Tags Articles tagged with "MUSD"


Gov. Doug Ducey

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

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

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

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

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

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

If approved, teachers would receive a gradual pay increase:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not all local teachers were convinced.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Maricopa Wells Middle School. Photo by Mason Callejas

The movement to increase teacher pay and improve education for Arizona students continued April 11.

Teachers participated in walk-ins at eight schools in the Maricopa Unified School District.

Hundreds of teachers, parents, students and community members held homemade signs and marched along busy sidewalks closest to campus.

The protests typically lasted 30 minutes. Afterward, teachers entered their classrooms upon contract time. However, today’s statewide demonstration that did not disrupt the school day could evolve in the coming weeks.

Coalition leaders with Arizona Educators United prepped Arizona teachers for an impending walk-out in a video posted to Facebook April 9. AEU is expected to announce a walk-out date later this week or next.

“If your district does not have the superintendent support or the school board’s support, you may not be ready for a walk out,” warned Derek Harris in the video.

School administration and MUSD School Board members attended the walk-ins Wednesday and largely voiced their support of the walk-in demonstrations and increased state-funding.

However, Board Member Torri Anderson could not comment on what the board’s position could be if MUSD teachers decide to strike.

Anderson said a discussion between the board would need to take place along with its attorney before their stance could be announced.

“We’ll see what the next step is, but our teachers and our students deserve a world-class education so it’s time for the state to support that and really do what’s best for our students,” Anderson added.

Many frustrated teachers targeted Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey during the demonstrations and indicated support for the impending walk-out.

“If nobody will listen – and nobody that has the power to make change is willing to do that – if that’s the next step, I will do what needs to be done to make change,” said Shelly Fisher, a second grade teacher at Pima Butte Elementary. “But my students and my families come first – so my first job would be to take care of them, and if we can do this and still take care of them, then I would absolutely support (a walk-out).”

Santa Cruz Elementary faculty participated by wearing their #RedForEd shirts. Submitted photo

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A sea of red may be visible at local campuses tomorrow morning as parents drop their children off in the Maricopa Unified School District.

Teachers at seven campuses will participate in #RedForEd demonstrations before school begins. At contract time, teachers will walk through the front doors together.

Most demonstrations are scheduled to last 30 minutes.

The movement is led by Arizona Educators United and teachers around the state will be participating. Read their demands here.

Organizers said community members, parents and students can participate.

MUSD School Walk-ins:

  • Butterfield Elementary: 7 a.m.
  • Maricopa Elementary: 7:05 a.m.
  • Saddleback Elementary: 7:10 a.m.
  • Santa Rosa Elementary: 7:30 a.m.
  • Pima Butte Elementary: 7:30 a.m.
  • Maricopa Wells Middle School: 8 a.m.
  • Maricopa High School: 6:30 a.m.
  • Desert Wind Middle School

Patrick Flint was named Maricopa High School's first-ever Mr. MHS. Submitted photo

Friday, eleven senior guys showcased their best beachwear, talent and formal wear in a battle to become the first ever Mr. MHS.

Patrick Flint, aka ‘That Yo-Yo Kid’ was crowned the pageant winner. He said in all his high school career, he never imagined competing on stage this way, as he is an introvert. The grand prize winner not only received the title of Mr. MHS but also two tickets to prom and a free tailored suit from Nick’s Menswear.

A committee of eight Student Council members has been working since November fine-tuning the details of this event, and the guys have been practicing since February.

Raffle baskets were awarded to audience members, and the guys had a chance to also be awarded for the Penny Wars challenge (proceeds to benefit Children’s Miracle Network) and for the “People’s Choice” award.

“The guys have set the bar very high for next year,” judge and English teacher Aidan Balt said.

Photo by Joycelyn Cabrera

Alonso Chavez won the Penny Wars challenge. Jalen Reyes won “People’s Choice” and was also the second runner up overall. Caleb Wilson was the first runner up. Others competing were Kyle O’Hare, Zechariah Wooten, Nicholas Bradley, Elias Alvarado, Jonavis Rodriguez, Ethan Smith and Jayden Jensen.

MHS Student Council would like to thank everyone that made the event possible, including Josh Fink of Nick’s Menswear. Judges along with Balt were Principal Rick Abel and Jenn Miller. The score auditor was Amanda Zimmerman. Teacher Kevin Piquette and his fantastic Tech Crew ran the stage. National Honor Society members helped sell tickets and pass out programs, and the “A-Team” choreographed the opening number.

Student Council is excited to continue this tradition in the years to come. 

Submitted photo

Teachers are upping the ante in a statewide campaign to increase pay and improve education for their students.

“Walk-ins” are slated to occur at schools in the Maricopa Unified School District April 11.

Teachers will meet in front of campus 30 minutes before they’re contracted to begin the day. (Read below to see the times at each school). Some will carry signs, and most will be wearing red. All will walk into the school together before school begins.

The #RedForEd movement began in early March in Arizona. Teachers wore red to school as a show of solidarity.

But now Arizona Educators United (AEU) — the coalition of teachers, administrators and support staff who support the movement – are strategizing ways to force the hand of legislators, and most importantly, their governor.

“(Gov. Doug) Ducey needs to do something,” said one MUSD teacher April 5.

A group of around 25 crimson-clad teachers met inside a classroom after school at Santa Rosa Elementary this week to schedule the walk-ins, discuss goals and, at times, voice their frustrations.

Arizona public school teachers are among the lowest-paid in the nation and all eyes are on other states, like West Virginia and Oklahoma, who have protested their own working conditions and low wages with some success.

Teachers in some schools in the Valley walked out for one day last month, but Arizona educators teach in a right-to-work state, and many realize the risk a strike could bring them.

“It will take unity like you’ve never seen before,” warned MUSD Volunteer Coordinator Jim Irving. “You’re fooling yourself if you think some can (strike) and some can’t.”

Some local teachers said they’d be on board and viewed walk-ins as a way for the AEU to measure the movement’s manpower in case demands aren’t met.

AEU demands:

  • 20 percent salary increase for teachers to create competitive pay with neighboring states
  • Competitive pay for all education support professionals
  • Permanent teacher salary structure which includes annual raises
  • Restore education funding to 2008 levels
  • No new tax cuts until per-pupil funding reaches the national average

AEU encourages parents, community members and students to support teachers April 11.

However, AEU advises teachers against speaking to the community during school hours about the event. Teachers also cannot communicate details about the walk-in via their district email.

Representation from each MUSD school site was not present at the walk-in meeting this week, so the April 11 events cannot currently be confirmed at every school.

If you are a parent or community member, please contact your school administration to confirm whether your child’s campus is participating.

Maricopa High School and Maricopa Wells Middle School are confirmed to be participating so far.

MUSD School Walk-ins:

  • Butterfield Elementary: 7 a.m.
  • Maricopa Elementary: 7:05 a.m.
  • Saddleback Elementary: 7:10 a.m.
  • Santa Rosa Elementary: 7:30 a.m.
  • Pima Butte Elementary: 7:30 a.m.
  • Maricopa Wells Middle School: 8 a.m.
  • Maricopa High School: 6:30 a.m

Representatives from Santa Cruz Elementary and Desert Wind Middle School have not indicated whether they will participate.

Photo by Michelle Chance

By Michelle Chance

Around 8,000 school buses are inspected by the Arizona Department of Public Safety every year. Inspectors discover minor and sometimes major defects.

In 2017, nearly half of Maricopa Unified School District’s fleet had major violations, according to DPS documents and the Arizona Administrative Code.

Capt. Brian Preston, who oversees commercial vehicle enforcement with DPS, said if school district transportation departments cannot repair the defect while the inspector is on-scene, the bus is not allowed on the road.

What is considered a major defect is wide-ranging, however, from quick fixes like decals for emergency exits to mechanically intensive repairs of the suspension or engine.

“There are things that will shut a bus down that will not shut your personal car down,” Preston said, adding school buses are held to a higher safety standard.

But between 2014-17, many of the violations included defects such as inoperative brakes, exit doors, lamps and alarms – and defects in tires, seats and suspensions.

2017 a difficult year in the bus barn

Last year’s inspection of MUSD’s 37 buses included 17 that qualified for out-of-service violations, eight buses with no violations and 12 marked with minor violations.

Preston said the state average for out-of-service school buses at any given district fleet is 30 to 35 percent. Last year, 48 percent of MUSD’s fleet was tagged with major defects.

“Obviously, that’s higher than what we generally have as a state average,” Preston said.

MUSD Transportation Department Director Sergio Pulido said staff shortage was partly to blame. Two shop mechanics were out with major surgeries for a period of time, leaving one mechanic in the garage to handle regular maintenance of the fleet.

Pulido and former Director Fred Laguna also pitched in at the garage while they prepared for a change in leadership.

“I had to do my job, and then I was learning to do his job because he was retiring,” Pulido said.

2017 was a year of transition for the transportation department that has for years dealt with an industry accustomed to a shortage of school bus driving staff.

This school year, Pulido’s two mechanics have returned to the garage.

MUSD Human Resources Director Tom Beckett said the department also hired a shop foreman. Pulido believes the additional mechanical muscle at the bus barn will lead to better inspections.

Newer equipment would help too, Pulido said.

Aging fleet

The average age of an MUSD bus is 10 to 15 years old. The oldest, No. 36, was made in 2001.

But persuading district administration to replace an entire fleet is difficult given MUSD may have to build additional school sites to support growing enrollment, among other expenses.

The district typically purchases one used bus per year. In March, the transportation department received a large, 84-passenger bus. Pulido said one bus a year is not enough.

“It’s frustrating because you want to run a good fleet, you want your people to stay and you want to make your people happy,” Pulido said.

Last year’s violations are not new to the district. According to DPS documents, MUSD’s aging fleet received major violations above the state average in 2016 (39 percent) and 2014 (48 percent). MUSD was below the mark in 2015 with 28 percent.

Those data don’t mean nearly half of the fleet was taken off the road.

Quick repairs

DPS inspection reports indicate much of the major defects were repaired during inspections. A DPS trooper typically spends two to three days inspecting a fleet.

Troopers tag buses that have passed inspection with a sticker displaying the current year.

Buses are usually shut-down when the transportation department is short the parts needed to make the repair during inspection, Pulido said.

In that case, Pulido said the department consolidates and reassigns routes to other buses until the repair is made and a re-inspection can be scheduled with DPS. Combined routes often mean up to a 30-minute wait for school children – and myriad complaints from parents.

Pulido said he does not put an out-of-service bus on the road, even if the proper repairs have been made prior to re-inspection.

“The safety of the students, the safety of the driver and the liability of the district – you don’t ever want to put that in jeopardy,” Pulido said.

School administrators and employees who violate state statute concerning school buses are “guilty of misconduct and subject to removal from office or employment.” To enforce such misconduct, an informed person would need to report the allegation.

“DPS would investigate, contact the district, and the district would comply,” Preston said.

Preston said DPS has received reports that other districts allegedly operate buses that have failed inspection, but investigations rarely lead to disciplinary action because district administrators said they were unaware, or it was simply a mistake.

“In the past we prepared for these kind of things: cease-and-desist orders and potential for whatever type of sanction that could come, but it’s never come to that point,” Preston said.

MUSD’s next round of inspections is expected this fall.

This story appears in the April issue of InMaricopa.

by -
Murray Siegel

By Murray Siegel

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

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

Loraine Conley

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

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

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

Eva Safranek

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

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

Felicia Williams

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

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

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

This column appears in the April issue of InMaricopa.

Jack Williams (left) and Cianni Burgos (right) spoke to the MUSD board about their experience in Ram Academy, run by MHS Vice Principal Steve Ybarra. Photos by Michelle Chance

Cianni Burgos dropped out of high school her senior year to care for her newborn daughter. Jack Williams encountered road blocks and was losing hope of graduating high school.

Both were among the first students in Maricopa High School’s Ram Academy – a credit recovery program for juniors and seniors.

“I was at a point in my life where I felt like there wasn’t much room to go, and when I heard about Ram Academy I felt like that was my opportunity to get somewhere in life,” Williams said during a presentation to the Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board this week.

Williams recently graduated, and Burgos will complete her final high school credit in May.

Teachers make the program

The school-within-a-school at MHS opened in August 2017 and has since graduated 12 students previously at-risk of never receiving a diploma.

Unsurprisingly, the school is an alternative from the traditional campus in many ways.

At a maximum 125-student capacity, Ram Academy sticks to a 20-to-1 student-teacher ratio.

The small staff bring with them big experience, according to the school’s administrator, Assistant Principal Steve Ybarra.

“It is a team effort, and teachers make the program,” Ybarra said.

The five “master teachers” are highly qualified instructors in their individual subjects, Ybarra said. Two of them are former principals, and another has experience in guidance counseling.

Recruitment of the teaching dream team began last summer.

“I told them in the interview(s), ‘I’m not going to question what you teach, I just want you to make connections with kids,” Ybarra said. “That’s the key. Making those connections,” Ybarra said.

Math teacher Reid Martin is a former principal who moved from Kansas to teach math at Ram Academy. His wife is a teacher at MHS.

He’s been tasked with incorporating the district’s new math curriculum into the program’s accelerated schedule – while in its inaugural year of operation.

Despite the challenges, Martin said the students are thriving under the one-on-one attention from staff.

“We teach kids how to advocate for themselves in a way that is really applicable,” Martin said. “The relationships that the kids have in Ram Academy, they walk into an environment that is completely different than our high school. The culture that is being created inside Ram Academy is really unique.”

Students get second chance

Life outside of the classroom for many Ram Academy students threatened their ability to obtain a high school degree.

Fifth-year seniors – students who dropped out senior year and have returned – are among Ram Academy’s most successful participants.

“At the start of my original senior year, I was having my daughter. She’s now one and a half years old,” Burgos told the governing board March 28.

The young mother said she nearly lost the drive to pursue a diploma. But then she enrolled in Ram Academy.

She found small class sizes and thoughtful guidance when selecting courses.

“I have a personal connection with every teacher I have, (and it) makes me so much more motivated to graduate,” she said.

Her name and photo will soon be displayed on the school’s wall of fame – an encouraging tribute to Ram Academy’s graduates.

A face already featured on the walls is Williams’.

“I’m proud to say I’m a graduate and I’m expecting a son in the upcoming month, so everything is falling in place,” Williams said.

A few of the academy’s students come from the foster care system. One, Ybarra explained, was a 17-year-old student who had no high school credits.

Another student aged out of the foster system and was displaced from Maricopa.

“The family didn’t want her anymore because they weren’t going to get payment, and so she ended up going to a group home on the west side,” Ybarra said.

For three weeks, the group home funded a taxi to and from Maricopa to allow the student to graduate, according to Ybarra.

“There was no way she would be able to start new someplace else and get any credit,” he said.

Twelve additional students are expected to graduate by the end of the school-year.

Higher-education challenges

As the projected graduation rate at the academy grows, the program failed in its first year to promote college enrollment.

Ybarra said attempts to schedule university tours for Ram Academy students this school year were unsuccessful. However, he said, military representatives have visited the school.

The academy also encouraged students to take the Armed Services Vocational Aptitude Battery (ASVAB) test and the ACT standardized admissions test.

He said the program hopes to coordinate with MHS Career and College Coordinator Bernadette Russoniello in the future to better promote post-high school education.

Expansion in program’s future

Ram Academy operates in a few existing CTE classrooms and a modular building on the northside of campus. Ybarra said the limited space is adequate for the program’s small capacity – which he attributes to some of its success.

However, Board Member Torri Anderson expressed her desire to see the program grow.

In the future, Anderson said Ram Academy would ideally enroll freshmen and sophomores identified as being at-risk of becoming credit deficient.

Ybarra said the program would embrace growth in enrollment, so long as Ram Academy could find a larger house of learning.

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Tracey Lopeman, Ed.D.

The Maricopa Unified School District unanimously voted to enter into contract negotiations with its top pick for superintendent Wednesday.

The governing board met in executive session after its regular meeting March 28 to delegate the negotiation process among its finalist, the board’s attorney and Board President AnnaMarie Knorr.

MUSD’s board voted March 26 to offer a contract to Tracey Lopeman, one of three finalists in the district’s superintendent search.

The board and Lopeman are expected to deliberate an annual salary range between $135,000-$155,000.

Human Resources Director Tom Beckett said the board can offer Lopeman up to a three-year contract with health insurance, disability insurance as well as possible car and cell phone allowances and other terms.

The board previously stated it would prefer to officially hire a new superintendent by April.

If a contract is accepted, Lopeman will replace former Superintendent Steve Chestnut, who left MUSD for a position at Scottsdale Unified School District early this month.

Beckett said the board has indicated it would like to have Lopeman on-the-job as soon as possible. Lopeman is assistant superintendent of the Alhambra Elementary School District in Phoenix. The board’s last salary negotiation with Chestnut occurred in 2015 at a $137,000 price tag.

Alongside contract negotiations, MUSD is also considering the adoption of K-12 English-Language Arts curriculum.

A presentation by Curriculum Director Wade Watson showed a majority of teachers in the district who piloted three anonymous curriculum vendors in their classrooms preferred the most expensive package: $1.7 million.

The board might take action on future ELA curriculum during its next meeting.

The district approved district-wide math curriculum last year for more than $1 million.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Who will be MUSD's next superintendent? Tracey Lopeman, Cort Monroe and Heather Cruz are finalists for the job.

Interested in meeting candidates for Maricopa Unified School District’s new superintendent?

What: Superintendent Candidates Forum
When: March 26, 7 p.m.
Where: Maricopa Unified School District Administration Office, 44150 W. Maricopa-Casa Grande Hwy.

The three finalists will take questions from the public March 26 at 7 p.m. at the district administration office, 44150 W. Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway.

The MUSD governing board selected Heather Cruz, Tracey Lopeman and Cort Monroe from a pool of 30 applicants. To learn more about the candidates click here.

Arizona School Board Association Representative Karen Gasket will moderate the hour-long Q&A session.

Gasket has assisted MUSD in its search for a new leader since November.

After the panel takes questions, attendees can interact with the finalists during an “informal” social portion of the forum.

MUSD will also accept comment cards from the public regarding the candidates to be considered by the governing board during deliberations.

Those discussions will begin in executive session at 8:45 that evening. Afterward, MUSD’s top-pick will be announced publicly at the administration office. Contract negotiations are slated to begin in the following days.


Maricopa teacher Marjorie Stout at the memorial of Vittorio Emmanuel II in Rome, with her class of second graders. Submitted photo

A Maricopa teacher scored a trip to Italy for spring break, and she didn’t leave her class behind.

Marjorie Stout teaches second grade at Saddleback Elementary School. When her husband told her he was taking her to Italy, she was thrilled, and so was her class. They wanted to go, too, of course. Even after an online virtual tour of Rome, they were still “bummed” they couldn’t go, Stout said.

So, Stout, who has been teaching for 17 years, had a class photo printed on a shirt and on a vinyl poster. As she goes around Rome, she has a photo taken of herself with the class photo at various Italian landmarks. She then shares many of the photos with the class on Class Dojo.

“When I told this idea to my class, they went crazy with excitement,” she said. “So here I am, still in Rome carrying a huge poster wherever I go.”

The Stouts are in Rome for six days.

In the first two days, they (and the virtual class) have visited the Colosseum, Memorial of Vittorio Emmanuel II, The Pantheon, The Vatican (“We saw the Pope too!!!”), Sistine Chapel, The Trevi Fountain, “too many churches to mention,” The Spanish Steps, Piazza Barbini and Piazza Nova.

See more of this special trip in the April issue of InMaricopa.

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Submitted photo

March 8, the Desert Wind Middle School Symphonic Band earned a rating of excellent in the Arizona Band and Orchestra Director’s Association Regional Elementary/Junior High Band Festival. This event, held at Mesquite Junior High School in Gilbert, featured many of the East Valley’s finest Junior High/Middle School bands.

Desert Wind’s Symphonic Band earned praise and superior scores for their control of tempo, consistency in intonation, and their quality, characteristic sounds on their instruments.

Following their performance, these seventh- and eighth-grade students received great feedback from clinician Bill Patterson, Arizona music educator and past ABODA president. The clinic focused on expanding their dynamic and expressive capabilities as an ensemble in their performance of their repertoire, as well as concepts to focus on in future performances. Symphonic Band also received recorded comments from Patterson and two other clinicians – Jon Gomez and Ann Haenfler.

In addition to their performance and clinic, Symphonic Band heard performances from four outstanding groups from other area schools (Willis Junior High School Symphonic Band, Kyrene Aprende Middle School Seventh-Grade Band, Kyrene Altadeña Middle School Eighth-Grade Band and Desert Ridge Junior High School Eighth-Grade Rattler Band).

Roger Wagner II, Desert Wind’s instrumental music director, said,”Symphonic Band’s performance represents the tremendous effort our students have put into building the Band program and continuing the pursuit of musical excellence at Desert Wind. We are incredibly proud of the hard work our students have put in and we look forward to continued growth.”

Symphonic Band will be joining the Desert Wind Orchestra, Tiger Band and Maricopa High School Orchestra for the MUSD Art Walk on May 3 at 6 p.m. in the MUSD District Office and all of the Desert Wind, Maricopa Wells and Maricopa High School bands, choirs and orchestras at the Maricopa High School Performing Arts Center on Saturday, May 12, for the fourth annual MUSD Music-a-Thon – featuring special guest Mayor Christian Price.

Submitted photo

Costa Verde is building homes in the Santa Rosa Springs development. Photo by Michelle Chance

A report by Phoenix-based consulting firm Applied Economics estimates Maricopa’s recent housing growth could be a sign of more to come. It projected 1,200 new housing units will be built every year for the next five years. If future construction projects become a reality, AE estimates the city could grow by 42,000 housing sites 20 years from now. To read the report submitted to Maricopa Unified School District, click here.


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Photo by Michelle Chance

After upheaval in Maricopa High School’s administration level last fall, district officials confirmed Monday another assistant principal is on leave.

MHS Assistant Principal Heidi Vratil reportedly went on an unspecified leave of absence last week, according to Maricopa Unified School District Human Resources Director Tom Beckett.

“Dr. [Steve] Chestnut announced to the high school staff on Wednesday, March 7, that Heidi Vratil was on leave,” Beckett said March 12. Chestnut left his position as superintendent March 9.

Beckett did not clarify whether Vratil was placed on administrative leave nor provide reasoning behind her absence, citing it as a “personnel issue.”

Vratil said she preferred not to comment.

Vratil is a longtime MUSD educator, administrator and a National Board-certified teacher. Her work as assistant principal at MHS focuses on curriculum and instruction. Vratil has advocated for teacher mentorship programs and professional development through the NBCT program while regularly reporting teachers’ progress at MUSD Governing Board meetings.

She is among 32 administrative staff members listed as returning for next year in the personnel schedule released Feb. 28.

Vratil’s leave is among many in leadership positions at MHS this school year. Vratil was temporarily acting principal while former principal Renita Myers was placed on administrative leave in September.

In October, Myers and former Assistant Principal Mallory Miller resigned.

Former Maricopa Wells Middle School Principal Rick Abel took over for Vratil’s temporary principal assignment that month after his own brief leave of absence from the middle school.

Abel is expected to carry out the principalship position until the end of the school year. Current athletic director Brian Winter has been hired to take on that role next year.

Explanations regarding all the administrators’ leaves of absence have remained vague or non-existent by district officials.

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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