Pima Butte Elementary is again an A-rated school. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

They don’t just teach students.

How did they do that?

Butterfield Elementary’s successful strategy to rise from a C to an A school:

  • Revamp the master schedule
  • Use data results to set grade-level and school-wide goals
  • Use results-based funding to equip third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students with 1-to-1 laptops
  • Reconfigure classes to better prepare students

Learn more about Butterfield’s turnaround in the next issue of InMaricopa.

Maricopa’s A-rated elementary schools can teach other educators how to improve their schools.

Butterfield Elementary had the most dramatic improvement, moving from a C to an A. It is the first A-rating for the Maricopa Unified School District school. Butterfield was not a “bad” school a year ago. Superintendent Tracey Lopeman pointed out its C rating was just five points away from a B.

Similarly, other elementary schools in the district were only a few percentage points from the next grade up this year.

Maricopa Elementary was 0.5 from an A. Santa Rosa Elementary 0.89 away from an A. Santa Cruz Elementary was 1.88 away from an A. Saddleback Elementary was less than 3 points from a B.

“I think the district as a whole is really doing well,” said Betty Graham, who teaches fourth grade at Pima Butte Elementary. “They’re working wonders, going up and up and up.”

Pima Butte, like the high-achieving charter school Legacy Traditional, is more old-hat at receiving A ratings, but it had to rise above a B last year after missing an A by just 4 percentage points through the more demanding AzMerit test. With ratings reliant on results of AzMerit, there was a lot of pressure on third, fourth and fifth grade students and their teachers.

“That A rating didn’t come easy,” PBES Principal Randy Lazar said. “It was a lot of hard work on behalf of our teaching team as well as the assistants with our students and also the support of our parents. It was a collective effort by our entire team.”

“We prepare with our rigorous curriculum each and every day in preparation for the big event,” said fifth-grade teacher Jessica Ansley.

Lazar said a brand new language arts curriculum and a relatively new math curriculum have helped create a very comprehensive academic experience and prepare the students for AzMerit or any other test.

Pima Butte was an A-rated school before there was an A rating. The state’s first rating system gauged schools on whether they met or exceeded the standard. PBES was an “excelling” school. When the grade ratings began, eyes lit up on campus.

“We were going to get an A, I remember that,” Graham said. “That’s what was on our minds, the kids’ minds, everybody’s mind. We were going to do it. They had an A; we were going to get it.”

Ansley called it teaching vigorously bell to bell.

At Pima Butte that means “lots of repetition,” third-grade teacher Denise Palmer said. “There’s no down-time, really. Coming from second to third grade is a big transition for these kids, so from the first day in, we’re hitting the ground running.”

The students do hit the books, but they also experiment with what they’ve learned in the classroom through hands-on activities. Positive reinforcement works wonders in galvanizing students to achieve.

Lazar said his main advice for other Arizona elementary schools trying to rise to a higher grade is to focus on student growth.

“We get our test results from the spring and then look to see how did each student perform,” he said. “If we have students that scored minimally proficient, that’s the group you want to put a lot of attention on the next school year. The way the state calculates the letter grade is when you have kids grow. It’s a growth model as far as earning the points.”

Meanwhile, he said, it is also important to maintain kids who are already at proficient or highly proficient.

A voter-approved override helped fund carts of technology in Netbooks and Chromebooks. The new equipment allowed the students to get more practice in the basic use of a computer. Lazar said that is key when taking the online-based AzMerit.

“Our whole focus last school year was just doing the best we could to prepare our third, fourth and fifth graders for AzMerit,” Lazar said. “Also what helped – AIMS Science, which is given in fourth grade, we were able to earn points for that, so that was factored in.”

There is also a lot of communication between teachers at different grade levels, Palmer said. Teachers share ideas that worked or didn’t work, they share information on the best approach for certain students, and they share ideas among campuses within the district.

Graham said she goes back to her students’ third-grade teachers to compare notes as a way to measure how students are progressing.

“And we’re very competitive, in a good way,” Graham said.

Pima Butte has approximately 465 students enrolled, about 100 of whom live outside the school’s boundaries. Because the override allowed the creation of new teaching positions, every classroom is in use.

MUSD Board Member Joshua Judd, a teacher in another district, said Pima Butte is the reason his children attend MUSD and are involved in Maricopa. “Pima Butte pulled my children into the city,” he said.

“We do what we need to do, and we do it in a fun and engaging way,” Ansley said.

There is no time for “filler.” Coloring days, extra recesses, non-curriculum videos – not at Pima Butte.

“My kids know,” Palmer said. “They will tell you, ‘Gotta do the work before we can have the fun.’ That’s the way it is. That’s how life is, isn’t it?”


This story appears in the December issue of InMaricopa.

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