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Murray Siegel

By Murray Siegel

Each school-day morning, a bevy of yellow school buses head north on State Route 347.

These are not Maricopa district (MUSD) buses taking students on field trips or to competitions. These buses are taking more than 1,000 Maricopa children to schools in Phoenix and Tempe. Each child represents a loss of $4,199 per year from the state, and since these students live in homes where education is important, it is reasonable to assume their attendance at MUSD schools would raise test scores.

The time devoted to travel could be used for more productive activities than sitting on a school bus. Given the distance from school to home, are these students restricted in the after-school activities in which they can participate? Why would parents subject their children to these limitations? When asked, parents mention special programs available at the Kyrene and Tempe schools, programs funded by the many overrides passed by voters in these districts, unlike most of the recent override attempts in Maricopa.

I personally have observed at a number of MUSD schools and have seen exceptional classroom teachers. The award-winning middle school blended-learning program and the investigation of rocketry at Butterfield Elementary School have been highlighted. Did folks take notice of the improvements occurring in our schools? InMaricopa, online and in print, has covered recognition received by MUSD schools and personnel. Do the citizens of our city (including the parents of the bused students) read these articles and see all the significant accomplishments of MUSD schools?

I would ask you, the reader, to take one of two actions. If you are a parent whose child rides the bus to Kyrene or Tempe, please contact me at siegel.educ@gmail.com and answer two questions: Why do you send your child on the bus to Kyrene or Tempe? Also, what should MUSD do to allow you to consider having your child attend school here?

If you are a parent of an MUSD child or are a volunteer in an MUSD school, write and tell me what you have observed that makes you believe there are some excellent personnel in MUSD schools and that MUSD students are receiving an exceptional education. The results will appear in a future column.

Murray Siegel, Ph.D., has 44 years of experience teaching mathematics. He is in his fourth year as a volunteer at Butterfield E.S.

This column appears in the December issue of InMaricopa.

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Murray Siegel

By Murray Siegel

Sequoia Pathway has two principals, one for the elementary grades and one for the secondary grades.

Last year’s high school principal, Dr. Alfonso F. Alva, was promoted to assistant superintendent. The new secondary principal is Diane Silvia, who grew up in New York and started her career in retail management. Seeking a slower pace and better climate, she and her family moved to Arizona, where she discovered a passion for teaching. She earned a master’s in educational leadership and joined Pathway in 2009, holding various teaching and administrative positions.

Last year, Pathway piloted several new programs to enhance the quality of curriculum and instruction, such as Galileo and Alpine Data Management Systems. Silvia believes these programs will continue to improve the school’s effectiveness. When asked about the new school year, she stated, “I am excited about spearheading our mission at Pathway, which is to cultivate a community of excellence through pride and appreciation for our surroundings, education and self.”

The elementary principal is Rachael Lay, who grew up in Houston, Texas, and holds a bachelor of science degree in elementary education from NAU and a master’s in administration and supervision from the University of Phoenix. She has been in education 13 years and has been principal at Pathway for seven years.

Lay points to the introduction of the Galileo set of academic tools and assessments this year, which has enhanced the daily classroom instruction. She looks forward to the new academic year due to the departmentalization of teaching in grades four through six and the addition of intramural sports.

Mat Reese is the principal at Leading Edge Academy (LEA) and was raised in Niagara Falls, New York. He left New York to attend ASU and received his undergraduate degree there. He received a master’s degree in administration from NAU. Reese was a teacher, coach and principal in public schools for 32 years. He joined LEA as its first principal in 2008.

He points with pride to the student- and parent-friendly nature of the campus, and he has an open-door policy that allows parents to see him without an appointment. His excitement for the new school year is the same anticipation he has each new year, watching students grow academically.

At Legacy Traditional School (LTS), the principal is Amy Sundeen. She grew up in Chicago and received a B.S. from Northern Illinois University. She moved to AZ in 2006 and decided to pursue a career in education through the post-baccalaureate program at Rio Salado College and obtained a master’s degree in educational administration. Joining LTS in 2008 as a special education teacher, she became school principal in 2016.

Sundeen believes in the success of the back-to-basics curriculum which is combined with a fine arts program. She is looking forward to continued success with the new VEX Robotics program this year.

This column appears in the August issue of InMaricopa.

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 and charter schools return to class

Brody and Madden Rastad are ready to return to school at Pima Butte Elementary. Photo by Anita McLeod

Brothers Brody and Madden Rastad are never far away from Mom, even at school.

Brody, 9, is entering fourth grade at Pima Butte Elementary School, where Madden will be a first grader and their mother, Yurosha Rastad, teaches second grade.

“We high-five each other in the hallway,” Yurosha Rastad said.

Brody and Madden are two of more than 6,300 students returning to Maricopa Unified School District for the 2017-18 school year.

Brody said he is happy about getting back together with friends at Pima Butte and its nice teachers.

“Everyone gives you a chance to do something amazing,” he said.

While Brody thrives in math, Madden, 6, said he liked the ABC Countdown in kindergarten and is excited about heading into first grade. Like her sons, Yurosha Rastad has best friends at Pima Butte. Several had children around the same time and now see them as students in the hallways, too.

All three Rastads will be back in their family-within-a-family when school starts Aug. 7. Some things might look a little different, though. At district and charter schools a new school year brings some surprises.

Here is a snapshot of updates parents and the community can expect at some Maricopa schools:

Maricopa USD

In addition to its high school, two middle schools and six elementary schools, Maricopa Unified School District will open an alternative school, Ram Academy. The district will implement a newly-adopted math and reading curriculum as well as a new testing platform across each of its schools.

With the successful passage of the budget override last year, MUSD hired 50 new teachers and gained new technology for classrooms. The district will see a slight change in its calendar, but won’t see a completely modified schedule until 2018.

Classes for all MUSD schools begin Aug. 7.

  • High Schools

Maricopa High School will receive six override teachers, and Ram Academy will receive seven. The high school’s sports programs will be headed by former Athletic Director Brian Winter, who replaces Mark Cisterna. Its alternative school will be run by Assistant Principal Steve Ybarra with an estimated enrollment of around 125 students with credit deficiencies.

  • Middle Schools

The 2017-18 school year will see Maricopa Wells and Desert Wind Middle Schools reintegrating sixth-grade students. Sixth graders were transitioned into district elementary schools four years ago.

Maricopa Wells Middle School Principal Rick Abel said his school will receive six new teachers from override funds and eight sixth-grade teachers who previously taught at MUSD elementary schools. Abel said enrollment at Maricopa Wells will be 850 to 900 students by the time schools begins. The middle school will acquire a full-time assistant principal in Thad Miller.

Desert Wind Middle School will absorb around 200 sixth graders in August.

  • Elementary Schools

Half of the positions funded by the override will be dedicated to elementary schools, including three counselors, one librarian and one teacher on special assignment.

MUSD elementary schools are reconfiguring as they return to the K-5 model. Pima Butte Principal Randy Lazar said his school’s enrollment dropped by 60 students from the sixth-grade transition, and he anticipates an enrollment of 480 to 490 students. Lazar hopes to keep key grades, like kindergarten and third grade, between 20 and 22 students per class.

Pima Butte, Santa Cruz and Butterfield Elementary schools will implement the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports initiative. The schools received the grant and subsequent training for the program last year. PBIS promotes schoolwide expectations for student behavior.

Maricopa Elementary School will attempt to be one of four of schools in Arizona to become a “Light house school.” The process involves a readiness review in October that focuses on the school’s “culture, academics and environment,” said MES Principal Jennifer Robinson.

Leading Edge

Leading Edge Academy implemented a waiting list in some grade levels for the first time this year. Principal Mat Reese said the school is near capacity at 776 students. The charter school offers K-8 instruction and an online high school.

Reese said new reading and math curriculum will be introduced this year as well as two new fulltime physical education teachers and a new dean of students, Sherreis Moreland. Assistant Principal Rachele Reese will shift her responsibilities from the elementary to the junior high, and Moreland will eventually take over discipline.

Facilities at Leading Edge will get upgrades, including a ramada with picnic tables, new art room inside the cafeteria and additional classrooms for first, second, fourth and fifth grades.

The first day of classes is Aug. 3.

Sequoia Pathway

The campus director at Sequoia Pathway Academy is not the only new addition to the school. Alfonso Alva, who came on board over the summer, said Pathway is adding four advanced placement classes: AP Literature and Composition, AP Psychology, AP Biology and AP Studio Art.

The school will also introduce a new music teacher and an expansion of its art program with a 3D studio arts course.

Classes begin Aug. 2.


Legacy Traditional School started classes July 24 after adopting a modified schedule that adds an additional week to fall and spring breaks. A teacher pay raise also went into effect, and Dino Katsiris joined the administration.

Principal Amy Sundeen said they are adding a yearbook elective in junior high as well as a robotics club and culture club.

(Raquel Hendrickson contributed to this story.)

This story appears in the August issue of InMaricopa.


On your child’s first days of school, it is important to find out as much information about their teacher’s method of instruction and the scheduled curriculum. It is just as important, however, to establish a reliable line of communication with the teacher so your student can have the best learning environment. This can be done by asking five simple questions, according to Maricopa educators.

1 What is your preferred method of contact?

Find out if the teachers like to use email, text or phone calls to communicate. Some schools allow teachers to have their cellular phones on in class, and though they are often not able to take calls freely, they can often respond quickest via text. During school hours, email is seen as the second-best form of communication, with phone calls being reserved for emergencies or when there is a lack of electronic response from the teacher.

2 If my child is struggling, what can I do at home to support them?

If your student is falling behind or unable to keep up in class, parents will likely be contacted by a teacher either via a note sent home with the child or a direct email or phone call. If no contact is made by the teacher, and a child is expressing frustration with certain material or a lack of understanding, parents are encouraged to contact the teachers via their preferred method of communication.

3 If my child has more advanced knowledge of material than I do, how can I still help them?

Being the parent of a child who is smarter than you about certain subjects can be difficult. However, resources are plentiful. Teaching and study materials are typically available through your child’s school, often directly from their teachers. Most teachers are happy to share photocopies of instructional materials with parents so they can help their child at home. There are also numerous online resources through the National Association for Gifted Children (www.nagc.org) and MENSA for Kids (www.mensaforkids.org). YouTube.com is also a resource for parents to watch instructional videos on certain topics. However, use caution with this method as not all information on YouTube has been vetted for accuracy.

4 If my child will experience chronic absences due to exceptional circumstances (e.g. medical, personal), what should I do?

Parents aware of their child’s need to miss class on a continual basis should work with teachers to learn the teaching schedule to avoid missing class at key moments of core instruction. Emergency situations aside, doing this ensures minimum impact on your child’s education.

5 If there is a complicated family dynamic at home, what should I do so my child is less affected at school?

It’s not necessary for teachers to know every little detail about a student’s personal life. However, it does help the teacher provide a more conducive learning environment when they’re aware of certain circumstances that may interrupt a typical routine. That can involve a different parent picking up the student on certain days, or a child going through a home relocation that could alter their transportation plans or abilities to participate in extracurricular activities.

This story appears in the August issue of InMaricopa.

Even the busiest parents can stay tuned into their child's education.

One of the many struggles facing grade-school education is parent/guardian participation. For teachers, it can be trying to get parents involved in their child’s education. For parents, it can be a struggle finding appropriate ways to get join in.

Pima Butte Elementary has one of the strongest records of parental involvement in the Maricopa Unified School District. Second-grade teacher Yurosha Rastad credits the school being small and within a tight boundary in Rancho El Dorado.

“My parents are amazing,” she said. “I have so many parents donate their time. We would have a field trip to the zoo, and 20 parents would volunteer. One comes in all the time to make copies for me.”

The school also has good participation in special events like Math Night, Water Day, a mother-son barbecue and a father-daughter dance.

But schools typically struggle to keep parents involved.

Mobile Elementary School teacher and 21-year education veteran Cindy Koontz of Maricopa suggested careful, calculated scheduling.

Parents looking to get involved at their child’s school should first look at various programs such as parent-teacher organizations and athletic booster clubs, Koontz said. Then, she said, compare your availability to the schedule of meetings and events for the specific programs to determine which is right for you.

Naturally, some parents have more free time than others. Some are stay-at-home parents or have flexible schedules that allow for more involvement. Others work long hours and are less available.

To those parents who are unavailable to take an active role in programs like PTO and athletics, Koontz said there are other ways to stay involved, the most important of which is maintaining communication with their child’s teachers.

Meet the Teacher Nights are also some of the best ways to get to know teachers, Koontz said. In her experience, it is an underappreciated event she wishes more parents would capitalize on.

“We want as good a relationship with the parents as with the students,” Koontz said. “Those face-to-face meetings help with that.”

She understands many families have hectic lifestyles, making it difficult to attend these events and become part of certain organizations. However, she feels involvement is not limited to simply volunteering for PTO.

Some teachers, she said, log daily updates in a student’s notebook or planner. This method gives the most transparency and the best “active” communication a parent can hope for. These daily progress reports are sent home, sometimes requiring parental signatures and, thus, creating a “paper trail” following a student’s educational path.

Whatever parents do, Koontz said, it is important to remember “teachers and parents are a team.”

“We’re people just like parents are,” Koontz added. “At the end of the day we always look back and see something we could have done better.”

This story appears in the August issue of InMaricopa.