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Education

Back to school MUSD
Students head back to school in the Maricopa Unified School District in a simpler time. File photo

Maricopa parents are facing a decision now with the announcement that Arizona public schools will open in July: send their kids back to school or keep them home?

Some remain undecided as they await details of the reopening plan from both the state, due Monday, and the Maricopa Unified School District.

But if social media is any indication, there are two diverging groups of parents – those eager to send their children back to school and those who say it is too soon – and plenty of opinions in between.

It’s understandable that parents have different views on a difficult situation brought about by the coronavirus pandemic. After all, their children were suddenly sent home for the rest of the school year to comply with the governor’s March 31 stay at home order. Students were forced to quickly adapt to a virtual lesson plan that also challenged parents and teachers.

Some parents struggled with becoming de facto teachers at home. Some came to realize quickly their children struggled with online learning and greatly missed the socializing at school. So far, many parents have worked from home, but many will be back in the office by the start of school. Who will watch the kids if schools remain closed?

At the same time, keeping extended families safe in a pandemic is part of the new normal, too. There is no doubt that healthy children can develop coronavirus, but many do not have symptoms. Those who do get sick have milder symptoms, but severe complications are possible, experts say. Children with underlying health conditions may be at increased risk for severe illness.

More recently, a severe and health-threatening complication has been seen in children, though rare. Called multisystem inflammatory syndrome, it can endanger the heart and other organs. Moreover, children can carry the virus home to parents and grandparents who may be at higher risk due to their age or health condition.

It’s a difficult question, but one for which some parents feel strongly about the answer.

‘Just open the schools’

InMaricopa reported Thursday on two related stories – the governor’s announcement and local school board considerations. Posted on Facebook, they drew dozens of comments from people with strong opinions about the best way to proceed.

The comment with the most likes (18) was from a user named Amanda Aguilar, who favors sending children back to school:

“Teach in class normal,” she wrote. “Be realistic that this is never ever ever going to go away. it’s always going to be part of the rounds …. we just need to deal with it! That’s all :)”

That was a popular opinion, as many parents liked the governor’s decision.

“Teach in class,” agreed two separate commenters, Dawn Brunn and Jasmine Doucette, succinctly.

“In class. As normal,” Lee Morano said.

“Just open the schools,” commented Lisa Pollard Medeiros.

“Fully open, no restrictions,” Robert Geho wrote, “stop the irrational fear the media has infected so many people with.”

Others offered more of an explanation, or conditions, for normal schooling.

”Open the schools as normal, but with extra sanitation precautions,” suggested Jesselee Evans Green. “At my work, we stop every two hours to clean every surface that’s been touched. It only takes a couple of minutes. Kids can help with that by wiping their desks down at the end of the class. Extra hand washing stations around the schools as well …. My kids need to go back to a learning environment that they enjoy.”

“Teach in class but without these restrictions on recess and other ridiculous measures,” Bryan Adams commented. “We are huge supporters of MUSD, but we will opt for homeschooling if school life is going to be a traumatic experience for our kids due to these measures being considered.

‘He does so much better in the classroom’

Jessica Truckner touched on a familiar refrain among some parents who believe their children learn much better in school than online. (Some school officials have said any online learning component moving forward would differ greatly from the virtual program rushed into place for the stay at home order.)

“My younger son is in preschool, he does so much better in the classroom than at home with me,” she wrote. “The hands on, in person teaching is vital for some. He just cannot connect with his teachers via computer screen. My older son, had no problem with virtual learning, but I do prefer him being in school simply because I am not a good educator.”

Brittany Anderson agreed. “My five older kids do so much better learning in the classroom then at home,” , “there is so much things that they want to do besides their class work and for me it’s really hard to keep them in their work.”

“Mine do better in class than online,” Jessica Poore Brisbin added.

“In the end, MUSD is going to have to decide what its priority actually is,” commented McKayandsuzie Jones. “Is it to “keep students, staff, and families safe?” Or, is it to provide the best education we can? That will drive what it ultimately decides to do. In my view, anything short of normalized school is a hollow shell and a shadow of real in-person teaching and learning. I think this wave of kids will be set back years if we do anything less than full normalization.”

Support – and concern – for a hybrid plan

A hybrid plan – a mix of in-school and at-home learning – was favored by several parents, though some had concerns.

“The hybrid option at least initially would be the best choice,” wrote Deb G Burch. “The Corona virus incidents in the community, and especially the schools, should be closely monitored. A rise in virus cases should call for a return to remote classes at once. A slow transition is best, with just 1 or 2 days in the classroom at first.”

“A hybrid is the most relevant and appropriate option,” Michelle Lowman commented. “I’m just not sure where the already underfunded school districts are going to come up with the funds to do everything that needs to be done in both the brick & mortar buildings and/or hiring and training for the online environment.”

“I like the idea of a hybrid structure and an option for fully online learning for those that need it, teachers included. I’m having a hard time believing that any of these circumstances, even in-class learning with modifications, can be structured so quickly though,” wrote Lindsay Wingate. “I’m fully supportive of the public school system, but it is a huge ask. I’m grateful we have school choice right now (to a degree, I know this is a tough situation for working parents) and will be exploring other established online and homeschool options in case I feel it’s the safest and strongest way for my kids to learn in the fall.”

“I think splitting the days with in class and at home could work,” wrote Stacy Needham-Vallejo. “Gotta remember some kids also have anxiety. They have been at home for months without social interaction, this may ease the transition by a couple days a week to be in the classroom with others.”

“Hybrid,” Sam Rafael Morales concurred.

‘My kids are not guinea pigs …’

Some commenters said flatly their children will not be returning to school.

“My son will be a senior this coming year,” Jeffrey Buck wrote, “and we will not be sending him into a classroom environment that is not safe for him until there is a vaccine.

“Teach remotely , already a good amount of parents are saying no, am one of them …my kids are not guinea pigs….,” Franklin Jimenez opined. “how are you gonna keep social distancing in a school ( recreation time, assemblies, lunch , etc) tell me is 100% safe….no one can ! I can’t even imagine the School Districts paying for funerals! Also what about the poor teacher are they gonna get a raise extra work to maintain all this new guidelines? I believe is just best for the teachers to stay home be healthy and collect unemployment cause they will be making more anyways and what teacher wants to feel responsible for the death of any child…..so the answer is no, good luck! P.s. My kids lives are priceless!!!!!”

Dominique Summons was in the same camp: “Remotely”

‘People should have the option’

Others said they believe that whatever the plan, parents needed to have options.

“I think people should have the option to choose what is best for their situation,” Heather Phillips commented.

“I think we need to open them back up if you don’t want to send your kid to school that should be on the parent not the government ugh,” a user by the name of Brittany Anderson wrote. “I have 7 kids and 5 are in school and let me tell you them being in school 5 days a week helps them learn I can teach them how to do chores but that’s about it. If the teachers don’t want to go back to work there are probably parents who don’t want their kids go back so the teachers who work from home teach the kids who want to stay home and the teachers who want to go back to work teach the kids who go to school. Look problem solved.”

“MUSD open the schools as NORMAL,” wrote Joshua Babb. “Provide an online option if parents don’t want to send their kids back.”

Alice Latham Pulliam offered a nugget of wisdom that school district officials are sure to keep in mind as they fashion a return-to-school plan.

“I don’t think there is a one size fits all answer,” she wrote. “Some things work for some families that would not work for others.”

Bus Maricopa High School
Vehicles line up in front of Maricopa High School as classes are dismissed. File photo by Raquel Hendrickson

School is almost back in session.

Gov. Doug Ducey announced Thursday that schools in Arizona will reopen in July.

“Get ready for school,” he told students and parents across the state.

Guidelines will be released Monday by Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction Kathy Hoffman. Input on that plan was received by school leaders around the state.

Related news: MUSD looks to next school year through COVID-colored lenses

Ducey said school leaders have sought a reopening plan with clear guidance and flexibility to meet the needs in their specific school districts.

“It will look different,” Ducey told reporters in an afternoon news conference. “It will feel different. Students will have a more routine school day, where possible.”

The first day of classes in the Maricopa Unified School District is scheduled for Thursday, July 23. The school board met Wednesday night to discuss a reopening plan for the district as new principals will take over at the high school and Pima Butte Elementary School.

Arizona schools initially were closed for two weeks in March, and then until the end of the school year, during Ducey’s stay at home order to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

If social media is any indication, some parents are more than ready for in-school classes to resume and others are not so sure they want to send their kids back in July.

An unofficial poll on InMaricopa.com in mid-May asked the following question: “If Maricopa schools were set to reopen soon, would you feel comfortable sending your children?” Most respondents (49.5%) said no, while 43.3% said yes. About 7% said they didn’t know what they would do.

The governor also announced that youth activities, including summer sports leagues, summer schools and day camps, can reopen. Guidance will be released to allow youth sports to resume safely amid the lingering pandemic.

John and Mary Lou Smith (left) are the names behind a scholarship facilitated by Maricopa Community Foundation and this year presented to (top) A'Shayla Anderson, Jiselle Diaz, (center) Kanthikan Kanjana, (bottom) Breanna Fitch and Regan Elsberry.

Thanks to the generosity of one local family, the Maricopa Community Foundation has awarded $12,500 in scholarships for 2020 to seniors who live in Maricopa.

This year, five individuals have been awarded the John E. and Mary Lou Smith Scholarship, facilitated by the Maricopa Community Foundation.  Each scholarship awarded is for $2,500 and will help the following students reach their goals of higher education at colleges and universities of their choice:

  • Ashayla Anderson, a Mountain Pointe High School senior who will be attending Northern Arizona University
  • Jiselle Diaz, a Desert Vista senior who will be attending Central Arizona College
  • Regan Elsberry, Maricopa High School senior who will be attending Brigham Young University
  • Breanna Fitch, Maricopa High School senior who will be attending Northern Arizona University
  • Kanthikan Kanjana, Maricopa High School senior who will be attending Arizona State University

John and Mary Lou Smith, longtime residents of Maricopa provided funds to establish a scholarship fund in their name.  When the State of Arizona purchased the property that was Rotary Park, the Smiths donated a portion of the money from the sale to start the scholarship program.  Both of the Smiths have been involved in the development of Maricopa for a number of decades.  Mary Lou was a key figure in the development of the present library and supporter of the building of the new library.  We all owe the Smith’s a big thank you for their continued support of our youth in the community.

Foundation Board President Courtny Tyler said, “Now that the Foundation is organized, we are excited to be able to work with other community members who are interested in establishing endowments. Scholarships continue to make a difference in the lives of students and families in our community today and for generations to come.”

Congratulations to all of the Maricopa Community Foundation’s 2020 “John E. and Mary Lou Smith Scholarship” recipients.

 

Yvanira Kelly Barbosa MHS 2020
Yvanira Kelly Barbosa smiles as she receives her diploma on Thursday morning from Patti Coutre, a school board member.

After a year that culminated in so much disappointment for many Maricopa High School graduates, the Class of 2020 and its accomplishments were celebrated Thursday during a drive-thru diploma distribution.

Amid blowing of car horns, thumping music, blowing balloons and cheers of congratulations, graduates clad in red caps and gowns were presented diplomas in their cars in a driveway at the high school, accompanied by family and friends. It began at 10:30 a.m. and was scheduled to last about four hours.

It was an effort by teachers, staff and administrators to give this year’s class of 512 graduates the best send-off they could – for now – as social distancing remains important during the coronavirus pandemic.

Dr. Tracey Lopeman, superintendent of the Maricopa Unified School District, was helping to cheer on graduates in a year that they had virtually none of the traditional trappings of senior year.

“We’re trying to let our Maricopa Rams know how proud we are of them, and that we know that this is not what we had hoped for, but it’s only just the beginning, and their best is yet to come,” she said, greeting cars as they rolled toward the diploma distribution station.

“I would like for them to use their horns more so we can wake up the neighborhood, and make this the proper moment,” she said. “We’ve got to let them know: the Rams are graduating. We’re proud of them.”

“Make some noise,” she yelled to one car. “Congratulations!”

‘Really thoughtful’

Many graduates were grateful for the show of support.

“I think what they did was pretty nice, because currently we have to keep social distancing from each other,” said Alexandra Cuellar, 18, as she and her family waited to take photos at one of the backdrops set up in the student parking lot.

“The drive-thru was pretty nice, having the support of our staff and our teachers. It was nice to see them at least one last time,” she said. “Then, putting up these booths to take a picture with our families in front of our school, I thought that was really thoughtful and good of them.”

Her dad, Ricardo Cuellar, said he agreed with his daughter about the festivities, adding simply: “I am very proud.”

As he waited to take pictures with his family, Derek Blakely, 17, wore his red gown and mortarboard over a T-shirt and black Converse sneakers. He wore a tassel on his cap given to him by his sister, Rachel, who graduated from Maricopa High School in 2017. “I just broke the ’17 off,” he said, laughing.

He said the school year was a bit surreal.

“It was pretty weird,” Blakely said. “The weekend that we started spring break was the weekend that Disney and everything shut down and it all felt real. The whole coronavirus thing.

“For a while, it just felt like we never came back from break. At one point, we were going to come back, but then we just don’t.”

He said he was grateful for the pomp around the diploma drive-thru – attended by his parents, grandparents, his sister and her boyfriend – but conceded it was bittersweet in some ways.

“It’s so almost-something, you know,” he said. “It’s like a reminder about how real it could have been.”

“Like it’s nice and I appreciate it, obviously. You can see how much effort and love everyone put into this,” he said, before adding it was also “a reminder that, oh yeah, I didn’t get senior week, I didn’t get prom, I didn’t get so many things….”

GraduateTruck MHS 2020
A graduate waves from the back of a pickup truck during Thursday’s celebration of the Class of 2020. Photo by Kyle Norby

Quick and patient, with social distancing

Before 10:30 a.m., vehicles were lined up along North Taft Street and back onto Honeycutt Avenue in front of the school. Teachers and staff cheered from stations under canopies as cars waited. As the students entered the school grounds, they were greeted by a DJ blaring “Hey Ya” by Outkast and “Fire Burning on the Dance Floor” by Sean Kingston.

Many cars were decorated in black-and-red, with messages of congratulations and good luck next to their graduate’s name. Some were festooned with red, black and Spongebob balloons.

As graduates took their diplomas, they could move into the student lot to take photos at one of three backdrops to digitize the memory. The most popular backdrop, featuring a pattern of recurring MHS Rams and Adidas logos, was set up under a tree. A sign reminded: “Please be quick. Be patient. Respect Social Distancing.”

Most families were following the rules, taking their photos quickly and moving aside for the next group. Patience looked to be in good supply.

Nearby, two signs on cars summed up the difficult year, their traditional messages carrying more meaning this time around.

One read: “Class 2020 Class that Made History.”

The other: “The Tassle Was Worth The Hassle 2020 You Did It!”

Derek Blakely MHS 2020
Derek Blakely, a graduate of the Class of 2020 at Maricopa High School, poses for a photo with his diploma. Photo by Kyle Norby

‘Doing as much as they can’

The school’s efforts to make Diploma Day special did not go unnoticed.

“I appreciate it. It’s better than nothing,” said Nadia Chacon, 17, sitting in the passenger seat of a Chevy Traverse as she moved through the line. “They could have just sent me my diploma.”

Yvanira Kelly Barbosa, 17, was taking a positive view on a challenging year.

“It was a good year,” she said, simply. “It was fine.”

Her father, Jose Barbosa, said he appreciated the celebration being put on by the high school.

“It’s fantastic,” he said. “The kids can come in and enjoy. I mean, they work all year. This is what we do for them.”

Graduate Aidan Di Maria picked up his diploma with two friends, Isaac Barrett and Brandon Ortega, who had much different experiences when they graduated in 2019.

“It just sucks that we can’t even have a trip, which I get,” he said. ““They are doing everything right. They can’t do much, so they are doing as much as they can.”

BrianWinter MHS2020
Brian Winter, outgoing principal at Maricopa High School, calls in the next graduate headed to the diploma station at Thursday’s distribution. Photo by Kyle Norby

The group wondered, though, if spreading out the distribution over a couple of days would have allowed graduates the opportunity to have more friends and family join them.

“There was other options than a drive-thru,” his mother noted. “And not in December.”

Outgoing principal Brian Winter greeted graduates, passing along his congratulations before radioing the student’s name 70 feet down the driveway to the folks grabbing diplomas and handing them out.

He said the event had one focus: the students.

“It’s about the kids,” he said. “It’s a difficult time, obviously. This group has lost a lot. And so anything that we can do to help celebrate the situation we want to do. And obviously the full-blown ceremony in December is going to be important as well.”

Then he turned to greet another car, another one of his graduates: “Congratulations!”

 

Murray Siegel
Murray Siegel

By Murray Siegel

Erin Richards, an education reporter for USA Today, published a Feb. 29 article about the lack of success realized in American K-12 education in mathematics. Her article was entitled “Math scores stink in America. Other countries teach it differently — and see higher achievement.”

The lead paragraph in her story stated, “The latest results of an international exam given to teenagers ranked the USA ninth in reading and 31st in math literacy out of 79 countries and economies. America has a smaller-than-average share of top-performing math students, and scores have essentially been flat for two decades.” Her investigation revealed how other countries teach math much differently than we do here, and their results are significantly better. Perhaps we can learn from Richards’ reporting.

One example of these differences is the American “geometry sandwich,” where U.S. secondary schools teach a geometry course sandwiched between two algebra courses. Other developed countries teach three years of integrated math instead of the sandwich. Integration blends various strands of math curriculum, not only tying together the curriculum, but allowing the use of math in practical applications.

One particular part of mathematics that is omnipresent in foreign programs is statistics or data science. Data-driven problems can use many areas of the math curriculum to solve real problems in everyday environments. Richards provides an example of a nation that has made radical changes in the teaching of math and has reaped positive results.

“Estonia students ranked first among European countries in mathematics, as well as reading and science, on the 2018 Programme for International Student Assessment. Many factors may have helped: The country offers high-quality early childhood education to all kids, class sizes are small, and there’s little high-stakes testing, leaving more time for instruction.”

The report highlights the correlation between how math is taught in the elementary grades and student performance in high school. To be honest, how mathematics is taught in our schools is dictated by the state, and local districts can do little without state direction.

This report should motivate those who care about the mathematical achievement of our students to inundate state legislators with requests to review this report and take actions needed to allow Arizona high school graduates to be competitive with those from Estonia.

Murray Siegel, Ph.D., has 44 years of experience teaching mathematics. He is a volunteer at Butterfield Elementary School.


This column appears in the May issue of InMaricopa.

Adapting for COVID-19 may have long reach

Maricopa teachers (from left) Maria Pour, Ellen Zoretic and Paul Krigbaum are among hundreds teaching from home during COVID-19.

“This is a crazy time, and I don’t think any of us expected to ever be teaching like this.”

The things that our kids are concerned about go from funny to heartbreaking.

Stephanie Arturet is one of hundreds of Maricopa teachers who made a dramatic shift to educating their students online for the last two months of the school year to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. A third-grade teacher at Santa Cruz Elementary School, she is also helping her own children with their online classes at home.

“It’s not easy, especially while I’m doing school with my own two kids, both of whom are MUSD students,” she said. “But we want the best for our students and are figuring it out as we go.”

Shannon Hull, who teaches Blended Learning at Desert Wind Middle School, said the toughest impact of not returning to school was the lack of closure and not getting to say goodbye to students and staff.

“When teachers found out we were closing the doors for the rest of the school year, the first thought was not about math or English or science; it was all about the end-of-year field trips, the graduations, the promotions, prom, senior nights for baseball, softball and track, etc. – all these life events that our seniors will now miss. All of the end-of-year activities we all plan for our students are now gone.”

Instead, everyone had to find a way to stay connected and keep teaching. Everyone went virtual.

Posting videos on Google Classroom and communicating with students and parents via ClassDojo are the new normal. Maricopa Unified School District purchased workbooks for all students in math and English with a schedule for completion by the end of May. After a Santa Cruz staff meeting to clarify the dos and don’ts, Arturet created a calendar and activities.

“I also want to post some videos about content we would be covering now, math especially, and assigning some practice activities, games and challenges to put those skills to use,” Arturet said. “I’ve posted a multiplication fact game through Kahoot.com for students to compete in and plan to do this a couple times a week. It’s an activity we use in class a lot, and they love the competition aspect.”

Some classes demand a little more tactile activity, such as cooking, physical education, art and music.

When I open my email now, it is from a student, and they are sharing their cooking pictures with me. So awesome.

For Sequoia Pathway students, culinary coach David Smith basically hosts his own cooking show. The class preps for a new recipe during the week, seeing a video on the dish and reading an explanation of the recipe and ingredients.

Then Thursday is cooking day, or, as Smith puts on his lesson calendar, COOKING DAY! That is when he posts his full cooking video so students can watch before they start cooking at home.

“I like to make my cooking videos fun and engaging so they will hopefully be inspired to cook something during this time,” Smith said. “So far, the students are responding very well. When I open my email now, it is from a student, and they are sharing their cooking pictures with me. So awesome.”

Paul Krigbaum, who teaches PE at Maricopa Elementary School, said reaching students is the biggest challenge. He also uses ClassDojo.

“I could make a calendar, but how do I know they’re actually doing that?” he said.

So, he created 5-7-minute videos every day of workouts the students (and their parents) can do at home, knowing most will not have the same equipment at the house that they would have at school. He posts them on his “Get Fit with Coach K” Facebook page, and parents respond by posting photos or videos of their children working out.

A Tobata workout will have throwing and tossing. Kids have created their own exercise course with sidewalk chalk. Krigbaum has created a ball from duct tape for a game of hamper ball. He’s been happy to see 110-200 views a day. His exercise challenges have prizes of jump ropes and Gatorade.

He sees ways to incorporate what he is doing temporarily into his regular lesson plans when “normal” school begins again.

Pima Butte PE teacher Jesus Leyva also set up his students with a program and videos.

“I’ve created a Google Classroom where I post weekly skills that students will be working on for that week,” he said. “I have also created YouTube videos to accompany the skills being taught for the week. This provides the students an opportunity to see me give instruction on their iPad, tablet, laptop or electronic device that they are accessing their lessons with. The students post their comments and share their thoughts on the Google Classroom page.”

Hopefully, that leads to more independent musicianship for students and more at-home practice, which is a top goal for any music educator.

Music teacher Ivan Pour also sees a future for elements of the distance-learning curriculum beyond the pandemic.

“I’ve been wanting kids to use SmartMusic more and this is an opportunity to get more kids connected and comfortable on the system,” said Pour, who chairs the Fine Arts Department at Maricopa High School. “I’m also learning a lot about making videos and live online events. Since I’m more comfortable with it, when we get back, I will probably have a more robust selection of online resources for them to use at home than before. Hopefully, that leads to more independent musicianship for students and more at-home practice, which is a top goal for any music educator.”

SmartMusic, which has made its entire catalogue free, is an online practice platform Pour calls “a very cool practice resource.” Band students are expected to use their time working on their individual playing. They have two assignment each week, one a playing assignment and one “virtual concert attendance” using streaming platforms to watch symphonies, bands, opera, etc. Pour encourages them to listen to music they normally don’t hear or play.

Pima Butte Elementary art teacher Ellen Zoretic uses Google Classroom, ClassDojo, email and phone calls to stay connected to her families.

“In my Google Classroom I post videos I’ve recorded of myself teaching the students art lessons as well as reading them art books,” Zoretic said. “I have an extra activity section where I have uploaded links to art games online, printable coloring pages, virtual museum tours and other ideas to keep busy and be creative.”

One of those ideas was creating a color-wheel challenge. Students had to find household items of every color of the rainbow and put them in a circle in their categorized color ranges. “They loved that project!”

She found another way to keep students engaged by reading Diane Alber’s “I’m Not Just a Scribble” while her bird sat on her shoulder as a special guest. She maintains Facebook and Instagram accounts to connect and show student artwork.

“One thing that I think is interesting is that our Blended Learning students at both middle schools are at a distinct advantage with the new online learning that is now happening across the nation and world,” Hull said. “Our students already received their schoolwork online, so this doesn’t change. Our students are also already used to doing research on their own and not needing that direct instruction that most teachers do on a daily basis.”

What’s changed is Hull is teaching her Blended Learning students from her computer table at home instead of in a classroom. She’s making WeVideo math content to post on Google Classroom. In language arts, weekly assignments include blogs or vlogs, where students can express themselves in a safe environment.

“And the things that our kids are concerned about go from funny to heartbreaking,” she said. “Most are concerned about food in the house, parent’s jobs, taking care of siblings, worrying about grandparents’ health. But the biggest thing our students talk about is not seeing friends and teachers and wondering if we will see each other at all before school starts next year.”

At Maricopa Wells Middle School, seventh and eighth grade history teacher Shelby Rostas keeps her students engaged with daily tasks using Google Classroom.

  • Multi-media Mondays
    “I will post a video for you to watch and respond to, a movie that I suggest you watch (if you can find it on Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Youtube), a short video called “This Week in History” as well as the CNN10 for the day.”
  • Time Travel Tuesdays
    “I will post a short reading comprehension article on topics that cover the basics of American History with a few questions to answer, a virtual field trip for you to explore and comment on, and the CNN10 link for the day.”
  • Wacky Wednesday Writing
    “I will post a journal prompt for you to respond to as well as the CNN10 link.”
  • Thankful for Thinkers Thursday
    “I will post a short biography on someone from history with questions for you to answer, and the CNN10 link for the day.”
  • Fun Fact Friday
    “I will post a fun fact and ask you to do some independent research to discover the 5W’s & H on each topic (Who did it impact, What is important about it, Where was it created or happening, When it was created or happening, Why it matters now, and How it has impacted society), as well as the CNN10 link for the day.”

Graphic design teacher Maria Pour said she wants her MHS students to feel they are at least connected with her. It’s been a learning experience for her, too, as she created her own YouTube channel, showing students her home studio and posting enrichment lessons.

“Throughout our entire school year, we’ve used Google Classroom to submit student work, so that has continued as usual and offered the students some stability when it comes to Graphic Art & Design,” she said.

Through the school’s main software vendor and in-house information-technology expert, students were set up with the Adobe Creative Suite at home. Maria Pour said that gave her graphic designers a creative outlet and opportunity to master technical skills.

“I’ve done a Livestream for my students, which felt awkward for me until my students began submitting comments, feedback and jokes through my e-mail,” she said. “It was a wonderful way for me to feel connected to them again.”

I make sure and leave a personal note for them, to let them know I appreciate their work.

Enna Post is the K-5 technology teacher at Saddleback Elementary. She normally would see students twice a week 30 minutes at a time.

“Now with the Distant Learning method, I’m reviewing their computer skills, combining files and video tutorials,” she said. “When students finish and turn in their work, I can see it in Google Classroom. I make sure and leave a personal note for them, to let them know I appreciate their work.”

The program allows her to explain and show the students basic skills like copy/paste and text editing. They can hear her voice and follow along as she moves objects or creates graphics.

Hull said the technology aspect of Blended Learning may get new attention when this vast experiment is over.

“I think now more people will look to our Blended Learning model of how to better integrate online and in-person teaching for the new world we live in.”

Old-fashioned communication still has a place, too. Arturet said she is continuing to connect with kids the way she always has, even by “snail mail.”

“I’ve mailed all of my class postcards and plan to do that every two weeks or so,” she said. “It’s something I do during the year sometimes, and they’re always super excited to get their own mail.”

More than anything, teachers want to see their kids in person again.

“All this is keeping us moving in a bad situation,” Ivan Pour said. “Nothing is the same as in-person ensemble rehearsal. It’s not the same. I can’t wait to run a full rehearsal with my students again. I miss them.”


This story appears, in part, in the May issue of InMaricopa.

Butterfield Elementary teachers posted notes outside the school where children picking up daily meals can read how much they are missed.

To continue to grow our local coverage of COVID-19’s impact on Maricopa in the difficult weeks to come while continuing our day-to-day newsgathering, we are partnering with the Local Media Association’s foundation to ask our readers to help with a tax-deductible donation at GiveButter.com/inmaricopa.

Graduation at Maricopa High School will be different in 2020.

In a year when high school graduates nationwide are missing out on traditional celebrations due to public health considerations over coronavirus, Maricopa High School is working to ensure its seniors get proper recognition for their achievement.

After seniors voted overwhelmingly to have a traditional graduation ceremony in December, a planning committee continues to work on the details and will share them when finalized.

On May 21, the high school will release its graduation video on the district web site, according to the district calendar. In addition, Ak-Chin UltraStar will play the video on its large outdoor screen on dates and times to be determined and shared soon.

InMaricopa is helping to produce the video and will again print the high school’s graduation program, to be handed out to graduates with their diplomas. The plan to distribute diplomas is still being finalized and will be announced soon.

The high school’s online program and senior awards listing will be shared on May 4 with the school community, according to the calendar. Award pick-up will be May 6 in the student parking lot by the campus entrance gate. Yearbooks will be distributed on May 13 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Heritage Academy
Murray Siegel

By Murray Siegel

Heritage Academy presents an interesting perspective on providing an excellent education.

The charter school covers grades six through 11; grade 12 will be added for the 2020-21 school year. The schedule uses a four-day, alternating-day block schedule, with 90-minute classes. Students attend four classes on Mondays and Wednesday and have four different classes on Tuesdays and Thursdays.

The 90-minute classes allow for learning activities such as role-playing and student presentations. Science teachers have sufficient time to complete real labs. Students can “do” science rather than simply read or hear about science.

The school’s focus is primarily on college prep, but help is available for students considering military service or vocational education following high school graduation. Block scheduling helps students, no matter their post-secondary plans, develop a greater sense of time management.

The school program is based on American history. Students take a citizenship class, which not only teaches about what it means to be an American citizen, but students also take on responsibilities in the school community, such as cleaning the lunchroom after lunch.

One of the school’s goals is to produce productive citizens. Ten hours of community service and two hours of serving one’s family is required each year of every student. English classes are based on great fiction, with two novels assigned each semester.

Heritage Maricopa’s math teachers supplement their lessons with “Big Ideas” textbooks, which are accessible online for student and parent convenience. Heritage Academy is coordinating with Central Arizona College to offer dual-enrollment classes, taught by qualified high school teachers for college credit from CAC.

Originally from Ohio, Principal Kimberly Ellsworth received her undergraduate degree from Brigham Young University and has a master’s degree in educational leadership from Northern Arizona University. She began her career as a junior high school English teacher at a charter school and rose to become the principal at the Heritage Academy in Laveen prior to being assigned to open the Maricopa campus.

Ellsworth takes great pride in what Heritage Academy offers its student body and faculty. She sees her school being a major contributor to the success of Maricopa by graduating well-prepared and highly responsible citizens.

Murray Siegel, Ph.D., has 44 years of experience teaching mathematics. He is a volunteer at Butterfield Elementary School.

Maricopa Unified School District Administrative Office

Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board will discuss policies necessitated by COVID-19 just as the virus has changed how the board meets.

The meeting will be Wednesday starting at 6:30 p.m.

Policy GCKA spells the responsibility of staff and administration during telecommuting. Because the district’s schools are closed the remainder of the school year, teachers and their students are engaged in distance learning.

Requirements included in the policy:

“The employee shall:

  • Be available by phone and email during normal work hours. Absences (including unavailability during work hours) must be preapproved.
  • Promptly notify the superintendent when unable to perform work assignments due to illness, equipment failure or other unforeseen circumstances.
  • Alter their schedule to attend mandatory meetings or other situations needing a physical presence and/or as needed by the superintendent.
  • Assure the alternative worksite is adequate and safe and has sufficient phone service and a secure Internet connection with enough speed to perform work, and that confidential information will be safeguarded.
  • Report, at once, to the superintendent any injury that occurs at the alternative site during work hours.”

Policy GCCA regarding sick leave has a proposed addition of a paragraph:

“Earned paid sick time shall be provided for: Closure of the employee’s place of business by order of a public official due to a public health emergency or an employee’s need to care for a child whose school or place of care has been closed by order of public official due to a public health emergency, or care for oneself or a family member when it has been determined by the health authorities having jurisdiction or by a health care provider that the employee’s or family member’s presence in the community may jeopardize the health of others because of his or her exposure to a communicable disease, whether or not the employee or family member has actually contracted the communicable disease.”

The board is expected to waive first and second readings of the policies before voting to enact them.

The public will not be able to physically attend the meeting but is asked to view the meeting live on the district’s YouTube channel. Those who have information for Call to the Public can email lhahn@musd20.org at least an hour before the meeting and the comments will be read at the meeting.

Also on the agenda are a discussion of a revised compensation plan for administrators, the opening of re-designed online high school Maricopa Virtual Academy, a contract for Chasse Building Team as construction manager and for Orcutt/Winslow as architect for the building of a second high school and an executive-session discussion of acquiring land for that school.

As is usual for this time of year, the agenda includes several resignations effective at the end of the school year or the fiscal year.

Teachers and administrators leaving are Maricopa High School Principal Brian Winter, Butterfield Elementary teachers Ellen Felix, Heidi Zimmer and Andrea Rodden, Saddleback Elementary teacher Danielle Sierra, Santa Cruz Elementary teacher Trecia Koozer, Maricopa Wells Blended-Learning teacher Alicia Chin, MHS marketing teacher Julian Rodriguez, MHS choir teacher Austin Showen, MHS German teacher McKay Jones, MHS science teacher John Wallace, MHS athletic trainer Justin Ennis and ESS resource teachers Carolyn Dein at Desert Wind and Rebecca Ferri at Santa Rosa.

Those who announced resignations in March were Desert Wind Assistant Principal Sherry Corbin, MHS Assistant Principal Michelle Poppen, Athletic Director Jacob Neill, MHS teacher and coach Jason Crawford, MHS art teacher Angelina Martin, Maricopa Elementary ESS resource teacher Rhacquel Valichnac, MHS teacher Alex Hernandez and Desert Wind teachers Angella Barngrover and Lara Johnson.

Teachers scheduled to be hired for next year (pending board vote) are Butterfield second grade teacher Jennifer Seamons, Butterfield second grade teacher Kelly Evans, Butterfield first grade teacher Latosha Johnson, Butterfield fourth grade teacher Kylah Seabrooks, Butterfield/Santa Cruze PE teacher George Carmen, MES third grade teacher Ashley Hafner, MES ESS teacher Ramon Stembridge, MES second grade teacher Mariah Leach, MES ESS teacher Anne Poole, MES kindergarten teacher Heather Hinz, MHS math teachers Kevin Struble, Robert Zaragoza and Irey Soon, MHS art teacher Christina Wilson, MHS ESS Resource teacher Dawn Bush, MHS social studies teacher Tevin Rutherford, MHS Engish teachers Amber Caulkins and Tatyanna Sandoval, MHS science teacher Smitha Jacob Ittammallia, Maricopa Wells ESS teacher Jason Johnson, Maricopa Wells ELA teacher Nicole Blackwell, Saddleback music teacher Jessica Garcia, Santa Cruz kindergarten teacher Alissa Guisado, Santa Cruz music teacher David Gantz, Santa Rosa fourth grade teacher Joy Wadleigh, Santa Rosa art teacher Jordan Christopher and Santa Rosa ESS teacher Renee Alley.

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Central Arizona College.

In these ever-changing times, Central Arizona College’s primary goal remains: to provide quality learning opportunities while keeping students, faculty, staff, and community members safe.

CAC has long provided online opportunities for degrees, certificates, and transfer credits. These paths to learning are available at affordable tuition rates and offer students the ability to pursue their goals and maintain schedule flexibility. All courses are currently online as per social distancing guidelines described by both the state and federal government.

These measures and all updates from President Dr. Jackie Elliott can be found here. We thank everyone for their continued support of Central Arizona College as we navigate current events to continue to serve students and the community.

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A+ Charter Schools is hosting two virtual Informational Meetings and Question & Answer Sessions for families on April 8 at 1 p.m. and 7 p.m. The virtual sessions are designed for families interested in enrollment for the 2020-21 school year. The administrative team will be available to share the instructional model and answer questions. 

Rachele Reese, Principal for A+ Charter Schools stated, “During these unprecedented times, as families, schools, and communities navigate the COVID-19 pandemic, we want to offer ways to engage families in a safe and convenient way that meet their current needs. A virtual meeting allows us to connect with families, answer any questions they may have about the school, and be a resource to our community.”

Prior to the virtual meetings, A+ will post a series of videos about the school on their website, as well as Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter pages. These are designed as a resource for families and students who may have questions about the school. For families interested in the virtual Informational Meetings, registration information will be on social media as well.

A+ Charter Schools will be located at 41735 W. Alan Stephens Parkway, west of Banner Health. Construction of the new campus is well underway and will be ready for the Fall 2020 school year. The school has worked in collaboration with the City of Maricopa and has received the building permits necessary for the completion of the building project. 

A+ Charter Schools began enrolling for the 2020-21 school year earlier this year. The school will open with students in grades 7-10 and add grades 11-12 in subsequent years. Space is limited and enrollment is filling up quickly. For families interested in enrollment for grades 7-10, visit the online enrollment portal at enroll.aplusaz.org. For more information, please visit their website at www.aplusaz.org or call 520-265-5589.

 

Murray Siegel
Murray Siegel

By Murray Siegel

Throughout the year, results gleaned from education research are released in an attempt to communicate what has been learned about improving student accomplishment. Unfortunately, unless you subscribe to an educational research journal, these results are most likely unknown to you.

A study in New York (“The Acquisition of Gender Stereotypes about Intellectual Ability: Intersections with Race”) involving more than 200 kindergarten and first-grade students revealed these young children already had biased beliefs about gender and academic excellence. These primary students “know” males are more brilliant than females. Think how this belief affects the confidence of young females to tackle academic challenges.

Perhaps an outcome of this early-onset bias is that although women earn more than half of all undergraduate and graduate degrees, and that girls outperform boys in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) subjects, far fewer women than men pursue STEM careers.

Another study demonstrated a bias against African American elementary school students. Fewer black students who had high test scores were assigned to gifted programs than their white equals. Only if the teacher was black was there an equivalence in these recommendations.

Another study revealed a strong relationship between parent and teacher beliefs and student academic performance, especially for girls. It was also revealed some teachers are successfully utilizing artificial intelligence to determine the best method for teaching specific students.

As a nation, we are concerned about mathematical accomplishment. Research discovered that math scores improve for low-confidence students when these students silently repeat to themselves that they will make their best effort. Furthermore, teachers are significantly more effective when the teacher understands the student’s cultural background.

A substantial portion of Americans seem to be proud they were never successful in mathematics. They believe their personal accomplishments occurred without a mastery of math. You will find few who are proud that they never mastered the ability to read.

Students, and some parents, ask, “Why learn math?” or “When will we ever use this?” A recent study found a meaningful positive correlation between mathematical ability and health status.

Math-y folks tend to be healthier, but why? A study indicated that individuals who were mathematically confident were more likely to evaluate health risks using data as opposed to making decisions based on emotion. Furthermore, mathematically able adults are wiser consumers of numerical medical results.

It appears that children will benefit as adults from being properly inspired by parents and teachers to do their best and become proficient learners of mathematics.

Murray Siegel has a PhD in MathEd and 42 years of teaching experience. He and his wife Sharon are volunteer teachers of advanced math classes at Butterfield Elementary School.


This column appears in the February issue of InMaricopa.

Master Teacher Aidan Balt Maricopa High School's recipient of a Fulbright scholarship.

By Aidan Balt

I want to highlight the amazing work of the youth in this community and the educators who invest into their lives.

AAs a classroom teacher at Maricopa High School, I work with students from all over the world on a daily basis. Former Arizona Teacher of the Year Josh Meibos once put it something like this: “My dream was to see the world, and then the world came to me.”

For me, as a life-time wanderer and learner, being an educator is not only the perfect profession for me, in some ways, it is the only profession for me. So, when Meibos talks about the world arriving in his class, not only do I relate to it—I live it.

Last spring, I took a huge professional leap and submitted my application for a year-long teaching fellowship through the Fulbright organization. When the notification that I had actually been awarded the fellowship arrived, I was both shocked and thrilled! Now, as a Fulbright Teachers for Global Classrooms Fellow, I am deeply involved in my graduate coursework on developing global classrooms. In June, I will be traveling for an international field experience in Peru.

While this opportunity is once in a lifetime, in the last eight weeks or so, I have realized something even more valuable: when I look around MHS, it is clear to me that we are already a very global campus. We have almost 20 international staff members, students who speak Navajo, Cambodian, Tagalog, Swahili, Spanish, Laotian, and many other languages.

We are a Title One campus of approximately 2,600 students who hail from all places in our nation and even from across the globe. We have at least 12 tribal communities represented at MHS. We have students whose families have fled war-torn regions. We have staff members who have lived internationally, many of whom served in our military and were based in various locations around the world.

I am realizing that our diversity is our strength; it truly is a small world, right here in the middle of Maricopa. We all exist in this space together, but unless you work at, or frequently visit our campus, this “little” global community might be completely new to you. On one hand, our high school campus is over capacity and in some ways bursting at the seams, on the other hand, our campus is bursting with diverse perspectives and experiences which add value not only to our school, but to our city as a whole.

Over the next six months, I want to share my perspectives with you as a teacher, a learner and a Fulbright recipient, on fostering and building a global classroom for my students and how I am encouraging those around me to do the same. I want to highlight the amazing work of the youth in this community and the educators who invest into their lives. I also want to share how experiences outside of the United States can help us all take perspective of the amazing opportunities and resources in our own backyard. I hope you will join me on this journey and maybe identify your own global perspective and ways that you can contribute to this small world.

My journey to this place begins a long time ago during my own high school experience. As a high schooler, I was fortunate to have many wonderful teachers who taught me great lessons about life and learning, but by far, there was one teacher who impacted my life in a profound way, and this teacher was a driving factor in my decision to ultimately pursue education as a career. When I was a senior in high school, this teacher told stories about his own experiences as a Fulbrighter in Germany and Japan. Since then, I have always dreamed of one day calling myself a Fulbrighter.

The Fulbright organization was founded in 1946 and is considered to be one of the most prestigious scholarship programs in the world. Annually, around 8,000 students, educators, scientists, and artists, are awarded grants and fellowships. Fulbright aims to improve intercultural relations, cultural diplomacy, and intercultural competence between citizens of the U.S. and citizens of other nations through the exchange of people, ideas, and skills. Fulbright Teachers for Global Classrooms (FTGC) awards approximately 75 grants each year. For this last grant application, around 500 teachers applied. The goal of the program is to equip teachers with the skills needed to prepare our students for our global economy and to foster an international perspective through global collaboration.

FTGC is sponsored not only by the Fulbright organization, but also by the U.S. Department of State and IREX. FTGC Fellows take a graduate course for ten weeks prior to attending the Education Summit in Washington, DC. After the summit, teachers are partnered with a smaller group from their cohort for an international teaching experience. During this portion of the fellowship, the Fellows work with an international teacher and international students in their school. After the international field experience, the Fellows complete a capstone project which is essentially a work of action-research focused on taking what they have learned and bringing it back to their school and classroom.

In 2020, the FTGC Fellows will be traveling to Colombia, Peru, Senegal, Thailand, India, and Morocco. The countries for placement are determined in partnership with the U.S. Department of State and the FTGC Fellows do not choose their placement. So, what is the goal of all of this? Well, it is to build international relationships between educators, nations, and peoples, not on the macro-level, but on the micro-level, it is about preparing our youth for the world of tomorrow. If you know any educators, you know that we are on the frontlines in regard to the fact that our world is changing.

In a professional development session I participated in this year, I heard it put this way: “If you are teaching the way you learned it, you are teaching to the past.” Our world is more global than it has ever been at any other point in history. Students today are preparing for jobs that don’t even exist yet. As I work to be the best educator I can be, I realized that I needed to expand my own toolkit in order to prepare our youth for the world of not only today, but the world of tomorrow.

Students today are preparing for jobs that don’t even exist yet.

But, again, if you know any educators, you will know that teachers often like to stay in the background and work quietly. Teachers can have a difficult time speaking about the work we do, the craft of being an excellent educator, and the heartbreak, hard work and headaches that go with it.

For all my fellow educators, a former Teacher of the Year wrote about why teachers need to dare to go first. “In my visits with teachers, I’ve found that one of the most depressing things I hear is a variation of: “I can’t do_____, I’m just a teacher.” But in my mind, only a teacher can do the kinds of advocacy we are called to do.

Because I was “just a teacher,” I was invited to speak to both the Israeli and the Palestinian ministers of education. I also was invited to speak to the lieutenant governor and the chairmen of the education committees in my state. Someone has to go first. Why not you? If you’re reading this, I can guarantee that you’re not “just a teacher.” You are a stabilizing force for good, a fierce promoter and protector of our democracy.

For so many children, you are the difference between hope and despair. For so many teachers, you are the model of what a change agent looks like and sounds like. To paraphrase the Biblical book of Esther: ‘And who knows whether you have not become a teacher for such a time as this?’ This is your time. Dare to go first.”

Now, I am not the first Fulbrighter by any means. I am not the first teacher to write for the local newspaper. I am not the first teacher to achieve National Board Certification. But, I am still daring to go first. I am taking a step. I am daring, I am bold, I am leading. I am hoping that others will follow. I am daring to go first by asking my students to learn about the world and evaluate their own place in it by doing that for myself first.


Aidan Balt is a recipient of the Fulbright scholarship, a National Board Certified teacher, an Arizona Teaching Fellow and an Arizona Master Teacher. She has taught at Maricopa High School since 2010.

 

Jill Broussard, Pinal County superintendent of schools. Photo by Kyle Norby

Jill Broussard grew up in Ohio two towns away from Pinal County Attorney Kent Volkmer and now works out of a former grocery store that is the Florence offices of the county superintendent of public education. She sat down to talk with InMaricopa about working with Pinal County’s 19 school districts, the Legislature and test scores.

Jill Broussard
Title: Pinal County superintendent of public education
Age: 41
Hometown: Westerville, Ohio
Residence: San Tan Valley
Pinal County resident since: 2004
Family: Husband Dan and two teenage sons
Education: Bachelor’s degree in elementary education and teaching from Arizona State University; master’s degree in educational leadership and administration from Northern Arizona University
Politics: Elected to current post as a Republican 2012, reelected 2016, seeking reelection 2020
Previous work: Taught sixth grade and kindergarten
Worst-kept secret: Has fostered dogs for Great Dane Rescue Alliance of Arizona

Please remind us of your background.
I came to Pinal County in 2004 and we moved to San Tan Valley. I had taught for a couple of years. My husband joined the Arizona Army National Guard, and I decided to stay home with the kids since we weren’t really sure what his schedule was going to look like. After staying home for a couple of years, I was speaking with some other community members, and they encouraged me to run for county school superintendent. I had no idea what I was getting myself into.

Were there issues that caused you to run?
I just have always wanted to do. I’m a doer. So, if I can do something to help improve education in Pinal County, and having a horse in the game with my two boys being in education in Pinal County, I just was motivated to start thinking outside the box and doing things a little differently.

What is a typical week in the life of the superintendent?
A typical week is really all over the board. I don’t even have a typical day. In order to explain that, let me tell you what our duties are as county superintendent. It’s laid out in state statute. We are in charge of the fiscal services for the 19 districts here in Pinal County. We help them with balancing to the treasurer, the distribution of federal grants, state grants, and their checks are printed through our office. Then we also do professional development for all of the teachers and staff. We work really closely with the superintendents, the principals and the teachers as far as identifying what areas they need support in. But we also, through our Education Service Agency that does professional development, we also help with different consortium. So, anything that we can help with maybe banding together and getting lower rates, lower costs on somethings just to help them save money. I also do the juvenile detention center and the education at the jail. We also do a GED program at the jail. We have an accommodation district, Mary C. O’Brien Accommodation District; it’s down off 11 Mile Corner near Casa Grande, the elementary is. And we have a high school that is down in Toltec, and it’s an alternative high school. We top out at 125 students. Both of those schools provide a specific education that maybe no other school in the county can provide.

There’s a local charter school that requires their parents to volunteer 40 hours a year in the classroom or for the teachers. We can’t do that as public schools.

What is an accommodation school?
Historically, it began as an unincorporated area outside the boundaries of any other district. It was mostly farmland, and it would swell with migrant workers at certain times of year. Well, their kids need to be educated, so that fell under the county school superintendent’s responsibilities. Then for a number of years it became a special-education school and program. Then the districts started to take their special-ed kids back, which is a great thing, and we opened it up as a regular elementary school. Now under the direction of my associate superintendent and the principal over there, they’ve done great things with the staff and they are getting some of the top scores in the county and the state.

Why do you think that is?
It helps that they’re a small school and the teachers are very skilled. We have very little turnover there. Really when somebody retires, that’s when we have turnover there. We have one teacher per grade level. Some of the classes are pretty small because, like I said, we top at 125. We usually leave a couple of spots open because if anybody moves into the district, we don’t want to go over that number. They just really developed some great programs, reading programs where the whole class goes into reading lab, small groups, one-on-one, and now we’re doing the same thing with math instruction. Just having that personalized instruction and that ability to do that small-group work really goes a long way.

What are successes you’ve had in office so far?
When I first came in, we worked really hard with the juvenile detention facility to revamp that program over there and really work in some transition skills so those students have some skills that really apply to real life when they get out. Yes, we’re working on getting them credits and catching up. We’re trying to get them graduated from high school, but we’re also teaching them how to budget, how to interview, how to research and investigate different avenues they can take when they get back out on their feet.

Another one, we had Justice Sandra Day O’Connor come, and she spoke to our superintendents and students about her iCivics program. That was just really fun, and to be able to get your picture with an icon like that and have her come and speak to our kids and inspire them was really amazing.

We had a number of counties that had to close their juvenile detention facilities because you have to provide an education and they didn’t have enough money to pay teachers and staff to keep those doors open.

We have a business and education partnership that we started with Pinal Partnership. We do a summit every year and we highlight different programs that are happening between businesses and schools in the communities as well as different things we need to focus on as a community. So, Center for the Future of Arizona has the progress meters. We’re working on progress meters here in Pinal County as well with a committee and when we bring those up when we have our summit, we’re able to address those issues with the rest of the community and say, ‘Here’s where we are and here are the things that we’re doing to help improve those numbers.” I’ve also worked on some legislation with our Arizona Association of County School Superintendents and gotten some legislation through. Most recently was the funding for our juvenile detention facilities. The funding levels for the juvenile detention facilities, for the education in there, was very low. We had a number of counties that had to close their juvenile detention facilities because you have to provide an education and they didn’t have enough money to pay teachers and staff to keep those doors open. We had five other counties begin sending their students to our facility here in Pinal County. That was Apache, Navajo, Graham, Greenlee and Gila. We still just had a principal/teacher, a paraprofessional and an administrative assistant running that with all those counties sending their students. What we did was we ran legislation to increase funding from $25,000 a year to $100,000 a year, which will pay for an additional teacher for us, and instead of $15 a day, $25 a day. A good majority of those students are pretty far behind academically and have some other issues that they may be dealing with, either emotionally or academically, and they need that additional support. It is pretty costly to educate those students. So, with that, we’ve been able to hire a couple more teachers and have a really great, strong program happening there.

What are some things you’re struggling with?
One of the things I do struggle with actually in this position is really I don’t have the authority over the districts. I’m not saying I need authority over the districts. It’s just when I see a great program working somewhere else and I would love to see it in our districts here, it can’t always be done. They may have something else in place; they may just have a different vision than I do. But what really kind of haunts me, and it’s a question that’s asked me all the time, is how do we get our parents involved and engaged in our students’ education because that makes the largest impact on a student’s success. Knowing that Mom and Dad are supporting them, knowing that Mom and Dad find value in education and so they need to be doing their best and being encouraged and helped goes a long way.  How I do that from the county position of county school superintendent, I haven’t figured that out yet. That’s something where I lay awake and try to think of ways to do it. But there are 19 districts, so what’s going to work in San Tan Valley may not necessarily work in San Manuel. We have such a wide variety of schools and situation in Pinal County.

There’s a local charter school that requires their parents to volunteer 40 hours a year in the classroom or for the teachers. We can’t do that as public schools. We take whatever students come; we take all their baggage with them and that’s not necessarily the case with charter schools.

What is your relationship with the Legislature?
Over the years, that’s been a focus, and I’ve gotten a little better each year. I really do feel like I am in a position where I can advocate for the districts of Pinal County. Because I’m not necessarily on a campus every day like our other superintendents are for our districts, I feel like I can be their voice up at the state Legislature. I also go once a year to D.C. and I meet with our congressmen and -women up there. I talk to them about what’s happening in rural Arizona. And I have developed those relationships over the years. It’s really nice because sometimes I get emails that their reaching out to me for information from our districts whereas I was just constantly feeling like I was knocking on their door, making requests of them. But they’re listening, and I’m seeing that.

When you talk about having resources for fiscal management, what do you have available for the schools if they’re having issues that way?
For fiscal management, that’s this office here in Florence. We have our accountants, and whenever there’s questions from the districts, they’ll ask our accountants, and we will do research for them on whatever their fiscal services questions are, payroll, withholdings, even funding. We’ve had a couple of times when business managers have either left unexpectedly or been ill, and I have accountants that will fill in for them temporarily until they find a replacement. We’ve helped with some training of some new business managers as well.

Where I’ve seen the most success for districts is when they get out into the community and they really discuss the needs and the reasoning behind going out for a bond and override.

Across the state, lots of schools had bond issues and overrides on the ballots. Many of them did very well; Pinal County really struggled. What was your reaction to that, and do you have any advice for them in the future?
Historically, the bonds and overrides, when I first came into office, they weren’t passing then either. Then we had a little stretch where we had some good passage and support. This time was not as great. It is a little disappointing to see, coming from a state where anytime a bond or override came onto the ballot it was just the culture to just say yes to whatever. I think our voters here are a little more discerning, maybe a little more concerned about how the money is spent. Where I’ve seen the most success for districts is when they get out into the community and they really discuss the needs and the reasoning behind going out for a bond and override. So when you get out into the community and you say, “Look, this is to build a new gym because the other one’s full of asbestos and mold. We have a bus fleet of six buses, and three of them are broken down and two of them are on their last legs and these buses cost over $200,000 and that’s not money we have in our coffers right now. We can’t fund another four buses at the moment.” Technology is a huge one. We have an eRate consortium, and we’ve received a grant for $33 million to do a broadband initiative in the county. We’re bringing broadband to every school and every library in the county. Suddenly, these schools that were a little more remote, maybe, and didn’t have access to that fiber cable, now they do and now they can bring that technology into the school. And that’s a huge cost as well. Every district is going out for their bond and their override for different reasons, but I’ve seen the most success when they go out and they communicate with the public on that.

How long did it take you, moving here from Ohio, to get up to speed on how things operated in the education differently?
I went to school at ASU, so I was educated here, but I really had to get into the system to really see that there’s a difference. We don’t have as enormous of a retirement population as in Arizona. There’s some wonderful things that come with having a huge retirement population here in Arizona. And there’s some not-so-great ones, like, “I don’t have any kids in the school system, so why should I pay for your kids to go through?” I have a great argument for that – somebody paid for their kids and paid for them to go to school – but as far as getting up to date I was definitely in this office before I really had a good grasp on what it looked like here in Arizona. It’s huge. It’s vast. I’m learning something new everyday in this position. I even went back to school once I got this position for my master’s in educational leadership because I really thought that would help me understand more and also lead an organization. It’s intricate, especially school finance. That’s a tough one. I will be a lifelong learner of school finance. I will never know everything there is to know about school finance, but I learn more every day.

And a note to anybody who applies – if you don’t mention kids in your interview, you really don’t have a chance of getting appointed to a school board. But it happens all the time.

One of the “fun” things you get to do is, when there is an opening on a school board or the college board, you get to make that selection. What is your thought process?
Pinal County’s the size of Connecticut. I can’t know the inner workings of every community. And we all know that there’s some inner workings in every community and history that’s there. So, typically I reach out to the superintendent and let them know that I will take up to two recommendations from the board once we get all of the applicants. I interview all of the applicants. I listen to them. I make a selection based on what that board needs. A recommendation from the board goes a long way. When I do the CAC governing board, I tend to form an interview committee or panel. I try to make sure I have, I may possibly have an elected official, I’ve had one or two employees of CAC, I try to have community members, business members. I try to represent many facets of the population in that area. And then I have them help me with the interviews. That ones a tough one because it affects the tax rate for the entire county. I think it’s important to have that input. I haven’t been as lucky with getting panels together for some of our districts just because it’s a smaller community and sometimes difficult to get… without bias, someone open-minded. That’s why I think talking to the superintendent, talking to the school board, really helps me get a view of what the district needs, what the school board needs, and then I try to put somebody in there.

And a note to anybody who applies – if you don’t mention kids in your interview, you really don’t have a chance of getting appointed to a school board. But it happens all the time.

What would you like to see happen with public education in this county?
Well, test scores are not everything, but it is a good indicator as to how our students are performing with other students around the state and even in the country. So, we really want to help promote mastery in teaching when it comes to ELA and math. That’s huge. But I think another huge thing is preparing our students for the jobs and industries that are coming to our county. Looking ahead at what skills they’re going to need for that and that they can be adaptable because they’re probably not going to wind up in a job that they’re going to sit in for 40 years. We’ve seen that trend happening for a few years now. We have these great industries coming to Pinal County and wonderful opportunities. So, to be able to set them up with more career and technical education and even starting at a younger age would be great – having those options open to them, internships. It’s hard for me to narrow it down because the sky’s the limit when it comes to our kids. I’m on the State Board of Education, and getting to hear and see some of the innovative things that are happening across the state is really exciting. I’m on the executive council of a national organization called Association of Education Services Agencies. I get to see what’s happening across the United States. That is really exciting because I can bring that back to our school here in Arizona. Rural Arizona can have those same opportunities that are happening in Chicago, Illinois, and that’s exciting. Just providing the same quality of education in rural Arizona that some of the big cities and affluent neighborhoods are getting is exciting for me, and I want to continue to bring that to the doors of our students.


This story appears in the February issue of InMaricopa.

A+ Charter Schools began enrolling students in early January for the 2020-2021 school year. In its first year, the school will serve students in grades 7-10 and add grades 11-12 in the following years. The school is committed to meeting the needs of modern-day students through project-based learning, as well as Advisory and Academic Success Groups.

Principal Rachele Reese said, “We are excited to bring a model that truly meets the needs of students, as well as closes gaps on workforce readiness needs. Space is limited for enrollment and our classes are filling quickly. We anticipate a wonderful group of students and families that will form a positive school community.”

The design of the academic program and instructional model is founded on the latest research and practices in education to prepare students for the workforce, by focusing on 21st-century skills. Students will have opportunities to develop critical skills for a wide variety of industries through project-based learning, community service projects, and internships.

Reese went on to say, “To round out our school community, we are actively interviewing educators who want the opportunity to teach using the project-based learning model and be a part of our founding team.” A+ Charter Schools is looking for innovative and qualified teaching candidates for middle school and high school in all subjects and elective areas, as well as substitute teachers. The school is hosting an Interview Fair on Saturday, February 8. For interested candidates, submit your application and resume to schedule an interview during the Interview Fair. Information is available at www.aplusaz.org/careers or email careers@aplusaz.org with any questions.

For families interested in enrollment for grades 7-10, visit the online enrollment portal at www.aplusaz.org/enrollment. The school is also offering a PBL Club on Friday afternoons from 12:30-2:00 p.m. Please visit their website at www.aplusaz.org or call 520-265-5589 for more information.

 

 

 

by -
Mackenzie Ford (submitted)

Maricopa High School graduate Mackenzie Ford was among 18% of Dixie State University students named to the fall honor rolls.

The university in St. George, Utah, had 1,978 students named to either the President’s List or the Dean’s List.

There were 816 students on the President’s List and 1,162 on the Dean’s List. Inclusion indicates students’ strong commitment to their academic pursuits, as they must achieve a semester GPA of 3.9 or higher to be included on the President’s List and a GPA of 3.5 to 3.89 for the Dean’s List. Both lists require students to complete a minimum of 15 credits.

Ford is a freshman on the Dean’s List.

A             Excellent
B             Highly performing
C             Performing
D             Minimally performing
F              Failing

When the accounting was done for last school year, Maricopa had moved from having three A-rated schools to one A-rated school. But other schools were happy to see growth.

Fourteen schools in Maricopa were assessed by the Arizona Department of Education for the 2018-19 school year. Nine of them are in Maricopa Unified School District while the others are charter schools. The elementary and secondary schools at Sequoia Pathway were looked as a hybrid for a combined score, but results were also given individually.

K-8 and high school have slightly different measuring tools and different ranges for letter grades, but both have much of the scoring weight in student growth. Student growth is measured in proficiency and subgroup improvement. “Subgroups” are determined by economically disadvantaged, special education and other factors.

Pima Butte Elementary School, an A school last year, excelled by earning 1.5 points more. That gave the MUSD school a percentage of 99.35, the highest in Pinal County. A dearth of English Language Learners made the school eligible for only 90 points rather than 100.

“Pima Butte Elementary School has a smaller ELL population than a number of our elementary sites and as a result that portion of the state’s school letter grade calculation is not a factor to Pima Butte’s overall score and rating,” Principal Randy Lazar said.

When a school already rates “excellent,” showing even more growth can be difficult. But Pima Butte found a way to squeeze in the extra and increase its percentage.

“Under the Acceleration/Readiness section, we earned a couple more points in 2019,” Lazar said. “This helped raise our overall points.”

Among Pinal County schools, 65 percent earned a C-rating or lower.

High schools benefited from better reporting in the way the Department of Education scored the College and Career Readiness Indicators category. Maricopa High, again C-rated, moved very close to a B based on CCRI while Sequoia Pathway jumped into the B category as its CCRI points grew from 11.8 to 18.6.

“2018 was a baseline year for all of our schools, and several points were lost as we were determining the process for data gathering and reporting,” said Mark Plitzuweit, CEO of Edkey Inc., the parent company for Pathway. “Some of our principals reported more accurate information for 2018 than others. 2019 brought the focus on maximizing those points for all of our Edkey Inc. secondary schools.”

He said the result of “judicious” data gathering across the Edkey organization resulting in important CCRI growth.

“We expect these results to be stable in the years to come,” Plitzuweit said.

Though Pathway’s secondary school moved from 69.77 in 2018 to 77.75 in 2019, there were several staffing changes after the school year, including around 10 faculty resignations and terminations during the first semester of this year, with several posts filled by long-term substitutes. The impact on the next assessments is guesswork.

Noting MHS scored 68.5 and needed 70.2 for a B, MUSD Governing Board member Patti Coutré said during a November meeting, “The smallest amount of points can make a big difference… Even though they’re still a C, they’ve significantly increased every year for the last three years. So, they’re making progress. That’s always good to see.”

MUSD’s two middle schools, however, have low C ratings. Desert Wind dropped from 66.8 to 62.87 while Maricopa Wells had only a fraction of a point difference in its results.

MUSD’s Butterfield Elementary, which had jumped from a C to an A last year, lost some growth points to score a high B. Legacy Traditional School, a charter usually posting an A, had a similar fate as a decline in growth points left it with a high B rating. Leading Edge Academy, also a charter, last year was less than a point from an A but this year moved to a low B.

Saddleback Elementary gained growth points and went from being MUSD’s only C-rated elementary to earning a solid B rating.

Meanwhile, the charter school Holsteiner Agricultural School saw all its numbers tumble to fall from a C to an F. According to the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools, Holsteiner dropped its charter because of low enrollment.

School letter grade quantitative measurements are a mix of federal and state requirements. Schools are assessed on their proficiency and growth in English language arts and math, the proficiency and growth of ELL students, graduation rates, absenteeism, growth of subgroups and results of ACT or SAT, “or earning an industry credential, certificate or license.”

Dennis Koch, director of Assessment Technology at MUSD, reminded board members the district has a goal of “being a highly performing district with school letter grades of B and higher.”

 


This story appears in the January issue of InMaricopa.

Family background leads to neurology

Freya Abraham
Freya Abraham

Freya Abraham has wanted to be a doctor since she was 4 years old.

While the specialty has changed, the goal still exists and is even nearer her grasp. At 17, she is now a semi-finalist for both the prestigious Flinn Scholarship and the Coca-Cola Scholarship.

It is the second year in a row a Maricopa High School student has been named a semi-finalist for the Flinn. Last year, Chandler Chang received the scholarship, which is valued at $120,000.

“The cool thing about the Flinn is they know people who do what you want to do,” Abraham said. “I was looking into Flinn scholars, and there are several that are already interested in public policy and science degrees. You don’t have to stumble into this field and try to find your own connections. You can be part of a community, maybe work on something they’re working on and then start your own project. It’s just easier if you have that level of support and resources.”

The status as semi-finalist puts Abraham in the top 80 of the 800 Arizona students who applied for the scholarship. In the campaign for a Coca-Cola Scholarship, she is in the top 1,928 out of 93,000 who applied nationally.

The Coke Scholarship of $20,000 ($5,000 per year in college) goes to 150 students. This year, 50 semi-finalists are from Arizona.

The Coke semi-finalists must complete a second application that is even more in-depth than the first, and it is due in January. The first application looks at their academic record and inquires about activities the students are involved in but has no essay requirement. Round 2 is different.

“Now specifically, they listed the activities I submitted,” Abraham said. “They’re like, ‘Write an impact statement for each one.’ For the essay questions now, they have like six different ones.”

She is also a National Merit Scholarship semi-finalist. In Maricopa High School’s DECA chapter, she started winning awards during freshman year and by junior year was chapter president, when she won an overall first-place award in the state competition. She founded the school’s STEM Club (“I love STEM Club”), was a state-level winner in Junior State of America, founded the Girls Who Code Club at Maricopa Public Library, participated in TGen BioScience Leadership Academy, Girls State and Future Health Leaders of Arizona and is involved with several programs with her church.

By her mother Neetha’s account, Freya has always been self-motivated and curious. Reading voraciously by the time she was 4, Freya has become a high-energy teen.

“The only thing we need to tell her: ‘Freya, go and sleep,’” Neetha Abraham said. “We want to see her sleeping. The last six months, we want her to get to sleep at least six hours per day. If it’s a finals test sometimes she stays up to 2 a.m., 3 a.m., some days 4 a.m. waking up at 6 a.m.”

Neetha started staying up with her, “guilting” her into going to bed.

Each year, the Flinn Scholarship awards 20-24 graduating seniors who will attend an Arizona college.

Freya and her parents, Francy and Neetha, looked at Arizona State and University of Arizona and were impressed. Freya leaned toward the neuroscience program at U of A, which also has programs for management and public policy. It is also where Francy earned his master’s degree.

“The nice thing is, U of A has been very involved with the Flinn Scholarship,” Freya Abraham said. “ASU also sent me a little email about my being a semi-finalist, but U of A sent me a package in the mail and a card from someone who knows, a medical nonprofit director who’s interested in what I’m interested in. Also, they have an award for Flinn semi-finalists, $5,000 a year in addition to your merit awards. They give you the vibe that they really want you.”

With or without the Flinn or Coke scholarships, she hopes to have undergraduate studies, medical school and residency with U of A. That adds up to many years of schooling.

“Her father was pushing, pushing, pushing her to go into engineering because it takes four years,” Neetha Abraham said.

Freya said her father encouraged her to explore biomedical engineering as an option that would be within her field of interest but get her into a job sooner. Her older brother Alfred, who was valedictorian of his senior class at MHS, is studying material science.

“But I’d rather use the tools than make the tools,” Freya said.

She initially wanted to be a neurosurgeon, but that changed last year as she became acquainted with neurologists through programs in which she was participating.

“I like the neurologists’ lifestyle and the kind of relationship they have with their patients a bit more,” she said. “Because with surgery, you just see the person when you operate, and that’s it. If you’re in neurology, it’s a bit similar to oncology in that you tend to have patients for the rest of their life. You tend to build that relationship.”

Abraham said her family has a history with neurological issues, from Alzheimer’s disease to Asperger’s syndrome and autism. So, her interest in the field arrived early.

When she was in second grade, her principal pulled her out of reading class to show her a book about Phineas Gage. He became a focal point of brain studies after suffering a horrendous injury in a worksite accident, during which an iron rod went through his head.

“And he had a total personality change because that section of his brain that controlled his emotions was gone,” Abraham said. “So now he became very irritable. He used to be very polite, but then couldn’t keep a job any more, couldn’t stick to tasks. I thought that was very interesting.”

The information was formative for Abraham.

“After that, everything seemed kind of boring,” she said. “Because we don’t know enough about the brain. We know the brain can kind of fix itself like that. Any other organ, like if you lose half your heart, it’s really hard for that heart to keep going. We need to stick another heart in you. If you lose half your brain, you can still keep going.”

Francy and Neetha Abraham, originally from India, were Minnesota residents when Freya was born. They moved to Arizona when she was 2 and moved to Maricopa when she was 3.

She attended Legacy Traditional School through eighth grade. While her friends left town to attend high school at Valley schools, Freya remained to attend MHS like her brother.

Freya expected to have difficulty switching from a highly rated charter school to a district high school.

“But automatically you have a larger range of faculty to go to for different things,” she said. “Because we have the opportunity of living in a developing public school, people will go to you for opportunities. My friends at Horizon or Desert Vista, it would be hard for them to start a club. It would be hard for them to get a leadership position even if they wanted to because so many other kids were trying to vie for these positions. The teachers were tired. They were like, ‘We don’t need another club. Guys, stop.’ But Maricopa is different because the administration especially really likes it when kids want to take initiative and want to be involved. You get positive feedback for that kind of thing here. I don’t think some of my friends have ever been to a school board meeting.

“I’ve really enjoyed my high school experience.”

Freya Abraham wants to be a pediatric neurologist and also engage her leadership skills by forming medical nonprofits.

“A lot of people I’ve met, they can get their treatment plan worked out with their doctor. The problem is everything else,” Abraham said. “Like education. We have different IEP [Individualized Education Program] services, but they’re not personalized. Families need help navigating that. I met a family whose daughter would have seizures when she heard loud noises. So, they had to apply for a zoning permit for the community. And they didn’t even have any idea how to do that, so they kind of ticked off the local motorcycle club. Some people came over and started driving around their house, which sounds funny until you realize their daughter was going into seizures every time that happened. It took weeks for them to figure that out on their own. They had to pay their own legal fees. So, I would be interested in creating a network for those kinds of services to be available to people who need them.”

She said it is important to her to have smaller medical clinics, which can better follow up with patients than a hospital, and have a “bridge” between the hospital and clinics.

“You can’t do a lot of procedures in a clinic; they’ll send you the hospital. It’s just an issue that bothers me,” she said. “A lot of people get sent home from the hospital and pass away. Or they won’t get communications from the hospital and something will go wrong. There’s no kind of after-care. I’m interested in being part of new programs that would take care of patients in that critical time afterwards.

“A girl I know was sent home after she had pneumonia. Her heart stopped in her sleep. If someone was monitoring that, like at the hospital they would have had a Code Blue and restarted her heart. Her family didn’t know; they were all sleeping.”

She like the notion of not having to worry about work or applying for grants in order to fully focus on her college experience. A major scholarship would allow that to happen.

She credits the MHS faculty for being supportive and specifically Bernadette Russoniello for her earlier guidance as DECA advisor and her current role as College and Career counselor.

“If I have an idea, I’ll float it by my parents,” Abraham said. “They love me, but they’ll be like, ‘Do you need to do this? Can you just go to sleep? Do you have to do this new thing?’ And I’ll be like, ‘I don’t know. Maybe. Can I try?’ And I’ll go to Mrs. Russ, and Mrs. Russ will be like, ‘OK, you can do this thing, but here’s how you can do it in a shorter timeframe.’ I feel like I have a lot of energy, and she focuses me in the right direction.”

She said the only thing she didn’t get in Maricopa was being close to people working on a larger scale.

“We don’t have lab facilities close by. We have school labs, but we don’t have a genomics lab in this city. We don’t have a hospital lab in the city,” she said. “We’ve always had to go out. So being able to be at a Top 2, like University of Arizona, that’s close to all those resources and also being able to know the people working with those resources. I know I can get to where I want to go eventually; the Flinn Scholarship would help me get there faster.”

She said her mother is “No. 1 when it comes to the reason I was able to do all my things and not fall over.” She said Neetha was top of her school and fourth-ranked in her state. While she likes to brag on her mother, Neetha likes to brag on the school.

“Her friends went to other schools, they don’t have semi-finalists. They don’t have National Merit,” Neetha Abraham said. “Maricopa did that.”

Freya agreed.

“You have a Mrs. Russ here. You have an administration that wants you here,” she said. “Maybe this environment isn’t everything that you’ve wanted. Maybe you want to go to a school where they’ve had Nobel Peace Prize winners come and speak. Maybe you want to go to a school where they have state-of-the-art labs on site. Well, you can help build that. If you come and you gain awards and activities, you can be the Nobel Peace Prize winner. Why are you waiting for other people to do it for you?”

For others who want to succeed in their scholarship campaigns, Freya Abraham offered some advice.

“You have to have a good GPA that shows you try in your classes. You have to have good test scores that show you tried to prep for them. But after that, they want people who are original. You can be original anywhere.”

Her parents speak Malayalam and attend a Catholic church with a special Malayalam Rite. Abraham has not only sung for special occasions like wedding and funerals but also has a built-in network from the church families, with some of the girls already students at U of A.

She said she feel fortunate to come from a support system of family and school that has set her up to succeed academically and in life.

“I always read a lot, and in children’s fantasy a big theme is this ordinary guy or girl suddenly able to do all these crazy things,” she said. “I always thought that if I spent enough time working on something or if I try hard enough, I can do it. Why shouldn’t I do it?”

Rachele Reese (right) chats with Mayor Christian Price at the groundbreaking for A+ Charter Schools for grades 7-12. Photo by Kyle Norby

A+ Charter Schools broke ground today on a facility for grades 7-12 after an almost year-long hiatus. The ceremony was met with applause and a crowd full of high spirits with the school finally making its way to Maricopa.

“It is an honor for me to be here today after three years of hard work from so many of us,” said Principal Rachele Reese.

Many city officials, including Mayor Christian Price, were in attendance for the ceremony as well as parents and children who have long supported the new school.

Concept art of phase one of this project features a two-story facility that will be located west of Banner Health on Allen Stephens Parkway.

Reese cited the mayor’s “city of dreams” ideology in the most recent State of the City address as inspiration to complete the school and keep powering on. “When I look at our beautiful logo, I see an opportunity for real transformation in our educational system that is so much to advance our community’s plan to be a city of dreams.”

More information on A+ Charter Schools can be found here.

Pima Butte Elementary School. Photo by Kyle Norby

One school in Maricopa Unified School District jumped a letter grade in the most recent assessment while another fell a letter grade.

The same phenomenon occurred among Maricopa’s charter schools, with a perennial A-lister falling a notch. Letter grades determined by the Arizona Department of Education are not yet final and can be appealed.

MUSD’s governing board will see a presentation on its results from the 2018-19 school year during Wednesday’s scheduled meeting at the district office.

Letter grades are determined by results of state testing as well as measurements of student growth in a variety of areas.

Pima Butte Elementary School, one of MUSD’s campuses in Rancho El Dorado, is an A+ school and, for now, is the only A-rated school in the city. Butterfield Elementary, which last year had climbed to an A from a C, now has a B.

Despite that, according to data from Principal Janel Hildick, Butterfield’s third and fifth graders saw more than 10-percent growth in English language arts (reading) proficiency. Math results decreased by 19.88 points among third and fourth graders.

Pima Butte, on the other hand, ranks 20th among the state’s more than 1,300 total points earned. Its math and reading passing percentages on AzMerit were among the top three in Pinal County.

Meanwhile, Saddleback Elementary, which had been MUSD’s only elementary school to receive a C for the 2017-18 school year, achieved a B this time around.

While all six of MUSD’s elementary schools are now A and B schools, its two middle schools and the high school remain C-rated.

Among the charters, Legacy Traditional School dropped from an A to a B, but still had among the county’s top AzMerit results. However, Sequoia Pathway Academy climbed from a C to a B. Leading Edge Academy maintained its B-rating.

Wednesday, MUSD Teaching and Learning Director Krista Roden and Assessment and Technology Director Dennis Koch will discuss the results with the district governing board. The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m.

 

Maricopa Schools                   2017/18                2018/19


Butterfield Elementary                 A                              B


Desert Wind Middle                      C                             C


Leading Edge Academy                B                             B


Legacy Traditional                         A                            B


Maricopa Elementary                   B                             B


Maricopa High School                  C                             C


Maricopa Wells Middle                C                             C


Pima Butte Elementary                A                             A


Saddleback Elementary               C                             B


Santa Cruz Elementary                B                             B


Santa Rosa Elementary                B                             B


Sequoia Pathway Academy          C                             B

 

Maricopa High School is over capacity by 30%, something the students experience every day. The question is how to deal with growth in a way that is fair to students and taxpayers. Photo by Joycelyn Cabrera

By Joycelyn Cabrera

Proposition 437 introduces a $68 million bond on the November ballot for the main purpose of building a second high school in Maricopa Unified School District. The bond has sparked dialogue among Maricopa residents.

Residents within MUSD debate on social media about the proposition, the differences between bonds and overrides, and whether to vote on additional educational funding after just having approved an override.


Proposition 437 seeks $68 million bond

Nov. 5 is a special election for registered voters of MUSD 20 to vote on a general obligation bond, which will fund the construction of a second high school and general, long-term maintenance for school district property.

General maintenance will include improvement to roofing throughout the district and repairing heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems on the current high-school campus, as well as safety enhancements for schools and the purchase of buses for the district.

The Arizona School Facilities Board approved $23 million in early 2019 specifically for construction of a new high school and additional funds for the purchase of land.

Superintendent Tracey Lopeman said $23 million is not enough funding to build a high-functioning school with the same standards as the current Maricopa High School.

“This is for a starter high school. It is not meant to build an entire, comprehensive high school. It doesn’t cover football fields, gymnasiums, it doesn’t even pay for carpet,” Lopeman said. “It only pays for the beginnings of a high school, for the beginnings of a population as well. It’s not meant to cover the entire investment.”

The $68 million from the bond would be added to the $23 million already allocated.

“We envision a comprehensive high school that provides the amenities and the enriched, robust programing,” Lopeman said, “while not the same as at Maricopa High School, but the same quality, the same richness.”

Leftover funding after reaching the $70 million mark will be used for general maintenance, equaling out to potentially $13 million for district maintenance to repair older buildings, upgrading buses and maintaining HVAC systems.


Maricopa High School over-capacity

In that 10 years, the student population has essentially doubled, but our campus footprint has stayed the same.

MHS was originally built for 1,900 students maximum, according to Principal Brian Winter. The school is 600 students – more than 30 percent – over capacity. And the 2,500-student enrollment increases daily, and the school continues to enroll students on a daily basis, he said.

“I think that there is a host of benefits to the proposition passing,” Winter said. “A second high school in our community will create a positive rivalry with Maricopa High School and take the stress and burden of the continued growth that we’re experiencing off of this campus.”

Temporary portable classrooms have been implemented on campus to relieve large class sizes, which began ranging from 25 to 40 students last year.

Aiden Balt is an English teacher at Maricopa High School and a National Board-certified educator.

“I’ve been working for the district for 10 years, and in that 10 years the student population has essentially doubled, but our campus footprint has stayed the same,” Balt said. “Many people are aware that we have contracted for 16 portable classrooms that are currently on campus. That’s a temporary solution to our numbers.”

Students say their quality of education is affected by the school sitting at over-capacity.

Francis Trast is a junior and part of the Air Force JROTC program at the school as well as a member of the cross-country team.

“We do have some overcrowded classrooms. The German courses is one of the ones that’s particularly overcrowded, because everybody needs to get a foreign language,” Trast said. “I know my German classroom has, I would say, 35–40 kids in it, so it’s always kind of loud and boisterous.”

Freya Abraham is a senior, currently at the top of her class. Abraham said she personally cannot focus or efficiently learn in large classrooms.

“I’ve heard and known students whose quality of education has taken a hit because of overcrowding,” Abraham said. “When I talk to kids, even if they’re not ready for that level, I recommend honors and AP solely because of the class size. With 45 people in the classroom, I don’t know how you can be motivated in a class where you don’t even have chairs to sit in.”


Plan B?

Should Proposition 437 not get approval from voters, MUSD 20 still plans to begin working to relieve over-crowding at the high school by using the $23 million to explore different avenues.

This could potentially include a small start-up school with basic necessities, adding classrooms on the current campus, or purchasing land before waiting on another election to turn to voters once again.

“We don’t want to have overcrowded classrooms at Maricopa High School. That’s one of the intentions of the bond is to build a second high school so that we can provide safe environments for all of our kids and quality instruction,” Balt said.


Financing and tax-payer money

What you find is that property taxes increased so high over time that it forced people out of the community.

Many residents of MUSD 20 turned to social media to voice their concerns about the resulting tax increase should the proposition pass, particularly because of the tax increase from passing an MUSD 20 override in 2016.

Informational pamphlets on the proposed bond were sent to Maricopa residents amid early-voting season. Should the bond pass, property taxes for Maricopa homeowners will increase at an assessed 10% value of residential property, according to the pamphlet.

The law uses assessed value rather than market value for determining property taxes. For instance, a property that sold for $236,000 in October has an assessed full cash value of $134,995.

Residential property assessed at a $100,000 value would see a tax increase of about $10.15 a month, creating an annual estimated cost of $122 each year. The pamphlet specifies, “an owner-occupied residence valued by the County Assessor at $250,000 is estimated to be $311.91 per year” in additional taxes.

Chester Szoltysik, a 15-year Maricopa resident and director of Information Systems at AmeriFirst Financial, previously worked in the Chicago Police Department and Arizona Peace Officer Standards and Training Board. Szoltysik said he is concerned the growth of the community will slow down or come to a halt with tax increases.

“What you find is that property taxes increased so high over time that it forced people out of the community,” Szoltysik said. “For example, in the state of Illinois, it’s one of the few states that’s actually seeing a population decrease. They’re seeing people leave the state to go to places with lower property taxes.”

Szoltysik has no children in the district and said his stance on the proposition may change if he felt a stronger obligation toward supporting additional educational funding.

Many Maricopa residents voiced their concerns on social media for tax increases in cases of fixed incomes or no personal connection with the school district.

Torri Anderson, a member of the Arizona School Boards Association and MUSD 20 Governing Board, said the state Legislature creates issues in tax increases for local districts.

“The state needs to be accountable to the taxpayers and put the money into public schools, which is taxpayer accountability,” Anderson said. “It’s really time for the taxpayers to start demanding that they know where their money goes.”


Bonds and overrides

Bonds are capital projects, things like construction of buildings, new roofs, new HVAC systems, buses.

Money approved for an override can only be allocated for a specific purpose, just as money approved for bonds can only be utilized for specific projects.

According to the Arizona School Board Association, overrides can have money allocated for maintenance and operations expenses as temporary solutions (or with a short-term expectancy) or in supporting specific programs that may have to be renewed (such as funding salaries for additional staff).

Bonds are used to fund capital equipment that has a life-span of more than five years without getting renewed in any way, according to the ASBA. This would include funding the construction of buildings, long-lasting repairs and maintenance, and updated safety and transportation systems.

Maricopa Unified School District #20 has had six bond approvals in its long history. Here are the previous three:

  • 2006 bond election for $55,700,000 was issued over 5 series, the latest maturity is July 1, 2029.  ($6,220,000 authorization went unissued as it expired in November 2012).
  • 1996 bond election for $3,885,000 was issued in 3 series, the latest maturity was 2013.
  • 1987 bond election for $3,000,000 was issued in 4 series, the latest maturity was 2002.

Both bonds and overrides require voter approval from residents in the district. MUSD bonds elections for capital improvements have fared better than override elections over the past 15 years.

In 2005, an override passed with 67% approval, followed by a successful bond election in 2006, passing with 78% of the vote.

However, since 2009, five overrides were brought to voters and failed, with disapproval ranging from 55% to 68% up until 2016, when the first override in 10 years passed by 56% of voters to pay for more teachers and additional technology.

“The override was a maintenance and ops override that is permission from the voters to exceed the budgeted amount that is allocated to the schools by 10%. It’s maintenance and operations money that’s meant to be spent in one year,” Lopeman said. “Bonds are capital projects, things like construction of buildings, new roofs, new HVAC systems, buses… it’s things that have a lifespan of more than one year.”

Money approved for overrides, whether capital or special, cannot be re-allocated to fund bonds or anything outside of what falls under each category, according to state law. Likewise, money approved for bonds cannot be utilized for projects that would fall under an override.

The 2006 bond was the most recent long-term, capital-projects funding passed by Maricopa voters, according to county records. That bond built several schools in the district, Butterfield, Santa Cruz, Saddleback and Pima Butte elementary schools and Desert Wind Middle School.


Statewide trend

It’s a math equation; more students need more resources, and the state hasn’t done it, so therefore we have to ask our neighbors.

MUSD 20 is not the only district to turn to voters during the 2019 election season. School districts in all but five counties are asking voters for approval on bonds and overrides on their November ballots, according to Save Our Schools Arizona, an organization that works with the Legislature to improve Arizona public schools.

Dawn Penich-Thacker is the co-founder and communications director for Save Our Schools Arizona. Penich-Thacker weighed in on the statewide context of Proposition 437.

“Arizona politicians have cut the funding, but our needs are higher because people move here,” Penich-Thacker said. “It’s a math equation; more students need more resources, and the state hasn’t done it, so therefore we have to ask our neighbors.”

Many counties are proposing overrides and bonds for multiple school districts per county, with only a few counties voting on one district. Pinal County will see four bonds and four overrides go to voters.

“Over the last 10 years, MUSD has incurred $19.1 million in cuts to capital funding,” Balt said. “Our projected budget for 2020 only funds about 70% of our allotted capital items, and that is a direct effect of the cuts that have been made at the state level.”

Over 40 Arizona public school districts will be voting on bonds and overrides this Nov. 5.

“Public education serves every single child in the state. Public education services everybody, and we are a diverse, equitable education,” Anderson said. “It’s not pick and choose. We educate every child.”

Murray Siegel

By Murray Siegel

Murray Siegel

Americans have been debating for decades how to improve the quality of public education. A series of recent events have pointed out one irritant in our education process is state bureaucrats who devise rules for our schools without having the proper knowledge.

I have been a volunteer at Butterfield Elementary School since 2015. Last year I was asked to observe the teaching of math in all five fourth-grade classrooms. The students were learning how to multiply multi-digit whole numbers and the lessons included opportunities for students to use various methods. These methods were all mathematically correct, but I saw that the collection did not include what I consider the most effective multiplication method, Lattice Multiplication (LM).

When I asked the teachers why they presented the various methods and why they did not include Lattice, they said the methods were required by the Arizona Department of Education and that the LM was not among those required.

I called the Education Department and spoke with the woman who is responsible for the math curriculum in elementary schools. I asked her why Lattice was not included. She replied the LM was not effective. I strongly disagree but realized I had no chance to change her mind.

What is LM? Rather than trying to explain it without benefit of dynamic graphics, I suggest you visit the YouTube link bit.ly/LatticeM.

This year I am teaching an advanced math class at BES, comprised of the top math students in the school’s fifth grade. One day, I gave the class five minutes to compute 396 X 478 using any method they preferred. The results are troubling to me since only 11 of the 30 students obtained the correct answer.

These are the best math students in a school graded “A” by the state, yet most could not work a problem that was to be mastered in fourth grade. The fault does not lie with the district, or with the school principal or with the classroom teachers, since they are following the state’s dictates. This is but one small topic in a child’s education, so how many other academic topics are being taught inefficiently because of a state bureaucrat?

Have these bureaucrats taught in an elementary classroom in recent years? The dynamic of the elementary classroom has changed and those with no relevant experience are prone to make serious errors that affect our children’s education. This requires serious legislative investigation.

Murray Siegel, Ph.D., has 44 years of experience teaching mathematics. He is in his fifth year as a volunteer at Butterfield Elementary School.


This column appears in the October issue of InMaricopa.

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Angello Gianni Hernandez-De la Pena and Freya Abraham. Submitted photo

By Bernadette Russoniello

Every October students across the country put their academic merit to the test through the PSAT/NMSQT assessment provided by the College Board. The PSAT is a preliminary SAT, a full-length practice test that mimics the environment and conditions for the formidable college admissions test.

Additionally, for students in their junior year of high school, the exam is a two-for: it also serves as the National Merit Scholarship Qualifying Test.

Last October, two Maricopa High School students achieved at the top of the nearly 1.5 million students who tested. Placing in the top 1 percent of test takers in the state, Angello Gianni Hernandez-De la Pena and Freya Abraham outperformed their classmates throughout the state and nation. Sept. 11, they were announced as National Merit Scholarship Semi-Finalists and recognized by the College Board for their outstanding academic performance.

The National Merit Scholarship program will announce their finalists later this fall; students then compete for the ultimate honor of being named a Merit Scholar. This honor comes with financial rewards: $2,500 from the National Merit Scholarship Corporation plus entry into nearly $31 million in scholarship awards from business and industry partners reserved specifically for Merit Scholars.

From our state universities, Angello and Freya can expect full-ride awards.

Students register for the PSAT/NMSQT at Maricopa High School with a $16 fee; 11th grade students who qualify for free or reduced lunch receive a fee waiver for the test. This year, students will test Oct.16. MHS also participates in the PSAT 10, an additional practice test opportunity geared to underclassmen for the spring. This year’s PSAT 10 will be April 30.

Although Angello and Freya are open to offers from universities across the nation, both are happy with the idea of staying in-state at the honors colleges at either U of A or ASU. Angello plans to study computer science while Freya plans to pursue medicine.

CollegeBoard.org

Bernadette Russoniello is the College and Career coordinator at Maricopa High School.


This column appears in the October issue of InMaricopa.

Murray Siegel

By Murray Siegel

Murray Siegel

The cost of a college education has skyrocketed. In-state tuition at ASU for 2005-06 was $4,407; last year that bill was $10,822, a 146-percent increase.

The explosive increase in college tuition has placed a financial burden on many families. Students borrow money for college, resulting in current college-loan debt exceeding the total American credit card debt. Some politicians have declared that if elected they will provide free education at a public university for all, paid for by the federal government.

Some Americans are troubled by this offer, since a reasonable source of funding has not been provided, and there are fears that, given a free education, many students will not exert themselves in the classroom.

My August column demonstrated there are two existing methods for obtaining a free college education paid for by the federal government – the GI Bill and ROTC scholarships. The question was asked, “What about students who are unable or unwilling to serve in the military?”

What follows are not final proposals, simply places where the conversation can start.

A Federal Work Force (FWF) could be formed where young Americans can provide needed labor in such areas as fire prevention in forests, flood prevention, clearing decaying neighborhoods, transforming vacant urban lots into community parks and serving as teachers’ aides in underfunded school districts. FWF participants would serve a minimum of two years (including training) and a maximum of four years. For each year served the participant will have a year of tuition, fees and required materials paid for at any public university by the federal government.

The second proposal would identify college majors that are desperately needed for specific jobs, such as highly qualified math and science teachers, teachers of any subject and grade level in rural or inner-city schools, registered nurses at rural hospitals, computer scientists willing to work for municipal governments and urban planners. An applicant who signs a contract to enter an approved academic program and who agrees to seek specifically defined employment for four years upon graduation would have all tuition, fees and required materials paid for at any public university that has an approved academic program.

Should such a student drop out of school or not obtain approved employment, the contract will be considered violated, and all funds paid by the federal government will be converted into a loan with payments beginning three months after the contract is violated. Failure to make these payments will result in that person being unable to be hired by any federal agency or receive payments from any federal program.

Both these programs need to be fleshed out by experts, but this seems to be a worthwhile place to start. What do you think?

Murray Siegel, Ph.D., has 44 years of experience teaching mathematics. He is in his fifth year as a volunteer at Butterfield Elementary School.


This column appears in the September issue of InMaricopa.

Superintendent takes blame for implementation errors

Parent Tyler Wright speaks to the board before a capacity crowd Tuesday. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

A school policy updated in April has had unintended consequences at Maricopa High School this fall, and a room full of students and their parents explained the impact during Wednesday’s meeting of the Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board.

At the request of board member Torri Anderson, the board held a work study on the implementation of Policy IIE, which states:

“It shall be the responsibility of the principal, with the cooperation of assigned counselors, to assist students in the scheduling of classes. All students in the high school, with the exception of graduating seniors, are required to enroll in six (6) credit-bearing classes.

Graduating seniors are required to enroll in the minimum of five (5) credit-bearing courses. Seniors wishing to participate in extra-curricular programs must adhere to Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) guidelines.”

Superintendent Tracey Lopeman said she had made an error in the implementation of the policy. It was meant to be in place for this year’s incoming freshmen and future classes rather than students already in high school.

“It was completely my error regarding the freshman implementation,” Lopeman said. “It was completely my oversight, and I apologize for that.”

Anderson called it a communications breakdown and said it should not have happened. Students said it was forcing them to choose between their church and school activities.

Eric Goettl, instructor of the Seminary program of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, earlier said the way the policy was implemented has “negatively impacted our youth and our ability to offer release-time religious education in an off-campus setting.”

Before Tuesday’s meeting, however, Goettl had a fruitful discussion with Lopeman about the situation. Currently, 150 students from MHS and other high schools attend Seminary in the church across the street from MHS for an hour during the school day.

MHS offered Odyssey courses outside the regular class schedule, during Zero Hour or Eighth Hour, for those students wanting to meet the required enrollment hours and still take time for Seminary. However, students said those course options did not include Advanced-Placement classes and they could not make up the lost credit as well as they did before. The long school day was also leaving students exhausted, they said, especially those trying to be involved in extracurricular activities or after-school jobs.

“I just panic all the time and am stressed out a bunch of the time, too,” student Kyle Jones said. “It’s really hard to keep up. I’m really surprised I’m only a few assignments behind in the class.”

Lopeman had discovered the discrepancy between policy and practice at the high school after some teachers raised the question about “weighted” grade point averages that gave higher results to students taking fewer classes and finishing higher in the class standings. Lopeman said the six-credit-bearing-classes policy has been in place for “quite a while” but had not been in practice at MHS. On the other hand, the previous policy had required seniors to take just four credit-bearing classes while in reality they were taking five.

“They have to take five because of early-release Wednesdays,” she said.

“I understand that this change was to make sure that we have all of our credits to graduate,” senior Katie Hanks said. “I know every single one of us knew as a freshman coming in that we would have to make up that credit. This hasn’t been a problem in the past and so it shouldn’t be a problem today.”

Hanks outlined her day, which included heading off to Zero Hour before 6 a.m. and coming home at 7 p.m. or later. Only then, she said, did she have time to do homework for her many AP and honors classes. Haley Lemon, president of the MHS Theatre Company, said its even worse for students in Tech Theatre, who may not get home before 10 p.m. when preparing for a production.

“It’s my understanding that a lot of this came to fruition because of some discussion or some concern about weighted GPAs and valedictorians and that kind of stuff,” Bishop Ryan Atwood said. “I’m sure there’s much more complexities than that. But I can tell you, the current solution is not acceptable.”

The GPA calculation was at the center of discord and will be part of the discussion as the district tries to work out a solution.

“I get it, the GPA boost that we got when you divide it by less number of credits,” student John Jackson said. “I know some of my member friends would talk about it in freshman year how, ‘Wow, we’re first in our class because of this GPA boost.’ But now, I’d argue, without the ability to take AP credits and honors credits A Hour or Eighth Hour and do it online, our numbers will have lower GPAs instead of the little bit higher GPA they had prior.”

The use of only the Odyssey program for online credits is also part of the conversation. Questioned by Board Vice President Ben Owens, Lopeman said the single program was adopted for consistency. After hearing from students, she said Odyssey is not adequate.

James McNelly and his mother Sue both explained how the implementation of the program had thrown off his plans after he adapted his schedule to fit in release-time Seminary.

“I have planned for graduation since my freshman year. I had taken a lot of my classes on Primavera, and these classes suddenly don’t matter because of this policy,” he said. “I just think it’s unfair that as a prepared individual, I can’t use those credits I’ve already taken. Now I’m in a Zero Hour class. I have to get up at 5:40 every morning. Getting kind of tired of it.”

Sue McNelly said her son had completed the credits necessary to make up for the time lost to Seminary his junior year. “And he was good to go. The district then changed the policy, and we were told those credits no long count.”

Anderson said not accepting online credits from other programs was “very disturbing” and said it was not explained when the policy was forwarded to the board. She also said the understanding was that the policy would affect incoming freshmen.

“I am very disappointed in the implementation of this policy,” she said. “I’m disappointed it’s affected this many families. We want these students in our schools who are honor students, who are civically responsible. This is what we build our public education system on. I am confident we will resolve this to the benefit of all of our children.”

Anderson also said the consequences should have been spelled out during board discussions over the summer before school started.

Several students spoke of the value of the Seminary class to them personally.

“You may be thinking if I didn’t take Seminary I wouldn’t have this problem at all,” Hanks said, “but I value my hour in seminary because I know it will help me throughout my entire life, and I want to go and learn what I can in that class.”

Johnna Belcher, the mother of three young children said she was concerned about the problems of accommodation. “This policy change is troubling for me as a parent. I attended Seminary when I was a youth. It was a place for me to be able to decompress during stressful days, and I know that a lot of days are stressful these days.”

Parent Tyler Wright said he has seen kids, including his daughter, on the verge of having a nervous breakdown trying to juggle school, homework, activities and some social life with the policy change.

“There’s has to be a way to allow these kids to play sports,” he said. “If they want to be the valedictorian, then let them fight it out. Let them work hard and earn it. Don’t give it to someone. That’s not right. They do not need to be burned out. They need to be educated.”

Board member Patti Coutre expressed empathy for parents dealing with stressed-out teens but also said it may come down to personal decisions.

“I know it is tough to make choices between what to do after school, wanting to participate. Sometimes those choices are going to be tough and you might have to choose to do Seminary versus theater or football or any other athletics,” she said. “It’s a lesson that’s hard to learn. I’m sorry you have to learn it as a kid, but you’ll be better rounded as an adult when you have to make those choices as an adult.”

Anderson said it wasn’t just LDS Seminary student impacted by the policy change. Her son, a senior, had expected to have a lighter load this year with maybe time to get a job but instead found himself at school five credit hours. She said that was true of seniors across the board.

Lopeman said in implementing the policy, Principal Brian Winter and counselors spoke with students they thought would be most impacted. The district also prepared to approve stipends for teachers to teach during Zero Hour and Eighth Hour.

“Zero Hour and Eighth Hour were added so students could continue to attend Seminary during the day,” Lopeman said. “We didn’t want to eliminate that option just blanketly. We wanted to create a transition.”

She said it became clear in her discussion with Goettl and his wife that following policy and community service did not have to be mutually exclusive. She said she is confident a solution can be found that is fair for all. Other elements of the issue include MHS’s closed-campus status and liability.

What was unclear was whether the district’s policy of six credit-bearing classes was based on state law, which requires 720 educational hours for high schoolers. That will be part of the research behind future conversations, prompting board member Joshua Judd to warn parents, “When we get these policies, it’s statewide. It’s not a flexible thing if it’s state-based.”

Anderson said she hopes to work out a resolution before Christmas so the conflict is not still in place next semester.

Board President AnnaMarie Knorr said she wants to see something evenhanded. “I want to be sure that whatever we do going forward is fair and equitable both for the students who do not leave campus and go to Seminary, that their GPAs aren’t less just because of that fact, but also for those who do, that they have the opportunity to take AP classes or honor classes or whatever it is to get the GPA that they want. It needs to go both ways. I’m hopeful that we can come up with a solution that does ensure that.”

By Murray Siegel

Murray Siegel

The cost of a university education has become outrageous.

Four years at an elite university (tuition, fees, books, room and board) can cost $260,000, while a typical public university costs $100,000. How are these costs covered? Start a savings account when a child is born. To save $100,000 in 18 years, deposit $200 each month, a task that many families could not meet. What if the family had two or three children to send to college?

The alternative is to borrow using a college loan, which is painless until the student must begin to make payments. It must be mentioned that college debt is not eliminated by declaring bankruptcy. Many college graduates find their college debt burden presents barriers to choosing a job, deciding where to live, buying a home, getting married or starting a family.

Thus, when politicians seeking the presidency declare they support a free college education paid for by the federal government, many voters, especially young adults, support them. Note these proposals are rarely followed with a realistic method of providing the revenue to cover these free educations.

In 2015, when Sen. Bernie Sanders, who was running for the Democratic presidential nomination, proposed free college, I reflected on my family’s history. My older brother was a corporal in the Army Air Force in World War II, serving in North Africa, England and France. When he returned home in 1946, he used the GI Bill to get a free college education paid for by the federal government.

I received a USAF commission out of ROTC and, upon completing my service, I used the GI Bill to attend graduate school, getting a free college education paid for by the federal government. Our older son accepted an AFROTC scholarship and received an engineering degree from a very expensive private university. His free college education was paid for by the federal government.

His son is currently on active duty in the Air Force and knows when he completes his service, he will use the GI Bill to obtain a free college education paid for by the federal government. Thus, there are two current options for a student to receive a free college education paid for by the federal government.

One can visit the nearest recruiting station, raise his or her right hand, and know the GI Bill will be available when the military service is finished. A second option is to apply for an ROTC scholarship, available from the Army, Navy and Air Force. This scholarship covers tuition, fees, books and a monthly stipend.

What about a student who is unable or unwilling to serve in the military? Next month’s column will offer some non-military options for free college.

Murray Siegel, Ph.D., has 44 years of experience teaching mathematics. He has volunteered at Butterfield Elementary School four years.


This column appears in the August issue of InMaricopa.

Construction is continuing rapidly on the academic building at Heritage Academy. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

With construction of its campus behind schedule, the new Heritage Academy will start the school year with classes off-site, according to information released to parents by Principal Kimberly Ellsworth.

The plan is to have classes at Elements Event Center, a conference facility at UltraStar Multi-tainment Center. School starts July 24.

The charter school is a middle school and high school campus. Elements, a property of Ak-Chin Indian Community, has made space available for up to eight weeks if necessary.

Elements has four main rooms with a total capacity of about 395 people. The largest room can be divided into smaller spaces.

“After speaking with Elements at UltraStar, we are confident in the facilities, set up, staff support and safety of this temporary location,” Ellsworth wrote. “We are excited to work with them, and we think the scholars will enjoy the learning experience at this facility.”

Classes will be moved to the new campus as soon as it has a certificate of occupancy.

Heritage will host a Meet the Teacher Night July 18 from 6 to 8 p.m. at Elements, 16000 N. Maricopa Road.

The school broke ground in March. The campus is being constructed at 41001 W. Lucera Lane off Adams Way at Porter Road, not far from Saddleback Elementary and Leading Edge Academy – Maricopa to the west, Legacy Traditional School to the south and Sequoia Pathway Academy to the north.

Heritage Academy construction on June 27
Heritage Academy construction on June 11. Photo by Kyle Norby

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Murray Siegel

By Murray Siegel

Murray Siegel

In a March 1 Your Turn column in the Arizona Republic, Mike McClellan, a retired Mesa high school English teacher, used a football analogy to point out the weaknesses of the AzMERIT test.

A team is facing a big game. The players are apathetic when the coach gives his pre-game pep talk. Their play during the game reflects their lack of concern, and the team is severely beaten by their rival. After the loss, the players have no accountability, but the coach is fired. McClellan furthermore asks about the value of the coach reviewing game film from the loss if the only information provided by the film is the final score?

The point made by Mr. McClellan is students are not accountable for their performance on the AzMERIT, only the school and the teacher are graded. So, why should a student care about preparing for the test? Furthermore, he indicates the school’s letter grade is more about the socio-economic level of the families of the students rather than a proper assessment of the school or its teachers.

A test used to evaluate schools and faculty does not provide meaningful feedback so that school can address the needs of students who underperformed, and a student’s score provides no consequence for that student. There must be a better means of testing.

The Arizona Department of Education and state Legislature should consider using a criterion referenced test (CRT) to replace AzMERIT. A list of specific criteria is provided for each grade and subject tested, allowing schools to ensure their curriculum covers what is being tested. Students take the appropriate grade-level CRT at various points in their elementary and middle grades education.

At some point, generally tenth grade, a CRT is taken, which determines if a student receives a high school diploma. A 10th grader who fails CRT can re-take the test each year through twelfth grade. Once the student passes, the testing is complete. If a student continues to fail the test through 12th grade, that student receives a certificate of attendance, in lieu of a diploma, once he or she has completed twelfth grade.

CRT is aligned with the curriculum, and every teacher knows what must be taught. The students are aware of the consequences of failing the test and schools receive feedback since each CRT tests specific criteria. I believe those who agree this is a much better way to assess educational growth must call their state representatives and urge them to consider the value of using a CRT.

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


This column appears in the June issue of InMaricopa.

Bernadette Russoniello

Upcoming College and Career Ready Events at MHS
Dollars for Scholars Scholarship Bootcamp, May 28-29, 8 a.m.-noon at MHS Library
Standing out in the Admissions Process, June 4-5, 8 a.m.-noon at MHS Library
Events are appropriate for all high school students, grades 9-12. For more information, contact Bernadette Russoniello at brussoniello@musd20.org.

By Bernadette Russoniello

Bernadette Russoniello

Applying for scholarships could be a full-time job for high school students. Yet most students are unaware and unprepared for the work required.

Daily, I hear comments from students such as, “Miss, I spent like four hours working on applying, and I found nothing,” “It’s only a thousand dollars, it’s not worth the work” and “I wish I would’ve started sooner!”

Simply by earning all A’s and B’s, students manage to earn at least $27 for every hour they are in high school through university academic scholarships. Students need to invest time up front in building a scholarship application portfolio and a researched action plan to maximize their chances at earning monies.

What’s a scholarship portfolio? I encourage students to start a digital portfolio of all elements typically required for applications. At MHS, we use Google Apps for Education, so starting a folder in their Google Drive is the first step. Gather and develop basic elements required for most scholarships: three letters of recommendation, an updated resume, a list of awards and honors, personal statements including reflections on your career and college goals, a personal narrative describing yourself and an updated high school transcript.

Tips on letters of recommendation. Ask well before you need one. I have students asking regularly for letters the day before they are due. Ask in advance, and make sure to give a five- to 10-day window. After the first week, gentle reminders are appreciated to ensure you receive your letter on time. Additionally, providing your recommender your resume and personal narrative helps them include points about you they may not know. And most importantly, pick people who are strong writers and know you well – specific examples and personal anecdotes are what readers look for, not a regurgitation of the resume.

Standing out. Admissions and scholarship readers read literally hundreds, if not thousands, of applications. The applicant must stand out in the process, either through their voice, their story or their accomplishments. Accomplishments are the toughest; all students applying are in clubs, get great grades and serve as campus leaders. What do you do that makes you different?

Where to start? I’m a fan of Scholarships.com – but not the “Free Search” (unless you love spam and third-party emails). I show students how to use the “Directory” feature to search by category and due date. Students need to develop an action plan that allows them to list scholarships, links, application needs and due dates.


 

This column appears in the May issue of InMaricopa.

Mobile Elementary School District Superintendent Kit Wood (center) with board members Delores Brown and Patricia Blair, who volunteer at the remote, rural school known for its small class sizes. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

“In the middle of nowhere” is the phrase often used to describe Mobile Elementary School District. Arizona Department of Education defines Mobile Elementary as “very small, rural.”

“We’re very small. We’re close-knit. We have high expectations, high standards that are well known.” Superintendent Kit Wood

The school has an enrollment of 29 students. Only six of those students live in district. It has three full-time teachers and two part-time teachers. The students-to-teacher ratio is 4.8: 1.

A K-8 school with no eighth graders currently enrolled, Mobile Elementary sits just north of State Route 238. Roughly 15 miles west of Maricopa and 28 miles east of Gila Bend, the school is not close to anything but its residents.

The school bears a Maricopa mailing address and the Maricopa telephone prefix of 568. Though annexed by the City of Goodyear 12 years ago in anticipation of a master-planned community that never happened, it is more than an hour’s drive from the municipality.

The biggest benefit of annexation has been having a Goodyear fire station directly across the street from the school, that street being 99th Avenue.

If House Bill 2139 becomes law, the elementary district might be consolidated with schools in Goodyear, a move it has been fighting for years. The reason? They like the tiny school exactly as it is, its small size considered an advantage for its students.

“Some of the benefits, of course, are the small class size, the personal relationship they can have with their teacher, the staff and all the students,” said Kit Wood, who has been superintendent 14 years.

Classes are divided in K-2, 3-5 and 6-8.

“Our kids don’t get lost in a classroom.” Board member Delores Brown

“They stay with the same teacher for a number of years,” Wood said. “The teacher doesn’t have to spend six to eight weeks getting to know that student’s academic level. They come in knowing their history and their family background.”

Apache Junction’s Rep. John Fillmore (R-District 16) sponsored HB 2139, which would force elementary districts and high school districts to consolidate by 2024. He points to the administrative costs of having separate districts near or overlapping each other’s boundaries.

“When people have said to me that schools need more money, I’ve always had the quick comeback they have enough money, and that what we need to do is have them spend it a little bit more wisely,” Fillmore told the Senate Appropriations Committee in April.

Most often, the smaller the school, the higher the percentage of administrative costs.

In financially auditing the district for fiscal year 2016, the Auditor General’s Office found Mobile School spending much more per pupil on administration compared to other small schools. Released in April 2018, the critical report included six recommendations, only one of which had been completely fulfilled by the time of a follow-up in December.

Total per pupil spending 2018
Mobile                 Peer                      State
$40,995               $18,597               $9,929

Auditors found that in 2016, Mobile Elementary, with its annual double-digit enrollment, had administration expenses of $17,178 per student compared to its peer group average of $2,987. The report found that was “partly because it served fewer students than peer districts, on average, and therefore, costs were spread across fewer students. However, the high costs were also the result of the District employing a full-time superintendent with a relatively high salary.”

Wood’s response was to outline a plan to phase out the superintendent position after the hiring and training of a head teacher/special education teacher.

The follow-up by Vicki Hanson, director of School Audits, indicated the crossover phase during fiscal year 2019 would “likely result in higher administrative costs” while both superintendent and head teacher are on staff.

Mobile Elementary students receive art instruction from artist Kristal Hoeh.

Mobile Elementary does not share boundaries with other schools. When its students reach high school age, or even middle school age, they can choose from various schools. Being in the city closest to Mobile despite being in another county, Maricopa schools receive some of the Mobile students. Others have gone to Mountain Pointe. Some have even attended Ira Hayes. Years ago, they were bused to Casa Grande.

The audit suggested the district pay tuition to a nearby district to educate its students. The school was called out for overpaying an hourly employee, misreporting the number of students transported and having poor oversight of its lease agreement, among other items. Implementation of changes are noted as being “in process.”

With a transient population, enrollment is now too low for the district to receive state funds (Wood estimated it would need an enrollment of 35-40 to qualify), so it relies primarily on property taxes. Enrollment is also too low for the school to be assigned a letter grade, because publicized test results could be almost matched to specific students.

However, for the second year, the school qualified for results-based funding. In FY2018, that amounted to an extra $8,100 (or $400 per student). Butterfield Elementary was the only MUSD school to do likewise.

“You don’t get that unless your students are performing well on the test,” Wood said. “So, although they can’t publish our results, we are doing well as far as the assessments.”

What’s not in the financial paperwork is the unincorporated area’s tendency to lean on the school as a center of the community. Board members feel the school and community are misunderstood.

“We’re not gun-toting hillbillies who live here,” board member Delores Brown said, adding several in the community have master’s degrees. She tutors students, touting those who have seen more success since transferring to the school, and is one of the school’s strongest volunteers.

Wood called board members the “most dedicated, committed board I’ve ever worked with.” Board President Patricia Blair has tutored younger students in the past and put her efforts into building up the district library.

“She has been, for all the years I’ve been here, a strong supporter of our library,” Wood said. “We have a really great library, especially for the size of school we are. She has organized that library, she has catalogued things. She is the heart and soul of that library.”

Blair said the wide variety of books ranges from pre-K to 12th grade.

“We’re very small. We’re close-knit,” Wood said. “We have high expectations, high standards that are well known, so we can address when things happen that are inappropriate or unacceptable, or they’re not meeting the expectations of general student behavior, take care of it quickly and then just go on.”

The superintendent said all its teachers are highly qualified with endorsements and certification in their areas. The teachers average 10-plus years of experience. Besides the three full-time classroom teachers, there are part-time teachers for art and physical education.

“We have a very lean staff. We all do multiple tasks and have multiple responsibilities,” Wood said. “We do not receive state funding. All of our funding comes from property taxes. And that’s always a challenge.”

Staffing is also difficult at the remote school. The challenge is to find someone of quality to come to Mobile and fit in, though teachers have been willing to drive long distances for the job. It is still looking for a music teacher.

Mobile’s biggest expense is staffing. It has a starting salary of $40,100. Its average teacher salary is $50,038. By comparison, the peer average is $50,510, and the state average is $48,951.

Besides the random financial audit, Mobile Elementary also undergoes the annual performance audit to which all district schools submit. The most recent report showed the administration costs were down to $12,155 per student. That is still well above the peer average of $3,064, which increased.

Mobile had only nine students per administrative position compared to 33 in peer schools and the state average of 66. The report showed no financial stresses. It was particularly low-stress in capital reserve (more than three years’ worth), operating reserve (17.2 percent and increasing), steadiness of school enrollment and meeting its budget.

A Rural Education Achievement grant gave the school the ability to purchase technology in the form of classroom and library computers. The grant is $15,000-$18,000 per year for the tech program.

There have been past efforts by Valley districts to consolidate Mobile Elementary, but the small school effectively gave them the raspberry. Until now, as Blair noted, a district did not have to be consolidated unless it wanted to.

HB2139, on the other hand, would force the issue, making independent districts a thing of the past.

“Over the past decades a variety of unification and consolidation efforts, committees and proposed legislation have been brought forward in the state of Arizona,” Wood said. “If this bill is successfully passed and signed into law, Mobile ESD would comply with the requirement for a feasibility study and then work with the Maricopa County Education Services Agency and others regarding study results and findings.

“We will await the results of this legislative session.”

But they aren’t happy about it.

“It just makes the other schools larger and classrooms bigger,” Blair said. “To me that’s not a good idea for the kids.”

“They don’t have the support because the teachers don’t have the time to give them the support,” Brown added.

“Our kids don’t get lost in a classroom.”


This story appears in the May issue of InMaricopa.