Authors Articles byMichelle Chance

Michelle Chance

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After its soft-opening Friday, Ross Dress for Less cut the ribbon on its Maricopa location during it’s official grand opening July 21.

Maricopa resident Sandra Munoz couldn’t wait to begin shopping at the major clothing retailer that’s now so close to home.

“The prices are really good and now I don’t have to drive very far away,” Munoz said while perusing the dress aisle. “Everybody was excited about that and all of my friends said we had to go.”

The local store is one of 21 Ross locations across the country to open Saturday, said Maricopa Store Manager Michelle Page.

And while the business has a nationwide reach, the opening Saturday morning had a neighborly feel.

Ross corporate donated $2,500 to the Maricopa Education Foundation during the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

“We like to give back to the community,” Page said.

Page, a Rancho El Dorado resident of 14 years, has worked at the Chandler Ross location for three years.

The Maricopa store employs nearly 60 people – all of whom live locally.

Mayor Christian Price said the consumer hype about Ross is a testament to the city’s growing economic development.

“It brings jobs, it brings people and it brings a rising economy,” Price said.

Since March, Goodwill, Planet Fitness, Dollar Tree, Dunkin’ Donuts and Burger King have opened their doors and registers to Maricopa customers.

Wingstop, a nail salon, a breakfast restaurant and an auto service center are future projects also slated to also open at Edison Pointe.

Ross store hours: Mon-Thu: 9 a.m.-10:30 p.m. Fri-Sat: 9 a.m.-11 p.m. Sun: 9 a.m.-10 p.m.

 

Photos by Michelle Chance

Breakfast treats and coffee, donated by Dunkin’ Donuts and Starbucks, greeted Maricopa High School teachers as they returned to campus July 17. New Principal Brian Winter took to the lecture hall stage early Tuesday morning to discuss school goals, including improving the culture and perception of MHS. Administration and staff are beginning a new school-year calendar, with the first day of school beginning for students July 23.

Photo by Michelle Chance

Emergency crews transported one occupant with non-life-threatening injuries to the hospital Tuesday after a two-vehicle accident on John Wayne Parkway near The Shops at Maricopa Fiesta.

Maricopa Police Department Spokesman Ricardo Alvarado said a southbound vehicle failed to stop at a red light and struck a sedan attempting to turn south on JWP from Fry’s Marketplace at approximately 2:57 p.m.

The driver of the other vehicle was reportedly uninjured. Two other occupants inside the sedan that was hit did not require transport to the hospital, Alvarado said.

The collision delayed southbound traffic until MPD cleared the scene around an hour later.

Photo by Michelle Chance

The Maricopa Fire/Medical Department responded Tuesday to an accident involving two vehicles on John Wayne Parkway.

The incident occurred in an intersection near The Shops at Maricopa Fiesta. Emergency crews were still assisting a passenger in a silver-colored sedan at 3:15 p.m.

A digital community alert sent by the Maricopa Police Department warned afternoon motorists to expect delays. Injuries are reported.

This is a developing story.

Photo by Michelle Chance

Photo by Jason Nelson

A group of teenagers spent June 30 becoming certified babysitters through a free city program.

The Maricopa Fire/Medical Department offered the Child and Baby Safety certifications to nine young people who submitted essays for admittance into the class in June.

“These kids are our first line of safety and it is important that we give them the tools necessary to succeed,” said MFMD Prevention Specialist Jason Nelson.

After the six-hour class, the teens received their certification and a CABS card.

 

Most children in Maricopa schools will return to class sooner than usual this year. The Maricopa Unified School District approved a calendar change that will send students back to campus July 23.

The first day of school for charters Sequoia Pathway Academy and Legacy Traditional School will also be July 23. Leading Edge Academy begins Aug. 6.

MUSD

Along with adopting a new calendar that will give students two weeks off each in the fall, winter and spring, the district this year will also implement a new English Language Arts curriculum in each of its nine schools.

Maricopa High School

The district’s only high school welcomes 20 new teachers to campus, along with Principal Brian Winter and Assistant Principal Michelle Poppen. MHS offers three new courses: Anatomy and physiology, statistics and probability, and an intervention program for algebra 1. New Athletic Director Jake Neill, who oversees sports for the entire district, will help introduce swimming as a fall sport at MHS.

The high school’s credit recovery program, Ram Academy, begins its second year of instruction.

Maricopa Wells Middle School

Jason Szoltysik is the junior high’s new assistant principal.

“He brings many years of educational experience, and he is going to be great for our students and overall campus,” said Principal Thad Miller.

Butterfield Elementary

Four new teachers join the Bobcats this school year. The elementary is in the third year of its Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) discipline system. Principal Janel Hildick said Arizona State University will train Butterfield staff how to implement calming corners, “which help students who may be suffering from anxiety or emotional stress.”

Maricopa Elementary

Designated as a “Leader in Me” Lighthouse school this spring, MES adds four new classrooms, which is expected to decrease class sizes. The majority of teaching staff returns, and its administrators are hoping veteran educators will help newer teachers implement the “7 habits of highly effective people” and Leader in Me program in each classroom.

Pima Butte Elementary

A number of teachers got a head start this summer training on the materials for the district’s new ELA curriculum, according to Principal Randy Lazar. The school adds a new second grade teacher, a Title 1 paraprofessional and an academic coach. Pima Butte will share Teacher on Special Assignment Elizabeth Allison with Santa Rosa Elementary.

Santa Rosa Elementary

The grade school follows Butterfield’s lead in implementing the PBIS discipline program. “The goal of PBIS implementation is explicitly teaching behavioral expectations and rewarding students for following them,” said Principal Eva Safranek.

Santa Rosa welcomes back the WATCH D.O.G.S. program for the second year. The Dads of Great Students initiative provides fathers opportunities to be involved in their children’s education.

NOTE: Ram Academy, Desert Wind Middle School, Saddleback Elementary and Santa Cruz Elementary did not submit school updates.

Charter Schools

Leading Edge Academy

Expected to reach full capacity, LEA and its 815 students welcome a new music teacher from Maryland, a full-time math coach and a new special education teacher. The elementary adds additional recess time for students in kindergarten through fifth grade with a new shade overhang on the playground. A supplemental K-2 math program and an expanded technology program will also be implemented.

NOTE: Sequoia Pathway Academy, Legacy Traditional School, Camino Montessori and Holsteiner Agricultural School did not submit school updates.


This story appears in the July issue of InMaricopa.

Back to school

Members of the Maricopa High School band continued to perform during the summer in preparation for an early start to the school year.

 

It will still be July when students return to class in the Maricopa Unified School District, Legacy Traditional and Sequoia Pathway this year.

In exchange for an expedited first day of school, kids will get to spend an additional week off during fall, winter and spring breaks.

The changes at MUSD come as part of a modified calendar adopted by the school Governing Board in early 2017. The district operated an additional year under its traditional calendar to give families and staff time to plan ahead. The two charter schools then chose to follow suit.

Back in 2017, parents voiced concern about childcare during the extended breaks and how the July start-date would negatively affect teen workers with summer jobs.

Others are not worried.

“As a stay-at-home mom, (the new schedule) doesn’t really affect our family,” said Karen Fortunato. “Our family is pretty excited about the changes.”

Some educators in the district are also pleased.

Kathy Fuentes, special education teacher at Saddleback Elementary School, has experience working under the modified calendar in another district.

She loved it then and is looking forward to spending more time off in the cooler weather months of October and March.

“It also gives families a week to take care of doctor appointments and other business and then a week, or so, to rest and relax,” Fuentes said.

A sixth-grade teacher at Maricopa Wells Middle School, Rachael Isenberg, also likes the additional time she’ll have to schedule appointments and travel.

Isenberg was on the district calendar committee and deliberated the reasons why the district should adopt the new schedule.

“We considered things like getting kids out of the worst of the heat and continuity of curriculum and instruction,” Isenberg said.

But the committee also looked at how the extended breaks could benefit educators and families.

Isenberg said teachers often spent the one-week vacations in waiting rooms – cramming in medical appointments during break to avoid missing a day of school.

She said the extended breaks could alleviate that.

Even with its benefits, teachers said the new schedule doesn’t come without a degree of adaptation, especially with summer break.

“For me, it has already made the summer feel shorter,” said Desert Wind music teacher Roger Wagner, who said marching band camp begins one week before staff returns to school

Many educators like Alicia Chin, a science teacher a Maricopa High School, teach summer school and participate in curriculum planning well into June.

School begins July 23.

“I will only be able to take a couple weeks to myself before I need to be back to work again preparing for next year,” Chin said.

MHS Music Director Ivan Pour called the schedule changes “minimal,” although the fall break is in the middle of marching band season.

Beginning school in July means the marching band will have more time overall to rehearse, but Pour said he will have to reconfigure his spring programming because of the new schedule.

“A calendar is a calendar and it is the same number of (school) days,” Pour said, adding, “I think, ultimately, it will allow for more intentional teaching throughout the school year with less progress lost in summer. But it will take some getting used to.”


This story appears in the July issue of InMaricopa.

Back to School

Students at Maricopa elementary School tout the school's Lighthouse designation. Submitted photo

 

When Maricopa Elementary School became a “Leader in Me” Lighthouse school in February, it was an accomplishment students and staff had been working toward for four years.

Students, referred to as “scholars” by educators, practice the arts of prioritization, self-empowerment, leadership and accountability.

It was an achievement brought forth by a culture shift within the school. The Lighthouse designation recognizes outstanding progress within the Leader in Me framework.

“We look at scholars and believe everyone has genius,” said MES Principal Jennifer Robinson.

Students follow the format of “The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People,” the 1989 self-help book by Franklin Covey.

It helps students like fifth-grader Alyssa Norris prioritize daily tasks.

“It helps me by getting my work done early and turning it in so that I can be able to do things that I want to do like play games or help my teacher,” Norris said.

Students are assigned leadership roles as well, such as classroom greeters, line leaders and monitors. Scholars also focus on potential, motivation, change and education – paradigms that guide students through their educational pursuits.

Everyday in the classroom students like Jeremiah Crawford set “Wildly Important Goals” and compose the steps they believe will lead them to success.

“One of my goals is to get a 90 percent or higher on my math test,” Crawford said. The incoming sixth-grader said he accomplished it last school year.

One of the seven habits practiced by the school is synergize, where students are encouraged to solve problems by viewing a conflict through the eyes of another.

It’s fifth-grader Liliana Flores’ favorite habit to practice.

“I like when I see people working together and getting along because it makes the school happy,” Flores said.

The Leader in Me school, one of four in Arizona, has brought about results less measurable than test scores and less tangible than smiles, but important all the same.

One student said she felt empowered during public speaking events, even when her bravery may have faltered at first.

Robinson said that’s the ultimate goal she hopes scholars take with them as they grow in life – realizing anything they want to achieve is possible.

“That self-empowerment, and recognizing that they are the change and they can use their voice to make our world better,” Robinson added.

MES will retain its Lighthouse certification for two years, at which time the school can recertify through a virtual self-assessment.

TheLeaderInMe.org


This story appears in the July issue of InMaricopa.

It’s the back-to-school shopping season and local organizations are preparing to give away backpacks and supplies to students in July.

F.O.R. Maricopa and the Maricopa Police Department are partnering again this year to help nearly 800 kids July 7 at the Blue Business Building, 19428 N. John Wayne Parkway, from 9 a.m. – 1 p.m.

Eligible children, 4-18 years old, will receive free backpacks and supplies. They’ll also get to meet local first responders.

“The kids really love having the police and fire around whenever we’ve had them for other events,” said F.O.R. Director Wendy Webb.

Parents should bring a picture identification card, food bank card and children’s birth certificates. If not already enrolled with the food bank, families must meet requirements and bring a picture ID, proof of residency (Maricopa or Stanfield), and birth certificates.

The Streets Don’t Love You Back ninth annual Backpack Drive has raised donations inside local businesses since June. The public can donate to the drive until July 19 (see donation drop-off locations below).

TSDLYB will host its giveaway event July 21 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at Maricopa Wells Middle School gym. Children must be present to be eligible.
Local non-profit, Our Children Matter, will disperse supplies to Maricopa schools prior to the first day of class.

OCM Owner Amalia Clark said the classroom drive is accepting donations until July 13. Read more information here.

Supplies donated from OCM will be dispersed to students by the schools.

 

TSDLYB Backpack Drive Donation Sites:

Nails 4U, 20046 John Wayne Parkway, Suite #106
InMaricopa, 44400 W. Honeycutt Road, Suite #101
Pinal County Sheriff’s Office, 971 Jason Lopez Circle, Florence
Maricopa Monitor, 21300 N. John Wayne Parkway, Suite #103
Empire West, 19756 North John Wayne Parkway, Suite 106
American Family Insurance, 21300 N. John Wayne Parkway, Suite #1108
Water and Ice, 20928 N. John Wayne Parkway, Suite #C-7
Home Smart Success ,19756 N John Wayne Parkway, Suite #100
Maricopa Post Office, 44920 W. Hathaway Ave.
Maricopa Public Library, 41600 W. Smith-Enke Road.
Tortosa HOA, 36340 W. Picasso St.

Average teacher pay at Maricopa Unified School District according to budget numbers. Salaries actually vary widely depending on each teacher's experience and advanced education.

Teacher raises and competitive compensation plans for new employees are included in the proposed budget approved for Maricopa’s public school system Wednesday.

Maricopa Unified School District’s $54 million budget for fiscal year 2018-19 was unanimously approved June 28, but Governing Board Vice President Gary Miller questioned whether the district could realistically maintain those salary increases included in the compensation plans beyond this school year.

Human Resources Director Tom Beckett argued increased enrollment growth projected in the district and commitment from the state Legislature as two funding sources.

Gov. Doug Ducey approved this year funding to Arizona school districts that would allow up to a 10-percent pay increase for teachers after educators held walk-outs in the #RedForEd movement.

Teachers are also slated to receive an additional 10-percent increase by 2020 from the state.

MUSD received more than $1 million from the state this year for teachers, but the board approved raises for administrators, classified staff, transportation and employees in health and related services at a cost to the district of about $2.6 million.

Future funding from the state will have to be approved during annual budget sessions.

“So, what I’m hearing from your prediction is that the Legislature will keep their promise and, between that and our growth projections, then this will be sustainable?” Miller asked.

Beckett said he couldn’t give that assurance but speculated that even if the state backed off from its commitment to continuously increase teacher pay, funding from the district’s swelling enrollment would likely cover the loss.

Administrative and classified employee raises this year are covered almost entirely by enrollment dollars alone, Beckett said.

Beckett predicted the new compensation plans for future employees will attract and retain teachers.

Under the proposed 2019 budget, the average salary of all teachers will be $47,748 – an increase of more than $4,000 from last year’s average.

“I think this will position us, at least for the next few years, to go to places like California, the Midwest, and be able to present a real salary that is going to be attractive to our people, especially to our teachers,” Beckett told the Board.

The budget also allows for the purchase of one regular route school bus and a special education route bus.

A public hearing will be held during the Board’s next meeting July 11 before the final budget is approved and forwarded to the Arizona Department of Education.

Pat and Doug Urbaniak like the idea of MPD's Special Needs Registry.

The Maricopa Police Department launched a program this month that aims to provide assistance during emergencies to certain residents.

The Special Needs Registry is a free, voluntary service to any resident who has “a significant medical condition, (is) bed bound, wheelchair bound, blind, deaf or (has) an emotional or behavioral disability,” according to an MPD new release.

Law enforcement and emergency personnel who respond to calls will have information about participants’ abilities, health, behavioral and medical information and emergency contacts. Residents can also submit a recent photo of themselves.

Shalom Gindiri, a special education teacher and mother, said she supports the service.

“Many times, I have thought to register my children so that if they ever interact with police they will understand what to do, and police officers will understand their needs,” Gindiri said.

People with autism or intellectual disabilities may not be able to follow basic instructions, Gindiri added, which she said could lead law enforcement to perceive such behavior as insubordination.

“(First responders) need to understand if the person in the house can walk or function at the appropriate age level to render the correct assistance,” Gindiri said.

Maricopa resident Pat Urbaniak is her husband Doug’s full-time caregiver inside their Maricopa home.

Doug became paralyzed after being diagnosed with West Nile Virus four years ago.

Pat called the registry a “marvelous idea” and expressed interest in utilizing the service.

“I have wondered about something like that for a long time because I thought if I ever have to call for an emergency for him they need to know where we live and that there is a handicapped person here,” Pat said.

To enroll, pick up applications at the Maricopa Police Department or email VAPS@Maricopa-az.gov. Participants will receive a decal for optional display on a home or vehicle window.

The personal information submitted to MPD will remain confidential and will only be used by emergency and authorized personnel, according to the release.

For more information contact MPD Community Programs Manager Mary Witkofski at 520-316-6800, option 5.

 

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Kids learn about reptiles during a Wildman Phil presentation at UltraStar Multi-tainment Center. Photo by Michelle Chance

Wildman Phil Rakoci returned to Maricopa for the second time this summer, teaching kids all about his scaly, reptilian pets on June 23. Rip Lee Walker the Raptor Actor, a costumed dinosaur, also greeted families prior to the UltraStar Multi-tainment Center’s first showing of Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom.

Branch Manager Stacey Cyr and Business Development Marketing Representative Matthew Sheldon. Submitted photos

 

A company with roots deeply planted in the Arizona business community announced the grand opening of its Maricopa location.

IF YOU GO
What
: Pioneer Title Agency Grand Opening/Community Celebration
When: June 29, 3-6 p.m.
Where: 21596 N. John Wayne Parkway, Suite 101

Pioneer Title Agency has one other office in Pinal County and 70 branches across the state.

The Maricopa office, located in the Cobblestone Fiesta shopping center at 21596 N. John Wayne Parkway, Suite 101, will host a ribbon-cutting ceremony June 29 at 3 p.m.

Food and drink, a wine tasting, catering from Dickey’s Barbecue Pit and live entertainment will be free for the community at the event.

The public can also sign a “massive” ribbon that will be cut and then preserved for display in the office.

Branch Manager Stacey Cyr is a longtime Maricopa resident who most recently worked at Empire West Title Agency.

“We are focused on not only providing title insurance, escrow, trustee sales and builder-related trust services across Maricopa, but also being good community volunteers and a voice for both business and economic development for the county,” Cyr said in a press release.

Described as a real estate veteran and a local business advocate, Cyr plans to launch the county’s first Business Networking International chapter this year.

There, Cyr would volunteer as the organizations secretary-treasurer, according to the release.

Cyr also hopes to partner with local pet rescue Pet Social Worker to host fundraising events and “yappy hours.”

The community-spirited branch manager has also planned a series of activities in October with nonprofit organization Save the Ta-Ta’s.

The Pioneer Team also includes Business Development Marketing Representative Matthew Sheldon and Cyr’s son Damian who will serve the agency in an administrative role.

 

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Photo by Michelle Chance

Nearly 70 Maricopa children participated in the World’s Largest Swim Lesson at Copper Sky Thursday. The annual global event promotes water safety awareness every year and continued in pools across the world June 21.

Photo by Michelle Chance

Smiley Dental, the Maricopa Chamber of Commerce and members of the public celebrated the grand opening of the new dentist office Thursday with a ribbon-cutting. Dentist Tin Nguyen and his staff offered free fillings, extractions and cleanings to the first 20 people in need of dental care. Smiley Dental is in the Fry’s Marketplace Plaza at 20917 N. John Wayne Parkway, Suite A-105.

Photo by Mason Callejas

Maricopa dentist Tin Nguyen opened his practice last month and will celebrate the grand opening with a ceremony Thursday.

IF YOU GO
What
: Smiley Dental Ribbon Cutting
When: June 21, 9:30 a.m.
Where: 20917 N. John Wayne Parkway, Suite A105

Smiley Dental, 20917 N. John Wayne Parkway, Suite A105, is a family dentistry practice that provides adult and pediatric services like “crowns, bridges, root canals, extractions, dentures, veneers and bleaching.”

Invisalign braces and dental implants could be offered in the future as well.

During the office’s ribbon cutting event June 21 at 9:30 a.m., Nguyen and his team will provide free extractions, fillings or cleanings to the first 20 people in line. Low-income patients and those without insurance coverage are eligible to choose one of the three services free of charge and will be scheduled an appointment for that day.

“I like to be involved with the community and also to give back,” Nguyen said.

The dentist’s giving spirit won’t end at the ribbon-cutting. Nguyen plans to have “community service days” where he offers certain services for free to those in need every year.

“I’m thinking about also bringing some (free) services to the veterans here on Veterans Day because I’m also a veteran myself,” he said.

A dentist for the past 15 years, Nguyen was previously a lieutenant commander in the U.S. Public Health Service Commissioned Corps. He also performed dentistry services to the Colorado Indian Tribes in Parker.

Nguyen chose to open his practice in Maricopa because of the small-town feel – similar in size and population to where he used to live in Lake Havasu City.

Nguyen and wife TLan live in Maricopa with their children who attend a local school. Smiley Dental’s staff also lives in the city.

“There’s no traffic,” he said of his daily commute. “Did I say no traffic?”

In July, Smiley Dental will attend the Great American 4th celebration at Copper Sky where staff will handout “dental goodies” and provide free dental screenings.

For more information, call the office at 833-793-7773 or visit their website and social media.

 

Photo by Brooke Cook

Wild horses temporarily slowed the commute of morning commuters on State Route 347 Thursday.

At least two horses breached the fenced boundary that separates the Gila River herd from the busy roadway, according to witnesses.

Brooke Cook was heading north when she saw the horses crossing the road around 7 a.m. about a half mile south of Riggs Road.

“Traffic was calm, we just patiently waited for them to cross,” Cook said. “It was peaceful almost.”

Another motorist reported seeing a horse on the southbound side of the Gila River Bridge about a half-hour after Cook’s sighting.

A worker was reportedly cutting the fence to help the horse back to safety.

A few teens will receive free certification in babysitting safety through a new city program.

IF YOU GO
What: MFMD Child and Babysitting Safety Class
Entrance application: One-page essay
Deadline: June 25
Eligible participants: Young people (ages 11 to 15)
Cost: Free

The City of Maricopa Fire Community Service Department is donating the certifications for its Child and Babysitting Safety (CABS) program in June to 10 young people ages 11-15.

Acceptance into the program requires the submission of a 1-page essay “describing who you are and why you want to be a certified babysitter,” according to a MF/MD press release.

Submissions must be sent via email to Jason.Nelson@maricopa-az.gov by June 25.

Those selected into the program will attend a six-hour class on June 30.

Participants will receive a CABS certification, good for two years, from the American Safety and Health Institute.

“The program provides fundamental information in the business of babysitting, proper supervision, basic caregiving skills and responding properly to ill or injured children or infants,” according to the news release.

Teens will learn the business side of babysitting, safety and injury prevention, leadership skills, playtime tips, basic care-giving skills and first aid.

Photo by Michelle Chance

After a busy week battling structure fires, the Maricopa Fire/Medical Department will hold a presentation on the site of the recent residential fire in Senita.

IF YOU GO
What: After the Fire presentation
Who: Maricopa Fire/Medical Department
When: June 18 at 7 p.m.
Where: 43267 W. Maricopa Ave.

The “After the Fire” program will take place June 18 at 43267 W. Maricopa Ave at 7 p.m. The event is open to the public.

“This program is an opportunity for the fire department to emphasize fire prevention, home and life safety and fire department operations in conjunction with the recent structure fire in the Senita subdivision,” MFMD Assistant Fire Chief John Storm wrote in a press release Tuesday.

Fire crews responded to reports of the garage fire June 6. Residents and a few pets made it out safely.

Storm said the residents are staying with family nearby as fire investigators examine what sparked the blaze inside the garage.

“Fire Department administrators and crews will be on hand to answer all questions and provide valuable insight into fire prevention and what Maricopa residents can do for themselves to reduce and eliminate the chances a fire may occur at their residence or business,” according to the release.

MFMD has responded to three structure fires in Maricopa neighborhoods since June 6.

Chamber of Commerce Chairman Chris Cahall resigned from the board Friday.

The Maricopa Chamber of Commerce has lost another leader.

Board Chairman Chris Cahall, first elected to the board in 2015, announced his resignation “effective immediately” in an email to Chamber members Friday.

“I feel the need to focus on my family and my insurance agency,” Cahall wrote. “I have been struggling with this decision for the past month and its obvious this position will take more time than I have to spare.”

Cahall rallied Chamber members in a brainstorming meeting last month about the Chamber’s future, which was left uncertain in April after the resignation of Executive Director Terri Crain.

Members pushed back against the idea of ending the Chamber, an option proposed by Cahall at the meeting.

Much of the organization’s budget is consumed by a monthly rent payment for its office space and salary for its director.

Instead, the chairman announced two weeks ago the Chamber would cut costs by ending its office lease and operating “virtually.”

The chamber was still searching for Crain’s replacement at that time.

Cahall said he appreciated the opportunity to serve with present and past Boards.

“I wish the organization only the best for the future, and will continue to support in other facets,” Cahall said.

Heidi Vratil, professional development coach at Maricopa Unified School District, is a National Board-certified teacher. Photo by Mason Callejas

 

Heidi Vratil began her career 22 years ago teaching in the special education department of Maricopa Unified School District’s middle and high schools.

“It wasn’t like now where we have a resource room for students with learning disabilities and a self-contained room for students with emotional disabilities,” Vratil said. “Everybody was all one.”

Vratil adapted to the district, so small at the time, and spent her career working to advance the experience of its teachers and students.

She quickly ascended to SPED director, the district’s first Human Resources director and then returned to a middle school classroom for a time before eventually taking a position in the district office as a professional development coach.

This school year, Vratil has been a Maricopa High School assistant principal. After time spent on leave, she returned with new responsibilities focusing on the school’s activities and facilities.

MHS experienced a difficult year in its administrative team, with two resignations causing reshuffling and frustration among staff, students and parents.

Next year, the district’s athletic director Brian Winter will take over as principal, and Vratil said the high school administration aims to stay the same by the end of the school year in 2019.

Heidi Vratil (right) presents an award to Haley Petersheim during Senior Awards Night.

“The team that we have in place has the skills, the dispositions, the beliefs to grow this place to be a ‘B’ school and then to be an ‘A’ school,” Vratil said.

Vratil’s tenure at MUSD, in general, is a practice in curiosity and drive.

“Her career exemplifies her willingness to learn and to take risks at new things,” said longtime colleague Bernadette Russoniello.

Vratil is a National Board-certified teacher and spearheaded an effort to encourage MUSD teachers to tackle the ambitious certification.

“Watching teachers grow in their own fields, in their own practice – that’s the best because then their impact on kids is greater and that ultimately is what we’re here for,” Vratil said.

Fifty-five district teachers are pursuing board certification under Vratil’s guidance — granting MUSD the highest percentage in that category in the state. Five teachers are now certified at the highest level an educator can achieve, according to Vratil.

Vratil compares the process to the rigor of earning a master’s degree.

“These teachers have gone through a structured, rigorous process to prove their practice against others in our country,” Vratil said, adding, “The biggest thing that I see different is the common language, the way they know their kids and how to teach them and being reflective about their practice.”

Vratil also brought the teacher-mentoring program to MHS and the district’s two middle schools. Through this initiative, every rookie teacher is assigned a mentor for guidance.

Jennifer Miller is one of those mentors. She credits Vratil with having a profound impact on her profession by habitually pushing teachers out of their comfort zones.

“…Vratil is one of the most passionate educators I know. She is all about helping teachers be the best versions of themselves,” Miller said.

After a tumultuous year at the high school, Vratil said she considered looking outside the district for another opportunity. She decided to stay to nurture the educators growing in their professions.

“I don’t have a definition of what it looks like to be done,” Vratil said. “I just know that I’m not.”


This story appears in the June issue of InMaricopa.

Superintendent Tracey Lopeman. Photo by Michelle Chance

Tracey Lopeman officially becomes the superintendent of Maricopa Unified School District July 1. Lopeman is currently under contract as a consultant and de facto interim superintendent after the early departure of Steve Chestnut. She spoke with InMaricopa’s Michelle Chance about the future of the district.

TRACEY LOPEMAN
Hometown: Henderson, Nevada
Residence: Phoenix
Plans to move to Maricopa: Not right now
Commute: I enjoy it. It’s a nice drive, and it allows me some time to think about work and get ready for the day.
Family: I have a fiancée, Tony Johnson. The rest of my family still lives in Henderson. I have a brother and sister and my nephews.
Pets: Two rescue dogs, Chico and Howard.
Education: I went to Northern Arizona University for my bachelor’s degree and I got my master’s and my doctorate at Arizona State University.
Hobbies: We go to ASU football games. I enjoy sports, cooking, home design, yard work, time with family and friends and entertaining.
Little known fact: I’m an excellent tap dancer. I’ve been doing it since I was 5.

What are some tangible goals you have for MUSD?
Some tangible goals have to do with student achievement: Improving the numbers of students who are proficient and highly proficient on the Az Merit. Teacher retention and, of course, that’s directly related to student achievement. We can track teacher retention. I also have a goal for safety and service. Things that we can associate with safety and service would be transportation services and behavior management on the campuses and making sure the environment is orderly and calm and we can track those as well.

What are some challenges at MUSD you hope to overcome?
One of the challenges is the teacher turnover. We want to make sure that we are not having to start over every year with high numbers of staff. So, if we can impact teacher retention, we are going to do that.

What are your specific strategies to keep teachers?
We want to get as much of that money (from new state budget) into the classroom as possible. We think we have a really good approach to that, a really good plan. It’s not approved by our board yet, but I think that it will be well received by our staff. We want to have a competitive package, and we believe the increase that we’ve received from the Legislature is going to help with that.

How do you define a teacher?
Obviously, there [are] three separate definitions the Legislature has included. For our purposes, we want to use the most broad definition as possible so that we can make sure as many teachers as possible have their raise.

Will that definition be shared in a future board meeting?
Absolutely it will. This is all a part of the package that we are continuing to craft and I’d love to give you the scoop, but I’ve got four board members that don’t know the details yet because we are really still crafting them.

With the new budget, there’s an increase to the base formula that calculates teacher pay. Can you share how that would apply to MUSD’s “unique student characteristics” you mentioned at a previous board meeting?
Those are the different weights that are applied to students when it comes to our enrollment. Whether it’s a typical student or a special needs student, there’s a formula that is influenced by those characteristics.

And every district is going to have to figure out what those are individually?
Yes, and we will share those at a future meeting.

Are there any plans in the budget to boost classified employee pay?
Yes. We believe that every employee impacts students. Every one of us is here to serve students in one form or another, and we also know that we want to be competitive across all employee groups. We want to make sure that we validate what every employee brings to the education of every MUSD student. We believe that reflects the intent of the #RedForEd movement. It was to support all employee groups – certified and classified. http://www.inmaricopa.com/musd-approves-10-teacher-raise/

The #RedForEd movement began soon after you were hired. How did that make you feel?
It was like, ‘Wait a minute, I just got here and everybody’s leaving?’ I feel like we had a front-row seat to something historic in Arizona. It is a familiar message that our state needed to properly fund public education. That’s not new, but the method was completely new.
It was exciting to have a front-row seat for that. It’s unfortunate we lost six days (of school). I certainly did not want to see that happen, but we were linking arms as a leadership team. I think districts across the state linked arms to figure out how we could best respond to this unprecedented movement. It was an awesome learning experience that I couldn’t have ever have imagined.

What are your duties at your current post at Alhambra Elementary School District?
I am an assistant superintendent for strategic planning, implementation and accountability. Right now, I am at the point of closing out the strategic plan in the Alhambra School District. I’m working with departments and bringing that to closure. I’m spending about three days a week in Maricopa because I have that support from my current superintendent in Alhambra.

How did you spend your tenure at Alhambra?
I was a teacher, then an assistant principal, then a school principal for 13 years. Then I worked at the district office as an assistant superintendent on the strategic plan. It’s hard to believe that was 28 years.

What do you bring to the table that’s different from what MUSD has had, this being your first post as superintendent?
I think I bring a knowledge base and an experience base that will capitalize on what (former Superintendent Steve) Chestnut brought with the vision and strategic plan that he established here. There’s a great foundation for strategic thinking and accountability already. So, I think I bring that mindset to the organization and, also, I bring an external focus that will assist with the marketing of our district. I have my experience through my roles at district office in that, so I can bring those connections and relationships to this district.
I have experience that picks up the torch without much delay and builds on the foundation that (Chestnut) established here. I’m really quite lucky because there’ so many great things going on in every one of the schools and there [are] already some pretty powerful relationships with different communities in and out of town, so I’m ready to, without missing a beat, continue what we have established.

A lot of teachers have complained about poor communication between school sites and the district office and have expressed a desire to see their superintendent present on campuses. What’s your philosophy?
One of the experiences that I’ve had as the assistant superintendent was facilitating the superintendent’s advisory councils for the last two years. I am familiar with and have seen the benefit of the experience of having a certified advisory council, a classified advisory council, a student advisory council, a parent advisory council.
Those are opportunities to interact directly with those different groups to listen and hear about concerns, but also get feedback on the direction and accomplishments related to our strategic plan. I know that I have different avenues already established to create those channels for deliberate, planned, routine feedback, conversation and relationship building.

That’s something you’d start at MUSD?
For sure. That will be happening at every site when we are back in the fall.

MUSD board members have discussed building new schools. How do you plan to accommodate this growth?
Growth is a great problem to have. We see it as an opportunity. We are going to engage the community, the staff, and we’re also going to engage the experts. We make sure the decisions we make are sustainable. Talk about an intense conversation with lots of details, that’s a very long-term conversation that will be inclusive and transparent.


A portion of this interview appears in the June issue of InMaricopa.

 

The Maricopa Chamber of Commerce put out a call for applicants in May.

Its executive director position was left vacant in April after the resignation of Terri Crain, who returned last year.

In 2006, Crain (then Terri Kingery), was the Chamber’s first director. She held the position until the end of 2010 when she resigned amid a swirl of resignations on the board of directors.

In the midst of upheaval for a variety of reasons, the board identified a conflict of interest when they discovered Crain’s assistant, whom she hired, was her boyfriend. The situation was a violation of Chamber bylaws.

Crain later announced she’d accepted a position directing a chamber in California and would resign. The local chamber went without a leader to fill that spot for more than a year.

Since then, the Chamber staff position has brought with it high turnover and personnel scandals.

After Crain’s first departure more than a decade ago, the Chamber hired Jim McMichael and titled the position chief executive officer and president.

Two members of the board asked McMichael to resign six months later, citing “philosophical differences.”

John Kennedy was brought in as his replacement on an interim basis. That lasted only months, however, after police arrested him on stalking and second-degree burglary charges. Kennedy was later indicted for harassment and criminal trespass.

A vacancy in the Chamber’s top position followed. Five months after the Kennedy criminal investigation, the Chamber hired Charlie Deaton, a veteran chamber director in Mesa to assist as an interim CEO while it searched for a new leader.

The Chamber hired Dave Moss as its CEO and Marla Lewis as its chief operating officer in May 2013. Moss groomed Lewis to take his position and left a few months after his one-year contract was up in 2014.

Lewis spent nearly two years as CEO following her year under Moss. She abruptly resigned in 2016, expressing “a desire to pursue other opportunities.”

A two-month search resulted in the hiring of 20-year-old Sara Troyer, at the time the youngest in the nation to direct a chamber.

The Chamber of Commerce was subject to a civil suit by one member whose husband applied for the position, but was passed over for Troyer. The case argued access to the Chamber’s hiring documents and process. The Chamber eventually won in court.

Troyer left one year into her tenure to accept a position in Illinois.

The Chamber came full circle in April 2017 when it announced the re-hiring of Terri Crain. She’s volunteering part-time at the Chamber while the Board reviews applications for her replacement.

In a recent meeting, the Chamber pondered its relevance and even considered closing the organization.

Members said closing is not an option.

“We are open to ideas; it’s just how do we get these ideas done with the budget that we have and without a captain running the ship?” board President Chris Cahall asked members during a meeting May 10.


This story appears in the June issue of InMaricopa. 
This version has been corrected to clarify that two board members, not the entire board, requested Jim McMichael’s resignation in 2012.

Firehouse Subs co-owner John Beveridge with Osheah Davis of Professional Firefighters of Maricopa, Maricopa Fire Marshal Eddie Rodriguez and MFMD Prevention Specialist Jason Nelson. Photo by Michelle Chance

 

Members of the Maricopa Fire/Medical Department gave back to a local business owner Monday for supporting a special youth program in local schools.

Firehouse Subs franchisee John Beveridge received a $200 check and a plaque commemorating his donation to the MFMD Community Services’s at-risk intervention program this year.

MFMD Prevention Specialist Jason Nelson teaches the class to children at Maricopa Unified School District’s middle and high schools during lunchtime.

Nelson said Beveridge donated food from his establishment without hesitation.

“This is what makes Maricopa, Maricopa,” Nelson said of Beveridge’s community spirit.

The program promotes youth engagement in educational pursuits like the high school’s Air Force Junior ROTC program, Central Arizona Valley Institute of Technology, as well as careers in public safety, and participation in athletic programs.

Nelson and other firefighters tackle issues like bullying while encouraging children in the program to form friendships.

“To some degree, almost any person has identified with being picked on and you hear about it more than ever before,” Beveridge said.

Beveridge has co-owned the local sub shop with his wife since October 2014. He said he will continue to support MFMD’s youth program in the future.

Program participants are referred by school counselors and teachers. They meet inside the cafeteria during lunch while firefighters discuss the family-bond inside the firehouse.

Although much of the program curriculum hopes to inspire students to enroll in educational and vocational programs, Nelson said his main goal for the class is for children to form lasting relationships with each other.

“The reality of it is junior high is tough, high school is tough; (It’s) where you are judged on everything, and sometimes it’s easier to walk that path if you’re not alone,” Nelson said. “It’s just that simple.”

Firehouse Subs co-owner John Beveridge, MFMD Prevention Specialist Jason Nelson, Osheah Davis with Professional Firefighters of Maricopa, IAFF Local 4561, and MFMD Fire Marshal Eddie Rodriguez. Photo by Michelle Chance

Trisha Sorensen is the interim city manager. Rick Horst starts June 25.

The city council will vote Tuesday whether to approve new powers and duties for its city manager.

On the agenda June 5 is an ordinance that would amend city code to allow the city manager the ability to “create, consolidate or eliminate” employees, offices, divisions and departments.

The city manager would also have the authority to reclassify full-time employees to other departments, amend their salaries and re-structure the city’s organizational chart. In the current code, the city manager must bring such recommendations to the city council for approval.

The amendment would provide the city manager flexibility to run city operations efficiently, according to Interim City Manager Trisha Sorensen, whose idea it was to amend the code.

“As the city manager, you need to be able to be responsive to changing needs and you never know when that’s going to happen — and to wait two weeks to go to council to get approval for something, sometimes you need that flexibility to do it right away and we don’t have that,” Sorensen said.

Sorensen said she has no plans to consolidate or eliminate any city departments.

If approved, any such actions taken by a city manager would be under two stipulations:

  • The action must be within the annual council-approved budget; and,
  • It must not increase the total full-time city employees approved by council.

Sorensen said the code change request is similar to that of other cities.

The idea to amend the code was a product of this year’s budget discussions when Sorensen said she needed to move existing positions to other departments but couldn’t do it without council approval.

If approved Tuesday night, the city manager’s new powers go into effect immediately under an “emergency measure” – meaning the city would not have to wait the typical 30 days for implementation.

Sorensen said the code change will not give the city manager too much authority, but she said there are checks and balances to a city manager who acts in bad faith.

“If you’ve got a city manager coming in and they’re abusing that authority, then the city council will handle that on an individual basis with the city manager,” Sorensen said.

Ricky Horst, Maricopa’s new city manager will begin work June 25, according to Sorensen.

 

Dustin LeMaster's dream of running a food truck was also his father's. Photo by Michelle Chance

Maricopa resident Dustin LeMaster’s “Tac-O-Bout It” food truck opened for business Wednesday afternoon on the southeast corner of John Wayne Parkway and Edison Road.

Opening day was years in the making.

After his mother passed away in 2012, LeMaster and his father decided to start a food truck business. Together they purchased a truck and worked for more than a year to rehab it.

A shop in Phoenix later took over for the father-son duo and completed the mobile kitchen transformation.

Then tragedy struck.

“The day before (the truck) was finished, we found out my dad had cancer,” LeMaster said. “He died eight days later.”

One month after his father’s passing, LeMaster lost his sister to an accidental overdose.

LeMaster cast his culinary aspirations on the back burner and eventually had a truck buyer on the line for $50,000.

“My wife talked me out of selling it and said, ‘This was you and your dad’s dream; Do it,’” LeMaster said.

Tac-O-Bout It hit the road May 30, nearly six years after the journey with his dad began.

The roadside eatery features street tacos, carne asada fries, grilled chicken and the “Big Boy Burrito.” The taco truck will be in the 99 Cents Only store parking lot Mondays, Wednesdays and Thursdays.

MUSD Board

 

Teachers and other certified personnel in the Maricopa Unified School District can expect to receive the 10-percent raise. The governing board approved pay hikes Wednesday.

The increases affect paychecks in the 2018-19 school year, totaling about $2.6 million.

Bus drivers and mechanics are approved for a 10-percent hourly-wage increase. Administrators and classified staff (maintenance workers, secretaries, aides, etc.) will see a 5-percent raise. Most funding for the traditional teachers comes from monies allocated to districts from the state Legislature.

MUSD expanded its definition of “teachers” to include counselors, teachers on special assignment, academic coaches and related service providers. To afford that, the district is dipping into is inflationary funds to cover those and other employees’ raises.

While the board approved the 5-percent raise for classified staff, Board Member Patti Coutre suggested bumping the figure to 7 percent. Aron Rausch, Business Services director for the district, will assess the impact Coutre’s suggestion would have to next year’s budget.

A discussion is expected on the possibility of adding 2 percent to the approved 5 percent during a meeting June 27, where an anticipated budget will be presented.

Shawn Main. PCSO photo

 

The homicide case involving a Maricopa woman might not see trial until after the third anniversary of the victim’s death.

Shawn Main, 48, was scheduled to stand trial in July in the first-degree murder and child abuse of 3-year-old Tiana Capps.

The toddler died of blunt force trauma at Banner Casa Grande Regional Medical Center after Main, the child’s caretaker, called for emergency help on Ralston Road southwest of Maricopa in December 2015.

In April, the defense team successfully pushed the trial to January.

Co-attorneys Chester Lockwood and Cody Weagant argued they needed additional time to prepare the defense, blaming much of it on their client’s alleged medical conditions.

Main’s health issues include “probable and suspected” heart problems, diabetes, chronic swelling and poor circulation of the feet, a goiter and a growth on her chest area, according to a court document filed in April.

The defense team said Main needs a primary care physician and a complete medical evaluation before an eventual thyroid surgery ahead of trial. Lockwood and Weagant wrote in their motion to court that neither they nor their client had a timeline for when those would occur.

Instead of preparing for her summer trial, Main and her attorneys are now hoping to dig through evidence they motioned for access to in May.

The defense is asking the court to release electronic devices seized by the state, including those belonging to Main’s co-defendants: her ex-wife Maria Tiglao and the victim’s biological mother Tina Morse.

“It is believed the seized devices contain exculpatory evidence and the state has possessed the same for nearly three years,” court documents state.

Main is also motioning the court for Women, Infants and Children (WIC) records for the victim and her three siblings who lived with Main and the other two women in a home in unincorporated Maricopa.

Court documents state the Casa Grande WIC office weighed and measured the children during each visit.

A medical examiner testified earlier this year that Tiana Capps was undernourished.

Counsel for the victims has until early June to file a response to those motions.

Main will be in court for a hearing July 16 at 3 p.m.


Plea deal gets Maricopa mom 2 years in prison after child’s death

Court preps for ‘pre-trial’ against woman accused of killing 3-year-old

Medical examiner testifies in homicide of Maricopa toddler

Homicide detective testifies in death of 3-year-old

 

Maricopa Fire/Medical crews help AMR personnel at an incident earlier this year. Photo by Michelle Chance

Ambulances housed in city fire stations have until the end of summer to vacate, a fire official confirmed this week.

Brady Leffler, chief of Maricopa Fire/Medical Department, said American Medical Response units in stations 571 and 574 will need to find a new home on or before July 31.

The issue revolves around unsuccessful contract and licensing negotiations.

Leffler said the private emergency response company paid $330 per month rent in a previous contract first drawn up in 2010 with Southwest Ambulance and then Rural Metro Ambulance before being bought out by AMR.

Before that contract expired in 2014, Leffler said he began designing a new agreement that would garner a “reasonable amount” for rent.

The city’s economic development team was recruited to analyze the fair market value of the space AMR uses inside MFMD. Leffler said he took the average rent cost per square foot in the city and reduced that figure by approximately 35 percent.

“I was going to charge them for one-third of the livable space and it came up to about $2,355 a month,” Leffler said. “(AMR) opted not to pay that.”

AMR did not respond to an interview request.

A person claiming to be an AMR employee wishing to remain anonymous said moving out of the fire stations would create increased response times to emergencies in Maricopa.

Leffler said he doesn’t think that will happen.

“(AMR) is still bound by the state standards and requirements so it should not affect the service one bit,” Leffer added.

Hosting ambulance units inside city fire stations is rare, Leffler said. With the exception of Gilbert, most other Valley fire departments don’t do it.

The City of Phoenix employs its own ambulances, he added.

It’s unknown where AMR will base its local units after July, but the company’s absence from the stations creates an opportunity for the department, Leffler said.

On the fire chief’s wish list are two additional fire trucks that would one day fill the vacancies previously occupied by AMR.

“We can’t afford to do that right now and it’s something we’ll be looking at down the road, but it sure gives us another option,” Leffler said.

Although a licensing rental agreement couldn’t be made, Leffler said he wants to get a service-based contract regarding logistics and transport with AMR in the future.