Tags Articles tagged with "MUSD"


Joby Thompson

Joby Thompson has been selected to attend the “Business Perspectives for Creative Leaders” program at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, July 23-28.

The conference is a week-long executive education program for design professionals in partnership with Yale University’s School of Management. The curriculum features case studies, lectures, hands-on activities, and group work to give creative leaders a more complete understanding of business and design.

Maricopa High School is a member of the Central Arizona Vocational Institute of Technology (CAVIT), which is paying all expenses for the training.

Thompson is currently the MHS Career and Technical Education (CTE) Department chairperson where he teaches graphic design classes.

This item appears in the July issue of InMaricopa.


The debate over different cost-of-living increases between certified and classified staff at the Maricopa Unified School District caused public concern Wednesday night.

Five people, many of them MUSD employees, took to the podium at the district’s governing board meeting to voice their dismay over the direction of the board’s conversation at its previous meeting June 14. The discussion argued raising teacher’s salary to 3 percent while raising classified employee pay by just 2 percent.

One speaker was Karen Honeycutt, who works in the business department for the district.

“It is my hope you will consider the wellbeing of all Maricopa Unified School District Employees, and think of us collectively, rather than as a segregated group,” Honeycutt said.

Pamela Brown is a classified employee who also works in the business department.

“I believe there are other ways to handle this so you are not creating a division of employees and the perception that one group is more important in value than another group,” Brown said.

In meetings prior, the board had agreed to keep all employees at a 3 percent pay increase across the board.

The inquiry into different salary figures two weeks ago was prompted by board member Torri Anderson, and initially supported by AnnaMarie Knorr, who said teachers could be attracted to the district if their pay increase was slated slightly higher than other positions.

Attracting and keeping qualified teachers at the district is something all board members said has been difficult for MUSD, albeit most maintained a preference for an equal pay-raise for all employees. The increase originally proposed would cost the district $817,500.

After the call to the public concluded Wednesday, MUSD Superintendent Steve Chestnut provided three salary options to the board. Anderson was not present during the meeting due to a family emergency.

Option A:
Classified Employee: 2 percent increase
Certified Employees (including administrators): 3 percent increase

Option B:
Classified Employees: 2 percent increase
Certified Employees (excluding administrators): 3 percent increase

Option C:
Classified Employees: 2 percent increase
ADE Certified Teachers (excluding administrators): 3 percent increase

After hearing the options, board members agreed to keep a 3 percent increase in MUSD staff cost-of-living adjustment.

“We would send a really bad message if we didn’t raise it 3 percent across the board, and I would never want to do that,” MUSD Board President Patti Coutré said.

Coutré said Chestnut will soon compare classified employee salary with those across other districts. The data will then be shared with the board to measure whether classified employees are being paid competitively enough.

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Maricopa Unified Schools will be participating in the National School Lunch Program and School Breakfast Program. As part of this program, Maricopa Schools will offer healthy meals every school day. Breakfast is served at no cost to all students and lunch will cost $2.75 for K-5 and $3 for 6-12.

Qualifications for children to receive free or reduced-price meals include: belonging to a household whose income is at or below the Federal Income Eligibility Guidelines, belonging to a household that receives public assistance, or if the child is homeless, migrant, runaway, foster, or participates in a Head Start or Even Start pre-kindergarten program.

Household size and income criteria are used to determine eligibility for free and reduced-price benefits if the household does not receive assistance or the children are not in the other categories mentioned above. Children can get free or reduced-price meals if the household’s gross income falls at or below the limits on the Federal Income Eligibility Guideline chart.

To apply for free or reduced-price meals, households can fill out the application and return it to the school cafeteria unless the household has already received notification that their children are approved for free meals this year. Application forms are being distributed to all households with a letter informing households of the availability of free and reduced-price meals for their children and what is required to complete on the application. Applications also are available at school office, school cafeteria, district office and school website.

Only one application is required for all children in the household and the information provided on the application will be used for the purpose of determining eligibility and verification of data. Applications may be verified at any time during the school year by the school or other program officials. An application for free or reduced-price benefits cannot be approved unless it contains complete eligibility information as indicated on the application and instructions. In the operation of child feeding programs, no child will be discriminated against because of race, sex, color, national origin, age, or disability.

Families can apply for benefits at any time. If a household member becomes unemployed or if the household size increases, the household should contact the school. Such changes may make the children of the household eligible for benefits if the household’s income falls at or below the Federal Guidelines. Contact Suzette Moe at any time to request an application.

Under the provisions of the free and reduced-price policy Suzette Moe will review applications and determine eligibility. Parents or guardians dissatisfied with the ruling of the official may wish to discuss the decision with the determining official on an informal basis. Parents wishing to make a formal appeal for a hearing on the decision may make a request either orally or in writing to Aron Rausch, District Office, 520-568-5100.

When known to determining official households will be notified of their children’s eligibility for free meals if they are members of households receiving assistance from the:

· Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP);
· Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR); or
· Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), if the State program meets Federal standards.

An application is not required for free meal benefits for Assistance Program participants and all of the children in the household are eligible for free meal benefits. If any children were not listed on the notice of eligibility, or if a household does not receive a notice of eligibility, the household should contact the school to have free meal benefits extended to them. Participants in the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) may be eligible for free or reduced-price meals, but they will need to turn in an application including household size and total income.

When known to determining official, households will be notified by any child’s eligibility for free meals if the individual child is considered “Other Source Categorically Eligible”, because the child is categorized, as defined by law as:

· Foster
· Homeless
· Migrant
· Runaway
· Enrolled in an eligible Head Start, or
· Enrolled in an eligible pre-Kindergarten class

If any children were not listed on the notice of eligibility, the household should contact the school about their eligibility through the list above, or should submit an income application.

Households notified of their children’s eligibility must contact the school if the household choose to decline the free meal benefits.

Applications may be completed and submitted AFTER July 7. For more information, you may call Suzette Moe at 520-568-5100, ext. 1034, or email at smoe@musd20.org.

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Aidan Balt

Maricopa High School English teacher Aidan Balt has been chosen as a teacher fellow for the 2016-17 Arizona Hope Street Group Teacher Fellowship in order to provide leadership in education policy design and implementation.  

 The Arizona Hope Street Group Teacher Fellowship is a nonpartisan program that provides a group of diverse public school teachers – who are chosen through a rigorous selection process – with skills focused on peer and community relationship building, moderating peer focus groups and communication strategies.  Fellows’ competency development leads to meaningful opportunities for teachers to inform policy decisions.

Hope Street Group launched the program with great success in Kentucky in 2013, replicating it in Hawaii in 2014, and North Carolina and Tennessee in 2015. Arizona and Utah have both recently joined this work in 2017.  

 “I applied for this fellowship because I believe it will allow me the opportunity to create partnerships that impact my educational system on a local and state level,” Balt stated. “Education is only one piece of the puzzle, and Hope Street is using data, research, and intersectional fields to improve how we educate youth. I view myself in the same way; I am one small puzzle piece looking to have a bigger impact on the profession I love.”

 Balt joins 26 other Arizona teacher fellows and thousands of teachers across the state to better inform policy design and implementation. 

“Teacher engagement has the power to change everything,” Balt said. “Education is critical; it is the great equalizer. When teachers are engaged, they have the power to impact how far the reach of public education is and can be.”


Hope Street Group is a national organization that works to ensure every American will have access to tools and options leading to economic opportunity and prosperity. For more information, visit: www.hopestreetgroup.org

Maricopa Unified School District Administrative Office

District administrators at Maricopa Unified Schools are preparing to implement a new, equal, sick leave policy for their employees.

Beginning July 1, all MUSD staff will accumulate one hour of sick leave for every 30 hours worked, said Human Resources Director Tom Beckett during a governing board meeting last week.

The policy affects part-time and full-time workers across the board, regardless of position.

“(It’s the) same standard whether they are substitutes here at the district or the director of HR, it makes no difference,” Beckett said. “Everybody will get the exact same benefit.”

According to the Industrial Commission of Arizona’s website, earned paid sick time is “sick time accrued by an employee that is compensated at the same hourly rate and with the same benefits, including health care benefits, as the employee normally earns during hours worked.”

The move stems from a compliancy effort by the district after Prop 206 was passed statewide by voters last November.

The Fair Wages and Healthy Families Act requires employers with over 15 workers to allow their employees to accrue one hour of earned paid sick time for every 30 hours they have worked.

The “first reading” of MUSD’s sick leave policy also reflects a limit required by the act.

“Staff members shall not be able to accrue or use more than 40 hours of earned paid sick time per year,” according to a district document.

The district’s legal team worked on the draft for nearly three months before Beckett submitted the first reading of it to the MUSD Governing Board last week, the HR director said.

The district is also working to track its “restricted use sick leave” policy.

It entitles “personnel who are employed at least 29 hours per week a designated amount of compensated leave that is to be granted to a staff member who, through personal or family illness, injury or quarantine, is unable to perform the duties assigned.”

MUSD documents state each staff member will be credited with a restricted use sick leave allowance of one-half day per pay period of up to six or eight days.

Employees who work 12 months out of the year will receive eight days; 10-month employees will receive six.

“The best thing I can say overall it does not penalize our current employees’ sick leave and adds a benefit to our part-time staff,” Beckett said.  “So it’s a good thing overall for our staff.”

Board members Gary Miller and Torri Anderson asked Beckett if he had enough resources to track new data the act will require the district to follow in order to stay in compliance.

MUSD will use software and staff to ensure it is fulfilling requirements. The state and county will also monitor the data, Beckett said.

“This is a continuing process and we’ll probably have a few bumps in the road, but I’m confident that we’ll be able to figure this out,” Beckett said.

The board unanimously passed the first reading of the policy. 

Earlier in the year, the Fair Wages and Healthy Families Act also required employers to enact a $10 state minimum wage by Jan. 1.

Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board mulls the new budget. Photo by Michelle Chance

Details surrounding employee pay increases were not resolved among board members Wednesday night at the Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board meeting.

Before a proposed budget for the 2017-18 was approved, governing board member Torri Anderson pushed back on the board’s previous salary increase proposal, which would raise district workers’ pay by 3 percent.

Anderson instead suggested that teacher raises stay at the proposed figure. All other positions would receive a 2 percent pay raise in an effort Anderson said would “incentivize” teachers to come to – and stay with – the district.

The current pay increase across the board for all employees would cost the district $817,500. Dropping other employees by 1 percent would save the district money.

Anderson said MUSD could take savings from her proposal and contribute them to the district’s reserve.

“I want to incentivize teachers, even if it’s just that 1 percent because everybody is important, but we have a hard time hanging onto teachers,” Anderson said.

Other board members sustained arguments supporting an equal percentage raise across the district. Gary Miller said MUSD also has issues retaining bus drivers and other classified staff.

Board President Patti Coutré said teachers wouldn’t have the support they need without the work of attendance clerks, bus drivers, janitors and district office staff.

“In the past, we kind of got away from that because we wanted all of our staff to feel valued,” Coutré said in regards to giving one group of employees a higher percentage raise than another.

Administrators would also receive the 3 percent increase in the district’s current proposal.

AnnaMarie Knorr, board vice president, sided with Anderson and agreed keeping all staff except teachers at a 2 percent raise could build the district’s reserve fund.  

However, Coutré referred to a previous report given by district Business Manager Aron Rausch, in which he said the reserve fund would stay at an acceptable level with all employees receiving a 3 percent raise.

Knorr also supported the argument that raising teacher pay above others could help the district retain teachers.

Board member Joshua Judd said, “finding teachers isn’t at epidemic levels,” citing the district’s recent hiring efforts. However, he said MUSD should consider incentivizing teacher pay in future budgets.

The board agreed to continue the salary discussion at a later date. Superintendent Steve Chestnut said the figures would be gathered and discussed during a future board meeting.

Johnny Bochat and Mike Waterman do much of the physical labor as Desert Wind Middle School prepares not only for a new school year but also the addition of sixth graders. Photo by Michelle Chance

The halls within Desert Wind Middle School are virtually empty in June. Besides the few classes of children attending summer school, the building can feel vacant by the afternoon.

Lined against its olive-hued walls are hundreds of desks. Most classrooms are emptied, chairs pushed to the side.

It’s the time of year most students don’t see at school – staff rearranging entire classrooms, scrubbing glue off of floors, mopping and buffing them to a sparkle.

But not all is quiet.

A bluesy guitar riff echoes through the school lobby.

The sounds don’t come from the music department, but instead from within the facilities office.

Inside is Site Lead Custodian Mike Waterman, whose fingertips strum the strings of a black guitar. His audience of one is Night Custodian Johnny Bochat.

It’s a rare time the two break from the labor their summer duties require.

The pair is responsible for keeping the school operational and clean throughout the year.

 “We do anything they need to make the thing move smoothly,” Waterman said.

And in the summer that means a lot of heavy-lifting around the large 48-room campus that will soon house nearly 700 students once school starts in the fall, Waterman said.

In August, the custodial team will add 14 previously unused rooms to their daily cleaning routes due to the influx of sixth grade students from district elementary schools.

To prepare, the two-man team is in charge of rearranging the entire school before kids return.

“Something that might have been a computer lab this year is now going to be something else this year,” Waterman said.

So while shampooed carpets and polished linoleum floors dry, the men move furniture from one end of the building to the other.

More classes to clean, and even more students to clean up after, mean Waterman and Bochat will receive a new fulltime custodial co-worker once school begins.

“It’s still going to be a lot for three people,” Waterman said.

Although the workload is heavy, the duo still finds time to lead interesting lives.

Bochat is a native Maricopan who loves working with his hands and spending time outdoors. In the past, he combined his love of craft and adventure when he lived in Alaska working as a mechanic. Soon he will vacation in Prescott to pan for gold.

Waterman is the unofficial in-house artist known as “Miko Ceviche.” Administrators and staff hang his acrylic paintings in their offices, often switching and trading them out between each other.

It’s a work culture the two men said they love.

“I’m with these people more than I am with my family,” Waterman said. “You work eight hours a day with (them) and they become your family after a while.” 

Mike Waterman’s paintings are seen at various locations with MUSD and he plays a mean blues guitar, too. Photo by Michelle Chance

Mark Cisterna has been MUSD's athletic director since 2014.

The Maricopa Unified School District is chasing down a new athletic director.

MUSD Superintendent Steve Chestnut said former Athletic Director Mark Cisterna submitted a resignation letter to the district on June 5. Cisterna was hired in 2014, coming from Gilbert. Over the past year, he led MUSD through the realignment process of the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

“He will be the new athletic director at Notre Dame Preparatory in Scottsdale,” Chestnut said.

The district posted notice of the position vacancy on its website the same day it received the letter and is currently accepting applications.  The salary range is $73,000-$84,810.

Torri Anderson

A familiar face in Maricopa will lead a committee of the Arizona School Board Association.

Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board Member Torri Anderson was recently appointed chair of the organization’s Legislative Committee.

Anderson said she was selected by the association’s president only two weeks ago because the committee’s previous chair could no longer serve.

“I didn’t have much time to prepare, but I’m looking forward to it,” Anderson said.

The committee met Friday to discuss its legislative agenda for 2018.

Anderson said her experience serving on the committee for the past eight years and her familiarity with its process helped association officials in their decision to promote Anderson.

The committee is made up of around 25 school board members from across the state.

Earlier this year, the association sent Arizona school districts forms to fill out. In them, governing boards submitted five items they would like to see adopted in next year’s legislative agenda.

“On Friday we will be discussing the new items and figuring out how they fit in to our current agenda and (if) these items (are) still applicable,” Anderson said after a governing board meeting at the MUSD District Office Wednesday night.

Anderson said, as chair, she will be ensuring the conversations stay on track Friday.

“Sometimes it can be a pretty hairy process because you’ve got all of these people that are passionate about their school districts, which I’m hoping to spin into a positive,” Anderson said.


MUSD Superintendent Steve Chestnut. Photo by Michelle Chance

The hunt for a new superintendent will not be on Maricopa Unified School District’s agenda any time soon

Superintendent Steve Chestnut, who announced earlier in the month that he was a finalist for the same position at a large district in the Valley, said he will stay on board with MUSD.

Deer Valley Unified School District hired candidate Curtis Finch, superintendent in Big Rapids, Michigan, to fill the role with approval of the board at its Tuesday meeting.

“It was a professional opportunity I wanted to take a look at, but it wasn’t because I was unhappy here,” Chestnut said.

The prospect attracted Chestnut because of the chance to manage a large post.

MUSD, which educates about 6,500 students at nine schools, is similar in size to previous districts Chestnut managed earlier in his career in Washington state.

DVUSD is considerably larger with nearly 34,000 students and 38 schools.

However, MUSD will hold onto its superintendent for now.

“I’m not actively seeking another job,” Chestnut said.

Chestnut and MUSD.

About Steve Chestnut

Hometown: Bellevue, Washington

Family: Chestnut lives in Maricopa with his wife Kellie. Their son Matt and his wife Jen live in Seattle, with two kids and one on the way. Their daughter Monica and her husband Brian live in Denver.

Hobbies: Appreciates spending free-time visiting children and grandchildren, attending church and enjoying big city amenities.

Favorite sports: Football and baseball

What he likes most about Maricopa: The climate, people and the small town-feel.

Chestnut was hired in 2012 after MUSD was still reeling from the effects of the recession, state budget cuts and a teacher shortage.

He and the Governing Board were forced to be resourceful.

In 2013, they considered closing Maricopa Wells Middle School to save money, eventually deciding to keep the doors open.

The same year, the district shut down all-day kindergarten to alieve budget pressures, before re-instating it a year later.

To increase funding received from the state, Chestnut and the board in 2013 chartered six schools for a contract that would have paid out $2.5 million to the district for 15 years. Unfortunately for MUSD, the state severed the agreement with all districts due to budget cuts only two years later.

The challenges for Chestnut and the board were just getting started.

For years MUSD worked to pass a 10-percent budget override proposal to solve the teacher shortage and improve instructional technology in classrooms. Their efforts finally succeeded in 2016 after the initiative was struck down by voters in 2012 and 2014.

Currently, 48 out of the 50 override-created positions have been filled, and Chestnut said it may take until the end of July to hire the others.

Funds from the override also allow the district to spend $500,000 a year on instructional technology for students. More specifically, it funds the purchase of 595 student laptops and 17 carts with charging stations.

Chestnut’s most important goal for the district, however, remains consistent with that of the board: Raising MUSD’s “B” state letter grade to an “A”.

“That’s a big mountain to climb, and we’ve got to climb it,” Chestnut said.

Improving Student Achievement

It will take teamwork and a variety of successful integrations to contribute to higher student test scores — a feat Chestnut said might take a few years.

To accomplish this goal, he said the district plans on successfully integrating:

  • 50 additional certified positions
  • The new Ram Academy
  • Instructional technology into the classroom

Fresh curriculum could also assist the district’s goal of raising student achievement, Chestnut said. In early May, the board approved new district-wide math curriculum, an update students and teachers hadn’t seen in over a decade.

Adoption of new English-Language Arts Curriculum could be on the horizon for the 2017-18 school year as well, he said.

“It’s going to take several years to get where we want to be, but I think we are going in the right direction,” Chestnut said.

Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Numbering 510, eighth graders from Desert Wind and Maricopa Wells middle schools in the Maricopa Unified School District came together for a unification ceremony and promotion to high school Tuesday.

MUSD school board and coach Sheldon Hutchinson (back, center) honor track athletes Terrell Handy, P.J. Austin, Jacob Cowing, Longman Pyne, Frank Jones and Darrell Handy. Photo by Michelle Chance

By Michelle Chance

Spring athletes and artists received recognition during the Maricopa Unified School District’s Board meeting Wednesday.

Track and field coach Sheldon Hutchinson presented certificates to Terrell Handy, Phillip Austin, Jacob Cowing, Longman Pyne, Frank Jones and Darrell Handy. In early May, the boys’ team landed in fourth-place at the Division II Track & Field Championships, contributed to three school records and brought home medals in gold, silver and bronze.

“They have done an amazing job,” Hutchinson said.

Superintendent Steve Chestnut recognized middle and high school artists who placed in first, second and third places in the MUSD Spring Art Walk on May 4 at the District Office.

Elementary students also contributed pieces to the collection, but without the competitive element.

“We did things a little bit differently this year,” Chestnut said. “For elementary students, we really emphasized participation.”

Middle school students received medals in painting and sketching categories while high schoolers medaled in six categories: mixed and other media, sketches and drawings, painting, digital arts, photography and ceramics.

Proud high school Art teacher Maria Pour was on-hand during the presentation to photograph her students’ accomplishments.

Art Walk winners with the MUSD board. Photo by Michelle Chance

“You guys might recognize me as your teacher in the classroom,” Pour said as she snapped a photo of the group. “You guys are amazing.”

Rotary Students of the Month. Photo by Michelle Chance

At a previous meeting, Rotary Youth Coordinator Alma Farrell acknowledged three students of the month.

An eighth grader at Maricopa Wells Middle School, Joy Newey holds a 4.0 GPA and attends honors classes in math and language arts. Farrell reported Newey has served as a teacher’s aide, participated in choir and is a member of the National Junior Honor Society and the current student body president. Newey plans to become a doctor.

“Joy is a great student and representative of (the) school,” Farrell said.

Morgan Cutrara, eighth grader at Desert Winds Middle School, was nominated by teacher Roger Wagner who described her as a leader with a vibrant personality.

“She works diligently and sets high expectations for herself and works hard to reach them,” Roger wrote.

Farrell said Cutrara is active in Student Council, plays volleyball and is involved in school clubs.

Maricopa High School junior Diamond Simms accepted her title as student of the month after recently being approved to graduate one year early by the School Board in April.

Nominated by Sims’ High School Counselor Rebecca Collins and remarked on by teachers Jennifer Andres and Jason Goodwin, the young go-getter previously said she plans to pursue a master’s degree in law and a career as a criminal attorney.

“To make these accomplishments in three years and graduating early is beyond commendable,” Farrell said.

Second graders at Maricopa Elementary get set to perform during Leadership Day. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

The scholars at Maricopa Elementary School had a chance to toot their own horns Friday as parents and community members gathered for Leadership Day.

Children spoke about the school’s “Leader in Me” program, an adaptation of “The 7 Habits of Happy Kids” by Stephen and Sean Covey. They also performed some rap and rock to celebrate what they’ve learned during the year and demonstrated physical exercises.

Principal Jennifer Robinson said the school is in the process of becoming a Lighthouse school. That milestone in the Leader in Me program indicates student achievement and is a five-year process focusing on leadership, culture and academics. There are currently 310 Lighthouse schools in the world but only two in Arizona.

“Soon there will be three,” Robinson said.

The program encourages placing students in leadership positions. Friday, the students oversaw welcoming and signing in visitors, explaining the clubs and activities displayed in the courtyard and leading tours of the facility.

The seven habits:

1) Be proactive
2) Begin with the end in mind
3) Put first things first
4) Think win-win
5) Seek first to understand and then to be understood
6) Synergize
7) Sharpen the saw


Student art on display. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Maricopa Unified School District’s Native American Education Program hosted an art expo featuring student artwork, San Carlos artist Douglas Miles of Apache Skateboards giving a mural-painting demo and Maricopa basket weaver Lynnaya Joe showing the tools of her Navajo trade. See gallery below to follow progression of the mural, which was on paper taped to a wall as the sun went down Thursday evening.

MUSD board member Torri Anderson. Photo by Devin Carson

By Michelle Chance

Boosting pay for district employees remained the Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board’s top priority Wednesday night.

During an ongoing budget debate between funding for after-school activity buses and raising salaries for its staff, the board proposed an $80,000 drop in funds it originally proposed in April that would have gone toward transportation for the 2017-18 school year.

The proposed funds allocated for after-school buses was lowered to $114,000.

Superintendent Steve Chestnut said the savings would go toward employee pay – raising the district’s budget amount in the area to $680,000.

The additional funds would increase staff salary across the board by 2.5 percent. However, it might raise teacher pay even more with anticipated salary increases by the state.

“This would be an increase for teacher pay, not including the increase proposed by the state Legislature,” Chestnut said.

Board Member Torri Anderson requested the board look into the cost of raising the district’s proposed pay increase even higher to 3 percent, which Chestnut agreed he would investigate.

During a previous deliberation, the board proposed funding to resurrect activity buses after a presentation by Maricopa Wells Middle School where Principal Rick Abel said the additional transportation helped increase student participation in after-school study sessions.

Two weeks ago, the board proposed a nearly $200,000 budget for buses that would run five days a week at secondary schools.

Wednesday, Chestnut said MWMS currently has after-school transportation two days a week, and it is not heavily used by students.

“In (Abel’s) judgement, parents have adjusted with carpools, and that kind of thing, for the other days of the week for practice,” Chestnut said.

The superintendent then proposed two middle school buses that would operate only two days a week, as well as adding three after-school buses for the high school.

Proposing a chunk of funding toward after-school transportation does not come without controversy, as it was done away with at the high school years ago for students’ bad behavior.

“The great fear at the high school is the kids that hang around waiting for activity buses — and they’re very difficult to manage,” Chestnut said. “It’s actually the main reason we ended the high school afternoon activity bus about four years ago.”

The funding for the buses would include pay for a security guard to keep watch over students.

The budget proposal continues to be a fluid discussion with board members adjusting, suggesting and cutting figures for a variety of expenditures that in all total $1.088 million for the 2017-18 school year.

One expenditure that Board Member Gary Miller regularly requests discussion on is a salary figure for a full-time district plumber.

“I know that is a priority for one of our maintenance departments,” Miller said.

The board is expected to discuss those estimates during another budget work session May 30 at 7 p.m.  


Joronda Montaño, program director of notMyKid, talks about statistics of depression and suicides among adolescents. Photo by Mason Callejas

Maricopa parents were asked to get uncomfortable Wednesday.

Roughly 30 people attended a program by the Arizona-based “notMyKid” organization, which focuses childhood and adolescent depression and suicide. Parents and guardians of students enrolled in the Maricopa Unified School District were invited to the event at Maricopa Wells Middle School.

Since 2000, notMyKid has been educating the region about the many ways depression can manifest itself. The program emphasizes the need for communication and open discussion between parents, their children and the community so stereotypes can be dismantled, struggles can be overcome and lives can be saved.

The hour-long presentation was cut short by about 15 minutes due to an alleged gas leak in the cafeteria, but not before Program Director Joronda Montaño was able to lay out most of the pertinent information.

Though it may be unpleasant, Montaño said, having the conversation is key to addressing depression early on so things don’t get worse.

Recognizing how uncomfortable people can be discussing the topic, Montaño instructed the audience to cross their arms in front of them counter to how they normally do, attempting to highlight a simple discomfort.

“Get comfortable being uncomfortable,” Montaño said.

Several audience members indicated a certain level of actual fear they had talking to their children about suicide or depression. They worry the shame associated with feeling depressed can be overwhelming, making a mild case of depression worse simply by talking about it.

To break down some of those barriers, Montaño pointed out specific misconceptions. She stressed the fact that boys are just as susceptible to depression as girls, though they often show it in different ways.

She also emphasized warning signs of depression including substance abuse, changes in eating habits and sleep patterns, fatigue, loss of interest, trouble concentrating, self-injury and persistent suicidal thoughts.

Literature provided to attendees elaborated more on the signs of suicidal thoughts including direct verbal cues such as “I wish I were dead” and indirect verbal cues like “I can’t take it anymore.” The pamphlet also stressed behavioral cues like saying goodbye, giving away possessions or being more affectionate.

When any of these signs are noticed, the program encourages parents to “seize the moment” and talk “with” not “to” their children, listen more than speak and be non-accusatory.

For more detailed advice and a list of all the resources notMyKids provides, visit notMyKid.org.

Because the presentation was cut short, Montaño said they plan to reschedule the event, though no date has been set.

Photo by Mason Callejas

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

By Michelle Chance

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Not all board members were convinced of the price tag.

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

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

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

However, Anderson thinks the district can do better.

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

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

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

MUSD Superintendent Steve Chestnut. Photo by Devin Carson

Steve Chestnut, superintendent of Maricopa Unified School District, is one of two finalists to be the next superintendent of Deer Valley Unified School District.

Chestnut informed staff of the situation this week. He has interviews and public reception May 5-6 and is competing for the post with Curtis Finch from Big Rapids, Michigan.

Hired at MUSD in 2012, Chestnut said his decision to apply for the Deer Valley post was not an indication of unhappiness in his current job.

“My wife and I greatly enjoy living in Maricopa,” he stated. “This is an exciting time for MUSD with the passage of the override as we add 50 additional certified staff for 2017-18 and provide additional instructional technology to our students. However, I have had a long term professional goal of being a superintendent in a large school district.”

DVUSD has 33,927 students in 38 schools in Phoenix, Glendale, Peoria, Anthem, New River, Cave Creek and unincorporated areas. That school is seeking a replacement for James R. Veitenheimer, who was also hired in 2012.

At tonight’s governing board meeting, the MUSD board is scheduled to go into executive session to discuss the superintendent’s contract.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sophomore Evan Grace (center) with MUSD Governing Board members (from left) Joshua Judd, AnnaMarie Knorr, Gary Miller, Superintendent Steve Chestnut, Patti Coutre and Torri Anderson. Photo by Michelle Chance

By Michelle Chance        

Over a dozen Maricopa High School students were recognized Wednesday at the Maricopa Unified School District Board Meeting for excelling in community service, academics and athletics.

Sophomore Evan Grace, who serves as an Arizona Governor’s Youth Commissioner, was honored for receiving the Prudential Spirit of the Community Local Honoree award, as well as the President’s Volunteer Service Award, which was signed by former President Barack Obama. This is the second time Grace has won both awards.

Evan’s mother, Merry Grace, said the awards are in recognition for Evan’s fund-raising efforts with Relay for Life, which raises money for the American Cancer Society.

Merry said Evan plans to participate in future Relay for Life events in Maricopa for the rest of his high school career, and will further his participation with the cause when he transfers to college.

Junior Diamond Sims was later approved by the Board to graduate early after completing all of the necessary coursework required to receive her high school diploma.

Sims’ guidance counselor, Rebecca Collins said she is “impressed with Diamond’s determination, eagerness and positive attitude.”

Sims originally set her goal to graduate early when she was just a freshman at MHS.

“Being approved to graduate early on Wednesday night made me feel as if I could accomplish anything,”

Diamond Sims received approval to graduate a year early. Photo by Michelle Chance

Sims said. “That night made me realize that as long as you put forth the effort and realize what you really want in life you will achieve any goal with minimum obstacles. One of my favorite motivational quotes is, ‘To be average is to be the best of the worst and the worst of the best…who wants to be average?’”

Collins met Sims this school year and said that she has had weekly contact with her via email, phone calls and face-to-face meetings.

“She has taken above and beyond the courses that are required for graduation,” Collins said. “Diamond works as well and attends very demanding and challenging classes at Maricopa High School.”

The young go-getter will have the opportunity to walk adorned in a cap and gown with seniors in May.

A parade of exceptional MHS athletes were also featured during the meeting.

Girls’ basketball honorees: (from left) Jayla Johnson, Tyra Williams, Sydni Callis and coach Melvin Mitchell, with MUSD governing board. Photo by Michelle Chance

Girls’ high school basketball coach Melvin Mitchell, who himself was recognized at the meeting for receiving the 5A Metro Region Coach of the Year, highlighted three outstanding players.

First up was Jayla Johnson who received Second Team All-Conference in 5A Metro.

Johnson is the youngest member of an academic-athletic family dynasty at MHS.

Next, Mitchell recognized senior Tyra Williams who has earned a variety of awards during her time playing for MHS.

“She’s been Pinal County Player of the Year as well as Metro Region 5A Conference Player of the year and, frankly, I’m sad to see her go,” Mitchell said.

The coach then recognized Junior Sydni Callis, adding, “She is definitely someone who is going to carry us in our future.”

MHS boys’ basketball players Josh Johnson (center) and Darrell Handy-Johnson (far right) were recognized for their honors. Photo by Michelle Chance

MHS boys’ basketball players Darrell Handy-Johnson and Josh Johnson were honored by Chestnut at the meeting.

“(The) team qualified and participated in the state tournament this year and had a good season,” Chestnut said.

Senior Handy-Johnson was given honorable mention in 5A Metro. Johnson, a junior, received First Team All-Region recognition.

Girls soccer honorees (from left) Shannon Coutre, Amanda Maciel, Lauren Davis and coach Pedro Olivares with the governing board. Photo by Michelle Chance

Three MHS girls’ soccer players were recognized during the meeting as well.

Coach Pedro Olivares said he was “very proud of these girls for what they’ve done this year.”

Hitting close to home for MUSD Board President Patti Coutré was the honoring of Shannon Coutré, who received Second Team 5A Metro Region honors.

The president’s daughter and an “up-and-coming leader of the team,” Coutré was further described by her coach as “the fastest girl I’ve ever seen.”

Two players leaving the team this year are seniors Amanda Maciel and Lauren Davis.

Maciel scored an impressive 25 goals this season and received First Team Metro Region Honors.

Olivares described Davis, team captain, as having a great attitude and a determined sprit who went “above and beyond” for her team.

Boys soccer (from left) Jacob Padilla, Elijah Aviles and coach Cortney Kellenaers with the board. Photo by Michelle Chance

MHS boys’ soccer coach Cortney Kellenaers honored four players from his team Wednesday night.

“Our success on the field this year – making playoffs – was the first time since we were a 3A team. It was really all because of our defense,” Kellenaers said.

Defense was led in part by seniors Elijah Aviles and Jacob Padilla.

Aviles, who served as team captain, was named First Team All-Region and his coach said he hopes Aviles will win 5A Honors as well after voting concludes.

“Elijah is the most vocal guy on the field,” Kellenaers said. “He leads by more example than you could ever ask for.”

Padilla was voted Pinal County Player of the Year and received First Team All-Conference honors.

“His rock-solid defense in the middle really held everything together – and with Elijah screaming behind him, it was hard to get shots on goals,” Kellenaers said.

Two other players who were not present at the meeting were also recognized.

Freshman Taylor Russo won Second Team All Region, First Team Pinal County and he was voted by his team as Rookie of the Year.

Diego Castro, a junior at MHS, received Second Team All Region, “as our leading goal scorer this year,” Kellenaers said.

MUSD Employees stand with governing Board members (back row) and IPM officials after being recognized at the March 29 board meeting. In the front row, from left to right: Shujuan Li (ASU), Paul Shauf (MUSD), Chad Whittle (MUSD), Dan Vezie (MUSD), Shaku Nair (ASU). Photo by Mason Callejas

Members of the Maricopa Unified School District were presented an award at the Governing Board meeting March 29 for outstanding pest management efforts throughout the district.

District employees Dan Vezie, Chad Whittle and Jim Shoaf were recognized for successfully implementing a low-impact pest control program called Integrated Pest Management which, according to IPM officials, has helped the district maintain “clean, healthy and pest-free schools, campuses and buildings.”

The MUSD is one of only two nationally recognized districts given the IPM Star Certification.

First utilized in 2012 under the guidance of Vezie, the IPM program uses minimal amounts of pesticides and implements “low-risk, common sense” plans to combat pest infiltration. With the help of Arizona State University’s IPM team, Vezie instituted a pest reporting program that greatly reduced the amount of pesticides used in the district.

Shaku Nair, a coordinator with ASU’s IPM team, praised the efforts of the MUSD facilities management team.

“They [Vezie, Whittle and Shoaf] have worked tirelessly as IPM champions for their school district,” Nair said.

Another member of ASU’s IPM team and Maricopa resident, Shujuan Li, also acknowledged MUSD’s efforts.

“[I] Understand the unique challenges the rural desert environment can bring,” Li said. “MUSD puts student health and safety first, and I am very happy they will be recognized for their commitment.”

Vezie had previously been recognized in 2014 by the University of Arizona’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences for his implementation of the program.

By Michelle Chance

Maricopa High School will see changes in its administrative staff beginning in the fall. The current dean of students, Brian Winter, will reprise his role as assistant principal beginning in July, after previously serving that position at MHS five years ago.

His new position comes after the June resignation of Jesse Roth, one of the school’s two current assistant principals. Stephen Ybarra is the other assistant principal at the high school.

Winter said he is excited to return as an administrator whose main duties will be dedicated to curriculum and assessments.

New math curriculum will be implemented at the district in July when Winter transitions into his new position.

He said math is always a challenging subject for students, but he hopes the new curriculum “means that we can get the alignment in place so that when students come to Maricopa High School, they have a foundation to better build off.”

Improving test scores and the graduation rate are also on Winter’s agenda. The most recent data from fiscal year 2015 showed the graduation rate at MHS is 69 percent.

In order to increase that number, Winter said he hopes to assist in freshman readiness, to ensure the high school’s youngest students are prepared for the crucial academic years ahead of them.

Maricopa Unified School District to purchasing a new math curriculum this year.
Maricopa Unified School District to purchasing a new math curriculum this year.

“If we can get them off to a good start as freshmen, they’ve got a better chance to complete their requirements within the four years,” he said.

In addition to new curriculum, Winter will also be working with a new school calendar beginning in 2018. Among some of the changes include the expansion of fall, winter and spring breaks – extra time he sees as opportunities for students who have fallen behind academically.

“We are hoping to use those intersessions where we have two week breaks to possibly bring students in for re-teach opportunities and maybe credit make-up,” he said.

Winter has 29 years of experience motivating a variety of student populations in different settings and positions. He has worked as a coach, educator, athletic director and administrator – career experiences he said have shaped his philosophy as an administrator.

“I’m a servant leader and I want to be able to be able to provide support to students as well as staff,” he said.

After leaving MHS following his year as assistant principal and Athletic Director for the rams in 2012, Winter worked as an assistant principal and the athletic director for schools in the West and East Valley.

However, something keeps drawing him back to MHS.

“There is something to be said of Maricopa and it has just kind of grown on me for whatever reason,” he said.

Currently, Winter is interviewing candidates to fill his own seat as dean of students for the upcoming school year.

The position is largely responsible for ensuring the safety of staff and students and overseeing the team of four security guards at the school, as well as doing the bulk of student discipline.

“It needs to be a person who is thoughtful, patient and willing to build relationships certainly with students, but also hold them to a high standard from a behavior aspect,” he said.

Winter said he hopes to announce who that person will be by next week.

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Dakota Halverson (center) with the MUSD board (from left) Joshua Judd, AnnaMarie Knorr, Gary Miller, Superintendent Steve Chestnut, Patti Coutre, Torri Anderson and coach Erick Fierro. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Senior Dakota Halverson was formally recognized Wednesday by the Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board for winning the state wrestling championship in Division II, 285 pounds.

Coach Erick Fierro and Dakota Halverson
Coach Erick Fierro and Dakota Halverson

Head coach Erik Fierro: “I am very proud to be Dakota’s wrestling coach. I started two years ago, so I met him two years ago. He was already a tremendous athlete, and I found myself in a very fortunate position to be able to coach a very talented athlete. I always tell him, I don’t know how much I actually did because he’s the one who wrestled. He’s the one that won the state championship and not me. Dakota Halverson, I’m always going to remember you as my first state wrestling champion.”

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Cadet Major John Blodgett (center) was recognized at meeting of the Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board Wednesday - from left, board members Joshua Judd and AnnaMarie Knorr, Lt. Col. Allen Kirksey, board member Gary Miller, board President Patti Coutre, Superintendent Steve Chestnut, board member Torri Anderson and CTE Director Michele Shaffer. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Senior John Blodgett was recognized by the Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board Wednesday after being appointed to West Point Academy. Set to be the co-valedictorian for the class of 2017, Blodgett is a cadet major in Maricopa High School’s Air Force Junior ROTC, a member of the National Honor Society and a student tutor.

From JrROTC instructor Lt. Col. Allen Kirksey: “He’s a teacher assistant as well. He is part of the first robotics team in Chandler, a member of the Si Se Pueda Foundation, which is a bridge-builder and leader providing programs improving the quality of life for communities, families and children here in Maricopa and in Chandler, empowers children and families to participate in science, technology, college readiness as we mentioned earlier, mentoring, sports, neighborhood revitalization, the arts, lifeskills, education, and in his spare time he tutors. We’ve had the distinct honor of having him in our program for the past four years. I’ve been there since April, and this is his first full year with me. I suspect he’s going to tell you he lost a little bit of weight with me. The position that he held with us was division support squadron commander. The reason I’m saying commander with emphasis; this young man is going to be a commander some day. We have a couple of sections that work underneath him, and those sections were crucial to us passing our ROTC inspection. All the activities I’ve described were accomplished while remaining at the top of his class, currently ranked No. 1 out of 448, and he’s a Boys State delegate, so congratulations to Cadet Major John Blodgett.”


By Michelle Chance

The Maricopa Unified School District will go after a new math program.

Wednesday, the Governing Board approved a committee’s authoritative power to recommend a K-12 Mathematics curriculum for the 2017-18 school year. The adoption of the district-wide curriculum change is estimated to cost between $800,000 and $1 million.

Superintendent Steve Chestnut said during a previous board meeting the district will pay for the curriculum using reserve funds to expedite the process.

Despite the price tag, supporters said updated math textbooks and curriculum are overdue.

MUSD Director of Teaching and Learning Krista Roden said the last time the district adopted math curriculum was in 2005.

Impassioned, Roden and the district’s director of Curriculum and Instruction, Wade Watson, set out to ensure Maricopa students no longer were taught from 12-year-old math books.

A visibly happy Roden was nearly speechless after the meeting.

“There’s no words; I feel like a giddy parent,” she said regarding the board’s decision.

Watson said their momentum grew when the school board asked about investigating the cost of their proposed curriculum adoption.

“As soon as they expressed that interest, we were on it,” he added.

However, the path toward adopting the math curriculum is a calculated process.

In a couple of weeks, a few district classrooms will begin piloting textbooks by three curriculum vendors: Pearson, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, and McGraw-Hill.

From there, Roden said teachers will inform the Mathematics Textbook Selection Committee of the curriculum that works and those that do not.

The committee will then make a purchase recommendation to Chestnut. Once approved, MUSD will display the curriculum materials at the district office for 60 days.

The school board will make a decision whether to approve the recommended curriculum within the 60-day time limit.

Board member Torri Anderson was enthusiastic about the progress made toward the adoption.

“I know it’s a long process, but I’m glad we are getting started now,” Anderson said. “I would love for it to be done by May, but … I’m just excited that we are able to do this.”

Roden and Watson said new math textbooks will be on students’ desks come fall.

Outdated curriculum is not the only reason school officials are pushing for the adoption, however.

Students at MUSD are struggling with math, and Roden said new curriculum will raise achievement scores and garner more success on the AzMERIT test.

Murray Siegel

By Murray Siegel

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Murray Siegel has a PhD in MathEd and 42 years of teaching experience. He and his wife Sharon are volunteer teachers of advanced math classes at Butterfield Elementary School.

This column appears in the February issue of InMaricopa.

MUSD has survey the community and its staff about making serious changes to its calendar.

By Michelle Chance

The Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board approved a much discussed modified calendar Wednesday. However teachers, school staff and students won’t see the changes until fall 2018.

Board members agreed the traditional calendar, along with a few amendments, will continue through the 2017-2018 school year to allow parents and teachers time to prepare for the changes.

Two amendments to the traditional calendar were adopted from the modified calendar:  Two “teacher days” (in which students will be exempt from attending school), and an additional day for Thanksgiving break.

Prior to approval, the proposed changes to the school calendar caused some teachers, parents and students to raise alarm.

Under the modified calendar, students will begin school in July. It will also extend fall, winter and spring breaks by an additional week.

Board Member Torri Anderson said she was “bombarded” with emails from parents in the district who raised concern that the shortened summer break could impact teen students who hold summer jobs.

Other board members said parents raised issue with having to find childcare during the extended holiday breaks.

AnnaMarie Knorr, the board’s vice president, said parents and school employees she talked to about the modified calendar “felt the (changes) were happening too fast.”

The director of Child Nutrition at the district, Suzette Moe, spoke during the meeting and said she favored the traditional calendar because her staff would receive either no check or two half-checks during the extended two-week breaks under the proposed changes.

“That would affect them a great deal since I do have single moms that work for me,” Moe said.

Feedback from surveys recently sent to parents and school staff was also discussed. The findings were the cause of much debate among board members because the results of the surveys were close.

The community survey split those in favor of the modified calendar and supporters of the traditional calendar by less than 1 percentage point.

The same survey sent to school staff favored the modified calendar slightly more than the traditional option.

District Superintendent Steve Chestnut said the board received a tremendous response from the surveys, the results of which indicated a desire for a modified calendar.

“I think the data supports that,” he said.

In an attempt to satisfy both sides, the governing board approved the traditional calendar for one more year, and postponed the modified calendar until the 2018-2019 and 2019-2020 school years.


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Reece Thompson

By Reece Thompson

There is a current debate on the acceptance or refusal of a new calendar system in the MUSD20 District. The governing board will be discussing it again at Wednesday’s meeting.

Option 1 would change the current school calendar for the entire district to a “year-round” calendar, taking away two weeks of summer vacation and using them in the fall and spring instead. The main argument made on the side of “Pro Option 1” citizens has been that it would decrease the amount of time from school, which would help students retain more information, allowing them to have less time reviewing and more time learning.

The second option is to continue using the current calendar. Many arguments have been made for this side from students, teachers and even parents. These include vacation or summer school programs that would have to be cut short due to the shortened schedule.

One point brought up by teachers that spoke at the Jan. 25 board meeting and echoed by some of the community was that some teachers could have a hard time finding work over the summer. This relates to a bigger problem. However, the question is still one that is important. Is there a solution to this problem that has not been brought up yet?

This is where the third option comes into play. One teacher that I was able to speak to actually requested a third option. When I asked them about their choice they said, “Something in the middle would work best… they are both good, however you can’t let the breaks get too long.”

They were speaking about the retention of information in students. As a student, I have seen many times that after a two-week break there is a lot of time wasted on review when it could be spent on new concepts.

When I asked students for their take, they usually went to one of two arguments for why there should be no change or very little change. One argument was that they wouldn’t be able to hold a summer job and get the money they need for the school year. The other was that because of a shortened summer, they would be unable to attend online summer school.

For many students, online school is the way to get ahead, or to even stay afloat. By cutting time out of the biggest break that students have, the options they have are cut even more.

Based on these options and interviews, I personally have concluded that either nothing should happen at all to the current District Calendar or an option three would have to be put into place in order to give an equal and fair calendar to all students. By doing this, all students would have the opportunity to get the job they need or want, they would be able to attend a summer school program, and they would have enough time to have fun.

So the question isn’t really, “Which one do we pick?” It’s, “Why should we pick one?”

Reece Thompson is a junior at Maricopa High School.

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MHS tuba players Katherine Espinoza and Chance Ackerson. Submitted photo

The Maricopa High School Band and Orchestra Programs had 11 students audition for the Arizona Music Educators’ Association Central Region Honor Band and Orchestra on Saturday at Desert Ridge High School in Mesa.

Tuba player Chance Ackerson was named to the region band for the second straight year.
Tuba player Katherine Espinoza was named second alternate and will be called up to perform if needed.

Music Instructor Ivan Pour stated, “This is an extremely rigorous audition process. Students have to prepare three etudes, perform 2 scales (chosen by judges), and sight read. Our region is one of the most competitive in the state with many large and successful music programs in it, including all the Gilbert district high schools, Mesa Mountain View, and many others. This is a big accomplishment for these students. Please congratulate them!”

The rehearsals for the band will be Feb. 17-18 at Mesa Mountain View High School, with the performance of the region, orchestra, band and choir at 2:30 on Feb. 18 also at Mountain View. The band clinician this year is AMEA President Jennifer Hamilton.

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The Sura team from Maricopa Wells earned second place in the state with their Future City idea. Submitted photo

Students from Maricopa Wells and Desert Wind Middle Schools 20+1 programs took home 16 awards at the Arizona Regional Future City competition at ASU on Saturday.  Teams from Maricopa Unified School District took second and third place.

The competition gave out a total of 34 student awards, with 16 of those going to MUSD students.

Maricopa Wells Middle School students earned a total of 12 awards. Team Sura finished second place in the state.
Awards also went to teams Purnea, Tiago, Novara, Liyong Kongjian and Schone Stadt.

Robyn Rice, one of the teachers in the 20+1 class at MWMS, said, “I was repeatedly stopped by engineers and Future City directors who told me how impressed they were with our students. The co-director of Future City Arizona said that our students were a ‘class act’ and every one of them impressed him with their intelligence and kindness. I am so proud to be their teacher and watch their success.”

Joseph Szoltysik, one of the teachers in the MWMS 20+1 class, said, “It’s always rewarding to watch your students succeed at something they’ve worked so hard to attain.  I couldn’t be more proud of all MWMS students.”

Desert Wind Middle School students earned a total of four awards. Team Jakarta finished in third place in the state of Arizona. The team of La Perla Renacida also earned an award.

Jennifer Szoltysik, one of the teachers in the 20+1 class at DWMS said, “We are very proud of all of the Future Cities participants from Desert Wind Middle School. They worked extremely hard over the last four months and represented both the school and the district well. It’s always exciting as a teacher to see the students’ work showcased at such a prestigious event.”

Eight teams from Maricopa Wells Middle School and eight teams from Desert Wind Middle School traveled to ASU to compete in the Arizona Regional Future City competition. The teams had to complete a virtual computer model of a city, write a research essay around this year’s theme of Public Spaces, build a scaled model of their city, and create a 5-7 minute presentation about their city. The teams competed at the school level to earn their place in the top 8 that advanced to the state competition at ASU.

Maricopa Wells Middle School Winning Teams
Presenters: Alyson Bowen, Emma Schrader, Zeah Zimpleman
Project Manager: Kaden Rogers, Alternate: Arianna Vargas
2nd Place in Arizona
Innovative Use of Infrastructure

Presenters: Anabelle Dayley, Megan Hahn, Erin Hildick
Project Manager: Nicholas Perez, Alternate: Shyanne Price
Best Computer Model
Best Team Effort
Walton Sustainable Community Award
Excellence in the Use of Building Materials

Presenters: Alondra Garfias, Maverick Miller, Joseline Nowell
Project Manager: Alexander Grace, Alternate: Trenton Redwanc
Walton Sustainable Community Award
Architectural Excellence Award

Schone Stadt
Presenters: Brenna Fitzpatrick, Victoria Richardson, Morgan Witte
Project Manager: Charlee Hyde, Alternate: Robert Hahn
Best Scaled Model
Rich Goewey Community Awareness

Presenters: Joseph Abel, Joshua Kulinowski, Rylee Tarcola
Project Manager: Taryn Meyers, Alternate: Savannah Wade
Best Team Presentation

Liyong Kongjian
Presenters: Elena Antunez, Rori Gosiak, Bailey Rigby
Project Manager: Dylan Hahn, Alternate: James Couts
Award of Distinction

Desert Wind Middle School Winning Teams
Presenters: Isabella Ebner, Kian Pack, Jaden Pyle
Project Manager: Blake Fullmer, Alternate: Emmy Balgaard
3rd Place in Arizona
Best Multimodal Transportation System
Walton Sustainable Community Award

La Perla Renacida
Presenters: Kendahl Belmore, Kylie Myers, Janie Pyle
Project Manager: Ryan Nguyen, Alternate: Nathan Shearer
Best Use of Water and Environmental Resources.