete in the local league that this translates into national prominence. Unless an athlete is participating at a highly competitive level, one cannot judge his or her scholarship potential.

So what can parents do? The simple answer is guide your child to be successful academically in the most challenging program commensurate with the child’s true abilities. NCAA Division III schools do not offer athletic scholarships, but they do have merit scholarships available for athletes who have shown academic prowess.

An example taken from my teaching/coaching experience: A and B were both potentially good students and both played basketball. A was also a quarterback. A was a thinking-man’s quarterback but did not have great size or speed. A’s father emphasized athletics and aimed his son at being a Division I quarterback. B’s father motivated his son to succeed at both academics and basketball. B received a merit scholarship to a
Division III school that was highly-ranked nationally as an academic institution and he played for four years. A won a football scholarship to a major SEC powerhouse where he was a third string quarterback and never played. In his spare time, he became a bookie taking student bets. The gambling ring was discovered and A lost his scholarship, was kicked off the team, and ejected from the university. Which parent did the right thing?

Murray Siegel is a Maricopa resident. He has a PhD in Math Ed 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 August issue of InMaricopa.

Councilmember Nancy Smith

By Nancy Smith

Education funding should be resolved at the state level. It is the state’s responsibility to fund Arizona’s education needs and provide superb education that allows us to compete at the same level in our nation and globally. Pressure should be placed appropriately, at the state level to solve this problem.

There are two methods that would resolve funding education in Arizona without raising property taxes.

1. Transfer federal owned land to Arizona:

In 1914 states were promised that federally owned land would be transferred to the states in which they exist (including surface rights, water, timber and mineral rights). This transfer has not happened in the West states the same as it has in the East states. As an example, in New York 97 percent of lands are under private ownership and generating property tax, and only 17 percent of Arizona lands are in private hands. With this record, is there any doubt as to why Arizona struggles with having the funds for education?

In 2015, some members of the Arizona Legislature met to request the transfer of federal lands to the State of Arizona for long term education funding. If this were to happen, as promised, it would create a larger state land trust and better fund education. Nearly half of the land in Arizona is owned by the federal government and results in a loss of $2 billion per year to taxpayers. If controlled by the state, Arizona would have choices in how to maximize the land to increase funding for education.

2. Arizona State Land Trust:

As we have learned over the past year with Prop 123, Arizona has a State Land Trust where the investments proceeds are used to fund education. What was not mentioned very much during this discussion was Arizona’s own ‘dragging their feet’ to sell land in this trust to put more land into private ownership. Selling land within the state trust would be helpful in two ways; 1) Proceeds of the land sale would increase the value of the State Land Trust allowing for an increase of funding to education. 2) Private ownership increases property tax which could be available for funding education.

These two movements would make a significant change to education in Arizona, far more than an override, without raising property taxes.

I would like to see our school boards, teacher unions and Override committee members participating in the American Lands Council to make these two transfer types happen and putting heavy pressure on our state and federal legislators to make this happen soon. This would be a permanent solution and not one where the public is continually asked to increase their property tax to fund what the state should be already be funding.

I believe our Maricopa City Council should have a liaison participating in the American Lands Council as well. If re-elected, I will volunteer my time to participate in this council and fight for the transfer of federal land in Arizona to the state.

Lastly, when asked whether I support the current MUSD Override at the city council debate, I sincerely answered, informing the public that I have been in discussions with the override chairman regarding some concerns that I and members of the public, who have shared their concerns with me, still have. Answering the current question, “Do you support the Maricopa Unified School District override?” in one word: Undecided.


Nancy Smith is a member of the Maricopa City Council.

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MUSD Governing Board is deciding the budget impact of Prop. 123 funds. Photo by Ethan McSweeney

By Ethan McSweeney

With additional funding from Proposition 123 secured, Maricopa Unified School District introduced a plan to use the cash to add 13 new teachers and other hires, as well as salary boost for employees.

MUSD Superintendent Steve Chestnut presented the proposed new spending for next year’s budget at the district’s Governing Board meeting Wednesday night. MUSD will receive more than $3.46 million in additional revenue for the next school year with $2.5 million of that coming from Proposition 123, which Arizona voters approved on a razor-thin margin last month.

More than $926,000 of the additional money would go to a 3.7-percent salary increase for MUSD employees under the proposal.

“We’re very excited to be able to propose that,” Chestnut said. “It’s the largest increase we’ve offered in many years as a result of passage of 123.”

More than $700,000 is included next year to pay for the additional 13 teachers. MUSD would need to work to fill those positions for the next school year, Chestnut said.

It’s possible additional revenue for the next school year will increase slightly in the near future above the $3.4 million, Chestnut said.

Potential new hires also include an additional security officer, a nurse, a mental health counselor and three in-school suspension teachers. Five special education staff members, including two teachers, are proposed in new spending, too.

“Our special ed. population continues to grow and get more complex,” Chestnut said. “We’re excited about the fact that we will have some cost savings this year in special education expenditures.”

Those savings will come from being able to bring 12 special education students who currently go to Casa Grande for school to come back to Maricopa, Chestnut said. The Southwest Education Center, which provides service to the students, plans to place a teacher at Maricopa Wells Middle School for those 12.

The proposal also includes $535,000 for an annual stipend for all returning staff. This year’s stipend would be much larger than what was paid out last year, Board Member Gary Miller said.

A preliminary budget will be presented at the next MUSD Governing Board meeting on June 22, which will allow input to be provided on creating the final budget for the 2016-17 school year. That final budget will be introduced at the July 13 meeting.

By a 51-49 margin, Arizona voters in May approved Proposition 123, which will allow Arizona to tap into the State Land Trust to provide K-12 schools with an addition $3.5 billion over the next 10 years.

The measure was introduced to settle a long-standing lawsuit from the schools against the state Legislature. A judge determined the state owed schools up to $1.3 billion for failing to provide the required inflation funding increases during the recession years.

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Maricopa High School announced an additional Central Arizona College dual enrollment class will be offered for 2016-17. The new class will be General Biology I. Four CAC dual enrollment classes were offered in 2015-16. These classes are taught by MHS faculty who qualify to teach college level classes. Students can take the course for high school credit only, or for high school and college credit.

Students who choose college credit must pay tuition fees and must pass the CAC placement test. The following five CAC courses will be offered in 2016-17:

Math 121 – Intermediate Algebra
Math 151 -College Algebra
Eng 101 – English Composition III
Eng 102 – English Composition IV
Bio 181 – General Biology I

For additional information, please contact Wade Watson, MUSD Director of Curriculum & Instruction at 520-568-5100 ext. 1013, or at wwatson@musd20.org

There is still time for Maricopa students to get registered for Central Arizona College’s First Step summer program and Early College program for fall. The First Step program provides an opportunity for Pinal County high school students who have completed their sophomore, junior, or senior years, to take up to 5 college credit hours, during
CAC’s summer sessions for free tuition and fees. The only cost a student would incur would be for books and transportation. For more details on the program, summer course offerings, and the steps to enroll in the program, please visit us atwww.centralaz.edu/firststep.

The Early College program provides an opportunity for Pinal County high school students who are in their junior or senior years, to take up to five college credit hours, during CAC’s fall and spring sessions for free tuition and fees.

The only cost a student would incur would be for books and transportation. For more details on the program, fall course offerings, and the steps to enroll in the program, please visit us at www.centralaz.edu/earlycollege.

CAC is also offering recent high school graduates, beginning with the class of 2014, and GED recipients an opportunity to experience life as a college student this summer. Summer Bridge will take place Aug. 14-18 at the CAC Signal Peak Campus. Summer Bridge is a free five-day extended orientation to college. During Summer Bridge, students learn valuable skills in time-management, health and wellness, financial management and money matters, decision making, and many other topics crucial to success in college. Students live on-campus in CAC’s residential halls, and are provided meals and all learning materials throughout the program. The TRIO Summer Bridge program is the only all-inclusive residential college orientation program held in Arizona.

Among the benefits for students who attend Summer Bridge is the Peer Mentor program. Students are assigned a peer mentor and are encouraged to meet with their mentor as often as necessary throughout the fall semester while they adjust to college life. Students interested in Summer Bridge should log on to  www.centralaz.edu/summerbridge to download a fillable application. Certain eligibility requirements are
based on federal guidelines.

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Murray Siegel

By Murray Siegel

Politicians are talking about making a college education more affordable, yet do we know what a university actually does?

Most Americans, if asked what the primary purpose of a university is, will say the education of undergraduates, who make up the vast majority of the student body. Examination of most university policies will reveal a different answer: the primary purpose is the education of faculty.

The important faculty at any university are the tenured professors or those seeking tenure. The university administration might proclaim teaching excellence is of primary value but their tenure-granting and promotional criteria belie that statement. A professor’s scholarship is what is most valued. Scholarship means the professor’s research and writing.

To provide sufficient time for tenured or tenure-track professors to do research, they are given fewer classes. To make up for this loss of teaching time, the university allows classes such as first-year calculus and introductory chemistry to be taught in large sections, with as many as 400 students in one class.

To teach these large lectures, especially in mathematics and the sciences, the faculty assigned might speak English as a second or third language. Does this give you a warm feeling about the university’s concern for undergraduate learning? Many classes are taught by contract faculty (instructors, lecturers, etc.) who are not tenured and who are hired to teach, often without guarantee of having a permanent job.

Allow me to provide two examples from my university education. As an undergraduate engineering physics major, I had a renowned professor for advanced electricity and magnetism. During the entire semester, we had one test, a mid-term, the problems on which had absolutely nothing to do with the course subject matter. The tests were returned a month later with grades of ?, X or √, and the professor refused to explain the meaning of these grades. Instead, he continued his dysfunctional lectures.

In my graduate program in mathematics education, I had a marvelous professor who was also at the frontier of mathematical research. When he came up for promotion, his application included a list of published articles. Actually, a few of these had not been published but were under consideration. A few other math faculty, who were envious of this professor, informed the administration of this “fraud” and the professor was forced to resign, despite being the most exceptional mathematics teacher I had ever had.

Yes, faculty research might involve a cure for cancer or a means of increasing cotton yield, but it most likely involves topics such as finding the next prime number, or identifying a species of bat by its mating call, or deciding if Shakespeare really wrote a particular sonnet, or if Abraham Lincoln suffered from depression.

Is this more important than quality teaching? Can anything be done to sustain proper research and increase the actual teaching accomplished on a university campus? Look for an answer in a future column.

Murray Siegel is a Maricopa resident. He has a PhD in Math Ed and 42 years of teaching experience. He and his wife Sharon volunteer at Maricopa schools.


This column appeared in the May issue of InMaricopa.

Murray Siegel

By Murray Siegel

Which individual is the key to successful public education?

Is it the teacher, or the student, or the parent or the school board president? Based on my 42 years of teaching experience, I can state that the building principal is the key to educational success.

Here are brief descriptions of the successes generated by two excellent principals for whom I have served. These two leaders made a real difference, and what they accomplished can be duplicated by all principals if we are concerned about who occupies the principal’s office.

Kelly Henson was my principal in two high schools. He had only one year of teaching experience, so he left academics to his assistant principals and the department chairs. His focus was on elevating student and teacher morale.

An example of his skill involves student attendance. When teachers raised concerns about student attendance, Kelly devised an attendance incentive program for students. Exemplary attendance was rewarded with final exam exemptions, priority in the parking lottery and free prom tickets. Immediately our school’s average daily attendance was the highest of all 14 high schools in the district. It was said that most teachers would walk through fire for Kelly.

Alec Ashbaugh was my principal at a grade 1-7 elementary school. The district demanded all students work on grade level with no enhancement for students who could learn more. Alec recognized that many of his students were highly capable. He defied the district by hiring elementary-certified teachers who were experts in various subject areas.

In many classes students were learning material generally taught in high school and even college. Students were challenged, and teachers had an opportunity to really teach. Alec protected the faculty from the wrath of the district administration and students benefited. He was a great academic leader but understood that administration was not his forte, so he found an assistant principal who would deal with discipline and logistics.

Both of my sons attended this school, and the education they received in mathematics and the sciences was superior to what might have been obtained in most elite private schools.

We must be concerned with the selection, continuing training, evaluation and rewarding of our school principals. If we focus on these, our schools will maximize both learning and teacher retention.

Murray Siegel is a Maricopa resident. He has a Ph.D. in Math Ed and 42 years of teaching experience. He and his wife Sharon volunteer at Maricopa schools.


This column appeared in the April issue of InMaricopa.

Students prepare to sing for the ground-breaking ceremony at Leading Edge Academy's expansion site. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

In six years, Leading Edge Academy’s presence in Maricopa grew from a trailer, where Principal Mat Reese interviewed parents of prospective students, to a 430-student charter school.

“We’ve seen it grow, and we kept thinking, ‘Are they going to expand? Classrooms are getting kind of tight,’” said Heli Tanon, who placed two children in the school. One has now moved on to high school and the other is in fourth grade.

Tuesday morning, LEA broke ground for the much-anticipated expansion.

LEA founder Delmer Geesey was on hand along with Mayor Christian Price, members of the city council, county Supervisor Anthony Smith, Ak-Chin Chairman Robert Miguel, members of the Ak-Chin tribal council and some parents. A school choir performed the national anthem.

“It’s nice to see everybody come together and support the school,” parent Nicolle Tanon said.

The expansion at the northwest corner of Porter Road and Adam’s Way came about after Community of Hope Church sold its parcels on the site to Leading Edge. From there, things moved quickly.

“I went on spring break and came back and suddenly all the fencing was up,” Reese said.

The 28,500-square-foot expansion provides space for up to 450 more students. Reese said it will include 18 classrooms, a gymnasium and office space. Completion is planned for August.

Price called Leading Edge a “great partner” with the city.

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Murray Siegel

By Murray Siegel

There are three words that will dissuade a Republican primary voter from supporting a candidate, and these words are Common Core Curriculum (CCC).

Why do so many conservatives have a core hatred for CCC? If you ask them, you will hear statements about not wanting the federal government sticking its nose into our schools where decisions should be made locally. You will also hear a call for the end of incessant standardized testing of our children. It should be of interest that we can adopt CCC without any Federal oversight and without unnecessary testing.

The founding of CCC: CCC was born from a discussion at the 2009 meeting of the National Governors Association. The governors, most of whom were Republicans, voiced two concerns about public education. They expressed a concern that the schools in their states were not graduating students who were well-prepared for college and for the world of work.

Furthermore, there were large inconsistencies among states in what was taught at various grade levels and in the standard high school subjects. A fifth-grade student moving from Delaware to Oregon, in the middle of a school year, would find subject matter he had been taught in Delaware had not yet been covered in Oregon, and topics already learned by the Oregon fifth graders had not been part of the Delaware fifth-grade program to date. The sequencing and topics for Algebra 1 in Florida is quite different from the structure of the same course in Minnesota.

The governors decided to have a committee create a national curriculum that would be consistent from state to state and which was based on high, yet reasonable, expectations of student performance. Thus the CCC was born. This committee included well-respected educators including Bill McCallum, a distinguished professor of mathematics at the University of Arizona.

Federal oversight: Nothing in the CCC requires federal oversight. Of course, when you create a national curriculum, it is incumbent for the bureaucrats at the U.S. Department of Education to add their expertise, and to offer federal funds as an inducement to allow the federal experts to influence the teaching at local schools.

We in Arizona do not have to bend to the federal will, but we would need to forgo education funds sent from D.C. To place that in perspective, of the $2.1 billion state budget for K-12 education, approximately 15 percent is covered by federal dollars. Those opposed to federal oversight but wanting the high-quality nature of the CCC would simply have to find a source of funding to cover the loss of Department of Education monies.

High-stakes testing: The requirement for standardized testing is based on the federal oversight. Remove the U.S. bureaucrats, and the state and/or the local districts can decide how to insure that the students are learning what is required by the curriculum. The decision appears to be choosing which is more vital, having a high quality curriculum that allows for student mobility or overcoming federal requirements by creating means to increase state/local revenues to compensate for lost dollars from Washington, D.C.?

What do you think?

As a teacher of mathematics with 42 years of experience working in all grades from first grade to graduate school, I will have more comments on the mathematical portion of CCC in a later article.

Murray Siegel is a Maricopa resident. He has a Ph.D. in Math Ed and 42 years of teaching experience. He and his wife Sharon volunteer at Maricopa schools.

Murray Siegel

Murray Siegel

There is an ever-growing need for Americans with college degrees in STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematics) disciplines and most efforts to meet this need involve enticing high school and/or middle school students to consider a STEM career.

To date, these efforts have not been fruitful. What, you may ask, can be done differently? You must understand that a significant block to students pursuing a STEM education is their lack of ability or confidence in mathematics, which can be traced to their elementary school education.

Most elementary school teachers and administrators are focused on language arts. They teach science and social studies as well as language arts through reading and writing. They believe the best environment for students is found in a heterogeneous classroom (where students of all abilities are blended together).

This works fine in social studies and science since these subjects are not cumulative. If you have difficulties with the study of birds, you may still be successful in the study of fish. If you did not quite understand your study of Africa, that would not stop you from being successful in an investigation of Europe.

Unlike these subjects, mathematics is cumulative.

If you cannot add whole numbers, you cannot multiply whole numbers, and you certainly cannot add fractions. A typical fifth grade class might have students who still cannot successfully add or subtract whole numbers as well as students who can already compute with fractions and decimals, and a variety of students in between.

How does the teacher educate this diverse group of students? There are those who call for individualized instruction, but I have yet to see this accomplished in a real school (lab schools do not count). Typically the teacher teaches to the middle of the group. Those with weak skills never catch up and those with advanced abilities grow bored, and decide math is not for them. Is it any wonder that so few Americans can be successful in calculus?

Why not allow all students in a particular grade to have math at the same time, and set up the math classes by ability level? Select the teacher for each class based on his/her strengths in teaching math. The teacher who is responsible for the weakest students must believe that all students can learn and be supplied with a toolkit of resources for successful remediation.

Some complain the class with the weakest students will have all the discipline problems, but this is not so. Once students find success they will no longer feel the need to be disruptive. Of course, truly disruptive students should be dealt with so that they do not diminish the opportunity for others to learn. That is a subject for a future article.

Examine your neighborhood elementary school and see if math classes are grouped by ability or if the classes are a hodgepodge of varying skills.

Murray Siegel is a Maricopa resident. He has a Ph.D. in Math Ed and 42 years of teaching experience. He and his wife Sharon volunteer at Maricopa schools.

PHOTO Derek Picha teaches physical education at Pima Butte Elementary School and is pursuing a master’s degree. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Derek Picha loved physical education as a kid so much he is now pursuing a master’s degree in PE.

“My favorite part of being an educator is getting to see kids experience that “Ah-ha!” moment every day,” Picha said. “Knowing that students leave my classes with a new skill or idea is truly rewarding.”

Last year, he was nominated for Rookie of the Year in Arizona Health and Physical Education (AzHPE).That is the state’s professional association for health and physical educators. It was his first year at Pima Butte Elementary School.

In February, he organized a Jump Rope for Heart event setting a school goal of raising $2,000 for the American Heart Association. Instead, PBES raised $3,228.

He said it is one of his proudest moments. This year, he said the new goal will be $4,000.

“I greatly enjoy all of the different activities being an educator can lead to,” Picha said. “For example, I get the honor of coaching our sixth grade students at Pima Butte as part of our district’s sixth grade athletics program.  We offer basketball, soccer, and cross country for free to our students.”

Based on research, Picha encourages parents to allow children to get in 30-60 minutes of “play time” before rushing into homework.

His involvement with AzHPE has given him the opportunity to present workshops at the state convention on implementing technology for assessment in physical education. He recently volunteered to serve on the association board.

Picha said he went into education as a career because he wanted to make a difference in the world. Education fulfills that need, he said, but he does believe so much high-stakes testing across the country is interfering with actual learning time.

His move to Maricopa from St. Cloud, Minnesota, was precipitated by cold weather. “I’ve chosen to remain in Maricopa because it has a welcoming feeling to it and I greatly enjoyed my first year of teaching physical education at Pima Butte,” he said.

He is following advice from a former teacher who suggested he start his master’s program before becoming heavily involved in coaching while teaching. He said that turned out to be great advice for his time management.

He has also benefited from St. Cloud State University professors stressing the importance of developing a strong professional learning network.  “As a result, I’ve attended a number of state and regional conferences and workshops and connected with countless like-minded educators throughout the world via social media,” he said.

PHOTO Derek Picha teaches physical education at Pima Butte Elementary School and is pursuing a master’s degree. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson
Derek Picha teaches physical education at Pima Butte Elementary School and is pursuing a master’s degree. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Derek Picha
Title: Physical Education Teacher
School: Pima Butte Elementary School
Hometown: Mora, Minnesota
Residence: Desert Passage
Education: Bachelor of Science in Health & Physical Education obtained in May 2013 from St. Cloud State University in St. Cloud, Minnesota.  Currently pursuing an M.Ed in Physical Education from the University of Arkansas and plan to complete the program by the end of the 2017-18 school year.
Family: Duane Picha (father) and Kristie Picha (sister), both of whom reside in Minnesota.
Teaching positions held: I had one previous position as a part-time health education teacher serving students in grades 7-12 at an alternative school in St. Cloud.
Years in Education: 3
First job out of college: Part-time health education teacher at McKinley Alternative Learning Center in the St. Cloud Area School District.
Hobbies: Exercising, attending sporting events, watching movies
First year with current school: 2014-15
Favorite subject when you were in elementary school? Physical education
What have your students taught you? My students have taught me that a lot can be accomplished in a very short amount of time with the right amount of hard work and determination. This has become clear to me in my brief experience coaching sixth grade sports so far. With short playing seasons in basketball and soccer these kids amaze me with how much they improve from the start of the season to its conclusion.

This story appeared in the December issue of InMaricopa News.

Students work on 3D printing in Best Buy's Geek Squad Academy at Sequoia Pathway. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

They made music and films, programmed robots, assembled circuits and learned 3D printing. Approximately 150 students participated in Best Buy’s Geek Squad Academy Wednesday and Thursday at Sequoia Pathway Academy.

Geek Squad Academy provides access to technology for under-served youth at a local level.

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“Boys and girls who normally wouldn’t have access to technology are given a chance through these camps,” said Dan Dolar, a director of the event at Sequoia Pathway.

The overall purpose of the academy is to prepare students for the future.

“There are jobs now that won’t exist by the time they get to the job market, and likewise there are jobs that don’t exist now that, by the time they do get to the job market, there will be some opportunity there,” Dolar said.

The camp is co-sponsored by Sequoia Schools, Edkey Inc. A large number of those participating this week were girls.

“Basically, Geek Squad started because we noticed there was a gap between girls and technology,” Dolar said.

The first camp started in 2007 at an all-girls school. Geek Squad later expanded to students with a socio-economic disadvantage, including homeless children. Recently it was specifically tailored for Sequoia School for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing.

“If they didn’t like it before, give them a sample, and maybe they like it. If they are into it now and they do like it, maybe we can push them to be more studious,” Dolar said.

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