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MUSD

DWMS hallways were crowded with projects waiting to be judged. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Desert Wind Middle School Blended Learning students competed in Future City on Thursday, hoping for a chance to take their idea of a futuristic community to state or even national competition. Maricopa Wells Middle School also staged a competition a day after presenting projects to Maricopa City Council members.

DWMS winners advancing to regional competition:

Alda
Beau Gel
Juntos
Mirai
New Glasgow
Sumou
Terreno Verde
Toro de Barcelona

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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Maricopa Wells football Panthers will team up with Desert Wind for a food-donation car wash to benefit F.O.R. Maricopa. Submitted photo

Middle school athletes will wash cars for free next week to benefit a good cause.

High priority items:

  • Powdered baby formula (large cans)
  • Canned meat (tuna, ham, turkey, etc.)
  • Hot or cold healthy cereal
  • Meals in a tin (ex. Dinty Moore)
  • Canned vegetables and fruit
  • Wholegrain pasta and rice
  • Pasta sauce
  • Canned and dry soup

The Maricopa Wells and Desert Wind football teams will hold a car wash Jan. 13 at Auto Zone from 1 to 4 p.m. Auto Zone is located at 20886 N. John Wayne Parkway.

In lieu of payment, the players are accepting non-perishable food donations for F.O.R. Maricopa Food Bank, said Maricopa Wells football coach Jonathan Clark.

“We just feel it’s important to do for others and not expect something in return,” Clark said. “I tell the boys all the time that true leaders must be willing to serve first.”

Clark also said the timing of the fundraiser benefits the food bank this time of year, as it often experiences a lull in donations after the holiday season.

It’s the second year the Maricopa Wells team has organized the donation drive car wash. This year the Desert Wind Tigers will partner with the Panthers on the giving.

In 2017, the team collected 680 pounds of food, with a new goal of raising 1,000 pounds next week.

Source: MUSD

Through November, extracurricular programs within the Maricopa Unified School District received a funding boost of almost $40,000 in 2017.

Donors submitted $38,902 to MUSD and received tax credit in exchange.

Certified Public Accountant Jim Chaston, who previously served as president of the MUSD Governing Board, said about 40 percent of his clients take advantage of tax credits every year. He’d like to see that percentage increase.

“I think everybody who is eligible should do it because it doesn’t cost anything other than the time between them paying it, and when they get their refund back,” Chaston said.

It’s also a way to help local students be involved in sports, music and other recreational activities. It’s up to donors to decide which school and what extracurricular programs they would like that money to go to. Public and private schools are eligible to receive tax credit donations.

As in previous years, the MUSD programs that received the most funding were athletics, according to Aron Rausch, MUSD Business Services director.

Athletic programs at Maricopa High School and the district’s two middle schools received 33 percent of 2017’s donations so far.

More than $5,000 was donated to the district’s various band programs, mostly earmarked for Maricopa High School.

Field trip funding received more than $10,000 from donors. Rausch said most of those dollars went to the district’s middle and elementary schools, and nearly $11,000 went to miscellaneous programs at MUSD.

“Most of the donations at the elementary schools are for general extra-curricular usage and field trips,” Rausch said.

The deadline to donate is Tax Day, April 15.

Chaston said his office informs clients about tax-credit opportunities every year through newsletters and during appointments.

“Every tax return that we do, we ask about state tax credits because it’s a no-brainer,” Chaston said.


This story appears in the January issue of InMaricopa.

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Murray Siegel

By Murray Siegel

Each school day morning, school buses transport elementary students who reside in Maricopa to school in Kyrene.

Why should citizens of Maricopa care about these buses? Each bus represents state funds that are provided to the Kyrene district at the expense of Maricopa Unified School District (MUSD). Why do parents place their children on a bus to travel about 20 miles to attend school when MUSD schools are much closer?

Two Maricopa families who send their children to school in the Kyrene district were queried. One family of professionals recognized their son had real ability in mathematics. He had attended an MUSD school in fifth grade, but the parents saw that Kyrene offered a better middle school program. In sixth grade, he would take seventh grade math. In seventh grade, he would be taking pre-algebra, and in eighth grade his math class would be honors-level algebra. The family’s research revealed MUSD had nothing to compare and so their son rides the bus.

When the older child of a second couple was ready for kindergarten, they investigated several school districts and charter schools. What Kyrene had to offer was well-suited for their child, who is now in sixth grade in Kyrene. The couple talked about sending their younger child to kindergarten in Maricopa but discovered Kyrene was initiating a dual language program in kindergarten. The mother reported the decision, “became a no brainer. The benefits of our child being bilingual far outweighed the convenience of having our children closer to home.”

Why does MUSD not match up with Kyrene? The answer starts with the fact that, prior to November 2016, the voters of Maricopa rejected a sequence of ballot initiatives to authorize overrides that would have funded supplemental projects. During that period, Kyrene voters approved overrides that enabled the growth of special programs.

MUSD must take actions to get those children off the Kyrene buses. A plan should be constructed that will both improve the academic offerings in local elementary and middle schools, and, of equal importance, allow the public to learn of these upgrades.

The initial stage should include surveying parents who send their children to Kyrene to discover what it would take to have their children attend MUSD schools. A committee should investigate the programs in Kyrene that are attractive and, working with MUSD teachers, staff and administrators develop a step-by-step plan to make MUSD competitive.

A resource that has not been utilized is the retired educators who reside in Province. There are retired school superintendents, retired principals and scores of retired teachers who have served in schools all over the nation and certainly have ideas that might benefit those seeking to reduce the busing to Kyrene.

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


This column appears in the January issue of InMaricopa.

Photo by Michelle Chance

Hiring paraprofessionals for six elementary schools sparked a spirited debate between governing board members in the Maricopa Unified School District Wednesday night.

The decision to hire the additional classroom aides was tabled by the board for a future meeting to allow them time to discuss where else $156,000 in Title I money could be spent throughout the district.

Originally, district officials recommended the board members approve the hiring of six paraprofessionals to assist classrooms within its elementary schools. These positions would have been funded by Title I.

The federal program provides financial assistance to schools with high percentages of children from low-income families to assist in meeting state academic standards, according to the U.S. Department of Education website. The money can be used for instructional aide like curriculum, support personnel and technology.

Surprised board members expressed frustration at the recommendation because the hires were not previously finalized as a funding priority during the budget process last spring.

“I am uncomfortable as a board member spending $156,000 of district money without understanding the full picture of where it can be used and what it can be used for, before I determine what the priority is for that money,” said AnnaMarie Knorr, board vice president.

Board members questioned whether research had been conducted before the recommendation had been made, and why the recommendation targeted only the elementary level.

“What other instructional aide do our schools need K through 12? Not just elementary,” said Board member Torri Anderson. “I’m telling you, our secondary schools are struggling, and we’ve got teachers that are so frustrated because their class sizes are still large and they could certainly use a para as well.”

Board member Gary Miller said teachers from Santa Rosa Elementary had expressed a desire for more support staff during a recent visit.

Teachers district-wide are adjusting to a learning curve brought on by the adoption of math curriculum in August.

As presented by middle school math teachers Wednesday night, one of the curriculum’s biggest hurdles is the large technology component which requires students to complete much of their coursework online.

“I know with a lot of our curriculum changing we are hearing a lot about that change, and I think more support in the classroom with a human being versus a computer will be our money well-spent,” Miller said.

MUSD Superintendent Steve Chestnut said in previous years the annual allocation of Title I funds was usually spent on math curriculum, but that money was freed in 2017 after the district’s recent curriculum purchase from its reserve funds.

The board agreed they supported more personnel support in the district’s schools, but argued there were other priorities the district, its teachers, parents and community members had put at the top of the list during budget talks.

The recommendation to hire support staff was made by Director of Teaching and Learning Krista Roden to balance the technology in the classroom with people, Chestnut said.

“I have no problem with her having to come back and give us all of the details,” Chestnut said.

The board is expected to continue the discussion during its next meeting at the District Administration Office Jan. 10.

A flood of teacher resignations four months into the school year have left Arizona districts scrambling to fill classroom positions before Christmas break.

As of Dec. 8, 627 teachers – regardless of reason, and approved through their school – have resigned throughout the state, according to a report by the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association.

An additional 239 teachers reportedly abandoned their jobs without notice, making the teacher exodus equal nearly 900 since August.

The report compiled data from 172 school districts and charter schools.

By Wednesday, the Maricopa Unified School District had approved the resignations of 10 teachers and two administrators since the beginning of the school year. Five of those teachers resigned in December.

Tom Becket, MUSD Human Resources director, said teacher resignations for this year and those previous, were for a variety of reasons.

“My recollection is the majority of the teacher resignations during school years are for two primary reasons: personal or family health, and relocation of spouse/family,” Beckett said.

ASPAA attributes part of the overall problem to low teacher pay in the state.

“Arizona teacher pay is among the lowest in the country, and it will be extremely challenging for public schools to address teacher pay this spring in the face of an increasing minimum wage for support staff, and almost no funding for capital expenses,” according to an ASPAA news release.

This year MUSD attempted to address the teacher shortage by voting to increase the salary of its employees by 3 percent. Teachers also received an additional, one-time, 1 percent increase this year from the state, equaling what amounts to less than $600 per teacher.

In August, the district finished hiring 50 additional teachers through override funds.

To retain its teaching staff, MUSD and other districts can choose to implement fees to those who break their contracts.

“The contractual liquidated damages fee imposed by the district has been a deterrent for teachers seeking release for new employment opportunities,” Beckett said.



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Photo by Michelle Chance

The Maricopa Rotary Club recognized a theatrical high school senior, as well as an eighth-grade “model student” Wednesday night as November Students of the Month.

College and Career Counselor Bernadette Russionello nominated Maricopa High School student Ivie Keene for the accolade. The senior is involved in a school mentorship group, National Honor Society and DECA.

Keene also holds leadership positions in school theatre as a student director and actor and is president of the Arizona Thespian Society.

“Rotary is told that she is a phenomenal student since her freshman year, with a positive attitude, unstoppable work ethic and commitment to school and your community,” said Alma Farrell, Rotary youth coordinator.

Keene aspires to be involved in Broadway one day, “but is also willing to return to MHS to be an English and theatre teacher,” Farrell added.

Desert Wind Middle School Principal June Celaya nominated Raymond Torres as “the type of student that teachers hope to have.”

Farrell reported Torres as being described by school officials as a “quiet leader,” model student and hard worker.

Torres is involved in athletics and various after school activities and was praised for being a positive role model for other students.

“(He) work(s) extremely hard on each and every assignment, going above and beyond teacher expectations and he is a great leader across all grade levels and gets along with everyone,” Farrell reported.

Torres and Keene were accompanied by their parents and siblings during the ceremony which Rotary holds monthly inside the Maricopa Unified School District Administration Office during governing board meetings.

The Maricopa Rotary Club was founded in 1954 and is part of an international, service-oriented, non-profit organization.

“We hope they will be our future leaders of our community and it’s very good for them to start at this early age to learn how to be leaders,” Farrell said.

Photo by Michelle Chance

Joby Thompson and Amy Stump

Two Maricopa High School teachers are moving up the ladder.

In a few weeks, chemistry teacher Amy Stump and graphic design teacher Joby Thompson will return from Winter Break with promotions.

Stump will serve the student body as assistant principal and Thompson will handle discipline and guidance as interim dean of students. School officials sifted through “a large number of quality candidates” during the hiring process for both positions, according to MHS Interim Principal Rick Abel.

“I believe we have selected the best of the best for both spots,” Abel said.

Hiring administrators from within is becoming a trend for the district.

In November, MUSD hired Evana Santee – who was then the dean of students at MHS – was chosen to fill a vacant assistant principal position at Maricopa Wells Middle School.

District officials said they are happy to see their employees advance professionally within MUSD.

“Hiring administrators internally demonstrates the quality job the district does in finding, hiring and cultivating outstanding potential talent,” Human Resources Director Tom Beckett said.

Superintendent Steve Chestnut called Stump and Thompson “highly respected teachers” at MHS and reinforced the excitement other district and school officials expressed regarding their reclassifications from educators to administrators.

The hires will mean more work for the district’s HR Department, though, as they work to fill the teaching positions left open by the promotions.

The new assistant principal said she is honored to serve MHS students in her new role. However, the professional advancement is bittersweet for Stump who loves her work inside the chemistry classroom.

“I adore teaching, but know I can make a difference in student lives as an administrator as well,” she said. “Working with students and the community will be rewarding and I am thankful to be chosen to serve in this capacity.”

Among some of Stump’s responsibilities will include working with student clubs, student council and the community to coordinate use of the school’s facilities and related activities.

Stump begins as AP Jan. 2.

Almost a week after that, Thompson will start his first day as interim dean.

In addition to his design classes, Thompson is department chair of the Career and Technical Education Department at MHS.

Thompson was selected as a “creative leader” for a business and design conference at Yale University over the summer.

His transition to student discipline is a new chapter in his career he said he’s excited to begin.

“I’m looking forward to building meaningful relationships with the students who need it most,” Thompson said. “I also look forward to providing purposeful feedback to students who need guidance in managing their decision at MHS.”

Beckett said the district is confident Thompson will excel in the role, “but we have also posted a temporary opening for a permanent placement for his current role for potential contingencies.”

A final decision will be made by the district, with input from Thompson, “at the appropriate time,” Beckett said.


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MUSD teachers accepted the Golden Bell Award at the Dec. 14 ASBA Annual Conference. Submitted photo

The K-8 blended learning program of the Maricopa Unified School District was presented with the 2017 Arizona School Board Association’s “Golden Bell Award” for excellence in education programs.

MUSD’s blended learning program was one of three school district programs in the state of Arizona that were recognized.

The presentation was made today in conjunction with the ASBA Annual Conference. The outstanding work of all 18 blended learning teachers from Maricopa Wells Middle School, Desert Wind Middle School and Santa Rose Elementary were recognized by this award, including: Erin Bell, Jennifer Cameron, Nicole Cantrell, Rebecca Drury, Jackie Hahn, Janell Hudson, Kyrie Hughes, Shannon Hull, Amy Hunt, Brittany Parsons, Robyn Rice, Jennifer Szoltysik, Joe Szoltysik, Laura Tietz, Jennifer Titus, Kasey Turik, Jacque Witte and Mindy Ma.

In addition to being recognized at the awards luncheon, teachers from the blended learning program were asked to present a 50-minute informational session for conference attendees that afternoon. Teachers making the presentation included Nicole Cantrell, Shannon Hull, Amy Hunt, Robyn Rice, Jen Szoltysik and Joe Szoltysik.

MUSD began the blended learning program in 2012 for 50 students in grades 6-8 at Maricopa Wells Middle School. Since then the program has increased in size at MWMS to 180 students and six teachers. Desert Wind Middle School has an almost identical program with 135 students and four teachers, so there are now 315 middle school students enrolled. In addition, all classrooms at Santa Rosa Elementary School in grades 3-5 serve 169 students in blended classrooms. For 2017-18, the total number of students in grades 3-8 enrolled in blended learning is 484. All MUSD schools use some blended learning, but these three schools have emphasized it the most.

In blended learning classrooms students experience personalized learning. Much of their academic work is done on a personal laptop completing teacher-made lessons and using online curriculum materials. Students receive large and small group instruction with an emphasis on project based learning.


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Photo by Mason Callejas

Maricopa vocal students performed a winter choral recital Dec. 7 at the Performing Arts Center. High school and middle school choirs participated.

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

The Maricopa school district could announce its new superintendent by late March.

The Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board met with a representative from the Arizona School Board Association Wednesday night to, in part, finalize an ambitious search timeline.

“It’s aggressive, but it’s good,” said Board Vice President AnnaMarie Knorr.

If all goes as planned, the district could welcome a new superintendent after a two-month search.

MUSD is paying ASBA $9,600 to assist in a multitude of tasks related to finding suitable candidates for the public-school district that educates nearly 7,000 students.

The first step in the process will be surveying stakeholders through an online questionnaire. The ‘e-survey’ will be available to parents, district employees and community members on the district website Dec. 8–Jan. 9.

The district plans to use opinions shared from the community about what professional and personal qualities it would like to see in a new superintendent. It’s a step the board did not take during its last superintendent search, said Board President Patti Coutré.

The results of the community survey will be discussed during a special board meeting Jan. 17. Prior to the meeting, the public will have the opportunity to speak with ASBA Representative Karen Gasket about the search during a meet-and-greet from 5:30 to 7 p.m.

The position will be advertised online for potential candidates beginning Jan. 15. The opportunity to apply ends less than a month later, on Feb. 5.

Gasket explained December and early spring are generally the season when districts begin shopping for new leaders. A relatively brief, three-week submission deadline ensures the district will receive applications from candidates in a timely manner, Gasket told the board.

Candidates will be required to complete a 10-page digital application.

The board will meet in executive session Feb. 21 to screen applications. Gasket recommended the board select five to six candidates to interview.

Those initial interviews will begin in executive sessions March 13-14.  Up to four finalists will be announced by the board after executive session March 14.

Final interviews will last most of the day on March 23 in private meetings with the candidates.

The finalists will meet the public during a community forum at the district office March 26 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. at the district office. Afterward, the board will convene in executive session to make their selection.

The district will publicly announce its new superintendent after executive session March 26.

From there, the board will begin contract negotiations with the finalist and the district’s lawyer beginning March 28. The board set a $135,000-$155,000 salary range Wednesday night to include on advertising material for the position.

MUSD expects to officially hire the finalist by April.

The district announced earlier this year it would not renew its contract with current Superintendent Steve Chestnut passed June 30, 2018.

Take the community survey



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From left, junior soccer player Shannon Coutre, senior soccer player Johnathan Mendez, senior wrestler Kevin McDill, cheerleader Aliyah Munguia, senior basketball player Josh Johnson and senior basketball player Sydni Callis. Photos by Victor Moreno

Click on photo to enlarge


This item appears in the December issue of InMaricopa.


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MUSD invention units from Gifted Education classes. Submitted photos

Gifted fifth-grade students from Saddleback, Pima Butte, Butterfield, Maricopa and Santa Cruz elementary schools gave their final presentation of their Invention Units Nov. 16 at Saddleback.

The first component of the project was researching an invention or inventor, then reporting the information through a research paper. The second part allowed students to form small groups, or think tanks, and then invent something that would “better our lives.”

Students created business plans with the problem, formulated the solution (their product), developed a target market, researched competition and costs, and then calculated potential revenue and profits. These plans were then put into a Google Slide, and students presented their ideas using tri-fold posters, laptops with the slide presentation and exhibited their prototype invention.

Elementary Gifted Education instructor Zoe Redfern thanked students, parents and staff for their support of the successful program.

MUSD Superintendent Steve Chestnut. Photo by Michelle Chance

The search is on for a new superintendent in the Maricopa Unified School District. Almost.

If a search agreement is approved Wednesday night by the Governing Board, the district will pay the Arizona School Board Association $9,600 to assist in the hunt.

The services provided by ASBA would “include up to seven pre- and post-hire meetings with the Board, ASBA administrative support, use of ASBA’s applicant tracking system, ASBA intellectual capital, and up to four finalist background checks,” according to district documents.

MUSD has just over seven months to fill the leadership position before current Superintendent Steve Chestnut leaves the district. Whoever fills his shoes must begin work July 1, 2018.

The district made its first step in the process in early November, when the Governing Board voted unanimously to hire ASBA. The decision was first discussed by the board in executive session during a board meeting Nov. 8.

Assisting the district in narrowing down vendors – which ranged from MUSD’s own Human Resources department to large, national firms — was its legal rubric. Governing Board President Patti Coutré said the board’s evaluation favored ASBA.

“They came out the highest scoring, and that’s why we chose them,” Coutré said earlier this month.

After a three-week break from meetings, the board will return Wednesday evening to present an overview of the search process.

The board was originally scheduled to discuss four other items relating to the superintendent search on its Nov. 29 agenda, but removed them Monday morning.

Items removed included an online survey to collect opinions from the community, a discussion on the extent of stakeholder involvement in the search process, advertising materials and related content.

Instead of getting ahead of itself, the district decided to amend its agenda once more Tuesday morning to include possibly approving an additional meeting in the future to continue the discussion beyond its regular meetings.

After a discussion from an ASBA representative, “we thought it would be better for our board members to have more time to be fully prepared and a better use of time to wait,” Coutré said Tuesday afternoon.

“After a second discussion, we thought of having a special board meeting for these items that would allow our board members to be prepared, and not wait for the next regular scheduled board meeting,” she added.

MUSD will decide the date of that additional meeting Wednesday night, during which time the board will also consider talks with the Human Resources Department in a revision of its hourly wages for classified employees.

Wednesday’s meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. at the District Office Administration Building, 44150 W. Maricopa-Casa Grande Hwy.


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Santa Cruz Elementary teacher Stephanie Arturet receives a surprise visit from the Fiesta Bowl.

Third-grade students will receive new classroom technology and seating, thanks to their teacher.

Fiesta Bowl Charities awarded Santa Cruz Elementary teacher Stephanie Arturet a $5,000 check Tuesday morning inside her classroom. Over 4,200 educators in Arizona applied for the Wishes for Teachers grant. Arturet was one of 150 chosen.

The announcement was made much to Arturet’s surprise.

“It means so much. It’s so exciting, and I still can’t believe it. My heart is still pounding,” Arturet said.

The grant program is in its second year of operation. Fiesta Bowl Senior Marketing and Communications Director Jose Moreno said Arturet and the other 149 winners were chosen randomly.

“She was selected to fulfill her wish for a new smart board and some flexible seating for her classroom,” Moreno said.

In addition to the check, Arturet will be recognized at Chase Field during the 19th annual Cactus Bowl on Dec. 26.

For more information on the program visit the Fiesta Bowl website.


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Retired bus driver Ed Hickert introduced the Bus Buddy program to MUSD. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Every weekday morning, bus driver Ed Hickert woke up early and headed down county roads to transport students in unincorporated Maricopa to local schools.

Hickert, now retired, worked for the Maricopa Unified School District’s Transportation Department for five years.

His morning “country route” wound through Hidden Valley, Thunderbird Farms and the Ak-Chin Indian Community. Children on the bus were often on board for over an hour.

“I treated my bus just like a classroom,” Hickert said.

Like any teacher does in his own class, the bus driver implemented rules for his young passengers to follow, ranging from the expected “Don’t yell,” “Stay in your seat” and “Keep your hands to yourself” to the creative, like encouraging children to say “hello” and “goodbye” to Hickert as children boarded and departed.

“I was always big on greetings,” Hickert said. “Every driver has his challenges with school bus discipline. Some do better than others, but being in the Marine Corps, I’m pretty big on discipline and insist on certain protocol.”

But as most parents and educators know, children don’t always listen.

Transportation Director Tom Beckett said MUSD transports over 3,000 students to and from school daily, with a usual ratio of one driver to nearly 70 students.

Disciplining boisterous passengers on a bus is not only a challenge, Hickert said, but a distraction that could cause danger on the road.

A conversation with his friend Judson Taylor, retired president of an east coast college, spurred an idea that took Hickert on a year-long journey to transform the experience of students and bus drivers alike.

“What do you do to encourage good behavior on your bus?” Taylor asked him.

Hickert didn’t have an answer.

Inspired by Taylor’s concept, Hickert created an incentive program for school bus passengers.

It’s called “Bus Buddy” and the program rewards students who exhibit positive behavior and perform good deeds on the bus. Each driver sets their own goals and describes the kind of behavior they want from their passengers.

For the children who exceed expectations, their driver will make a public presentation, reward them with a “bus buddy” pin, and a certificate that will also be sent to their classrooms.

Sergio Pulido, MUSD transportation coordinator, said he was intrigued by Hickert’s program when he pitched it inside his office.

“It’s something positive that we’re putting out and hopefully it’s an incentive for kids to better behave themselves on the bus,” Pulido said.

After briefing bus drivers and school principals, district officials adopted the program and ordered 1,000 pins for approximately $2,300, Beckett said.

It’s an investment he is optimistic about.

“There is a level of risk with any new program, but the initiative aligns very closely with the positive behavior strategies we are implementing at our school sites,” Beckett said. “Any assistance we can provide to our drivers that encourages good student behavior is worth trying.”

Beckett said the program should be fully implemented on MUSD buses in December or January. Hickert said other school districts in the county and in the Valley are considering adopting the program as well.

Student Guidelines:

How to be a “bus buddy”:

  • Treat other students as you want to be treated
  • Set a good example for other students
  • Be respectful to the bus driver
  • Say “good morning” and “goodbye”
  • Help other students
  • Sit by a student who needs a friend

Driver Guidelines

  • Describe the behavior you want: Eliminate using the words “don’t” and “no.”
  • Identify and reward positive student behavior: Based on your criteria.
  • Make the “Bus Buddy” pin award special: Make a public presentation with adoration and fanfare.
  • Sign and date the certificate of achievement: Send to the student’s classroom.

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Maricopa children ride buses to schools outside of the city every day. 

Valley schools that bus Maricopa children:

Kyrene School District:

Kyrene Akimel A-al Middle School, Kyrene del Pueblo Middle School, Kyrene de la Estrella, Kyrene de los Lagos, Kyrene del Milenio.

Tempe Union High School District: Mountain Pointe High School

It’s often considered a controversial option that has been available to families since incorporation. Parents send their children to school in the Valley for a variety of reasons, including displeasure with Maricopa schools and perceived better educational opportunities.

The Maricopa Unified School District, the only district with a transportation department, has seen a recent upsurge in parent and student complaints.

Many parents turn to other options.

Two school districts, Kyrene and Tempe Union High, send 15 buses to and from Maricopa five days a week.

The commute involves sitting through rush hour traffic on the troublesome State Route 347, a roadway with a dangerous reputation.

In 2014 there were 104 crashes, 46 injuries and one death caused by vehicular accidents on SR 347, according to the most recent data provided by the Arizona Department of Transportation.

Despite the safety concern, parents who send their children to schools in the Valley said their students are safe.

Bethany Auxier Anguiano’s two children, third and first graders, attend an elementary school in the Kyrene District.

The kids leave the house at 6:30 a.m. to catch the bus, Anguiano said.

“I am not actually concerned too much about the 347 because traffic is so slow during morning rush hour. We have a great bus driver and our bus has seat belts,” she said.

Overall, Anguiano said, there are no major issues with transportation besides the occasional accident on the 347 that prevents students from getting to school on time.

Of the 10 routes running in Maricopa from the Kyrene School District, only one bus has been involved in an accident in the past two years, according to Transportation Director Eric Nethercutt.

Most recently, a Kyrene bus was in an accident on John Wayne Parkway Nov. 6.

“My kids don’t ride the bus in the mornings because my husband drops them off on the way to work, thankfully,” said parent Kathie Gerow-Martin. “(There is) no overcrowding on the way home, but their bus was hit last week in the morning so I’m very thankful they were not on it at that time.”

The Maricopa Police Department said none of the 26 children on board at the time were injured.

Although accidents are reportedly a rare occurrence for Kyrene’s Maricopa routes, Gerow-Martin said SR 347 still worries her.

“(The 347 is) a huge concern with my husband and I, but my daughter has a phone, so I feel a lot better about the commute because, of course, if anything is wrong she can call and text us,” Gerow-Martin said.

Kyrene buses children to three elementary schools and two middle schools. Tempe UHSD transports students to Mountain Pointe High School.

Like Kyrene, the Mountain Pointe routes have been involved in one accident in the past two years, said TUHSD Transportation Director Tim Snow.


Would you like to share your child’s transportation experience? Contact Reporter Michelle Chance at Michelle.Chance@InMaricopa.com.

Human Resources Director Tom Beckett talks about MUSD transportation at a Nov. 8 meeting. Photo by Michelle Chance

A presentation from the supervisor of the Maricopa Unified School District Transportation Department showed the school system pays its bus drivers less than a list of comparable districts.

“You can see from the list there, we are dead-last,” said Tom Beckett, Human Resources director and transportation department liaison.

At MUSD, drivers are paid an hourly wage of $11.02; that’s more than $4 less per hour than the Higley Unified School District.

The conversation during a meeting Nov. 8 came after a series of complaints from parents, alleging habitually tardy buses, poor communication from the district and overcrowding.

“Sometimes it doesn’t appear that way, but we love those community calls and parents letting us know that things aren’t going as well as we’d like,” Beckett told the Governing Board.

Despite grievances posted to social media, parents did not address the school officials during the meeting’s call-to-the-public forum.

Beckett said the district has improved complaints made to the transportation department regarding poor communication by hiring front office staff to answer phones and send messages through the district’s ‘ConnectEd’ system after the position was vacant for over a month.

The path toward solving the district’s transportation problems could also involve a future salary increase.

Beckett said a shortage of bus drivers is one reason for the department’s “challenges” that stem from the beginning of the school year. A bump in pay would be one solution to the problem, he said.

Higher wages for bus drivers could attract and retain transportation employees in the department that currently employs 38 drivers and is in the process of hiring five more.

To widen the pool, the district trains candidates, and aids them through state tests and endorsements, Beckett explained. It can take weeks for a candidate to become fully qualified before they get behind the wheel of a yellow bus, resulting in delays for a department that needs help immediately.

The driver shortage has even affected driver training.

“We have a full-time trainer, but unfortunately she’s been called out of training many times to drive a bus,” Beckett said.

Members of the school board and Beckett agreed a pay increase for all classified employees will be something the district will consider as budget talks ramp up in the coming months.

“Ninety-eight percent of our routes go smoothly every day. There are some challenges, but we have an awful lot of employees really working hard for us,” Beckett said. “I know sometimes they don’t feel appreciated for what they do.”

Rick Abel (right) at a Maricopa High School football game earlier this year. Abel had been acting principal at MHS and will be interim principal the rest of the year.

Rick Abel and Thad Miller, two acting principals in the Maricopa Unified School District, will continue their positions and posts through the 2017-18 school year, school officials said Friday.

The district made the announcement soon after confirming the resignation of former Maricopa High School Principal Renita Myers.

The MUSD Governing Board will vote to approve Myers’ resignation during a meeting Nov. 8.

Beginning Nov. 3, Abel’s and Miller’s respective titles change from “acting principal” to “interim principal,” according to a news release from the district.

Abel began as acting principal at MHS Oct. 16. MUSD Superintendent Steve Chestnut said former MHS Principal Renita Myers resigned Oct. 23.

After he was transferred to the high school earlier this school year and back again, Maricopa Wells Middle School will keep Miller on campus, now as its interim principal until May.

The news release stated the district will consider a decision regarding the principal position at each school for the 2018-19 school year “in the next few months.”

Thad Miller

“I am very pleased that Mr. Abel and Mr. Miller will be serving as principals for the rest of the school year,” Chestnut stated. “They are both excellent leaders and I greatly enjoy working with them. Both are greatly respected by students, staff and parents.”

Abel has worked as a district principal since 2009 at Santa Rosa Elementary, MWMS and now MHS.

Miller, a veteran MUSD employee and lifelong Maricopa resident, began work in 1997 at the district’s Maricopa Middle School as a science teacher.

 

 

A group of middle-school students was allegedly harassed by an unknown individual in a black mask Tuesday morning.

Officials at Pima Butte Elementary School sent out an advisory bulletin around 11 a.m. warning parents that around 8:20 a.m., a man in a black “ski mask” harassed the students as they waited for their bus near the corner of Van Der Veen Way and Rancho El Dorado Parkway.

The man, according to the bulletin, stopped his vehicle – a light-red Ford pickup truck – then got out and allegedly shouted something inaudible at a group of Desert Wind Middle School students waiting at the stop.

As a bus approached, the bulletin says, the man wearing the mask, black pants and a red, white and black striped collared shirt, got back in to the pickup and drove away.

“One of the witnesses on scene believes they knew who it was,” Maricopa police spokesman Ricardo Alvarado said.

MPD is pursing that lead, he said.

At this time, police believe the man does not pose any further threat.

MUSD is seeking a new curriculum for ELA.

New curriculum for English-Language Arts could be in local classrooms next school year.

Curriculum Price Tags
“Company A”: $1,208,514
“Company B”: $1,319,500
“Company C”: $1,741,289

The Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board approved the creation of a curriculum committee during a meeting Oct. 25 to aid teachers and the district with related decisions.

The ELA Adoption Committee will consider the purchase of a K-12 curriculum set in fiscal years 2018 and 2019. MUSD last adopted ELA curriculum in 2004.

Professional Development Coach Stephanie Rhinehart presented figures of three proposed textbook vendors Wednesday night.

Curriculum from the anonymous vendors ranged from $1.2 million to $1.7 million.

Superintendent Steve Chestnut said district Business Services Director Aron Rausch recommended the proposed K-12 adoption be made in separate purchases between 2018 and 2019.

The first order would be approximately $1 million in July 2018 and another $1 million in the next fiscal year. The schedule would mean only certain grades would receive curriculum at a time.

Board President Patti Coutre, Vice President AnnaMarie Knorr and Board Member Torri Anderson said they preferred the district adopt and pay for the curriculum all at once.

It’s not the first, pricey curriculum adoption proposal this year.

The district adopted math K-12 curriculum earlier this year for over $1.03 million from its reserve funds.

“When we first did this with math, we did it all out of the reserves, and when we talked about doing ELA, we also talked about it coming out of the reserves,” Coutre said. “If we have the money in the reserves, what difference does it make if we do it in one fell swoop versus two?”

Chestnut said Rausch’s recommendation was based on conservative, future spending.

“I know Mr. Rasuch’s concern is that we will be spending $3.5 million to $4 million in reserve funds in the next couple years so being fiscally conservative, he’d like to make sure we have reserves to cover any unforeseen expenses,” Chestnut said.

Rausch clarified in a conversation later this week that the district has not yet designated what fund reserves they will be pulling from, but it would not be its Maintenance and Operating fund where all of the override money is budgeted.

“This purchase will have to come out of a fund that supports accounting and budgeting laws for the purchase of capital and has reserves and budget available,” Rausch said. “The ‘M and O’ fund where most of the override is budgeted for operations and staff cannot be used for capital purchases by law.”

Knorr requested a budget breakdown from Rausch to be discussed in a future meeting. She said despite his concerns she would prefer the district adopt the curriculum simultaneously and possibly before 2018, citing poor student test scores in the subject area.

“I would rather take a little risk and invest in our children so that they get the ELA curriculum that they need as we go forward then sit back and let it continue on as is,” Knorr said.

Anderson and Coutre agreed.

“I don’t think we can wait, we’ve waited too long for curriculum,” Anderson said.

The board approved the creation of the ELA adoption committee unanimously. The debate regarding the curriculum purchasing schedule is expected to be on the board’s Nov. 8 agenda.

Business Services Director Aron Rausch

Local teachers will soon see a payout from the state’s recent 1.06 percent pay raise.

MUSD will pay teachers from M&O because the state has not yet dispersed money to districts.

The Maricopa Unified School District will distribute $196,000 to approximately 330 teachers by December, said District Business Services Director Aron Rausch.

That’s less than $600 per teacher.

“Our goal is to have that in the Nov. 17 payroll as one lump sum. If it’s not possible to make that payroll, then it will be Dec. 1,” Superintendent Steve Chestnut said.

Although the raise was initiated by the state, MUSD will pay teachers from the Maintenance and Operations fund because the state has not yet dispersed money to districts.

Rausch said the state will reimburse MUSD at some point in the future.

Only eligible teachers who have worked in Arizona for the past year are eligible for the raise.

“We are going to give one lump sum to returning teachers or teachers that taught in Arizona last year,” Chestnut said. “New teachers will not be included as the statute was written.”

School counselors and other “miscellaneous positions” are not eligible either, Chestnut said.

District employees in the human resources and payroll departments researched and compiled a list of around 330 educators who are entitled to a check.

Chestnut said an email will be sent to school staff explaining the eligibility details from the state.

The disbursement was discussed during a district meeting Oct. 25. Because the state has not allocated funds to schools, the district revised it’s 2017-18 budget to allow teachers to receive their raise.

The revision was approved unanimously by the district governing board Wednesday night.

“I’m surprised it’s not more,” said Board Member Torri Anderson after the vote.

The governing board debated for months this year to apply its own pay boost for teachers. Over the summer, it eventually approved a 3 percent salary increase for all district employees in its 2017-18 budget.

Although the 1 percent raise by the state has been compared to “peanuts” from teachers and education advocates around Arizona, some teachers working at MUSD will receive just over a 4 percent increase in combined pay boosts from the state and district this year.

Diego Villareal and Sara Earle were honored by Maricopa Rotary at an Oct. 25 meeting of the Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board as Students of the Month. Pictured behind them are Rotarians Alma Farrell and Joanne Ortega and MUSD board President Patti Coutre. In back are school board members Joshua Judd, AnnaMarie Knorr, Gary Miller, Superintendent Steve Chestnut and school board member Torri Anderson. Photo by Michelle Chance

 

Outstanding students in the Maricopa Unified School District were highlighted for their academic efforts during a school board meeting Wednesday night.

Maricopa Rotary Club Youth Coordinator Alma Farrell and Joanne Ortega presented Maricopa High School senior Diego Villareal and Desert Wind Middle School Sara Earle with Rotary Students of the month for October.

Farrell said Villareal is an honors student with a 3.861 grade point average.

“His guidance counselor nominated him for this award,” Farrell said. “She reports that she admires his diligence to do his work and as well as the respectful and kind demeanor that he has.”

Villareal is a member of the National Honor Society, is involved in the school’s Book and Media Club, and active in his church as a youth pastor, Farrell said.

Earle, DWMS eighth grader, was lauded by school staff in Farrell’s report for her sense-of-humor and her work ethic.

“Not only does she excel in each subject area within the Blended Learning program, she goes above and beyond teacher expectations for a student,” Farrell quoted one teacher as saying.

Earle is a member of the National Junior Honor Society and the Tiger volleyball team.

The MUSD Governing Board also approved the early graduation of MHS senior Andrew Bounsone during the meeting.

Bounsone’s guidance counselor Chris Lathan requested the board approve Bounsone’s December graduation.

Lathan said Bounsone, who was not present at the meeting, intends to walk during the graduation ceremony in May before enlisting in the military.

“One of the reasons he wants to graduate early is because he’s going to be servicing in the Army, so one of the things he would like to do is work and get extra money and work out a little bit and get himself ready for basic training,” Lathan said.

Board Member Gary Miller clarified with the board that Bounsone would still be eligible to attend prom in the spring.

The board voted unanimously to approve Bounsone’s early graduation.

This is Red Ribbon Week at Maricopa High School

A local high school is spreading drug-awareness through a series of week-long events.

Students at Maricopa High School are participating in Red Ribbon Week, a national annual drug prevention campaign from Oct. 23 through Oct. 29.

MHS Prevention Coach Yolanda Ewing said children whose parents talk to them about drugs and alcohol are less likely to use the addictive substances.

“Substance abuse awareness education helps support those parents who are making the effort to talk with their kids as well as fill in the vacuum being left by those who don’t,” Ewing said.

According to the Red Ribbon Week Campaign website, only a quarter of teens nationwide report having these conversations.

The awareness week comes at the height of a national opioid epidemic. Although the increased abuse of prescription medication is cause for much concern, Ewing said “alcohol is still the most widely abused drug nationwide by teens and by Maricopa teens.”

Organizers kicked off the week Monday with a “table talk” held during lunch by the Students Against Drunk Driving club.

Tuesday, the Ready for Life program hosted a red ribbon drug awareness “Ram Fest” after school with live music and food.

The MHS Drama Club performed “Your Future is Key, So Stay Drug Free” inside the Black Box Theatre Wednesday afternoon. Students viewed a screening of “Natural High” Thursday and engaged in a discussion with their peers afterward inside the school lecture hall from 2:45 to 5 p.m.

During the MHS Rams Football final game of the season, students will sign a red ribbon pledge and conduct a balloon release.

The week concludes Sunday at Copper Sky with a community outreach event at 2:30 p.m.

“We plan to have fun activities for everyone, free food, live entertainment and a balloon release,” Ewing said.

As part of the campaign, students also entered a Red Ribbon-themed essay and poster contest.

For more information contact Ewing at yewing@musd20.org.

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Submitted photo

Sept. 24, seven members of the Maricopa Wells Dance Team performed at a home Diamondbacks baseball game at Chase Field. The performance was part of the pregame activities for the Diamondback and Florida Marlins baseball game. This is the second year that instructor Yvonne Palm has taken students from her dance class to the annual Diamondbacks Dance Day. The dance team from Maricopa Wells performed along with other dance teams from across the state.

“As a dance class and team, we had an amazing opportunity to perform a dance at the D-Backs Dance Day,” Palm said. “I am so proud that the Maricopa Wells Middle School Dance Team got to be involved in this fun event.”

Who will be Maricopa Unified's next superintendent?

The Maricopa Unified School District will vote to kick-off the process for its superintendent search Wednesday night.

The MUSD Human Resources Department could receive a green light from the school board during a scheduled meeting to research various methods for finding its top new administrator. Current Superintendent Steve Chestnut’s contract will end June 30 after the board voted unanimously in September to not approve an additional contract through 2020.

MUSD Board President Patti Coutre. Photo by William Lange

The new superintendent’s contract would be negotiated, but the finalist must begin work at the district by July 1, 2018.

MUSD School Board President Patti Coutré said search methods HR will consider include the district’s internal HR department, the governing board, a local search firm, the Arizona School Board Association and a national search firm.

“We want (the HR department) to gather all that information and give us the pros and the cons, and then the board will deliberate with that information to decide what direction we want to go with,” Coutré said.

The board hopes to use information compiled by HR for deliberation with its attorney during a private meeting Nov. 8., followed by “direction in open session.”

Coutré said the public and district stakeholders will have opportunities to submit their input throughout the process.

“A lot of this stuff will take place in executive session because of the fact that it’s personnel (related), but we will do as much in open session as is allowed so that we have that transparency factor,” Coutré said.

The district previously used a national search firm prior to hiring Chestnut.

Coutré said the board hopes to have a job description available for applicants by December. In the past, stakeholders had a say in who they would like to see manage the district.

“When we did this with Dr. Chestnut, we actually had various focus groups meet with our finalists, and then they gave feedback back to the board,” Coutre said. “There is going to be plenty of opportunity to get community input throughout this whole process; we just haven’t defined that yet because a lot of that will be determined by what method we go with.”

MUSD Superintendent Steve Chestnut. Photo by Devin Carson

In September, the board learned Chestnut was once again a finalist for a position at another district. Chestnut has expressed his desire to manage a large district and has since announced his candidacy in a few other districts.

His most recent prospect at Gilbert Public Schools went to another candidate.

Coutré said she doesn’t believe the board would offer another contract to Chestnut in the future, citing “philosophical differences” between the board and Chestnut.

“Dr. Chestnut is an amazing superintendent and he wants to be a superintendent for a larger school district and I think he’s going to achieve that because he is who he is. He’s a great guy,” Coutré said.

Although the board hasn’t voted on the specifics yet, Coutré said they will likely look for a candidate who is collaborative, exudes leadership and transparency, and a desire to build relationships with stakeholders.

“A lot of those qualities that Dr. Chestnut possessed is what we will continue to look for in a superintendent – the board still has to meet to decide – but I can’t imagine us looking for anything other than we want to find a leader that is going to continue our pursuit to become an A-district, and that’s what we will continue to look for,” Coutré said.

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Linette Caroselli

Linette Y. Caroselli of Maricopa has been recognized as a RunJumpThrow Outstanding Organizer for exemplary volunteer work to encourage local youth to embrace the importance and fun of physical wellness, USA Track & Field (USATF) announced Tuesday.

A collaboration between USATF and The Hershey Company, RunJumpThrow (RJT) is a hands-on program that gets kids excited about physical activity by introducing them to basic running, jumping and throwing skills through track and field. It provides children ages 7-12 a fun chance to learn and practice these skills, which are the foundations of track and field nearly every other sport.

As a grade-school teacher and active alumni member of Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority, Caroselli saw a space in her community where RunJumpThrow could flourish.  She organized two events in March 2017, reaching over 1,100 students at Maricopa Elementary School and Santa Cruz Elementary as part of the Youth Symposium by Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority.  In addition to the traditional RunJumpThrow program, Caroselli incorporated several professional development opportunities for students from visiting local high schools, including workshops on college, health, careers and even martial arts.

“It was a pleasure to serve the students of Maricopa and introduce this wonderful program to our youth,” Caroselli said. “The smiles and laughter were worth the many hours of organizing and planning. The kids had a phenomenal time and look forward to it every year.”

To learn more and to bring RJT to your community, visit runjumpthrow.usatf.org.

Mallory Miller. Photo by William Lange

Administrative changes plaguing Maricopa Wells Middle School continue as district officials confirmed Friday that Assistant Principal Mallory Miller resigned in early October.

According to school documents, Miller’s resignation was effective Oct. 3.

The departure comes after a string of transitions between MWMS and Maricopa High School administrators, most of which have gone largely unexplained by the district.

Currently, acting principal at MWMS is Thad Miller, no relation. Thad Miller is filling in for Rick Abel, who is acting principal at MHS while Principal Renita Myers is on leave.

Tom Beckett, human resources director for the Maricopa Unified School District, said MUSD is recruiting candidates from within and outside the district to fill Mallory Miller’s former position at MWMS.

“​We have middle school staff members assisting Mr. (Thad) Miller with administrative tasks and we are very thankful for the cooperation that group of professionals has provided during this transition,” Beckett said.

It is unclear how long Abel will assume Myers’ role at the high school.

Mallory Miller and Myers were previously administrators at Desert Wind Middle School and worked together again at MHS at the beginning of the school year before the district moved Mallory Miller to MWMS.

Miller’s was not the only staff resignation to come suddenly. Longtime MHS Librarian Robin Shoup resigned on Oct. 17.

“We have interviewed for a librarian, and we are very close to finalizing a placement,” Beckett said.

MUSD Transportation Director Fred Laguna is expected to retire in December.

“Mr. Laguna is retiring after a long and successful career in school transportation,” Beckett said. “He oversaw and helped lead the district through a number of great projects during his time with us.”

The personnel changes are on the MUSD Governing Board agenda for its Oct. 25 meeting.

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