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MUSD Board Vice President Ben Owens convinced two other members to vote for a $68 million bond. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

A Nov. 5 election ballot won’t be asking voters for a $50 million, $65 million or $75 million bond for Maricopa Unified School District. Instead, three of the five members of the governing board opted to compromise for $68 million.

The two dissenting members, Patti Coutré and Joshua Judd, pushed for $75 million.

The bond is for construction of a second high school to mitigate overcrowding and for capital projects for aging buildings, like replacing heating/cooling units and roofs.

Superintendent Tracey Lopeman said a second high school alone will cost around $67-$75 million. The district received $26 million for construction plus funding for land from the state’s School Facilities Board. Under questioning from Coutré, she said a $68 million high school would be a small but comprehensive school that might serve 2,600 students but without some of the programs of the current high school.

Board Vice President Ben Owens proposed the compromise. He said he talked to several people who had signed petitions to put him on the board, and all but one favored the $68 million idea.

Coutré said her constituents stressed the fact they did not like the district continually coming back to them for funds. A $68 million bond, she said, will likely lead to another bond request or capital override in a few years.

Judd, who attended via telephone, warned the board that interest rates will likely rise from the current 3.25 percent to the average 5 percent. He asked for the $75 million with the rate locked in.

“Currently we are at record lows for interest rates,” he said. “The further and further we go out from putting this on the ballot next year, the more we increase the risk of looking at the interest rates which were presented to us when we were given information earlier.”

He said it could cost voters money by not being aggressive now. “I think that’s the most responsible choice. Someone could be conservative now, but it ends up becoming the bad choice two or three years from now when interest rates increase.”

Lopeman said $68 million could result in $20 million left over but not enough to meet all the capital needs.

“We could be at capacity in, say, five years and still have needs,” she said.

“We’re always going to have needs. That’s the nature of the beast, which is great because we’re an awesome district and this is where everybody wants to be,” Anderson said. “But we’re always going to have to keep going back to the voters.”

Anderson said she thinks the state will come through with more capital funding that might help with repairs.

Board President AnnaMarie Knorr said she could see the day in the next five to six years when the district will need another middle school or another elementary school. Though she implored the board to reach a unanimous choice, Coutré and Judd could not agree to do so.

MUSD is currently under an M&O bond that paid for more teachers, smaller class sizes and technology. The district may ask for a renewal in 2020 or 2021. If this year’s bond passes but there is not enough money for major capital expenditures like rooftops, HVAC and safety measures, the district may ask for a capital override or another bond.

Tracey Lopeman is beginning her second year as superintendent of MUSD. Photo by Kyle Norby

 

How would you describe your first full year at MUSD?
I’ve been able to meet so many great kids and great families along the way and really enjoy the benefits of a close relationship with city partners and business partners. So, it’s just been a wonderful experience.

How did that come about, being able to grow those relationships with the city, for instance?
Well, we started off by having a large stakeholder meeting where we articulated the Maricopa Why. And we invited the mayor, the city manager. We had police representation there. We had city agencies like Be Awesome, parents, students, of course, teachers and administrators. That was in August of last year. They took us up on the invitation, and we were able to identify all the dreams we have in common for the kids of Maricopa. When you have those kinds of commonalities, it’s a pretty good start.

What in your background prepared you for some of the challenges you’ve faced in the past year?
Actually, as a school-level administrator, I spent a lot of time building relationships with parents. It always came back to those core values – if we all want what’s best for kids, the differences we bring are less disruptive and can be turned into the strengths of the final outcome. I came into the work in Maricopa ready to meet people and ready to listen. From our beginning, starting with the Maricopa Why, and having superintendent’s advisory councils with certified, classified staff, parents and students, it really fit well with all my professional experience but also my professional passion.

What were some of the district’s successes during the past year?
It’s a pretty long list. For starters, we have a new website. It’s a much more effective representation of who we are to the rest of the world. We are launching a preschool in July. From the day I started, we had to begin planning for growth at the high school. Of course, that’s a multi-year project. We have been rewarded from the School Facilities Board $23 million to begin that project. The Legislature funded that, so we know we have a future for a high school vision as well. Plus, we had to have an intermediate plan that was agile. If you go over to the high school right now, you’ll see there are 16 classrooms, some of them are brand new, some of them are one-year used, gently used, pre-owned. We’re proposing a 5-percent raise, and we believe our board is going to definitely approve that when they adopt the budget, so we have been able to effectively allocate our resources to get the money back in the classroom, keep the money in the classroom.

When did you know you would need a new school? Was that before you took the job?
Before I arrived, the early spring of 2018, the district completed a demographic study. It was very evident then that a new high school was going to be necessary. Really, I think that just validated what everybody knew.

Can you describe what funding options are available, including the bond?
I mentioned we have the $23 million from the SFB. The board has given very serious consideration to calling for a bond election. That decision is on the horizon. But we began capital planning with a Capital Planning Committee last fall. We’ve had probably a half-dozen meetings with a diverse group of stakeholders, faith-based, business, elected officials, teachers, administrators, parents and students to develop consensus around what was most urgent, in addition to a high school. Our buildings are anywhere from 10 to 12 to 15 years old, so roofs and air conditioning are also a necessity. So is transportation. So is security. Those kinds of things, that’s all part of the funding needs that we have in addition to a high school.

Is there a certain tact you expect the district to take if they go for a bond when you just had the voters approve an override?
We’re committed to communicating the value of education, not only to the individual student or the individual family but the value of an educated population here in Maricopa. What it brings in terms of wealth to the community. If a child has a high school diploma, they have a certain expectancy for income, and how that is so exponentially increased once they have a college diploma. The more educated our city is, the more tax revenue there is, the less crime there is, it’s a more attractive place to live. We don’t want to just sell a bond. We want to promote the idea of making Maricopa a destination city. Part of that is doing our part as a district to educate our children.

While this was your first year as superintendent, there were also changes among the administrative staff. How did that work, with you bringing them up to speed while also still learning the ropes yourself?
I’ll go back again to what we articulated in our strategic plan. We have some very clearly articulated vision and mission statements, and that produced some very powerful goals and strategies. It minimizes the time you have to get people on board because we already did that. We already spent a tremendous amount of time and energy and dedication to articulating what we want for this community. We identified blocks and obstacles, so that already captured any resistance we might face, any obstacles along the way. So, we’re prepared to link arms, not only as professionals but with our parents, with our students, with our elected officials, with our business partners, with our faith-based partners. We’ve got the path already laid for us.

What was your biggest surprise of the last year?
Probably just how many great kids I met. I’ve had a couple of surprises actually. I thought I was going to be stuck in my office all the time. My admin assistant and I made plans to get me out into the schools. I was surprised at the welcome. I was surprised at the warmth. I was surprised at the partnership that I felt continued beyond the articulation of the plan, the partnership that continued beyond the superintendent’s advisory councils. It just was personal. I was surprised at the personal nature I was able to enjoy. It really drove me to get out there more and to listen more and to get out there the next time. It’s just an upward spiral.

Where would you put the level of transparency now compared to when you first came in?
Transparency is a priority for us. We have applied that concept and that philosophy across all departments and throughout all levels. We want to be open and communicative with our parents and with all the constituents in Maricopa. In terms of our communication, part of that is just being available. The website is better, as we mentioned, but we also made sure we had a human answering the phone. We had one of our stellar, superstar Maricopa Unified office people picking up the phone every time someone called. That’s the first part of transparency, saying, “We’re here to listen.” So, we can have a two-way conversation. We’ve also this past spring changed some of our administrative procedures to create greater transparency around our budgeting processes, the way we’re allocating resources and how we’re sharing leadership and ownership in much greater fashion at the school level.

 


This story appears in the July issue of InMaricopa.

When the Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board approved the 2019-20 budget Wednesday, it did so without the agreement of Board Member Patti Coutré.

She said some of the listed savings were coming on the backs of full-time substitutes. “I have a hard time with this,” she said.

“When this program was set up years ago, when we started the pilot program, it was successful,” Coutré said. “So much so that we put full-time subs in all our schools and two at the high school. If it’s working, I don’t understand why we have to pull it.”

Business Director Jason Harmon showed the district saving $1.07 million with changes to the budget, including $131,000 from altering the full-time substitutes program. The full-time substitutes had benefits through MUSD, but will now go through a third party, smartSchools, for appointments and benefits.

“I can’t put a dollar figure on a person,” Coutré said. “These are people that have been working for the district full-time with benefits, and now we’re going to say, ‘Hey, we need to save some money, so you can purchase benefits through smartSchools, and you can still sub, we’ll still call, but you’re not guaranteed a job anymore.’”

The full-time substitutes were told of the situation in May at a face-to-face meeting with Human Resources Director Tom Beckett after being asked to sign a “Notice of Appointment” in February for the upcoming school year.

Substitute teacher Idressa Calland felt it was a virtual breach of contract. “This is immoral, unjust and disheartening,” Calland said in the wake of that meeting.

On Wednesday, Beckett conceded it was late notice.

Budget Highlights

  • The primary tax rate will decrease from 4.1596 to 3.7908 this fiscal year.
    • The secondary tax rate will decrease from 3.0408 to 2.9675. Included in that secondary tax, a scheduled increase in the M&O override from 1.3261 to 1.3426 is counterbalanced by drops in Class B bonds from 1.2693 to 1.1968 and desegregation from 0.4454 to 0.4125.
    • Average teacher salaries are going up 6 percent. The average teacher salary will be $50,376.
    • The estimated reserve is $682,224.
    • Weighted student count is 10,024, up from 9,504.

“We have made the contingency that we are going to place each of those full-time subs that were with the district on top of the priority list for that individual school where they are at,” he told the governing board. “They will be first-placed when there is an opening at their school site.”

Beckett said there would not be a guarantee of 180 days, “but we’ll do our very, very best.”

While Calland said there was no illegality involved, she was not happy with the manner it occurred. She said the teachers should have been told in March.

“It’s just how they gave us contracts and let us go three days before school ended,” she said. “People lose sick time and opportunities to apply for open positions.”

Wednesday, Coutré questioned whether the district was actually saving $131,000 with the move. “Because my understanding is that these employees will be able to continue to work through smartSchools as subs. Basically, we’re still going to be paying them, but we’re going to be paying them through smartSchools. So, we’re still out that expenditure. The only thing we’re really saving would be the benefit costs that they are no longer receiving.”

However, Board Member Torri Anderson, a former teacher, supported the change.

“To have a full-time sub on each campus is a Cadillac model that we can’t afford to do when there are other things that we need to stretch our money to do,” Anderson said.

She said some of the substitutes were doing work other than substitute teaching in classrooms.

“If substitutes weren’t being used correctly, that seems to be a management issue and something that maybe the district needs to streamline,” Coutré said.

When Superintendent Tracey Lopeman explained approving the proposed budget was more about “form and format” rather than the details, which can be changed later before the final vote, Coutré said that was a moot point. The rest of the agenda, she said, included personnel and other expenditures.

“We’re spending the money,” she said.

The board voted 3-1 to approve the $50 million budget for FY20.

Felicia Williams (right) resigned this month, to be replaced on an interim basis by TOSA Marchelle Hasan (left).

Maricopa Unified School District is looking for another principal.

After 10 years as principal of Saddleback Elementary School, Felicia Williams submitted her resignation June 13. Her last day was Friday.

“I have been offered a position outside of MUSD that is in the best interest of my family,” she wrote.

Wednesday, the Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board accepted the resignation without docking her a contract assessment with less than a month before the next school year starts.

The board approved Marchelle Hasan as interim principal at the campus. She has been teacher on special assignment (TOSA) at Saddleback since 2013.

Hasan has a doctorate in educational leadership, a master’s degree in education/curriculum and instruction and a Bachelor of Science in elementary education. She has more than 18 years of experience in education.

MUSD Board Members Patti Coutre and Ben Owens disagreed with Board President AnnaMarie Knorr and Torri Anderson about the size of a proposed bond.

 

With governing board members divided on the issue, Maricopa Unified School District is taking a tortuous route toward a bond election this fall.

Estimated costs of a second high school combined with capital costs for aging buildings total $140 million.

As the high school is over-capacity by more than 200 students, all board members agree a bond is needed. However, the four attending Wednesday’s meeting split down the middle on the amount for which they should ask voters. Joshua Judd was out of state, but Board President AnnaMarie Knorr attended via phone.

Over the past months, the district has looked at capital-improvement bonds of $50 million, $65 million and $75 million.

“I would rather be conservative and go for the sure thing,” Board Member Torri Anderson said.

She initially supported the $50 million proposal but moved to the $65 million bond. She said she had talked to community members who told her they would not vote for anything that added more than $100 per year to their tax bill.

“I want to be respectful of those community members that are here now,” she said.

But Board Member Patti Coutré said asking for $75 million was not being disrespectful. She said asking for the top amount was respecting future generations of students.

Coutré and Board Vice President Ben Owens pushed for $75 million while Anderson and Knorr voted for $65 million.

Knorr said it was important for the board to be in unanimous agreement on an amount. The board requested a special meeting be arranged July 3 for another vote on the issue after they are all able to gather more community information. The deadline is July 8.

If the board seeks a bond election, it will be held Nov. 5 this year.

A second high school is only part of the capital-improvements challenge.

Estimated costs of a second high school combined with capital costs for aging buildings such as new roofs and HVAC total $140 million. The district will receive about $26 million from the state’s School Facilities Board.

The district conservatively is expected to grow 5 percent over the next few years, a number that is forecast to be closer to 8 percent to spread the tax burden to more properties.

Previous meetings, including a stakeholders’ forum Thursday, showed various scenarios of funding the first phase of a new school plus top-priority capital improvements.


Scenario 1
High school Phase 1          $57,500,000
Top priorities                     $40,700,000
Minus SFB funds               $72,000,000 total

Scenario 2
High school Phase 1          $57,500,000
Top priorities                     $32,200,000 (deleting solar with battery storage)
Minus SFB funds               $63,500,000 total

Scenario 3
High school Phase 1          $57,500,000
Top priorities                     $24,700,000 (deleting energy- and water-saving initiatives)
Minus SFB funds               $56,000,000 total


“It’s a good idea to have energy projects at the front of the line, but you have such a capacity issue right now at the high school, that it’s probably going to push those kinds of things aside,” said Mark Rafferty, a partner at Facility Management Group, who made a presentation Thursday on the district’s lifecycle forecast.

He said all MUSD school are 12 to 16 years old, a time when most building systems “begin to go out of service.” That includes heating/cooling, roofing and interior finishes.

“At 12 years, they begin to go out of service. They begin to be a maintenance issue,” he said. “By 16 years, they are all out of service. All of your schools except the high school are between 12 and 16 years old.”

At last week’s forum, financial advisor Mike LaVallee, a managing director of Stifel, Nicolaus & Company, reiterated the discrepancy between what is legislatively mandated to go in the voter pamphlet and what is the economic reality. Numbers presented to voters, he said, must include the 10-year average growth, a time period that included the great recession.

For MUSD, that would be a growth rate of 0.82 percent. Some districts, he said, had negative growth for the decade. During the past three years, however, the growth rate at MUSD has been at a 5-percent clip.

Tax value is usually 82-85 percent of the market value of a home. The average assessed value of homes in the borders of MUSD is $117,000.

But Anderson said there are several homes in Maricopa with assessed values of $240,000, “and those are our voters.”

LaVallee said there is a $12 difference for every addition $100,000 of assessed value.

Owens said the math indicates a $65 million bond would be $7 per month for the owner of a home assessed at $100,000. On a bond of $75 million, that moves to $7.5 or $8 per month.

“That’ not how people think,” Anderson said. “They think about the tax bill at the end of the year that says $240 or $260.”

Knorr said asking for a $65 million bond would pick up those voters who are on the fence about the full $75 million.

At the same time, she said, a “starter” high school is not workable because it would inherently involve inequality of opportunity between the two high schools. A starter school, for instance, would not have sports or arts programs.

Owens said $75 million would give the district “the capability to do what is right and what we need to do.”

Superintendent Tracey Lopeman said if the district successfully has a bond approved that provides less money than the necessary capital improvements demand, MUSD may have to seek a capital-improvement budget override.

Jonathan Pulver had a close call but worked hard to graduate with his classmates. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Sprinkled among the hundreds of Maricopa High School students who graduated May 23 were those who completed their coursework through the school’s Ram Academy.

This was the second full year for the credit-recovery program.

I worked and worked and worked.

“If it hadn’t been for Ram Academy, my son wouldn’t have graduated,” Ray Pulver said.

Students have various reasons for falling behind on their school credits. For Jonathan Pulver, 17, it was a matter of transfer. He had attended district and charter schools growing up and spent his freshman year and half of his sophomore year in homeschool. He enrolled in MHS mid-year, but the homeschool credits did not transfer.

His grade point average had been 3.5 as a sophomore and 3.0 as a junior, but his credits still trailed.

After his junior year, it became clear he was 13.5 credits behind his classmates, the equivalent of a year and a half, which seemed almost insurmountable at the time. When other options failed, his best chance of graduating with his friends appeared to be Ram Academy.

“I was not happy to be there,” Jonathan Pulver said. “Then I realized I could get through classes pretty quickly. I finished my first class in two weeks.”

“Jonathan completed not only his senior year at Ram Academy but also made up his freshman and sophomore year credits all in one year,” Ray Pulver said.

An Eagle scout who is the oldest of five Pulver children, he completed 24 classes through Ram Academy and three more through Brigham Young University Independent Studies. Without the BYU classes, he still would have been short of credits. He said he completed his final course the day before graduation.

It took a combined effort of teachers and parents to keep him motivated.

“I worked and worked and worked,” Jonathan said. “The teachers were great. They would tell me, ‘You can do it,’ and ‘Nothing is impossible if you put your mind to it.’”

A typical day was spending 8:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. working on online classes at home and 2-8 p.m. on campus. When he lost focus and discipline, teachers and Assistant Principal Steve Ybarra were there to clamp down.

“I have great teachers at the Ram Academy who are seasoned, connect with students and care about them as individuals,” Ybarra said. “I have an assistant who treats the students as her own children, and we hold them accountable, we place them on contracts as needed but allow them to earn back any freedoms they have lost.”

Jonathan Pulver said there was some knowledge overlap from homeschool classes in biology and some math that aided his crusade. His mother Rachel helped at home, and his father helped with math classes after work.

Another chance to get on track is a motivating factor for many Ram Academy students.

“Some have left us, but many times they return to allow us to guide and help them get their high school diplomas,” Ybarra said.

Pulver found students got out of Ram Academy what they put into it.

“I like the teachers because if I respected them I would get respect back,” he said.

Superintendent Tracey Lopeman said the credit-recovery program is part of MUSD’s options “offering multiple paths to graduation” for those struggling in traditional school settings.

“The flexibility of Ram Academy offers non-traditional learners the options and support they need to earn their diplomas,” Lopeman said. “It is truly a second chance at a bright future, and I’m thrilled with the program’s success.”

For Pulver, who turns 18 in July, that diploma put him right back on track with his future. The grandson of a dentist, he said he intends to study dentistry at BYU-Idaho after serving a mission for his church.

“We thank Ram Academy for making it possible,” his father said.

 

As Maricopa Unified School District debates seeking a bond election for the construction of a second high school, the state approved an education budget that will chip in more than $32 million toward that cause.

HB 2749, the education bill, was approved by the Legislature May 24 on a 31-28 vote. All the “aye” votes were Republicans. The state budget was signed by Gov. Doug Ducey May 31.

The measure directs the School Facilities Board to use $3.75 million to purchase property for a new school in Maricopa. It also allocates $14.23 million for MUSD in fiscal year 2020 and again in fiscal year 2021 to go toward the construction of a high school.

“Maricopa is one of the fastest growing cities in the state, so I’m proud that this year’s budget includes funding for a new high school in the city,” Maricopa resident Rep. Bret Roberts (R-District 11), stated in a press release. “The funding for Maricopa’s new high school, over $32 million, certainly fills a need in our community and demonstrates Republicans’ commitment to K-12 education.”

Democrats and education leaders argued the education funding, in the second year of Ducey’s three-year 20-by-2020 plan, did not go far enough, especially in light of the state’s $1 billion surplus. State Superintendent of Public Education Kathy Hoffman called it “disheartening” that many funding requests were ignored. Education spending remains below its pre-recession level, behind by about $700 million.

“If the state cannot bring itself to fully fund education during a year with a massive budget surplus, when will it do so?” Hoffman said.

“There’s a lot for residents of LD-11 to like in the Republican budget, including this funding for Maricopa’s new high school,” Rep. Mark Finchem (R-District 11) stated. “It’s a shame that not one Democrat voted for the K-12 education budget bill, which also included funding for teacher raises.”

The money earmarked for MUSD will not completely fund a new school but is a boost. The governing board is contemplating bond options of $75 million, $50 million or $35 million. If the board decides to ask voters for a bond, it would likely be a special election this year.

“Students in Maricopa will soon have a new high school thanks to this year’s budget, which includes over $6 billion in education spending,” Sen. Vince Leach (R-District 11) said. “I’m pleased that the budget will address the needs of a rapidly growing area of our district.”

Paul Ulin presented the results of a public opinon survey on a possible bond election to the MUSD Governing Board Wednesday.

A survey conducted in April found  58 percent of contacted Maricopans indicated they would support a $75 million bond for Maricopa Unified School District.

The goal was at least 60 percent.

MUSD is mulling the option of asking voters for a bond to build a second high school. The state has determined Maricopa High School is over-capacity. The district has obtained mobile classrooms to alleviate part of the problem next school year.

A new high school, updates to safety and security at existing schools and new buses would all be part of the bond. The state’s School Facilities Board has already affirmed some money for construction and funding a land purchase.

Primary Consultants LLC was hired to complete the opinion poll, and calls were made April 24-30 to registered voters. Paul Ulan, founder of Primary Consultants, said 401 voters participated with a 5.5 percent margin of error.

When board member Patti Coutré questioned whether that was too small a sample on which to base a decision, Ulan said it was “a good snapshot of where we’re at.” Pollsters made more than 6,000 calls.

Ulan said pollsters gave voters “a pretty lengthy explanation of the bond” and explained what the tax impact would be before asking about support for a $75 million bond. That resulted in the 58-percent approval.

“You’d like to be at 60 percent,” Ulan said. “That’s sort of the magic number.”

Though not yet proposed, a $75 million bond would mean about $14 more per month in property taxes on an average home with a full assessed cash value of $117,000.

Respondents who answered no (31 percent) or unsure (11 percent) were subsequently asked if they would approve a bond of $50 million. That gained $15 percent approval from that group.

When those who still answered no or were unsure about $50 million were then asked if they would support what Ulan called “the bare minimum” $35 million bond, 17 percent said yes.

By the time the bottom number was reached, there was a total of 70 percent among all those polled in favor of a bond of some kind.

“Of course, that makes sense,” Ulan said. “Do you want to pay 10 bucks, eight bucks or five bucks?”

He said there is a core that will oppose any measure that increases their taxes: “I don’t care what it is, I don’t care what the need is, what the amount is, what the cost is, I’m a no.”

Ulan broke down numbers on the $75 million bond responses.

“You see 75 percent of your parents supporting the bond. You would expect that,” Ulan said. “You’d like that to be a little bit higher.”

Eleven of the respondents turned out to be MUSD employees, and 73 percent favored the bond.

Of those polled, 51 percent were men. Ulan said women are usually the majority. Sixty-four percent had lived in the district at least six years.

When respondents were asked their opinion of the current level of property tax, 58 percent said it is just about right, and 33 percent said it was too high. Ulan said the latter was “a little bit of a concern but not an alarming number.”

Of those polled, 154 were Republican, 133 were Democrat and 114 were independent or something else. Among the GOP, 50.6 percent were in favor. Among Democrats, support was 67.7 percent.

The gender gap, Ulan said, was a surprise, with men a little more in favor of the bond (59.7 percent) than women (56 percent). “Typically, women seem to be more supportive of school funding.”

Respondents also indicated the presence of an oversight committee for the bond funds would make them more supportive (60 percent). Knowledge of the Facilities Board’s intention to purchase land for a new high school made 50 percent more likely to support the bond.

“There isn’t a district in the state doesn’t that have capital needs,” Ulan said. “This isn’t Maricopa problem. This is a statewide problem. There aren’t a lot of districts in the state that are growing like you.”

After providing the additional information to voters who had already indicated support for a $76 million bond, that support fell from 58 percent to 55 percent.

“The challenge is, Maricopa is primarily a residential community,” Ulan said. “That means homeowners foot a disproportionate percentage of the tax increase when you’re looking to go out for bond and override elections.”

Ulan said historically bonds are easier to pass than overrides because voters understand the issues of capital projects like buildings and transportation.

For next budget cycle, the district’s estimated capital budget is $2.4 million, with $2.3 million in recommended projects. That leaves $167,034 in reserve.

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Photo by Kyle Norby

Eighth graders from Desert Wind and Maricopa Wells middle schools had separate promotion ceremonies this year, each on the football field at Maricopa High School. Desert Wind’s event was Tuesday, followed by Maricopa Wells on Wednesday. In recent years, the two school had unified for one ceremony, but that had been deemed too crowded and long.

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People show up in droves for the Maricopa High School graduation ceremonies, filling parking lots quickly around the campus.

This year, graduation is Thursday starting at 7:30 p.m. Gates open at 6 p.m. To avoid traffic and parking congestion, Maricopa Unified School District is offering a shuttle service from two of its schools to the football field.

Parking will be available at Butterfield Elementary, 43800 W. Honeycutt Road, and Saddleback Elementary, 18600 N. Porter Road, starting at 6 p.m. Parking signs will be posted. Shuttles are scheduled for every 20 minutes.

MES students perform for parents and guests at Leadership Day. Photos by Raquel Hendrickson

Young scholars at Maricopa Elementary School presented their annual, end-of-school-year Leadership Day on Friday, showing off what they’ve learned this year as a “Lighthouse School” that extols the virtues of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People.” The morning includes special guests, classroom tours and spotlights on Special Olympians, perfect attendance and the Walk of Fame.

Photos by Jim Headley

Thursday evening, May 9, the Native American Parent Advisory presented the eighth annual Family Night Celebration at Maricopa High School. The event honors Native American graduates from the 2019 class at MHS. The event was filled with stories and dancing, including performances by The Yellow Bird Dancers and the Red Mountain Performers. At the end, graduates were presented with hand-made stoles.

Maria Alvarado has gone full circle at Maricopa Unified School District, attending MUSD schools since preschool and now coming back to teach second grade at Santa Rosa Elementary. Photo by Jim Headley

Maria Alvarado may be a new teacher, but she knows Maricopa Unified School District inside and out. She started preschool at MUSD and graduated from Maricopa High School in 2013.

“I think it’s a unique perspective going from a student in this school district to being a teacher,” she said. “It’s very different.”

She said as a student she didn’t understand what was happening behind the scenes at school, how much concern the teachers had for the students and “how everything works.”

Coming back, she said, it has been interesting being on the flipside of the coin, “to be the one responsible for my kiddoes.”

In her second-grade classroom at Santa Rosa Elementary, the motto has been “We learn from our mistakes.” That has even expanded to “We learn from each other’s mistakes” as they work together to learn the material.

Alvarado returned to MUSD after college for a semester of student teaching at Maricopa Elementary School at the end the 2017. When a full-time, real-deal teaching position opened in the middle of the school year, she landed the job. She replaced a second-grade teacher at Santa Rosa in January 2018.

“That was a toughie,” she recalled. “They had their own system going when I got there.”

Her dream was to teach fourth or fifth grade, so she was uncertain about taking on second grade, where some of the students did not yet know how to read or were limited in their ability. A year into her teaching career, she has determined her students should be able to read on their own by second semester if they were going to have any chance of success as third graders.

Photo by Jim Headley

“My second graders are on their own right now. First quarter, I’m done reading to them. That was a struggle when I took over half-year. So many of my kids were not there. Now that I’ve had them myself for a whole year, I feel more comfortable with where they are.

“One of my kiddoes came in with eight words. He still fluctuates, but he’s between 60 and 80 words a minute. That’s just a huge jump.”

“Ms. Alvarado’s sheer excitement about students reading is enough to make anyone believe in public education,” Superintendent Tracey Lopeman said. “She inspires students and peers alike to adopt a life-long love of learning.”

Alvarado was 3 when her parents, Salvador and Adriana, moved to the rural area south of Maricopa. In third grade, she was a student at Santa Rosa herself. Her long-range goal now is to become a principal.

“Her value is not just in her influence on her students,” Lopeman said. “Ms. Alvarado’s history with the district is unique; she’s homegrown MUSD. She has watched and been part of the evolution of this district since she was a child and is the bridge to maintaining the spirit of MUSD and moving us into the future.”

A graduate of Northern Arizona University, Alvarado had been planning to be a pediatrician since she was in middle school. Schoolteacher? Not on the list. There was no history of teachers in her immediate family, but she tutored in high school and understood at that time she liked teaching.

The mother of the student she was tutoring called her to thank her for the work she had been doing. “She was telling me, ‘Thank you so much. My son went from a D student to B’s.’ She was ecstatic. She was crying and really emotional. It was like a really good feeling.”

At NAU, Alvarado was taking classes toward becoming a pediatrician and was earning a 4.0 grade point average. She started tutoring a roommate majoring in chemistry and realized she was not only good at teaching but really enjoyed it.

Sharing her mixed feelings with her counselor, she was encouraged to enroll in a “Teaching Math and Science” course. That required creating lesson plans and learning how children learn. She was soon convinced she needed to change her major.

“I called my mom, and she was upset. She started talking about, ‘This is your dream. Think about how much more money you’re going to be making.’ She made me cry because she was being realistic.”

Then she called her father. “I was more scared of my dad. And my dad stayed quiet. And then he goes, ‘Yeah, I knew since you were little you were going to be a teacher.’”

Student teachers are not paid, so it was practicality that moved her to take the post with MUSD so she could live at home. To then be hired was a matter of getting “lucky twice,” she said.

Though her early study had been related to middle and high school students, she soon switched her interest to K-5.

“A lot of the concepts I was asked to understand as a middle schooler I was lacking on foundational skills that should have been taught in lower grades,” Alvarado said. “I felt like if I started at middle school with these kids, I wasn’t making the biggest difference and making sure they understood those foundational things.”

While still learning the best teaching practices herself, Alvarado said what happens in the classroom goes beyond books and computers.

“The hardest part is teaching them the things that technically we don’t go to school to learn, like confidence, how to be proud of your own self and your own work. That boosts you to keep trying.”

She tells of giving her students a question on a practice test that had most of her students choosing Part A and only four choosing Part B, the correct answer.

“And one of them wanted to move over. I said, ‘You need to be careful. Are you going to follow everybody or are you going to pick your answer because you know that’s what you think is right?’”

Alvarado said that is a dilemma for students even in upper grades, the need to “go with the flow” even when they know the facts.

Her students have fluctuated in number between 19 and 24. They have taught her it’s possible to be lively and energetic about anything, and there is plenty of movement going on in Ms. Alvarado’s classroom.

Her second graders also like to be empowered to create their own goals and ideas of how the class will reach those goals. As they prepared for the School City test, the students came up with methods to review.

“I’ve never been so proud of a person as I am proud of my kids,” she said. “Sometimes I feel I’m being too mean or holding them to too high of expectations, but, when I see it pay off over time, I know I’m not.”


This story appears in the May issue of InMaricopa.

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Desert Wind Middle School students are conducted by Roger Wagner. Photos by Kyle Norby

The fifth annual Music-a-Thon hosted by Maricopa Unified School District was Saturday, featuring student musicians from high school and the middle schools. Ivan Pour, Roger Wagner and Tanya Hobt conducted the orchestras through the five-hour event at the Performing Arts Center.

Student singers from Maricopa Unified School District’s high school and middle schools presented a great display of their talent Tuesday in a vocal concert in the MHS Performing Arts Center. Also on display were the skills of the music teachers in arranging, accompanying and even choreographing. The communal choir of beginners from Desert Wind Middle School was directed by Andrea Jenkins. Tanya Hobt led the Maricopa Wells Middle School choir. Austin Showen directed and arranged most of the songs performed by the strong Maricopa High School choirs. MHS also honored 10 graduating seniors.

The Art Walk at Maricopa Unified School District came back in full force Tuesday after having to cancel last year’s show. The event, held this time in the foyer of the Maricopa High School Performing Arts Center just ahead of the district’s vocal concert, displayed works of all genres created by all ages, from kindergarten to 12th graders and instructors.

Want to hear some great live music? Love to see student performers? Come on out to the MUSD Music-a-Thon V from 3-8 p.m. on May 4.

“The Music-a-Thon is an event we look forward to every year that showcases all the hard work the students put forth,” Tanya Hobt, music director at Maricopa Wells Middle School, said. “We are very fortunate to have such talented students that work tirelessly all year for this event. The music programs in the Maricopa Unified School District continue to grow every year, and we love to perform and share the music with our wonderful community.”

Music-a-Thon is a yearly event that features all of the bands and orchestra from Grades 6-12 in MUSD. This event will feature over 300 students in seven bands and three orchestras, and combined performances from Desert Wind Middle School, Maricopa Wells Middle School, and Maricopa High School.

Roger Wagner, director of instrumental music at Desert Wind Middle School, said, “We are in our fifth year of this event and it has become a must see for music fans and our community. The beauty and power of our students performers in combined Band and Orchestra cannot be matched.”

The conclusion of this year’s concert will be the Maricopa High School Fight Song, Rams Fall in Line, conducted by Maricopa Unified School District’s own superintendent, Dr. Tracey Lopeman.

“We’re excited to show what MUSD Music can do, as well as invite our yearly special guest to see our programs and conduct our students,” said Ivan Pour, director of instrumental music at Maricopa High School.

Schedulehttps://docs.google.com/document/d/1jB3o6Rfg8BkhEmzHHAu-OUEbXFLsVMugQFOlPCc7HdA/edit?usp=sharing

Jacob Harmon is the new business director for MUSD.

 

Maricopa Unified School District is receiving $22.3 million dollars plus 40 acres of land from the state’s School Facilities Board (SFB) for a second high school.

The status of the land is a question mark.

“We do not have it defined. We do not have it located,” Superintendent Tracey Lopeman told the governing board Wednesday. “We are in the process of securing our representation so that we can be properly represented when we go out and discuss purchase and donations.”

She estimated the proffered 40 acres might be appropriate for a “starter high school” that had been discussed during capital-improvement talks. The new high school is estimated to be 125,000 square feet. The original cost is $179.69 per square foot.

“When we make application for a building-renewal grant, there’s a process and policies,” Facilities Director Scott Fall-Leaf said, leading to a brief explanation of new SFB policies regarding roofing and HVAC. The latter includes a flow chart that MHS has not yet submitted to.

SFB funding, which Lopeman described as “statutorily eligible new construction, renovation and repair projects,” is familiar to MUSD.

Jacob Harmon, the district’s new business director, said past projects at MUSD funded by SFB amounted to more than $122 million. That includes about $2 million in land from 2001 to 2008 and $115.6 million for the construction of eight schools between 2001 and 2011.

Currently, the district has two projects being paid for by SFB.

Facilities Director Scott Fall-Leaf (left) and Business Director Jacob Harmon

Fall-Leaf said a sewer line is being repaired at Maricopa Elementary School. SFB is giving $47,630 to that project. At the high school is the more involved project of a submersible pump and water well repair. SFB awarded MUSD $530,600 for that project.

The district has noted the possible need for a second high school since at least 2008, when a developer tried to donate 60 acres to the cause just before the housing bubble burst and the Great Recession stopped all development. This year, with the current high school over capacity, “possible need” is now a certainty and wheels have been put in motion to build a second high school sooner rather than later. While the high school is being planned, MHS is putting in portable classrooms on the east side of campus.

School land between the baseball and softball lands is prepped for portable classrooms to be used next school year.

Arizona Educational Foundation awarded Pima Butte Elementary with an A+ School of Excellence recognition.

 

Pima Butte Elementary received the prestigious A+ School of Excellence Award from the Arizona Educational Foundation.

It was one of just 52 schools statewide recognized this year and the only school in Pinal County. The award is in place for three and a half years. Earning the distinction, which has been around since the 1980s, was no easy task.

During a meeting of the Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board, Principal Randy Lazar held up the 33-page application comprised of 53 questions requiring answers of 600 to 1,500 words each. It was completed over four months by staff and parent volunteers.

“It was a long, drawn-out process,” he said. “Not just a one-time thing. It was like preparing for the Boston Marathon.”

Superintendent Tracey Lopeman said the school was evaluated on student focus and support, active teaching and learning, climate, parent involvement, community building and leadership. The award, she said, spotlights successes “happening at Pima Butte every single day.”

Pima Butte Elementary is also an A-rated school by the Arizona Department of Education.

Lazar credited the hard work of his staff, pointing out many of the teachers had been with the school 10 or 12 years.

“For a school to remain successful, you need a consistent staff, and that’s what Pima Butte has had over the years,” he said. “Not only a consistent staff, a dedicated staff.”

He said many of his teachers were at school before and after classes, on weekends, during breaks and during the summer.

“All of their hard work has led to this award this evening,” he said.

Principal Randy Lazar

Aidan Balt

Maricopa High School teacher and National Board Certified Teacher Aidan Balt was invited by The Atlantic Magazine to the fifth annual Education Summit in Washington, D.C., on May 14.

She will be participating as a speaker on a panel with other teachers from across the nation, discussing teacher advocacy and the profession of education. The conversation will run for about half an hour and will be moderated by one of the top Atlantic journalists.

The program is free and open to the public, and The Atlantic is expecting around 300 educators, policymakers, students, business and community leaders, and journalists to attend. The program will also be live-streamed.

The event receives financial support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Amgen Foundation, VIPKID, K12, and the College Board. The editorial team at The Atlantic maintains complete independence in putting together the Education Summit. Join the conversation on social media: #atlanticEDU. You can find information on the event and the full list of speakers at: http://educationsummit2019.theatlantic.com.

 

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Jennifer Nguyen

By Bernadette Russoniello

February was CTE month, celebrating all things related to Career Technical Education. Maricopa High School hosted a number of events, from Future Freshmen Tours and Showcase to CPR classes, Market Day student business expo and technology recycling. What better way to celebrate CTE than to profile some of our most successful seniors?

Jennifer Nguyen (Technical Theatre) initially chose Technical Theatre because she wanted to be part of a fun, hands-on program… and to get to DJ. She was inspired her freshman year when she attended her first dance concert – she found herself more fascinated by the digital lighting, the sound and transitions than by the dancers. She found even more opportunities in Tech Theatre, including event management, show production, set design, construction, lighting, sound, rigging. She even was part of the flight crew for “Peter Pan.” She intends to pursue audio engineering as a career and will start class at the Conservatory for Recording Arts and Science this fall.

Brayden Sanders

Brayden Sanders (Computer Networking) enjoys taking things apart and learning how they work. He always has had an interest in the complexity of computers. However, it was the mentorship of teacher Brad Chamberlain who inspired Brayden to take his interests to the next level. He loves the possibilities in the Networking class – competitions, work experience, industry certifications and the potential for high paying jobs and careers. Brayden is already an IT assistant for MUSD. Brayden plans to attend a university in the fall, majoring in computer science with the goal of working as a cyber security analyst to protect companies and consumers. Brayden has already been accepted to University of Michigan, Penn State, Colorado School of Mines, New York Institute of Technology, Illinois Institute of Technology, ASU, NAU and Gus Davis. He is considering the many offers and scholarships and will make his final decision later this spring.

Hayley Mase

Hayley Mase (AFJROTC) originally joined Junior ROTC for the leadership opportunities. The core values of service before self, integrity first and excellence above all resonated with her as a ninth grader. She explains the most impactful experience in JROTC has been the personal changes, morphing her from a shy young woman afraid to speak publicly to the commanding officer for the entire program. Hayley aspires to a career in the military as a pilot and has received Congressional nominations to the U.S. Air Force Academy, U.S. Naval Academy and West Point. She will receive her appointment by April.

Katelyn Dayley

Katelyn Dayley (Graphic Design) was accidentally placed into graphic design her sophomore year – she never even signed up for the course. However, because of her background in art, she soon realized the potential in the program. Katelyn was fascinated realizing we are surrounded by graphic design in images, logos, social media posts, print media, TV and broadcast. She has enjoyed her ability to create while contributing to her school and community with her designs. Katelyn plans to pursue a career in graphic design and advertising. She will attend CAC on her Promise for the Future Scholarship, serve a mission for her church and eventually transfer to BYU-Idaho to finish her degree.

Jacquelyn “Jackie” Cooter

Jacquelyn “Jackie” Cooter (Marketing) chose marketing on purpose. She was new to Maricopa, painfully shy and knew she needed a program to help her get out of her shell. What she’s enjoyed most about marketing are the real-world skills – public speaking, presentations, pricing, the psychology of marketing and perspectives into the adult world. Jackie plans to major in nursing at ASU on a full-ride scholarship and knows she will take the professional skills, conflict resolution, project management and inter-personal communication skills with her into her future career.

Ivan Maldonado

Ivan Maldonado (Automotive Technologies) joined Auto because of his personal interest in cars. He enjoyed working on engines before joining the class. However, in MHS Auto Shop he learned more than he imagined possible. He credits teacher Erick Fierro with finding ways to teach both practice and theory; to demonstrate hands-on in the shop yet familiarize students with manuals and “by the book” techniques. Ivan will attend Yavapai Community College to study collision repair.

 

Alana Daniels

Alana Daniels (Culinary Arts) a comes from a family heritage of cooks; her mother is a professional chef. She entered the program as a sophomore with a passion for food and fond memories of making dough in her grandma’s kitchen. Alana has an interest in culinary arts therapy – using food and food preparation as healing. Alana will attend Johnson and Wales University in Denver, earning $70,000 in scholarships. Pending the outcome of her upcoming CCAP competition, Alana could earn a full ride from the American Culinary Federation to complete her study in culinary arts.

Tyler Griego

Tyler Griego (Computer Repair and Maintenance) had an early interest in computers. He figured taking a computer class would be an “easy A.” He was unprepared for where the rabbit-hole of technology would lead him. Tyler enjoys creating websites and appreciates the most important elements of his learning: personal accountability, time management and people skills. Tyler attributes teacher Brad Chamberlain’s caring, enthusiasm and genuine passion as a major source for his success. Tyler will attend ASU with a full tuition waiver and major in computer science with an emphasis in cybersecurity. He’s open to career possibilities in any tech-related field.


This story appears in the March issue of InMaricopa.

The City of Maricopa Police Department, Victim Services Unit was awarded a grant through Ak-Chin’s State-Shared Revenue Program (Prop 202) in the amount of $16,910 in partnership with Maricopa Unified School District.  The grant will provide a high level of service from crisis intervention and support in the education system for victims of crime and children with adverse experiences in Maricopa.

The funding will be used to:

  1. Increase on-scene response having Victim Advocates available on stand-by pay during the weekends. This is estimating 30 percent of victims served will receive services through on-scene response at the time of the incident.
  2. Provide training to elementary school staff at Butterfield and Maricopa elementary schools on mindfulness and trauma informed classrooms through a professor at ASU School of Social Work.
  3. Provide trauma sensitive classrooms through Calming Corners at Butterfield and Maricopa Elementary School.

Mary Witkoski, MPD’s Community Program manager, reflected the strong support the police department has provided in both assessing the needs of the district and applying for the funds. “This is a very effective partnership, and I’m glad we could help in securing this important grant.”

Krista Roden, MUSD’s director of Teaching and Learning, said, “The safety of our students is and will always be a top priority of the District.  We are excited to partner with MPD to respond to the evolving needs of our students.  The professional development will extend the reach of trauma informed practices to our most vulnerable students and expanding Calming Corners offers a safe space inside classrooms where students can regroup and process feelings of anxiety or other intense emotions that could disrupt their day.”

Financial advisor Mike LaVallee said the state formula will artificially inflate projected tax rates on a possible bond for Maricopa Unified School District. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

The growth of Maricopa Unified School District mirrors that of many other districts in Arizona recovering from the Great Recession. And that could lead to a communication problem with voters.

MUSD is preparing to ask those voters for a bond to relieve the pressure on an already-overcrowded high school. Over the past five years, the district’s valuation has grown 5.34 percent.

However, the 10-year growth average is only 0.82 percent. By state statute, the 10-year historical average must be used in voter pamphlets to project the growth in assessed value in the tax-impact schedule.

“That’s a big disparity,” said financial advisor Mike LaVallee, a managing director of Stifel, Nicolaus & Company. “Even though you’re adding growth now, it’s not making up for what you lopped off 11-12 years ago.”

Using the 10-year average will produce a tax-rate impact that LaVallee said will be artificially high.

As an example, LaVallee showed the 10-year growth average creating a tax rate of 88 cents on a $50 million bond. For the owner of a home valued at $100,000, that would be an annual cost of $88.24. However, LaVallee said a “more realistic scenario,” based on the five-year average, would be a tax rate of just 55 cents, costing the same homeowner $55.49 instead.

“By law, we have to, in the voter pamphlet, talk about 1A, ‘Here’s what the state says it’s going to be.’ Then we would explain, ‘No, really, it’s going to be 1B for these reasons, X, Y and Z,’” said board member Torri Anderson. “That makes sense. Frustrating, but it makes sense.”

LaVallee called himself a K-12 specialist, but he also worked with the former Maricopa Fire District on bond elections before the city incorporated. He also worked with MUSD previously on refinancing debt and bond elections.

The assessed valuation history of the district “is so important as it relates to bonding capacity and tax-rate calculations,” he said. Bonding capacity is determined by the assessed value.

In 2009-10, before the recession fully impacted the area, the full cash assessed value was $441,000. By 2013-14, it was down to $224,000. Then the district grew again.

Now, the most recent estimate from Pinal County has the assessed valuation at $390,000, a growth rate over last year of 10.88 percent.

“That’s a very healthy growth number,” LaVallee said.

The limited assessed property value, on the other hand, determines all tax rates, including bonds. It is called limited because it is restricted by formula.

“If somebody’s property value grew market value year-by-year 8 percent, the tax value can only grow by 5,” LaVallee said. “Every property, existing homeowner, existing business can only grow tax value by 5 percent a year, even if they grew at 10 or 7 or 12. It will keep carrying over every year, but it will be capped at 5 percent.”

He said the message to the community needs to recognize what the voter pamphlet will show but explain what the real rate will be. He said that kind of outreach will be up to a pro-bond committee.

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Levi Sholes, Chance Frutchey, RyAnn Liermann, Brianna McVey, Katelyn Owens and Zoie Zimpleman, with Superintendent Tracey Lopeman, board members Joshua Judd, Torri Anderson and Vice President Ben Owens and Rotary's Alma Farrell and Jim Irving. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Rotary Club of Maricopa honored six “Students of the Month” from Maricopa Unified School District, including Central Arizona Valley Institute of Technology, during a meeting of the governing board Wednesday.

Levi Sholes, a Maricopa High School junior, was selected by the staff and administration of CAVIT. He is a second-year veterinary assistant student with a career goal to attend the University of Arizona and earn a bachelor’s degree in veterinary technology. He is an Honor Roll student with perfect attendance honors at MHS and Second Year Honor Roll with perfect attendance at CAVIT. He has a goal to receive national veterinary assistant certification and work while attending CAC and Pima Community College’s Veterinary Technician program. He is also a volunteer at Maricopa Community Food Bank and Church of Celebration.

Chance Frutchey, also an MHS junior, was selected by CAVIT to be Student of the Month for December. He is a CAVIT medical assistant I and on the Honor Roll with perfect attendance. He has a career goal to attend CAC and U of A to become a paramedic and work toward industry certification as a registered medical assistant while working part-time as a medical assistant to pay his way through college. He is involved in football and wrestling.

RyAnn Liermann was named CAVIT’s November Student of the Month. She is a CAVIT Nursing Assistant 1 student and is on the Honor Roll with perfect attendance. She wants to earn her state nursing assistant certification and work in that area part-time to pay for college. RyAnn is involved with MHS Link Crew, Student Council, volleyball, track and AP Honors classes and is a Maricopa Community Church worship leader.

Brianna McVey, a senior at MHS, was nominated by Bernadette Russoniello, who said Brianna is an outstanding campus leader and has been a role model and leading officer in the Air Force Junior ROTC. She was selected to the MHS Girls State delegate for convention 2018. She is a volunteer in the school and community, donating hundreds of hours of service to local food banks and events. She is a Link leader, helping to welcome, orient and involve new students, especially freshmen, to the MHS campus.

Katelyn Owens is an eighth grader at Desert Wind Middle School. She was nominated by three teachers, who said she is “one of the most thoughtful and hardworking students” and “brings energy and a fine balance that can be hard for a middle school student to master with a great work ethic and drive to do things.” She was part of the foundation of the Desert Wind Performing Arts programs and a talented swimmer. Last year, her Future City team qualified for state competition.

Zoie Zimpleman is a Maricopa Wells Middle School eighth grader. Principal Thad Miller said she is an excellent example for all students at MWMS and can be trusted to make the right choice. She has straight A’s in algebra and ELA classes. Zoie is president of the school’s National Junior Honor Society and is in band and after-school clubs. She was also one of the creators of the award-winning middle school short film “Kindness Equals Calm.” She was called a true leader in academics and behavior.

By Bernadette Russoniello

Bernadette Russoniello

Government, media and families voice much concern over public school performance and accountability. We grade schools with letter grades based on standardized test scores, student growth in test scores, attendance, graduation rate, college and career readiness and English learner proficiency. Schools receive grades for their measured performance.

But what about our institutions of higher education? What grade do they earn as we prepare students for education beyond high school?

A report released last fall from the Arizona Board of Regents, representing Arizona’s public universities, paints a stark picture of student educational completion beyond high school. Nearly half – 47 percent – of Arizona high schoolers graduate without enrolling in a two-year or four-year college. The average college completion rate for Arizona high school graduates is only 27 percent – and that statistic is six years after graduation.

The statistics are even gloomier for students to complete their certificate or degree program within the standard two- or four-year timeframe. If trends stay on their current path, only 17 percent of today’s ninth graders (class of 2022) will graduate from a four-year college by 2028.

What do we need to do to improve this outlook?

Education. First, we need to stop making students feel like they only have value, purpose or worth if they pursue a four-year college degree. According to 2016 data from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, only 21 percent of jobs in the U.S. economy required a bachelor’s degree to gain an entry position. Surprisingly, 36 percent of entry-level jobs only require a high school diploma or equivalent. An additional 28 percent of jobs require no formal educational credential at all.

What we need to do is continue to shift the conversation in homes and schools away from “you’re only successful if you go to college” and help students recognize careers and career pathways that match the student’s work values, lifestyle goals and financial requirements.

We need to recognize that only 26 percent of careers in today’s workforce require a bachelor’s degree or beyond. We need every student to realize their career potential, to know they can accomplish any goal with commitment and hard work. But we must do a better job of painting a fair picture for young scholars and their families, helping students identify careers and career pathways of potential interest, and learning about the range of options they have.

Bernadette Russoniello is the College and Career counselor at Maricopa High School.


This column appears in the February issue of InMaricopa.

Native American Parent Advisory Committee at Maricopa Unified School District hosted the Native American Regalia Fashion Show Thursday at Saddleback Elementary. Students, Ak-Chin royalty and Arizona State University represented an array of cultures that honored family in their designs. Miss Indian ASU Kyla Jade Silas, Mr. Indian ASU Randal (RJ) Morin and other Sun Devils spoke to local youngsters and their parents about educational opportunities beyond high school.

After a possible threat against Maricopa Wells Middle School, parents are being cautioned by Maricopa Unified School District and Maricopa Police Department to talk with their kids about making social media threats.

The administration posted on its site: “Our district is committed to the safety and education of all our students, and we want to clearly communicate with parents about safety issues when they arise. Recently, a student reported a concerning social media message about a threat to Maricopa Wells Middle School to take place on January 30th.  School and District officials are working with the Maricopa Police Department to investigate and out of an abundance of caution, there will be an increased police presence while the investigation continues.”

School will be in session as usual on Wednesday.

MUSD asked parents to talk with their kids about the consequences of posting messages that could be interpreted as threatening.

MPD offered further tips on what to do if such a message is found on social media: “You need to notify authorities, but we ask that you please do not share or forward the threat until we have had a chance to investigate. This can spread misinformation and cause panic, and possibly expose you to legal consequences, depending on the situation.”

Emphasizing that a threat over social media, email or text is a federal crime, MPD reminded parents those making the threats can receive up to five years in prison.

“In addition to consequences for individuals who issue threats, there is also a significant societal cost. Law enforcement agencies have limited resources, and responding to hoax threats diverts officers and costs taxpayers,” the MPD post continues. “The threats can also cause severe emotional distress to students, school personnel, and parents.”

Submitted photo

MHS Theatre Company took 30 students to compete in 20 events at the Arizona Thespian Regional competition known as CAFT Jan. 26.

Eleven Maricopa High School students qualified for nationals this summer in Lincoln, Nebraska. Theater instructor Alexandra Stahl said the group musical piece received a perfect score from all three judges.

Superior ratings went to:

Group Musical: Kjirsten Lemon, Aidyn Curtis, Taryn Story, Hannah Panter, Antonio Gonzales, Brandon Korittky, Alexia Esquivel, Kade Kruse, Alex Hurley, Haley Raffaele and Joey Russionello
Monologue: Antonio Gonzales
Monologue: Aidyn Curtis
Monologue: Emma Schrader
Monologue: Emmeline Boothe
Solo Musical: Taryn Story
Solo Musical: Genevieve Burno
Solo Musical: Fallon Fruchey
Duet Musical: Brandon Korittky and Antonio Gonzales
Duet Musical: Julie Goodrum and Chloe Seekings
Stage Management: Keara Burke

To raise money for the Nebraska trip, MHS Theatre Company is presenting three plays repertory-style in February. See all three for $5 in the Black Box Theatre inside the Performing Arts Center for the Winter Show Series:

Feb. 12, 7 p.m.: “The Curious Savage”
Feb. 13, 7 p.m.: “[Title of Show]”
Feb. 14, 7 p.m.: “Silent Sky”
Feb. 15, 7 p.m.: “The Curious Savage”
Feb. 16, 2 p.m.: “Silent Sky”
Feb. 16, 7 p.m.: “[Title of Show]”

The troupe will also have a presentation of event sometime before spring break to help raise money to send the students to Nebraska.

MHS Theatre Company’s spring musical will be “Fiddler on the Roof” April 25-27 in the PAC auditorium.

Maricopa Unified School District was informed in December 11 teachers achieved National Board Certification.

Certification consists of four components

  1. An assessment of the teacher’s content knowledge.
  2. A portfolio showcasing student work samples and how the teacher provides feedback and reflects on student learning.
  3. Two videos of the teacher in the classroom, showing lessons taught and the interaction with and among students demonstrating the depth of teaching and learning.
  4. A portfolio of “reflective” work demonstrating what the teacher does outside the classroom that translates in the classroom, from collaboration to using assessments to inform instruction and learning.

Often referred to as the “gold standard” of achievement, NBCT certification asks educators to demonstrate standards-based evidence of the dynamic instruction that takes place in their classrooms. Each teacher spent time evaluating their own instructional strategies and worked purposefully to adjust their practices to better meet the needs of their students.

MUSD’s newest National Board Certified teachers are:

Butterfield Elementary School

Inez Ramirez has been an employee with the school district since 2007 and has been at Butterfield since the 2012-13 school year. She is a first-grade structured English immersion (SEI) teacher.

“Mrs. Ramirez is an amazing teacher who challenges herself, her students and others to improve and succeed. She is always looking for ways to help our school be the best it can be. She is an essential member of our Butterfield staff.” ~ Principal Janel Hildick

Maricopa Elementary School

Janet Stensgard has been in the district since 2004 and has taught at Maricopa Elementary for the past seven years. She is an instructional coach/specialist providing resources and instructional support to fellow teachers.

“Mrs. Stensgard strives to impact our school culture on a deeper level ensuring scholars and teachers are successful. Janet supports teachers by working to create professional development based on their needs and the needs of our scholars. She is an asset to our school’s growth and success as a Leader in Me Lighthouse school.” ~ Principal Jennifer Robinson

Taryn Cummings began her career with MUSD in 2011. She has taught at Maricopa Elementary School for seven years. Currently, she teaches fifth grade.

“Taryn seeks out new strategies and feedback to help support her scholars and their learning, pushing on them to provide evidence and explain their thinking. She also openly shares and collaborates with other colleagues elevating teaching and learning across our campus. She is an asset to our school’s growth and success as a Leader in Me Lighthouse school. An outside the box thinker, she challenges herself and others to be the best every day.” ~ Principal Jennifer Robinson

Maricopa High School

Aidan Balt is an eight-year veteran at Maricopa High School. This year she is teaching ninth-grade Honors English Language Arts (ELA) and Advanced Placement (AP) Literature.

“Ms. Balt is a shining example of support and collaboration and shares her expertise with her peers as a mentor and master teacher.” ~ Principal Brian Winter

“I was in Ms. Balt’s class in my freshman year. She was the best teacher I had ever had and going to her class was the highlight of my day. I learned so much from her and gained my love of language in her class. Ms. Balt completely deserves this certification and I’m not at all surprised that she got it.” ~ Student Abby Poland

Jenn Miller has been committed to the district and MHS for 16 years. This year, she is teaching English 2 Honors and is a mentor and master teacher. Mrs. Miller is also a favorite of her students, and they lined up to share what she means to them:

“The best thing that Mrs. J. Miller has done for me is that she helped me accomplish my goals of becoming a better writer and reader in my life.” ~ Alana Daniels

 “I have never had a teacher like her (in a good way) and I absolutely love being in her class. She is an amazing teacher. I learn something new every day, and not just about English. I feel privileged to be in her class.” ~ Abby Poland

“The best thing about Ms. Miller is her sole dedication to seeing every child succeed in her class. She will look over the need of the student and help them individually to make certain that they do their best.” ~ Hannah W. Paul Gindiri

“The best thing about J. Miller is that there was never a moment where I didn’t think she cared. There was never a moment that I thought I wasn’t good enough to be in her class. Even when I would get the slightest bit of doubt, she would tell me that I was enough. She never let me question myself. That’s what the best thing about J. Miller is.” ~ Hannah Bailey

Katherine Persitz has been a mainstay of Maricopa High School and the district for the past nine years. She teaches 11th and 12th grade ELA and Journalism and is an Arizona Master Teacher as well. You can tell she is making a positive impact on her students.

“Ms. Persitz impacted my education by really giving me the feeling that she cares about not only me but all of her students, and our personal lives.” ~ Bryce Wildermuth

 “The best thing about Ms. Persitz is that she is always so caring and willing to help students. I love Ms. Persitz!” ~ Chayla Holloway

Maricopa Wells Middle School

Treva Jenkins is a 12-year veteran teacher and has spent every year at Maricopa Wells.

“Ms. Jenkins is a long-time staff member at Maricopa Wells Middle School, a district mentor, and she runs our Panther Ambassador program here at Wells. Her experience and understanding of all students is a great example of how to be an excellent educator.” ~ Principal Thad Miller

Jennifer Cameron has been with MUSD for seven years and has called Maricopa Wells home for the last two.

“She is a district mentor who has an immense background in multiple areas of education. That experience and knowledge is what makes her so great for kids, while also being helpful to our entire staff here at Maricopa Wells Middle School.” ~ Principal Thad Miller

Jacqueline Hahn has been with the MUSD for six years and has been part of the Maricopa Wells team for the last two.

“Mrs. Hahn is a part of our Leadership Team here at Maricopa Wells, while still heading up our Site Council committee on campus. Her educational and real-life experience allows her to apply those concepts in everyday practice for her students.” ~ Principal Thad Miller

Pima Butte Elementary

Shelly Fisher has been an MUSD teacher 13 years and a teacher at Pima Butte for 12 years. Mrs. Fisher teaches third grade; however, she’s also taught first grade and second grade, too.

“I appreciate Mrs. Fisher’s dedication and commitment to do the best job teaching each and every day. Mrs. Fisher has high expectations for all of her students and strives to see that each student in her classroom succeeds.” – Principal Randy Lazar

Staci Oliver has been a teacher for the Maricopa Unified School District for 12 years and joined the Pima Butte family 11 years ago. Mrs. Oliver teaches third grade and previously taught fourth grade.

“Mrs. Oliver praises her students often for a job well done and encourages her students to praise each other. She ensures that her students are engaged in her lessons and when she notices that a student may need more direct guidance and support, she takes the time to get a student back on track.” – Principal Randy Lazar


This story appears in the January issue of InMaricopa.

John Reese takes his trophy for winning the 2019 MUSD Spelling Bee. Photo by Jim Headley

 

It took nine rounds but John Reese, a student at Desert Wind Middle School, won the 2019 Maricopa Unified School District with the word “Adios.”

Reese was locked in a head-to-head battle with Tyron Davis of Santa Rosa Elementary through six words at the end of the spelling bee after 16 of the 18 participants were knocked out.

Davis misspelled “diagnosis” while Reese took control by spelling it correctly and then sealed the deal by spelling “adios.”

As the two went into the final rounds against each other, Reese was getting a little nervous. At one point he was nervously smiling and crossing his fingers for luck.

“I just wanted to spell the word,” he said.

At Desert Wind, he was the second-place speller and is now the district competition.

He said he thought it was kind of funny to win on the word adios.

“It was like, goodbye, I won!” he said. He thanked his parents for “telling me to study.”

Second place was captured by Davis while Bella Hennings was third place. All three may now participate in the county spelling bee.

Students from the six elementary schools and the two junior high schools participate in the district spelling bee. This is the first year in quite a while that third graders have been allowed to participate. Students up to eighth grade can compete in the bee.

Judges for the event were Jim Irving, Talitha Martian and David Warren. Torri Anderson was the pronouncer for the event.

Other students participating in the district spelling bee Tuesday evening were Baltej Beemat, Lillian Judd, Dante Flores, Andrew Schrader, Shavonda Jones, Carter Hill, Kaylin Grimm, Lilly Mather, Kimora Holloway, Robert Lyndell-Less, Aubrey Bradshaw, Kaleb deGruyter, Dominic Buttafucco, Ronin Spaulding and Parker Girouard.