VIDEO: First day of school off to ‘good start’


The sidewalks were full of kids dressed up, high-fiving and greeting old friends as the Maricopa Unified School District began its 2013-14 school year Monday.

“The principals seem to think it went smoother than last year,” MUSD Superintendent Steve Chestnut said at the end of the day. Chestnut is starting his second year with the district.

Chestnut, who toured Maricopa High School and Maricopa Wells Middle School during the day, said the district was concerned the changing of the bus routes and and start times of many of its schools would cause confusion.

However, “Today was a good start,” Chestnut said.

Maricopa Wells Principal Rick Abel said Monday was one of the easiest first days he’s had in his 39-year career. He attributed that to sixth-grade students staying in elementary schools one more year instead of attending his school.

One of the most common first-day-of-school-problems administrators face is new students being unfamiliar with classroom location and the rules of the new school. With some of the elementary schools retaining the sixth grade class, the burden was eased for middle schools this year.

“Usually we have 250 sixth graders coming to campus. This year … we have just seventh and eighth graders. They have a pretty good idea about where things are on campus,” Abel said.

The school board voted earlier this year to retain sixth-graders in the elementary school and convert the two middle schools into junior high schools. The board also voted to charter five of the district’s six elementary schools.

Maricopa Wells was earmarked for closure this school year to help with a $1 million budget shortfall, but the board voted to keep it open.

Abel said by keeping sixth graders in elementary school, Maricopa Wells was able to keep class sizes smaller and cut staff.

“Students learn better from smaller class sizes and we can give that to them now and save money with a smaller staff,” Abel said. “We’re looking forward now and what we need to do to grow each year."

***ADVERTISEMENT***Maricopa Wells welcomed about 50 new students from inside the district and some from out of state Monday.

District staff and teachers, Abel said, have spend a lot of time discussing student struggles with mathematics and decided to make it a primary focus this year.

“Thanks to the money from Ak-Chin, we were able to hire to math specialists to help us. Now we’re going to able to provide extra math and more incentives for students to apply themselves,” Abel said.

The Ak-Chin Indian Community gave the school district $2.6 million and the city $7.4 million in May.