Marlene Armstrong | Principal
You were the founding principal at another new high school. Which one, and how has this experience been different?
I was the founding principal of San Tan Charter High School in Gilbert. This experience has been different in many ways and much the same as well. I would say that the biggest difference has been the collaboration with the construction team at Chasse, our district team, the design team at Orcutt Winslow, the team at Facility Management Group, and our focus groups. It truly has been an outstanding experience. During every phase of planning, the students have been the focus and decision-making litmus test. We asked ourselves how the students would use this space to better their educational experience. Then the team worked tirelessly to ensure that it happened.
What are the challenges of starting a new high school in general and the ones that have been unique to Desert Sunrise?
The biggest challenge of starting a new high school is coming to a consensus on what the identity of the school is. We were so blessed that this was a very collaborative experience, and the community was very supportive in planning for our daring and diverse learning environments. Unique to this building project have been the nuances of working through COVID, supply-chain issues and pricing changes. They were a challenge for sure, but with this team, we have been able to navigate these challenges and put everything in place to be ready to open for students on July 21.
Phillip Verdugo | Assistant Principal, Athletic Director
From an educational and a personal standpoint, offer a little bit about yourself.
I was born and raised in the beautiful state of Arizona. I attended Hamilton High School in Chandler and was a student-athlete. I graduated from Hamilton High School in 2005.
Next, I attended Arizona State University and graduated with a bachelor’s degree in Cross Categorical Special Education. I then returned to Hamilton High School as a special education teacher and coach.
After spending the majority of my career at Hamilton, I taught at North High School in Phoenix for two years. Then, I taught and coached at Marcos de Niza High School in Tempe, before coming to Maricopa Unified School District.
I am entering my third year with MUSD as a Golden Hawk, and I am blessed to be a part of this amazing team.
What are some of the projects you will work on long-term, and with what day-to-day tasks will you be charged?
As the athletic director, I have been given the opportunity to help create and build our athletic programs. I am also pleased to announce we will be competing in the 4A East Sky Division. With the help and support of our school board, school district and community we will be offering 16 different sports programs for our students. We are excited for this school year to begin and even more excited for our students to have many different opportunities to have a great high school experience.
Jonathan Clark | Football Coach
You’ve coached in North Carolina, Mohave Valley and Maricopa. That’s quite a diverse background. Can you offer a bio about yourself and the journey you took to get here?
I grew up in Hamlet, North Carolina, and played in a perennial powerhouse football program within the state (Richmond Senior High School). In October 2004, I was blessed to meet my wife while on vacation. She is originally from the Phoenix area and so that is how I ended up in Arizona.
Football is not only a passion of mine; I feel the need to work with and develop young men and women is a calling. I began coaching in North Carolina at the age of 21 and have been coaching ever since. In North Carolina, I was a freshman offensive line coach for a while, then I called the offense for one of the local middle schools.
Coming to Arizona in 2012, I started coaching at Maricopa High School. I was extremely lucky to coach under two distinguished coaches, Cory Nenaber and Chris McDonald. In 2018, I took over the River Valley program, which had compiled a record of 3-7 the previous year. In four years, we achieved a record of 27-14 and three straight playoff appearances.
All the while at River Valley, I still had the urge to return to Maricopa. Since moving to Arizona in 2012, it has truly been my home and I am and was always proud to be a part of this community. I jumped at the chance to help create a staple program and school within the community of Maricopa.
Where will Desert Sunrise play its home football games this year?
The goal is to play our home games at our school location. Our field has been installed, however, there is a period we have to wait for the sod to set correctly. With that foresight, [Athletic Director] Mr. [Phillip] Verdugo did a great job of scheduling our home games in the month of October. He scheduled us a game with both Sequoia Pathway (Sept. 1) and Maricopa High School (Nov. 9) if the community can’t get out to one of our home games (Oct. 5, 19 and 26).
For more, read: ‘World-ready’ – Unique learning model imbues new Desert Sunrise High School
This content was first published in the August edition of InMaricopa magazine.