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Thad Miller became principal at Maricopa Wells Middle School this year. Photo by Mason Callejas

Maricopa Wells Middle School Principal Thad Miller has spent his entire professional career at Maricopa Unified School District. And his 20-plus years as an employee were preceded by 13 years as an MUSD student.

“It was a small farming town back then, but we always had high expectations,” said Miller, who attended Maricopa Elementary School.

Miller, a 1986 MHS graduate, moved with his family to Maricopa from Maryvale when he was 5 years old.

After receiving his teaching certificate from Arizona State University, Miller returned to Maricopa to teach middle school science in 1997.

“It was a pride thing,” Miller said of his decision to teach in Maricopa. “I wanted to help the community I came from, and that’s the way I still feel.”

He spent 15 years coaching middle school football, basketball and other sports on the same fields and courts he played on in high school.

“I grew up Maricopa Rams,” said Miller, who still sports his iconic, red, Converse sneakers every Friday.

Miller has been married to fellow MHS alumna Pauline Miller for 20 years, and their seven children have all attended MUSD schools.

In 2012, Miller began easing into administration at MWMS as a part-time teacher on special assignment focused on discipline, while still teaching science courses, before becoming a full-time assistant principal there.

Miller worked nearly a decade under former MWMS Principal Rick Abel.

Photo by Mason Callejas

“He was a great mentor for me, and we had a great situation. And it just so happened things went the way they did this year and changes were made,” Miller said.

District officials transferred Abel from the middle school to Maricopa High School last fall after MHS principal Renita Meyers resigned.

Miller said the transition was tough on students and staff – as it was not the first temporary change in administration that semester. Months before Miller was named principal, he had been placed at MHS to fill the slot of another assistant principal for a short time.

Miller’s return to MWMS helped staff and students better adjust to the transition, he said.

“It was one of those things where you don’t like change, but there is no reason to sit around and whine and complain. Our solution is to work together and move forward, and that’s what we’re going to do,” Miller said.

The former teacher, coach and disciplinarian said he practices positivity in every encounter with students in an ongoing effort to build relationships.

Abel said Miller has always been a “student-focused” educator.

“As a classroom teacher he had great management skills, and I think it’s the same in his administrative role,” Abel said. “Kids understand what they are expected to do, and he’s consistent with working with them.”

Among the changes at MWMS this school year, students welcomed 270 sixth graders back to campus, growing the student population to nearly 850, Miller said.

Additional challenges came from parents criticizing the school online, claiming student behavior is not properly addressed by administration. Miller said there is no major discipline problem at MWMS, though parents and guardians are welcome to visit him to express concerns.

“Passionate parents are who I like dealing with. They may have complaints at times, that’s OK.” Miller said. “I’m here to solve those complaints and make things better.”

Photo by Mason Callejas

This story appears in the March issue of InMaricopa.

MUSD Superintendent Steve Chestnut. Photo by Michelle Chance

Maricopa Unified School District Superintendent Steve Chestnut’s early departure was approved Wednesday. His last day on the job will be March 9.

The MUSD Governing Board met in a brief executive session with its attorney March 7 to discuss changes in Chestnut’s contract, which would have ended July 1. The board also approved Chestnut’s $5,000 performance pay as required by law.

Chestnut requested he be released form his contract in early March to begin work at his new post. Scottsdale Unified School District hired Chestnut as its associate superintendent last month amid upheaval at that district’s highest level.

His first day at SUSD will be March 12.

Chestnut has worked for MUSD since 2012. In recent years, Chestnut was named a finalist in larger districts’ job searches but stayed on with MUSD after the interviews didn’t produce contract offers.

MUSD’s decision last year to extend Chestnut’s contract only through July prompted a superintendent search that began in January.

The Board is expected to interview six candidates March 13-14. The finalist will be announced March 26.

During the brief vacancy, around 15 of Chestnut’s “broad range” responsibilities will be split between administration cabinet members, said MUSD Human Resources Director Tom Beckett.

Beckett will also coordinate the Board’s meeting agendas. The board meets again March 28.

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Among local teachers wearing red Wednesday in support of better pay in Arizona schools were Brian Burkett, Tyler Miller and Jason Goodwin. Photo by Joycelyn Cabrera

Maricopa public school teachers joined a statewide movement Wednesday in protest of low teacher pay.

 “This is not an indictment of our local schools; it’s an indictment of Arizona as a whole.” — Jason Goodwin, Maricopa teacher.

“Teachers definitely need to stick together. We need to make education better for our students,” said Maricopa High School drama and theatre teacher Cynthia Calhoun.

Calhoun and other public school educators wore red March 7 in participation with the social media-driven event known as “Wear RED for ED.”

Online organizers describe the movement as a show of solidarity, first inspired by a nine-day, statewide teacher strike in West Virginia that led to a wage increase.

Brian Burkett teaches government and economics at Maricopa High School. He wore red to support public educators whom he said are “underpaid and underserved” by Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey.

“To attract and maintain quality teachers, (the state) is going to have to pay us better,” Burkett said. “We are one of the lowest-paying states in the country.”

Arizona ranked last in the nation according to a report published in 2017 by the National Education Association that compared teachers’ salaries in the United States in 2015-16. Instructional staff ranked 49th.

Public school teachers received a 1 percent “raise” last year by the state. However, it’s often not viewed as a wage increase at all by educators like MHS AP history and government teacher Jason Goodwin, but instead a debt owed to them after the state reallocated education funds elsewhere during the recession.

Teacher Cynthia Calhoun. Photo by Joycelyn Cabrera

“I’m wearing red today because in Arizona our pay is so low. It doesn’t matter what district you’re talking about. This is not an indictment of our local schools; it’s an indictment of Arizona as a whole,” Goodwin said.

The Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board voted last year to increase salaries for all employees by 3 percent and successfully passed an override measure in 2016 that afforded the district 50 additional teachers.

But, even with a raise, retention is still an issue as many teachers struggle to make ends meet.

MHS AP world history teacher Tyler Miller remembers watching dedicated teachers leave the industry during his rookie year in the classroom.

He believes the Red for Ed movement will spark discussions that could end Arizona’s educator exodus.

“People teach because they love teaching, but at a certain point they have to have enough income to make it fiscally possible to survive,” Miller said. “That’s a conversation that we need to have.”


Reporter Joycelyn Cabrera contributed to this story.

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Brandon Harris. Submitted photo

Maricopa High School named its new head football coach this week, pending board approval.

District Athletic Director Brian Winter confirmed Brandon Harris, 47, will lead the varsity team in the upcoming school year.

The Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board will officially vote to approve the new hire March 28. Harris replaces Chris McDonald, who was recently hired as Basha head football coach.

“Brandon is an excellent communicator and motivator,” Winter said. “He had a very successful and extensive coaching career at both the high school and collegiate level. He will be a great addition to MHS.”

Harris’ resume includes high school head coaching positions in Arizona, New York and most recently, Florida’s University School of Southeastern University.

He’s held administration and assistant coaching positions at Seton Catholic Preparatory in Chandler, was passing game coordinator at Brophy College Preparatory in Phoenix and offensive coordinator at Desert Vista High School, among others.

Harris played for University of Idaho and later professionally with the Sacramento Surge in the World League of American Football.

Harris has co-owned RedLine Athletics training facility in Chandler since 2015.

An Arcadia resident and Southern California native, Harris is no stranger to Maricopa. He owned a home in The Villages in 2007 before he relocated to Buffalo, New York, for a head coaching position at Canisius High School, which won a state championship in 2009.

He now plans to move back to Maricopa.

“(MHS) just needs someone that really wants to be there, and I want to be there,” Harris said.

The new head coach began watching tape and evaluating his new players recently. Harris said he wants to work with the existing culture at MHS to continue creating excitement on Friday nights.

Most importantly, he said, is his goal of encouraging the personal growth of his players.

“I’ve coached and been part of six state title championship teams, and three of them are my own as head coach” Harris said. “We’re going to do that, but they need to win in the classroom, win in the hallways, win in their own personal life, and then winning will take care of itself.”


Maricopa’s Principals: Part 1

Murray Siegel

By Murray Siegel

Who is the most important person in a school building? A previous column stated the answer is the school’s principal. He or she influences the learning environment for students and creates an atmosphere where teachers and staff will excel.

Maricopa is fortunate to have a number of excellent principals, yet few citizens know much about the people who occupy the seats of power in our schools. Over the next few months, this column will highlight the principals of Maricopa schools.

Dr. Jennifer Robinson is the principal at Maricopa Elementary, where her credo includes focusing on high expectations for teaching and learning. She grew up in Buffalo, New York, and has degrees from SUNY Cortland, SUNY Buffalo and ASU. Her 25 years’ experience in education include being a classroom teacher, various academic coaching positions and six years as principal at MES.

When asked about a major accomplishment this year, she points to MES being in the Leader in Me Lighthouse process. Currently, three schools in the state hold this status. Looking forward to the 2018-19 year, she anticipates continued growth for her teachers who are working to achieve National Board certification.

Randy Lazar, principal at Pima Butte ES, grew up in a rural area near Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and has lived in Arizona 35 years. His undergraduate and master’s degrees were received at ASU, and he is in his 31st year in education. Prior to the five years he has been principal at Pima Butte, he was a special education teacher, education program specialist and special education director.

He points to the implementation of the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports program as a major accomplishment this school year. He looks forward to the introduction of a new language arts curriculum next year. According to his belief system, education opens many doors and, as a principal, his function is to maximize the education provided at his school.

Janel Hildick is in her seventh year as principal at Butterfield ES. She grew up in Toms River, New Jersey, and received her BA at Georgian Court University. Her master’s in education was obtained at ASU, and she has 25 years in education. Prior to Butterfield, she was an elementary and bilingual teacher, as well as a high school Spanish instructor. She points with pride to the fact BES received a Results Based Award from the state this year.

She eagerly anticipates the new language arts curriculum as it is implemented next year. Hildick believes all students are capable of high achievement, regardless of their background; high expectations equal high results.

Coming in April, learn about more Maricopa elementary principals. MUSD secondary and charter school principals will be spotlighted later. Murray Siegel has a PhD in MathEd and 42 years of teaching experience.

This column appears in the March issue of InMaricopa.

District may need second high school

MUSD board members look at predictions of serious enrollment growth. Photo by Michelle Chance

A report on enrollment growth from a Phoenix-based consulting firm prompted cautious optimism from school leaders Wednesday.

Rick Brammer and Don Graves with Applied Economics presented their projections to the Maricopa Unified School District Feb. 28.


The consultants estimated the district could see between 4,100 and 5,800 students added to MUSD in the next decade. They attribute their projections, in part, to Maricopa’s resurrected housing growth and likely demographics.

“It’s accelerating quickly, but in the next three to five years, it’s really going to explode,” Brammer said, adding growth will be off-set by charter schools.

Unlike many parts of the metropolitan area, the demographic characteristics of the population continue to reflect a high concentration of young families and school-age persons, according to the report.

Within five to seven years, the firm predicts the MUSD’s high school population will increase by 95 percent.

“That’s pretty frightening,” Board Member Torri Anderson said, “the fact that we’ve only got one high school.”

Maricopa High School hit an all-time enrollment high this school year and added a credit-recovery option called Ram Academy in the fall.

Board Member Patti Coutré said the report’s projections are not surprising.

“It confirms what we’ve anticipated and have been trying to put our head around,” Coutré said.

Rick Brammer. Photo by Michelle Chance

At the elementary level, the report predicts that in the next five years, new housing developments will impact enrollment growth at Saddleback and Santa Cruz elementary schools.

Brammer suggested the board may have to consider redistricting those areas or adding facilities to accommodate new students.

District Business Services Director Aron Rausch is expected to present a list of properties to the board at a future meeting where the board will discuss the likelihood of constructing a second high school.

Discussion for the project’s funding was suggested through a possible bond on the upcoming November ballot. Rausch and MUSD Human Resources Director Tom Beckett said, if approved, the bond would have to be submitted to the County Election Department by mid-August.

“Of course, the district would need to do significant work in preparation and also seek Board approval prior to announcing our intent to ask voters for a bond,” Beckett said.

The district discussed making temporary solutions for additional space at MHS by adding modular buildings on a parking lot adjacent to its baseball fields and possibly sending Ram Academy students to class in a leased store-front or at the District Administration Building in the future.

However, the board said any proposals discussed will be more confidently debated after Rausch’s property analysis is submitted in the coming weeks.

Leading MUSD through anticipated growth will be at the forefront of its future superintendent as its current top administrator begins a transition to his new position months ahead of his prior contracted last day on the job.


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MUSD Superintendent Steve Chestnut. Photo by Devin Carson

Current Superintendent Steve Chestnut could leave Maricopa Unified School District as soon as March 9. The board previously approved his contract through July 1, but his new employers at Scottsdale Unified School District want him sooner.

The board will meet in executive session March 7 at 5 p.m. to discuss those changes in his contract.

Chestnut will begin at SUSD March 12 or 19 amid district-level controversy and lawsuit surrounding its officials.

The SUSD Governing Board placed Superintendent Denise Birdwell on administrative leave in February for an alleged conflict of interest scandal. The district approved administrator Amy Fuller as acting superintendent in a late-night Tuesday meeting.

Chestnut acknowledged SUSD has “a lot of challenges” but is looking forward to the professional opportunity.

“I have loved my five-and-a-half years in Maricopa, I love this community and it’s bittersweet,” Chestnut said.

If Chestnut’s early departure is approved, he will leave behind a brief vacancy in office. The board is expected to offer a contract to a new superintendent March 26.

Board President AnnaMarie Knorr said Chestnut “has split up his duties among the cabinet” to fill the possible two-week leadership gap. Knorr said the board would have a formal statement on the issue after its meeting March 7.

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Maricopa Unified School District Administrative Office

The Maricopa Unified School District is hosting a School Safety Forum on Thursday, March 1, from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Administrative Offices of the Maricopa Unified School District, 44150 W. Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway.

The forum will be held in the MUSD Governing Board Room and the forum will be moderated by Pastor Rusty Akers from Community of Hope Church. A panel representing public safety and the area’s public and charter schools will be present to answer questions from the community related to school safety.

Scheduled panelists include Mayor Christian Price, Police Chief Steve Stahl, Fire Chief Brady Leffler and MUSD Superintendent Dr. Steve Chestnut.  Representatives from Legacy Traditional School, Leading Edge Academy and Sequoia Pathways Academy will also be invited to participate in this important community event.

All Maricopa parents and students are encouraged to attend. For more information, call 520-568-5100.

MUSD Governing Board

A month ahead of naming its new superintendent, Maricopa Unified School District whittled down a list of prospective future leaders vying for the position.

Out of the 30 hopefuls who applied, the MUSD Governing Board selected six superintendent candidates to interview. The decision came after three hours of application screenings in executive session Wednesday night.

The board will meet the candidates, anonymously announced as “A, C, D, E, H and J,” during 90-minute interviews March 13-14.

The Board directed Arizona School Board Association Karen Gasket to compose 10 interview questions based on topics they’d like to see covered.

Possible topics include: Exceptional Student Services and behavioral health, employee mentoring and professional growth, evaluation and restructuring of district organizational chart, future planning and growth, teacher retention, principals/superintendent relationship, district goals, student achievement, curriculum and education trends, technology, public safety partnerships and fiscal management.

At least four finalists are slated to be announced in open session after the March 14 interview date, according to a search timeline approved by the board in December. Final interviews will be conducted March 23.

The public will have the opportunity to meet finalists during a Q&A community forum at the District Administration Building March 26 at 7 p.m.

Comments from the public regarding the candidates will be documented and considered during a private deliberation between the board after the public forum at 8:45.

That finalist will be announced publicly by the Board after its private meeting March 26 in open session.

MUSD’s search comes as its current superintendent prepares to transition to a position with Scottsdale Unified School District.

As associate superintendent, Chestnut will work with board members who, Wednesday, met in a special meeting to decide the fate of Scottsdale’s embattled superintendent, Denise Birdwell.

“I, at this time, will make a motion that in consideration in the best interest of the district Dr. Birdwell be placed on temporary, paid administrative leave,” said SUSD Board President Barbara Perleberg during the meeting.

The motion passed unanimously.

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Submitted photo

Have a musical instrument in your house that is collecting dust? Want to get that old clunker out of your house?

Bring it to the Maricopa Unified School District (MUSD) Instrument Donation Drive.  Donate your old, unwanted, or unused music instrument and put it toward a great cause.

Many students in MUSD rely on school-owned instruments to participate in band and orchestra. Your donation to the program can help the district serve more students. You can also receive a receipt for a charitable donation that you could apply to your 2017 or 2018 taxes. The MUSD Instrument Donation Drive will be March 20 and  March 22 from 6 to 9 p.m. at the Maricopa High School Band Room (located behind the Performing Arts Center).

If you have any questions or would like to donate and are unable to attend, contact Roger Wagner at rwagner@musd20.org.

A former basketball coach for Maricopa High School is expected to return next year – this time as district athletic director, school officials said Wednesday.

Jake Neill began as MHS head coach of boys’ basketball and PE teacher in 2012 and resigned after four years to pursue a career in administration. He’s currently assistant principal and AD for Poston Butte High School in San Tan Valley.

Prior to MHS, Neill coached at Mesa Westwood High for six years.

Neill is slated to replace Brian Winter as he transitions from district AD to MHS principal next school year.

Superintendent Steve Chestnut said Neill was interviewed Feb. 8 and recommended the candidate be hired by the Maricopa Unified School District board during a meeting Feb. 14.

The board will vote on the recommendation Feb. 28. If approved, Neill’s start date will be July 1.

Neill declined to comment until after the governing board votes on the recommendation.

Governing Board Members approved the same night the retirement of MHS Teacher on Special Assignment Michele Shaffer.

Shaffer’s administrator role at the high school coordinated the CTE department. She has worked at MHS for nearly 10 years, according to an online biography. District documents state Shaffer’s expected to retire at the end of the school year.

Jake Neill


Maricopa High School will soon add an aquatic sport to its athletic department.

The MHS swimming and diving team will form this fall with practices and home meets to be held at Copper Sky’s aquatic center, said Maricopa Unified School District Athletic Director Brain Winter.

MUSD has advertised varsity and assistant swim coaching positions online. Winter said he expects to begin screening applicants next week.

The season is expected to begin in early August with daily practices at 3:30 p.m. A meet schedule is not yet completed.

The high school will lease the space from Copper Sky Aquatic Center.

“Depending on the number of swimmers we have at MHS, we will be utilizing the number of lanes that are needed,” Winter said.

Another partnership with Copper Sky produced space this spring for the high school’s first girls’ beach volleyball team, headed by coach Jecksan Quinones.

The team will use Copper Sky’s sand courts for its inaugural season, “but (we) are hopeful to have a couple of sand courts built on the HS campus sometime in 2018,” Winter said in a November interview.

MHS beach volleyball plays its first game away against Valley Vista Feb. 21. The team’s first home game at Copper Sky is Feb. 26 at 4 p.m. against Chandler.

“We are excited to partner with Copper Sky to make these offerings available to our students at MHS,” Winter said.

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Freshman Cadet Emily Trast won the local Voice of Democracy contest. Submitted photo

Jan. 16, Charles Kemp and Mike Kemery of the Maricopa Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) Post presented the VFW Voice of Democracy (VOD) Essay Award and $100 prize to Emily Trast, a first-year Air Force JROTC cadet at Maricopa High School in front of her parents, Kati and Peter Trast, counselor, Rebecca Collins, and fellow cadets.

Kemery said, “personally, I enjoy seeing young people succeed, whether it be Cadet of the Year, VOD Winner, or being nominated to a service academy. They are the future.”

The Maricopa VFW Post has been presenting the award since 2005, and the program has evolved over time. MHS AFJROTC cadets have been participated since 2013.

The 2017-18 theme is “American History: Our Hope for the Future.” Essays are submitted to the local VFW Post. Once a winner has been selected, it automatically is submitted to the VFW District. If the essay is chosen at that level then it is submitted to the state level, and then that state winner is submitted to the National Level. A first-place winner is awarded a $30,000 scholarship, second place receives a $16,000 scholarship, and third place receives one of $10,000.

Emily is a freshman originally from Barstow, California. She loves to write and is considering a career in both creative writing and as a playwright. She would love to explore a career in theater. She also loves drawing, writing, painting and singing. Emily is also considering studying political science with a possible goal of working for the State Department and becoming an ambassador.

Her other hobbies include hiking, acting (television and stage) and musicals. Her high school goal is to maintain a 3.75 GPA. Upon her high school graduation, she would like to join the U.S. Navy or attend a Performing Arts School.

Lexie Nordhoff won the Maricopa Unified School District Spelling Bee Tuesday. Photo by Michelle Chance

The correct spelling of “lilac” won a Maricopa Wells Middle School student the district spelling bee Tuesday night.

Eighth-grader Lexie Nordhoff took first place after 11 rounds in the Maricopa Unified School District bee Jan. 23 at the district administration building.

Pima Butte Elementary School fifth-grader Wyatt Clark took second place, and Ramsey Henny, a seventh-grade student from Desert Wind Middle School, placed third.

Nordhoff, Clark and Henny will represent MUSD at the Pinal County Spelling Bee in Casa Grande on Feb. 16.

Hassan Okou, fourth grader at Butterfield Elementary; Milagros Urquilla, fifth grader at PBE; and Joseph Russoniello, eighth grader at MWMS, placed in the top six and are alternates for the county bee.

A joint statement from bee organizers Diane Vigil, Karen Viera, Janet Stensgard and Valerie Wyant said:

“A special thank you goes out to Boardmember Mrs. Torri Anderson for acting as the District Spelling Bee Announcer and also to our three judges: Mr. Jim Irving, Mr. David Warren and Mrs. Christine Dickinson. Please congratulate these students if you see them. We are so proud of all of them.”

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Submitted photo


More than 550 Butterfield Elementary students attended an Arizona State University Women’s Basketball game Friday at Wells Fargo Arena in Tempe.

Submitted photo

The field trip is part of a partnership between ASU and the local elementary school that began two years ago to promote higher education. Second through fifth grade students were accompanied by teachers and more than 120 parents.

Second-grade teacher Allie Krigbaum, an ASU alumna, first connected the university with her elementary school two years ago with the Sparky Caravan – a pep assembly at Butterfield that featured appearances by ASU coaches Bobby Hurley, Todd Graham and Charli Turner Thorne, as well as players, athletic trainers and school mascot “Sparky.”

It’s the second consecutive “Sparky’s Kids to College” field trip the school has taken to Wells Fargo Arena.

Krigbaum said the event is a way to get students thinking of college at an early age.

“Many of our students in Maricopa don’t think college is an option for them, so starting them thinking about attending college at a young age is really important to us,” she said.

Although the Sun Devils fell to Utah 58-56 Friday, Krigbaum said the experience is an unforgettable event because it’s the first time many students have attended a collegiate  game.

“We really noticed that not only is this field trip really fun, but it emphasizes the college experience and encourages our kids to excel in education,” Krigbaum said. “Exactly what we feel our kids in Maricopa need to see.”

ASBA representative Karen Gasket talks about the survey findings. Photo by Michelle Chance

Teachers recently said they want a supportive relationship with district officials at Maricopa Unified.

The conversation was prompted during a public forum Wednesday night at the district administration building as parents and employees discussed the MUSD Governing Board’s search for a new district leader.

The forum was host to a variety of opinions from teachers who urged the board to choose a superintendent who would be inclusive to his or her staff, be transparent with the public and be a confident decision-maker.

“Ultimately, you are the superintendent. You are the person who makes that final decision and owns it,” said District Curriculum Director Wade Watson. “You may have to explain that decision, but you will stand by it.”

Other teachers said educators feel disconnected from the district office and would prefer the new superintendent repair or rebuild those relationships.

Teachers also said the new superintendent should focus on hiring highly qualified personnel, rather than just filling vacancies.

Results from a community-wide digital survey agree. 65 percent of participants chose recruitment and retainment of highly qualified staff as a desired accomplishment of the future superintendent.

Maricopa High School teacher Jennifer Miller has worked for the district for 15 years and has seen leaders come and go. She expressed frustration with apparent reshuffling of teaching positions within departments and treating those positions as “interchangeable.”

“Be aware that you’re dealing with human beings and value them as human beings” Miller said. “It’s about people, it’s about building relationships and it’s about compassion.”

Teachers also said they would like the new superintendent to trust in their teaching abilities and be communicative and visible on all school campuses.

Merry Grace, one of only a few parents who attended the meeting, said she hoped for more parent-involvement in the future.

The Arizona School Board Association is assisting MUSD in its superintendent search. ASBA representative Karen Gasket revealed the results of the survey after taking questions from the public Jan. 17.

The survey produced answers from 398 respondents, most of whom (68 percent) were district employees.

Although Gasket said she was hoping for a bigger response, she said the data was still “statistically significant.”

After recruitment, successful experience managing annual budgets was second on the list for respondents (64 percent); Inclusiveness with parents, staff, community members and students during the development of recommendations was third (61 percent); Transparency was fourth (55 percent); and efficiently managing a school district in the past rounded the top five priorities in all categories.

Respondents also composed their opinions in writing. To view the entire report click here.

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Other administrative changes announced

Brian Winter has been named high school principal for next year as Rick Abel seeks other opportunities. Photo by Michelle Chance

The athletic director for Maricopa Unified School District will ascend to principal of Maricopa High School this fall.

AD Brian Winter will begin his new leadership role in the 2018-19 school year, MUSD Superintendent Steve Chestnut said in a news release Friday.

Winter contributed two years as AD and another as Dean at MHS. His career in education has included 10 years as a high school administrator and an additional two decades as a K-12 teacher at other districts.

“I am extremely grateful, humbled and very excited to be named the new Principal at MHS for next school year,” Winter said. “I have a host of ideas/goals moving into the position, but ultimately we want to raise the bar from an academic standpoint and provide our students with as many offerings/opportunities as possible in an effort for them to be well rounded and prepared for college and or career.”

MHS Interim Principal Rick Abel and Winter will serve in their current positions for the remainder of the school year.

“At this point in (Abel’s) career, he told me that he will be looking at other professional opportunities, including openings in MUSD for the 2018-19 school year,” Chestnut said.

Abel said he was not pursuing any specific position at this time. “I very much enjoy working with students, staff and families and have a background in teaching social studies and experience in various administrative positions. I hope to continue my work in public education.”

One job opening in the district is Chestnut’s. The MUSD Governing Board began its superintendent search Jan. 12, and will begin screening applicants in February.

Abel has served as principal in the district at the elementary, middle and high school levels since 2005. His most recent post at MHS came after the resignation of Renita Meyers last fall.

Thad Miller, who was named interim principal in October at Maricopa Wells Middle School, will stay in the position permanently, according to the release.

“I am very excited about having Mr. Winter and Mr. Miller in these leadership roles and I know they will be a tremendous asset at each school,” Chestnut stated. “I also want to thank Mr. Abel for his many years of outstanding leadership as a principal in our district. I have greatly enjoyed working with him as have a huge number of students, staff and parents. He will be missed.”

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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:

Beau Gel
New Glasgow
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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