Tags Articles tagged with "Education"


Gov. Doug Ducey

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey announced Thursday afternoon his proposal to increase teacher pay by 20 percent by fall 2020.

The announcement comes the day after a statewide teacher walk-in.

“I’ve been listening, and I’ve been impressed,” Ducey said during a press conference April 12.

The pay increase figure aligns with Arizona Educators United pay-increase demand, albeit over a period of two years. The increase includes the 1-percent increase paid to teachers in 2017.

Ducey projected the average teacher salary in two years will be $58,130.

The plan first needs to be passed in the state Legislature’s budget session, which is expected to end in the coming days.

If approved, teachers would receive a gradual pay increase:

  • 2017: 1 percent increase
  • 2018: 9 percent increase
  • 2019: 5 percent increase
  • 2020: 5 percent increase

Additionally, Ducey proposed $371 million for Arizona school districts’ “most pressing needs,” including: infrastructure, curriculum, school buses and technology.

“We can do this and do it in a responsible and sustainable way,” Ducey said. “As a result of Arizona’s thriving economy and Arizona’s record population of 7 million residents, our state revenues are on the rise. With a reduction in state government operating budgets, strategic efficiencies, case load savings and a roll-back of some of the Governor’s Office proposals of fiscal year 19 executive budget, more dollars are available to invest into two of Arizona’s most important priorities: Arizona’s teachers and Arizona’s classrooms.” 

Maricopa Unified School District teachers wore red to address the school board Wednesday night. Not all were on board with Gov. Doug Ducey’s Thursday proposal. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Maricopa Unified School District Board Member Patti Coutré called the move “a step in the right direction.”

“I just want to know more details,” Coutré added. “You know what they say, ‘the devil’s in the details.’”

Maybe I’m an optimist but I’m hopeful,” said Allie Krigbaum, a second grade teacher at Butterfield Elementary. “I feel like the #RedforEd movement made a difference and that Ducey was able to see communities come together in support of teachers and kids. I feel hopeful that he means what he says.”

Not all local teachers were convinced.

MUSD Technology Integration Specialist Christine Dickinson said she applauded the state’s decision to take action, but it failed overall to address the movement’s demands.

“I am concerned that this action puts a Band-Aid on the teacher-pay issue and opens wounds elsewhere,” Dickinson said.

Many, like Dickinson, viewed the announcement as addressing only a portion of demands from the Arizona Educators United coalition.

“It misses the point of this entire movement,” said Maricopa High School English teacher Becky Gaul. “Teacher raises were just one part of the much larger picture. Where’s the money for our support staff?”

In addition to salary increases, teachers want to see competitive pay for support professionals, permanent teacher salary structure with annual raises, a restoration of education funding to 2008 levels and no new tax cuts until per-pupil funding reaches the national average.

Janean Jump teaches fourth grade at Saddleback Elementary. She fears Ducey’s proposal could strangle AEU’s efforts to raise salaries for support staff.

“Right now, we are almost backed into a corner with this. If we stop our movement because we received the raises, we will leave out those who are in just as much need as teachers. Pushing forward with our movement after this announcement will allow us to be painted as greedy and not satisfied with our raise, when, in reality, that was only one of our five demands.”

AEU leads the #RedforEd movement, and coalition leaders announced earlier this week a possible walk-out event could be a possibility.

“I say keep fighting. We will still be behind,” said Sue Swanno, a teacher at Saddleback Elementary.

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Murray Siegel

By Murray Siegel

This is the second in a series of columns featuring the principals at Maricopa’s district and charter schools.

Loraine Conley, Ed.D., principal at Santa Cruz Elementary School in the Maricopa Unified School District, received her

Loraine Conley

undergraduate degree from Langston University (Oklahoma), has a master’s in educational administration from Iowa State university and her doctorate in education from ASU. In her 25 years in education, she has been an elementary teacher, a middle school language arts teacher and an assistant principal.

She is most proud of the numerous awards received by the school, its students and faculty. Dr. Conley looks forward to sustained improvement at Santa Cruz with the continuing support of the school community.

Maricopa’s principals come to us from all over the United States, and one principal started out overseas. Eva Safranek, principal at MUSD’s Santa Rosa ES, was born in the Czech Republic and arrived in Tucson at age 13. Her BA in elementary education was received at ASU, and she has two master’s degrees from University of Phoenix. During her 15 years as an educator, she has served in various teaching, coaching and coordinator positions before coming to Santa Rosa six years ago.

Eva Safranek

A major accomplishment at her school this year is the implementation of the new math curriculum, which is challenging and brings more rigor to the study of math. She is excited about the improvement expected from the Positive Behavior Intervention and Support (PBIS) program. Ms. Safranek’s credo as a principal is building relations with students and staff to allow all to be the best that they can be.

Felicia Williams is the principal at Saddleback ES at MUSD and grew up in Cincinnati, Ohio. She received her undergraduate degree from Ohio University.

Felicia Williams

She obtained masters degrees at University of Phoenix and NAU. Her 16 years of experience include teaching positions in a number of elementary grades, academic coach and principal. She has been at Saddleback for eight years.

When asked about this year’s primary accomplishment, she points to the enhanced use of technology by students which was led by Enna Post, a phenomenal technology teacher. Mrs. Williams looks forward to the total implementation of the PBIS program next year. Her guide as a principal is a statement by Harvey Firestone: “You get the best of others when you give the best of yourself.”

Murray Siegel has a PhD in MathEd and 42 years of teaching experience.

This column appears in the April issue of InMaricopa.

Tracey Lopeman , Ed.D.., fields questions during a public forum with the three final candidates for MUSD superintendent. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Tracey Lopeman stood in front of Walmart to meet Maricopans in an effort to get to know the community when she was a candidate to be the next superintendent of Maricopa Unified School District.

Monday night, she became the last person standing after the governing board voted unanimously to begin contract negotiations with the long-time administrator from Alhambra Elementary School District. The evening started with a 90-minute forum for community members, teachers and students to get to know the three finalists.

“The more I came to Maricopa, the more I just loved it,” said Lopeman, adding she had little familiarity with the community before she applied for the job.

This is her 28th year in education, starting as a junior high teacher. She is now assistant superintendent for strategic planning, implementation and accountability at Alhambra.

“That’s a big title; it’s a big job. It means I get to get into everybody’s business,” she said.

MUSD Board President AnnaMarie Knorr said Lopeman has the “energy and enthusiasm” the board was looking for, adding all three finalists were highly qualified.

Heather Cruz of Litchfield and Cort Monroe of Queen Creek were also up for the job. The district culled the finalists from 30 applications.

Previous superintendent Steve Chestnut left for a post in the Scottsdale Unified School District.

Moderated by Karen Gasket of the Arizona School Board Association, the three finalists were asked wide-ranging questions from dealing with growth, safety and parental involvement.

Lopeman said she appreciated the board’s efforts in transparency in having a public forum that allowed community members to get to know the candidates. She said a key to strengthening community and parental relations with the district would be to have more such forums, “and ask you the open-ended questions, ‘What are your hopes and dreams for the kids here in Maricopa?’

“I know for me it’s that every one of them graduates from high school ready to innovate, create and be successful.”

Lopeman said she sees the next big challenge for MUSD as growth. A recent study projected the K-12 student population to grow from 6,729 to 11,587 in 10 years. 

Murray Siegel

By Murray Siegel

2017 was a great year for the city of Maricopa. Building began on new stores and restaurants, ground broke for the long-awaited railroad overpass and the mayor set challenging goals for the city and its citizens. You might not have noticed that Maricopa Unified School District’s K-8 blended learning program was awarded the Golden Bell Award by the Arizona School Board Association. What is blended learning and why should Maricopans care?

To answer those questions an interview was conducted with Jackie Hahn, a sixth-grade teacher in the blended learning program at Maricopa Wells Middle School (MWMS). Hahn brings a unique perspective. This is her first year teaching in the program. She taught sixth-grade math and science at Maricopa Elementary School the previous four years, so she can see the program from a teacher’s point of view. She is the mother of a seventh-grade student in the program at MWMS, so she can address the value of the program as a parent.

Hahn has an industrial engineering degree from Rutgers University and spent years working as a problem solver for Johnson & Johnson, a large multinational manufacturing company, allowing her to see the future benefit students receive from blended learning.

Hahn says teaching in the MWMS blended learning program is her dream job, one that allows for flexibility and provides her with opportunities to uniquely address student interests and needs.

Students in the program, which blends in-class and online teaching, master self-regulated learning, become independent and inter-dependent learners, develop creativity and learn time-management skills. She says students are being prepared for work in the high-tech world of the 21st century, including critical thinking and collaboration to solve problems. Most students who start in the program remain in blended learning. Some folks raise concerns that students in this program will have difficulty adjusting to the more traditional style at the high school. Hahn said her students understand how to learn and can do so in any environment.

The school days are filled with passion for learning for both students and teachers. Teachers in the program meet regularly to make adjustments as they fine-tune lessons and projects to best meet their students’ needs. Perhaps parents who are sending their middle school students out of town will reconsider the value of Maricopa schools’ blended learning and allow their children to get an award-winning education in this program.


Murray Siegel has a PhD in MathEd and 42 years of teaching experience and is a volunteer teacher of advanced math classes at Butterfield Elementary School.

This column appears in the February issue of InMaricopa.

AnnaMarie Knorr (left) inherited the presidency of the MUSD board from Patti Coutre on Wednesday. Photo by Michelle Chance

The gavel is in the hands of a new school board president this week.

MUSD Governing Board to host community reception
Jan. 17 at 5:30 p.m., the Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board will host a reception for staff and community members who would like to provide additional input related to the search for a new district superintendent. The reception will be at the District Administrative Offices, 44150 W. Maricopa-Casa Grande Hwy. At 7 p.m., the Governing Board to hear an Arizona School Board Association report generated from the recent E-Survey related to the position of district superintendent. All are welcome to attend. For more information: 520-568-5100 or www.MaricopaUSD.org.

The Governing Board for the Maricopa Unified School District elected AnnaMarie Knorr president during its first meeting of the year Jan. 10.

Knorr previously served as vice president and has been on the board since 2012. The new president has lived in Maricopa for 13 years and is the Government Affairs manager for Western Growers Association, according to an online biography.

Her new role is one Knorr cautiously grew into after she declined her first presidential opportunity in 2017.

“I can tell you that I know it was the right decision last year not to step into this role and that I do feel comfortable doing it today,” Knorr said. “With your help, I know that we can continue to progress and move forward and become the A-rated schools that we want to be.”

Before motioning to elect Knorr, the board’s former president, Patti Coutré expressed confidence in her abilities to lead and thanked the board for its support.

Coutré, pressing a fingertip to the corner of her eye, wiped away a tear as she gave her last speech as president – a position she has held for the past three years.

“I have to thank Dr. Chestnut. He’s really helped me develop into the leader that I am, so thank you. I am confident and very pleased … and I know that Vice President Knorr is ready to take on this task. We’ve spent numerous evenings in conversations and I know that she’s ready to do this. It is such an awesome feeling to lead this board and to be a part of this board. We’re amazing and I know that under Mrs. Knorr’s leadership we will continue to be amazing,” Coutré said.

Coutré will finish her term in December as a board member.

Knorr’s first agenda item as president included electing the person to fill her vacant VP seat.

The board unanimously elected Board Member Gary Miller.

Miller, a Kansas native, has lived in Maricopa since 2005 and works in behavioral health. His new leadership position comes after three years’ service on the board.

Coutre and Miller began their current term in 2015. Miller expressed his gratitude for her leadership.

“You’ve done a wonderful job, and I’m very honored to have got to know you better because I do definitely look up to you,” Miller said.

Among some of Knorr’s immediate responsibilities will be leading the board through its upcoming superintendent search.

The board will host a community reception regarding the search Jan. 17 at the district administration office at 5:30 p.m.

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Murray Siegel

By Murray Siegel 

This is the second of a two-part column on preparing today’s students for tomorrow’s science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) jobs. Read Part 1

There are two methods to promote learning in elementary math classes that have proven to be successful.

The first is to have all students in a particular grade have math at the same time. During that time students are assigned to a classroom based on their individual mathematical abilities and achievements. This method allows for flexibility, so a student is not “stuck” in a class if the student’s level of math ability changes. A student in the remedial class who catches up and can now function in a grade-level class can be moved.

Some teachers are concerned that this type of program puts all the behavior problems in the lowest class. This concern is not realistic since students are placed based on ability. Some weak students become behavior problems when they see no hope for progress. By placing students in a class at an appropriate level, loss of hope quickly disappears. Any disciplinary role is the responsibility of the principal.

It is important each teacher is properly equipped to teach math at the level to which he or she is assigned. The teacher of the remedial class must believe all students can learn if taught properly and the teacher must have the appropriate tools, including alternate arithmetical methods that engage the students.

The second method is to have an elementary math specialist assigned to each elementary school. This method has been used successfully in Texas. Qualified teachers could be provided with appropriate professional development. The specialist would teach an advanced math class in grades three, four and five. All classes in a grade would have math at the same time. For the remainder of the school day, the specialist would work with individual students or small groups, especially in remediation. The specialist would work with teachers conferences, classroom observations and demonstration lessons.

Besides having a qualified teacher responsible for the mathematical learning of the most able students, using a specialist means the math classes would be reduced in size since some students would be attending the advanced class.

Concerns may be raised before either method is adopted, but the overriding concern must be to develop the math skills of more American children who will be the scientific leaders of the next generation.

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 December issue of InMaricopa.

Murray Siegel

By Murray Siegel

If we are to have a massive increase in new high-salary jobs, we need to increase the supply of Americans with sufficient technical knowledge to be qualified for these positions. Some will require a four-year college degree in a STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) program while others call for the completion of a vocational-technical program like ones available at Central Arizona College.

What has hampered Americans from completing the appropriate education is mathematics, especially in college STEM programs. Most of those programs require the successful completion of two semesters of calculus, while degrees in physics, engineering and mathematics require four semesters of calculus.

For years researchers have sought to increase the number of American students who can successfully navigate first-year calculus. College courses have been revamped and placement programs have been developed. Some researchers attempted to improve the preparation of students for calculus by seeking a solution at the high school level. Some have provided speakers and field trips to middle school students to motivate them to consider a STEM career.

To date these efforts have not borne fruit. What is the problem? The efforts to better prepare students for success in a STEM program were in the wrong school grades. It is in elementary schools where many students learn they cannot “do math.” Others see that math is a set of meaningless rules and give up on pursuing advanced math courses. What is the problem in our elementary schools?

Elementary classes are constructed to include students of all ability levels.

A fifth-grade class might contain a few students who still cannot add or subtract whole numbers as well as students who can already operate with fractions and decimals. The remaining students are at various locations on the learning curve. The teacher complies with the required curriculum. Students at the low end give up. Students at the upper end get bored. The origin of mixed ability classes is a desire to avoid labelling students (some may recall the Bluebird and the Redbird groups of the 1950s).

To demonstrate how illogical mixed ability grouping in elementary school math classes is, consider this scenario. Imagine all college freshmen had to take a Calculus 1 class as first semester freshmen. Students who had taken Advanced Placement Calculus in high school and who should be exempt from this course are required to be in the class – that is the rule. Students who barely passed math in high school and who should be in a remedial class are in the Calculus 1 class – this is the rule.

This scenario is both unfair and irrational, yet that is exactly what occurs in most elementary school math classes. What can be done? A future column will provide reasonable answers.

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 November issue of InMaricopa.

MUSD Superintendent Steve Chestnut talks to parents about the district's letter grade Wednesday morning. Another parent meeting is scheduled for tonight. Photo by Michelle Chance

A week after the public learned the results of the state’s new letter grade system and the subsequent A-F labeling of local schools, a small group of parents met to hear from their children’s district on the issue.

Steve Chestnut, superintendent of Maricopa Unified School District, spoke to parents Monday morning at the district administration building.

Data from the Arizona Department of Education show that public and charter schools around the city struggled to improve their letter grades, leaving Maricopa children without any A-rated schools.

However, for some parents in the city’s largest traditional school district, the letter grades do not account for much.

Priscilla Behnke, who runs an independent mentoring program at local schools, is a parent of a Maricopa Elementary School student. Behnke questioned the importance of the state’s letter grade ranking.

MES lowered from a “B” to a “C”-rated school this year.

“We were going to send my kid to Ahwatukee, and I had a program at MES and I said to my husband, ‘We have to bring our kid to MES,’” Behnke said. “I don’t regret it and I don’t care about this grade – I really don’t – what they’re doing over there is amazing.”

Behnke and other parents in attendance agreed parents should also be held accountable for school performance.

Eighty percent of K-8 letter grade rankings depend on student scores on the AzMERIT standardized test. For high schools, that figure lowers to 50 percent.

“Everything is about what you put into your schools. That’s what counts. If you are active, if you care, if you participate, you get more out of it and so does your child,” said Monica Millo, parent of a second grader at Butterfield Elementary.

Millo transferred her son to MUSD this year after attending charter school Leading Edge Academy since kindergarten.

“I’ve been able to go into a charter school and I’ve been able to go into our Maricopa district and see the differences,” Millo said. “I have seen more from teachers here, and to me, that letter grade is a bunch of garbage.”

A handful of parents came to the morning meeting. Photo by Michelle Chance

Although the consensus of most parents in attendance was that letter grades did not accurately reflect their children’s schools, others argued negative issues in the district must be addressed to improve overall.

Since school began in August, administrative changes at Maricopa Wells Middle School and Maricopa High School – as well as apparent fighting and bullying issues between students at MWMS has caused some parents worry and confusion.

Dan Trevizo is a parent of a former MWMS student. Trevizo transferred his daughter to Leading Edge Academy over fall break for issues he said were due to unresolved bullying at the middle school.

“I think there are some issues and I think the letter grades are important. I think the states need to provide that information to parents who may not hold the overwhelming view that a lot of parents in here hold,” Trevizo said.

Trevizo said MUSD is a good district, but added administrative changes as well as sixth graders transferring this year from elementary to middle school have contributed to the bullying issues at MWMS.

“There are a lot of altercations going on (at MWMS),” Trevizo said. “The principals are being pulled around, there is really no leadership until recently when they decided to put these principals where they currently are.”

Chestnut said he is aware of the issues at MWMS.

“It’s been a weird year, I acknowledge that. The administrative changes have not helped at all, but we are working on it,” Chestnut said.

A second meeting for MUSD parents will take place 7 p.m. tonight at the District Administration Building.

MUSD Superintendent Steve Chestnut talks about the lowered letter grades at several schools. Photo by Michelle Chance

MUSD Superintendent Steve Chestnut. Photo by Michelle Chance

By Steve Chestnut

The Arizona State Board of Education recently developed a new A-F letter grade system for all schools. As a result, all public schools in the state were given new letter grades based mostly on the results of the 2017 AzMerit state tests. For elementary and middle schools 80 percent of the new letter grades are determined by the state tests and for high schools 50 percent of the new letter grade is determined by the state tests. The new letter grades were released to the public on Oct. 9.

The 2017 letter grades for schools in the Maricopa Unified School District are:

  • Butterfield Elementary: C
  • Maricopa Elementary: C
  • Pima Butte Elementary: B
  • Saddleback Elementary: C
  • Santa Cruz Elementary: B
  • Santa Rosa Elementary: C
  • Desert Wind Middle School: D
  • Maricopa Wells Middle School: D
  • Maricopa High School: C

We are not satisfied with these letter grades and our goal is for each school to be A rated. To help us achieve that goal we have implemented four major K-12 initiatives in 2017-18. First, as a result of override funds, we have 50 additional certified staff this year making class size lower at all schools. Lower class size allows teachers to give more individual attention to students. Second, with override funds we are able to provide additional instructional technology to students to assist them with their academic work. Third, we have implemented new K-12 math curriculum materials and teachers have received professional development training concerning how to use these materials. Finally, K-12 teachers are now using a new “benchmark testing” platform three times during the year so student progress on the state’s curriculum standards can be determined. Teachers received training in how to use the new testing system.

At the elementary schools, the middle schools, and the high school additional things are being done to improve student achievement. Students in grades K-3 are using a new phonics curriculum to build student reading skills and teachers have received professional development training in its use. At the middle school level, two additional blended learning classrooms have been added at Maricopa Wells Middle School. The high school started Ram Academy for credit deficient juniors and seniors which will help to improve the school’s graduation rate.

We know that letter grades are not the only measure of a school’s success. We are also very proud of our excellent staff, the innovative learning opportunities we provide for students, our high quality fine arts programs, our outstanding extra-curricular programs, as well as the safe learning environment we provide at each school.

To learn more about the letter grades for the Maricopa Unified School District, you are invited to attend a Parent Meeting with Superintendent Steve Chestnut on Wednesday, October 18th. You can attend the 10-11 a.m. meeting or the 7-8 p.m. meeting. Each meeting will be the same. Both meetings will be held in the MUSD Governing Board Room located at 44150 W Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway.

Steve Chestnut is superintendent of Maricopa Unified School District.

MUSD and other schools in Maricopa saw their state letter grades drop this year.

The majority of local schools have received lowered A-F letter grades since the scores were last released by the state in 2014.

The district will hold two meetings for parents regarding the A-F letter grades on Oct. 18. The first meeting will be held at 10 a.m. and another at 7 p.m. at the MUSD Governing Board Room, 44150 W. Maricopa Casa Grande Highway.

Schools received their letter grades for the 2016-17 school year from the Arizona Department of Education last week. The results were formally released to the public Oct. 9.

The state’s “A-F Accountability system” was recently adopted in April and measures new testing and achievement standards.

“Arizona’s new transparent A-F system has clear objectives and metrics that focus less on the results of one test, but place a greater emphasis on student growth,” said Tim Carter, president of the Arizona State Board of Education in a press release on Sept. 25.

Letter grades are partially based on results from the AzMERIT standardized test and a combination of other factors including proficiency, growth, English Language Learners’ growth and proficiency, and acceleration/readiness factors.

Indicators are weighted differently for K-8 schools and high schools. For example, 80 percent of K-8 scores are dependent on AzMERIT proficiency and growth, whereas high school scores in that category make up 50 percent.

The 2016-17 letter grades are the first to be released after the state took a “two-year hiatus allowing for a transition to higher academics and a new assessment.”

Legacy Traditional School and Pima Butte Elementary, the only formerly “A”-rated schools in Maricopa, lowered to “B” ratings.

Both middle schools in the Maricopa Unified School District, Desert Wind and Maricopa Wells, lowered from “C” to “D” ratings.

Saddleback Elementary “C”; Santa Cruz Elementary “B”; and Maricopa High School “C”, all maintained their letter grades.

Butterfield Elementary, Maricopa Elementary and Santa Rosa Elementary all lowered from “B”-rated schools to “C” ratings.

Charter school Sequoia Pathway Academy rated “C” in both its K-8 and 9-12 schools. Leading Edge Academy received a “B” rating.

Holsteiner Agricultural School, Camino Montessori School and nearby Mobile Elementary School did not receive ratings.

According to an ADE press release “the State Board voted to not assign FY17 letter grades for schools exclusively serving grades K-2 and small schools.”

Those ratings are scheduled to be released to the smaller schools in mid-January, and opened to the public in February.

Regionally, Stanfield Elementary School received the lowest “F” rating.

Maricopa’s largest public school district, MUSD, has for years publicly campaigned to become an “A”-rated district.

However, challenges most schools experienced adapting to the new standardized test and letter grade system have proved that goal is still ahead of the district.

“We knew that this was a tougher test (AzMERIT) and more demanding curriculum standards, so we knew that it was quite possible that letter grades could drop,” said MUSD Superintendent Steve Chestnut.

The district’s recent efforts in passing an override, hiring 50 additional teaching staff, and implementing new technology in schools are all ways the district plans to improve scores in the future, Chestnut said.

“We believe that we have good strategies in place to continue to improve and that’s our goal,” Chestnut said.

This year, the district opened Ram Academy, an alternative program for high school students with credit deficiencies. Chestnut said those students’ scores will be included in next year’s state letter grades for Maricopa High School because the academy is not considered separate from MHS, at least for now.

The district will hold two meetings for parents regarding the A-F letter grades on Oct. 18. The first meeting will be held at 10 a.m. and another at 7 p.m. at the MUSD Governing Board Room located at 44150 W. Maricopa Casa Grande Highway.

Thad Miller to return to MHS Monday

Maricopa Wells Middle School

After a week spent on a leave of absence, Maricopa Wells Middle School Principal Rick Abel returned Friday to his duties on campus.

Rick Abel

Maricopa Unified School District’s Human Resources Director Tom Beckett said the district still cannot comment on the reasoning behind the leave, “but I can tell you that we are all very happy to have Mr. Abel back in his administrative role leading Maricopa Wells Middle School.”

Abel could not be reached for comment.

Filling Abel’s position temporarily was Maricopa High School’s new Assistant Principal Thad Miller, who had previously held the same role at MWMS.

Miller was transferred to MHS early in the school year, switching positions and schools with one of MHS’s assistant principals, Mallory Miller, no relation.

“(Thad) Miller will be returning to Maricopa High School on Monday, Sept. 25,” Beckett said.

District and charter schools return to class

Brody and Madden Rastad are ready to return to school at Pima Butte Elementary. Photo by Anita McLeod

Brothers Brody and Madden Rastad are never far away from Mom, even at school.

Brody, 9, is entering fourth grade at Pima Butte Elementary School, where Madden will be a first grader and their mother, Yurosha Rastad, teaches second grade.

“We high-five each other in the hallway,” Yurosha Rastad said.

Brody and Madden are two of more than 6,300 students returning to Maricopa Unified School District for the 2017-18 school year.

Brody said he is happy about getting back together with friends at Pima Butte and its nice teachers.

“Everyone gives you a chance to do something amazing,” he said.

While Brody thrives in math, Madden, 6, said he liked the ABC Countdown in kindergarten and is excited about heading into first grade. Like her sons, Yurosha Rastad has best friends at Pima Butte. Several had children around the same time and now see them as students in the hallways, too.

All three Rastads will be back in their family-within-a-family when school starts Aug. 7. Some things might look a little different, though. At district and charter schools a new school year brings some surprises.

Here is a snapshot of updates parents and the community can expect at some Maricopa schools:

Maricopa USD

In addition to its high school, two middle schools and six elementary schools, Maricopa Unified School District will open an alternative school, Ram Academy. The district will implement a newly-adopted math and reading curriculum as well as a new testing platform across each of its schools.

With the successful passage of the budget override last year, MUSD hired 50 new teachers and gained new technology for classrooms. The district will see a slight change in its calendar, but won’t see a completely modified schedule until 2018.

Classes for all MUSD schools begin Aug. 7.

  • High Schools

Maricopa High School will receive six override teachers, and Ram Academy will receive seven. The high school’s sports programs will be headed by former Athletic Director Brian Winter, who replaces Mark Cisterna. Its alternative school will be run by Assistant Principal Steve Ybarra with an estimated enrollment of around 125 students with credit deficiencies.

  • Middle Schools

The 2017-18 school year will see Maricopa Wells and Desert Wind Middle Schools reintegrating sixth-grade students. Sixth graders were transitioned into district elementary schools four years ago.

Maricopa Wells Middle School Principal Rick Abel said his school will receive six new teachers from override funds and eight sixth-grade teachers who previously taught at MUSD elementary schools. Abel said enrollment at Maricopa Wells will be 850 to 900 students by the time schools begins. The middle school will acquire a full-time assistant principal in Thad Miller.

Desert Wind Middle School will absorb around 200 sixth graders in August.

  • Elementary Schools

Half of the positions funded by the override will be dedicated to elementary schools, including three counselors, one librarian and one teacher on special assignment.

MUSD elementary schools are reconfiguring as they return to the K-5 model. Pima Butte Principal Randy Lazar said his school’s enrollment dropped by 60 students from the sixth-grade transition, and he anticipates an enrollment of 480 to 490 students. Lazar hopes to keep key grades, like kindergarten and third grade, between 20 and 22 students per class.

Pima Butte, Santa Cruz and Butterfield Elementary schools will implement the Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports initiative. The schools received the grant and subsequent training for the program last year. PBIS promotes schoolwide expectations for student behavior.

Maricopa Elementary School will attempt to be one of four of schools in Arizona to become a “Light house school.” The process involves a readiness review in October that focuses on the school’s “culture, academics and environment,” said MES Principal Jennifer Robinson.

Leading Edge

Leading Edge Academy implemented a waiting list in some grade levels for the first time this year. Principal Mat Reese said the school is near capacity at 776 students. The charter school offers K-8 instruction and an online high school.

Reese said new reading and math curriculum will be introduced this year as well as two new fulltime physical education teachers and a new dean of students, Sherreis Moreland. Assistant Principal Rachele Reese will shift her responsibilities from the elementary to the junior high, and Moreland will eventually take over discipline.

Facilities at Leading Edge will get upgrades, including a ramada with picnic tables, new art room inside the cafeteria and additional classrooms for first, second, fourth and fifth grades.

The first day of classes is Aug. 3.

Sequoia Pathway

The campus director at Sequoia Pathway Academy is not the only new addition to the school. Alfonso Alva, who came on board over the summer, said Pathway is adding four advanced placement classes: AP Literature and Composition, AP Psychology, AP Biology and AP Studio Art.

The school will also introduce a new music teacher and an expansion of its art program with a 3D studio arts course.

Classes begin Aug. 2.


Legacy Traditional School started classes July 24 after adopting a modified schedule that adds an additional week to fall and spring breaks. A teacher pay raise also went into effect, and Dino Katsiris joined the administration.

Principal Amy Sundeen said they are adding a yearbook elective in junior high as well as a robotics club and culture club.

(Raquel Hendrickson contributed to this story.)

This story appears in the August issue of InMaricopa.


On your child’s first days of school, it is important to find out as much information about their teacher’s method of instruction and the scheduled curriculum. It is just as important, however, to establish a reliable line of communication with the teacher so your student can have the best learning environment. This can be done by asking five simple questions, according to Maricopa educators.

1 What is your preferred method of contact?

Find out if the teachers like to use email, text or phone calls to communicate. Some schools allow teachers to have their cellular phones on in class, and though they are often not able to take calls freely, they can often respond quickest via text. During school hours, email is seen as the second-best form of communication, with phone calls being reserved for emergencies or when there is a lack of electronic response from the teacher.

2 If my child is struggling, what can I do at home to support them?

If your student is falling behind or unable to keep up in class, parents will likely be contacted by a teacher either via a note sent home with the child or a direct email or phone call. If no contact is made by the teacher, and a child is expressing frustration with certain material or a lack of understanding, parents are encouraged to contact the teachers via their preferred method of communication.

3 If my child has more advanced knowledge of material than I do, how can I still help them?

Being the parent of a child who is smarter than you about certain subjects can be difficult. However, resources are plentiful. Teaching and study materials are typically available through your child’s school, often directly from their teachers. Most teachers are happy to share photocopies of instructional materials with parents so they can help their child at home. There are also numerous online resources through the National Association for Gifted Children (www.nagc.org) and MENSA for Kids (www.mensaforkids.org). YouTube.com is also a resource for parents to watch instructional videos on certain topics. However, use caution with this method as not all information on YouTube has been vetted for accuracy.

4 If my child will experience chronic absences due to exceptional circumstances (e.g. medical, personal), what should I do?

Parents aware of their child’s need to miss class on a continual basis should work with teachers to learn the teaching schedule to avoid missing class at key moments of core instruction. Emergency situations aside, doing this ensures minimum impact on your child’s education.

5 If there is a complicated family dynamic at home, what should I do so my child is less affected at school?

It’s not necessary for teachers to know every little detail about a student’s personal life. However, it does help the teacher provide a more conducive learning environment when they’re aware of certain circumstances that may interrupt a typical routine. That can involve a different parent picking up the student on certain days, or a child going through a home relocation that could alter their transportation plans or abilities to participate in extracurricular activities.

This story appears in the August issue of InMaricopa.

Murray Siegel

By Murray Siegel

The new school year is beginning, and articles will be written about new curriculum, new programs and new staff in our schools. Little will be written about one part of the Maricopa Unified School District administrative area that is saving a significant amount of funds by using the expertise and dedication of its personnel.

It is in Business Services and in Maintenance where these savings are quietly being realized. It is about time that the residents of Maricopa are aware of these actions.

Working with Gordon Ponticello and Shari Payne in maintenance and Chad Whittle in grounds keeping, Business Services Director Aron Rausch has initiated the following money-saving programs:

  • An exterior lighting project using LED lights on all campuses is saving the district $135,000 per year.
  • A project to install energy efficient interior lighting will save the district $450,000 per year.
  • A behavior management program to use energy more effectively will save $40,000 per year.
  • Replacing old heating/air conditioning units with brand new equipment paid for by stare funds, costing the district zero.
  • In the near future, a web-based energy controls system combined with the use of solar power is expected to produce additional savings.

Rausch’s willingness to add the duties of maintenance director to his responsibilities when the former director retired, without receiving any additional salary, has saved MUSD real money.

Rausch lives in Maricopa with his wife Becky, who is an academic coach at Butterfield Elementary School. It seems making our schools effective is a family focus.

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.

Murray Siegel

By Murray Siegel

Many high school students are advised to consider a four-year university education following high school graduation to prepare for adult life. For some this is great advice, but, for many, a four-year degree may not provide opportunities for a high-paying job.

Add the outstanding debt accrued to pay for that education, graduates (and those who could not complete a four-year program) may find that upon reflection, a university degree was not the proper path. University graduates with degrees in liberal arts typically find the job market for those degrees limited to positions that are not known for their outstanding starting salaries.

Thanks to a leader with real experience, Central Arizona College (CAC) offers residents of Maricopa an opportunity to obtain leading-edge training to prepare students for high-paying jobs with a real future. Dr. Jackie Elliott, the new CAC president, knows Pinal County has great potential for young people with the right technological education. She brings 27 years of experience as a senior-level community college leader.

The college has an Advanced Manufacturing program, which has started training students for immediate positions requiring knowledge in modern technical skills. Abbott Nutrition and Frito Lay, each of which has a major production facility in Casa Grande, have signed on as advisory board members for the program. These corporations will insure the graduates of CAC’s program will have the skills to enter their employ.

Lucid Motors is opening a plant to construct electric cars in Casa Grande in 2019, and this company is coordinating with CAC to guarantee that Advanced Manufacturing Program graduates will be ready to enter the line at their plant.

Engineering and Technology Department Chair Kristen Benedict has gathered an instructional staff with the knowledge to give students what they need to be successful in the world of modern manufacturing. One program in Advanced Manufacturing is a two-semester sequence leading to a certificate in one of three pathways: Production technician, production maintenance and industrial maintenance. These certificates are stackable, which means that they can lead to a two-year associates degree and to a four-year degree through Northern Arizona University. 

CAC is providing the education that will assist Maricopa in recruiting new high-tech manufacturing facilities to our city.

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 July issue of InMaricopa. 

Murray Siegel

By Murray Siegel

Special Education is a branch of education focused on students with special needs, such as learning disabilities, behavioral or physical challenges, or difficulty in communicating with others. Educators have a responsibility under federal law to create an environment in which a student’s difficulties are overcome.

One type of student with special needs does not generally have those needs addressed in school. This is the academically-gifted student.

Most folks would say the gifted student does not need any help. School is easy for him or her, so why bother with spending money? Yes, gifted students typically learn at an accelerated rate, but there are challenges.

How does a classroom teacher deal with a gifted student who completes the week’s lessons on Tuesday? Two typical strategies are to give that student busy work or ask that student to help another student who is struggling. Busy work is boring and a student who is gifted may not have the patience to work with a struggling student.

The fourth-grade teacher is conducting a lesson on long division. A gifted student in the class raises his or her hand and declares, “I have a better way to divide.” The teacher, if not educated in dealing with the gifted and/or without a deep knowledge of math, may simply tell the student to learn the method being taught. This will frustrate the gifted child.

Maricopa schools (MUSD) responded to a parental appeal for an elementary gifted program and hired a teacher to work with the gifted in grades three through six. One day each week, gifted students in a particular grade at all six elementary schools spend the day with Zoe Redfern, MUSD’s teacher of the gifted, at Saddleback ES. The program is managed by Gretchen Brown, director of multiple programs. Ms. Brown coordinates with a parental gifted committee. This committee is hoping to see the gifted program expanded to the middle schools and to open honors programs to gifted students beyond English and math.

An important component of the MUSD gifted program is the placement of a liaison for the gifted among the faculty at each elementary school. The liaison is helpful in explaining to teachers both the nature of giftedness and ways to maximize the learning experience of gifted children in the teacher’s class.

Gifted students do not simply learn faster. They have deeper insights and ask many “what if” questions.

Is it worth spending additional funds on these bright students? It is the gifted student, if properly challenged and allowed to flourish, who might someday discover a cure for cancer, create a pollution-free method for burning coal for energy or redesign the traffic flow at Sky Harbor Airport. MUSD’s gifted program will provide a positive return on investment.

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.


Maricopa Wells Middle School students made a presentation to the governing board during a regular session Wednesday night. Photo by Michelle Chance

By Michelle Chance

It was a pageantry of student success Wednesday night during a presentation inside the Maricopa Unified School District Board Room.

Students from Maricopa Wells Middle School spoke to the MUSD Governing Board about their experiences, some of them life-changing, in programs that ranged from music to drama to athletics. Some of these activities, however, take place after the school day ends, and that is where the issues begin.

MUSD Governing Board looks at budget numbers. Photo by Michelle Chance

MWMS and other secondary schools at the district do not offer transportation to these students due to a lack of grant funding.

“Listening to this presentation tonight … and what Maricopa Wells has done, is nothing short of amazing,” said Board President Patti Coutré. “You can see where they’re heading … and unfortunately transportation is one of the resources they will need to continue without having another grant.”

Principal Rick Abel said families make do by working together to ensure children make it home safely. Coaches are even known to stay until 6:30 p.m. to wait with students until a family member picks them up, Abel said.

In addition to traditional extracurricular activities, MWMS also offers after school academic opportunities like “eighth hour” for students who have fallen behind in their coursework. Abel said the school saw increased attendance in the program when it still had after-hours transportation.

The Board addressed the issue in previous meetings by proposing funding from additional district revenue and has deliberated for weeks on where and how to spend the money.

The district has over $1 million to spend in various categories for the upcoming school year. The figure makes up 3 percent of the district’s overall maintenance and operating budget.

In the most recent proposal, a boost to employee salaries and after-school transportation require the most cash.

Superintendent Steve Chestnut said the transportation cost for the three schools that would use the after-school activity buses would take close to $200,000 of that budget.

Not all board members were convinced of the price tag.

“I would like to see the cost come down,” said Board Member Torri Anderson, who consistently advocates for higher teacher salaries during meetings.

Out of 18 proposed expenditures, making “progress on employee pay” is the most expensive category for next year’s budget. 

The board’s proposal allocates $600,000 of the additional revenue to district personnel, which Chestnut said “would be roughly 2 percent increase across the board for all employees.”

However, Anderson thinks the district can do better.

“I would love to be the highest-paid school district in Pinal County. Then we’ll have a waiting list of teachers coming to our school district,” Anderson said.

Board Member Joshua Judd said the board needed to find a “happy balance” between the two categories.

The board tabled the draft budget for an upcoming work session. Chestnut said he expects the board to confirm an official budget by late June or July. 

The Maricopa Unified School District indicates it is on track implementing override funds despite fighting the tide of a state-wide teacher shortage, and a few hiccups with the formation of an alternative school.

The first of the initiatives tied to the override funds – the purchase of new computers and electronic curriculum enhancements — has experienced little to no difficulty in implementation, according to MUSD superintendent Dr. Steve Chestnut.

The other two initiatives – the establishment of an alternative school for credit-deficient and non-traditional students, and the hiring of 50 new faculty to reduce student to teacher ratios – have experienced a few hold ups.

As for the alternative school, the Ram Academy, MUSD was able to secure a site at Maricopa High School and staff the program, save for one science teaching position. Chestnut said the district hopes to accommodate up to 120 students at the Ram Academy. The first year it will likely see only about 100, and administrators hope to build from there.

“I’m optimistic,” Chestnut said.  “[MHS Principal] Renita Meyers is on it, and I think we’re going to get there.”

The district started sending letters in January to family members of credit-deficient students who will be juniors or seniors next year, Chestnut said. A follow-up letter is going out to those same students in the next week or so. After that, phone calls will be made to non-respondents.

As for the 50 new teachers, the district has filled 41 of those positions created by the override, Chestnut said. Furthermore, he feels despite other non-override positions being vacated, the district is on track to fill all 50 positions in time for the start of the school year next August.

Maricopa, like the rest of Arizona, suffers from lower than average faculty retention rates, and as the 41 positions were being filled over the past four months, another 24 were vacated due to assorted personal reasons including retirement.

“This is the time of year when people start to make plans for next year,” Chestnut said. “We always have attrition like any school district.”

Currently, with the nine vacant override positions and the 24 vacant positions, MUSD has 33 positions to fill by next fall, a fact that doesn’t seem to have Chestnut concerned.

“In some years, we hire up to 50 certified people anyway,” Chestnut said.

He went on to say the number of vacancies could grow as more teachers begin to prepare for next year. However, Chestnut said, the MUSD’s director of Human Resources Tom Beckett has participated in numerous job fairs throughout Arizona, as well as three fairs out of state, to promote MUSD and he is confident the positions will get filled.

The voter-approved budget override measure passed last November will generate enough revenue to implement three new initiatives within the district, each aimed at improving the quality of education.

Anyone interested in learning more about those positions or other opportunities of employment within the district is encouraged to contact the Maricopa Unified School District.

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Murray Siegel

By Murray Siegel

It is springtime, and along with baseball and allergies, it is time for students in Maricopa to take the AzMERIT. The results of this testing are used to determine the grade for each school, and for each school district. Teacher evaluations are partially based on these test scores. Do AzMERIT results have any merit?

Consider an analogy. Once a year, all the people who are patients at a medical practice are tested – blood glucose, blood pressure, cholesterol, kidney function and body mass are all measured. Then the results of the testing are used to evaluate the medical practice and its staff. Payments from Medicare and private insurance companies would be based on the results of these tests. Medical professionals would be up in arms. A patient who is told to change his diet, stop smoking, increase his amount of exercise and take his prescribed medications follows none of these recommendations, yet the doctors are penalized for the patient’s poor test results.

Any rational person would object to this process as unfair.

Yet students who are abused at home, subject to malnutrition, do not get sufficient sleep, do not have parental supervision of homework or do not see a pediatrician regularly have their AzMERIT test results used to evaluate the school and the teachers. This is just as unfair as the medical testing narrative. And we as citizens do not object.

There is more to consider about this testing. The state has indicated it wants more data about each school’s performance than a single test score. The State Board of Education recommended in 2014, “Schools must not be penalized for low scores if significant gains are made over the course of the academic year.” Despite this recommendation approved by a vote of the Board, the latest methods of evaluating schools, especially elementary schools, disregard that guidance. Mark Joraanstad, executive director of the Arizona School Administrators, has said it is troubling that “over-reliance on a single test score is the dominating feature in the system.”

Why does the state Legislature pay no attention to this continuation of an unfair system of evaluation? Residents of Maricopa who desire quality schools and who know that home values are somewhat based on the ratings of neighborhood schools should contact their state representatives and demand this unfairness be addressed immediately.

Nicholas Sherrod took the road less traveled to earn his high school diploma. Photo by Mason Callejas

A Maricopa man has at last earned his high school diploma with the help of a program recently created by his employer – McDonald’s.

Nicholas Sherrod, 20, dropped out of Maricopa High School three years ago, and now, with the help of a new program at his work, he was finally able to get his high school credentials.

Born in Everett, Washington, Sherrod moved with his parents to Maricopa when he was 14. Both were managers at a McDonald’s in Washington and relocated to the Phoenix area to help with several new locations.

While attending MHS, Sherrod got a job at a Maricopa McDonald’s locations almost as soon as he was eligible to work. Unfortunately, it didn’t take long for him to begin to struggle with his work schedule and keeping his grades up.

“School wasn’t really for me,” Sherrod said. “It got to the point where I was getting bad grades but I passed every test I got.”

Sherrod’s problem wasn’t attendance or exams; it was homework. He would never complete his regular homework due to his busy work schedule.

After struggling for a few years to fit the typical high-school mold, Sherrod decided to leave the dream of a diploma behind and embrace the reality of work and the steady income it provided.

Fast-forward three years. After he worked his way around several McDonald’s locations and toyed with the idea of returning for his diploma, Sherrod’s fiancée, Kayla, successfully convinced him to go and get it. After spending a brief time with another online diploma program, he learned about the Archways to Opportunities program, launched in early 2016, and knew instantly it was right for him.

Photo by Mason Callejas
Photo by Mason Callejas

Through the program, McDonalds offers eligible employees a free online high school diploma through Career Online High School, not a GED.

His experience through the Archways program was considerably better than his previous online school experience. The teachers, he said, were much more involved, calling and emailing multiple times a week. This accountability Sherrod believes created a better, more thorough, learning environment.

“They don’t let you wait until the last minute,” Sherrod said. “They cut it up so you don’t get behind.”

At the time of Sherrod’s exiting from MHS, there were not many options for people like him. Now, as the Maricopa Unified School District ramps up its recently founded alternative learning program – The Ram Academy – Sherrod feels he “probably” would have benefited from the program.

“I’m just glad that people will have the opportunity now,” Sherrod said.

Getting his high school diploma is not the end of the road for Sherrod, by far. Currently he is engaged to be married, and is in the process of buying a home. After settling in he hopes to get his real estate license and become an agent.

Archways spokesperson Katy Reeves said the program is designed to help employees move up and out into other industries.

“McDonald’s knows they are going to lose really great people and they’re OK with that because they want to help them reach their goals,” Reeves said.

In barely a year, the program has helped more than 200 McDonald’s employees in Arizona, and has invested nearly $200,000 in the program.

The Archways to Opportunity Program also offers eligible employees, those with nine months of employment, the chance to learn English through the English under the Arches program, college tuition assistance and an advising service to help their employees achieve their goals.

Murray Siegel

By Murray Siegel

The Maricopa school system (MUSD) is in the process of hiring 50 teachers to fill positions created by the passing of the override in November. Many of these teachers will be working in elementary classrooms.

This is the third in a series of columns about the preparation of elementary mathematics teachers. The first discussed the importance of the teaching of math during the elementary grades and included responses from two new MUSD teachers. The second article examined how Northern Arizona University prepares future elementary teachers to teach math from the point of view of two math-education faculty. This installment investigates how some future elementary teachers see their mathematics education.

Students were asked to write brief essays about their NAU math-education courses. One wrote, “I feel that many pre-service elementary teachers have a poor attitude about math because they often reflect on their poor experiences when they were learning math. My courses have taught me methods that will help those students who may struggle with certain concepts.”

Another student admitted, “As a student myself who has struggled significantly in mathematics, I can relate to these feelings of fear and lack of confidence. However, I have conquered the majority of those fears and I have developed a sense of confidence in my ability to do mathematics.”

Another student wrote, “I imagine it will still be difficult to teach to students. I think that because I was not fond of math when I was in school I have a preconceived notion that all students are going to hate math.”

These students are typical of many future elementary teachers in their lack of confidence in being able to teach math, and the university recognizes this challenge. Its content and methods courses do a significant job at helping students overcome their math-phobia.

A fourth student wrote, “At NAU, pre-service elementary teachers are given a multitude of resources that create a level of comfort and confidence in future educators.”

Another student echoed this sentiment when talking about the math methods course: “This class was the exact class we needed to boost our confidence and help prepare us for becoming teachers. This course has gotten me excited about becoming a math teacher.”

Dozens of student responses were received and the quotes included in this article are typical of the sentiment expressed by these future elementary teachers. Anyone who cares about the learning occurring in MUSD elementary schools should hope that many of the new teachers will have taken these classes.

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 March issue of InMaricopa.

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Steve Chestnut

By Steve Chestnut, Ed.D.

The Arizona State Legislature is currently considering four bills, SB 1431, SB 1281, HB 2394 and HB 2465, that would dramatically expand Empowerment Scholarship Accounts (ESAs), often referred to as “vouchers.”

ESAs can currently be used to pay tuition and fees at private schools, online learning, tutoring, etc., for students who qualify. Public school districts and charter schools cannot accept ESAs since these schools are free to children in Arizona.

The state began the ESA program in the 2011-12 school year and only 115,000 Special Education students qualified at that time. That year 115 students participated at a cost to the state of $1.4 million. Since then the Legislature has expanded the number of students eligible to use ESAs to 250,000 of the state’s 1 million K-12 students.

This school year, 2016-17, there are 4,102 students participating at a cost to the state of $37 million. Since the first year of this program, the state has spent $99.7 million on ESA scholarships. I believe this proposed legislation concerning the expansion of ESAs raises two important questions.

First, why would the Legislature increase an educational option that costs the state more money than what they currently spend on district and charter schools? One of the arguments in support of ESAs is that they save money since the ESA amount is 90 percent of the state provided per-pupil funding. There would be a savings if ESAs were 90 percent of state “base funding” only. However, the amount of each ESA is 90 percent of state “base funding” plus “district additional assistance.”

The result is that on average every K-8 student that receives an ESA costs the state an additional $1,083 above current funding levels. Every high school student that receives an ESA costs the state an additional $1,286 above high school funding levels.

Feb. 14, the Joint Legislative Budget Committee published a report stating the proposed expansion of ESAs could cost the state $35 million per year by 2020-21. If only half of the state’s 45,000 private school students take advantage of this expanded ESA proposal the cost to the state would be $125 million annually by 2030.

Second, why is the legislature considering an expensive expansion of ESAs when public schools (district and charter schools) are still so poorly funded? The Center for the Future of Arizona recently completed a study of teacher salaries, and the study was verified by the Morrison Institute for Public Policy at Arizona State University. The study showed median pay for Arizona elementary teachers adjusted for the cost of living, ranked 50th in the nation in 2015.

In my judgment the Legislature should not consider an expansion of the ESA program until all public schools in the state are adequately funded.

Steve Chestnut is the superintendent of Maricopa Unified School District.

Principal Chris Lineberry with children and the book he co-authored. Submitted photo

Chris Lineberry had a heart attack when he was 35 years old. He was the principal of an elementary school in North Carolina at the time. The medical event changed his life as well as the lives of his students.

He took dramatic steps to get rid of unhealthy foods and increase physical activity and stress-coping mechanisms at the school. As students’ body-mass index decreased, academic achievement improved. It was named a School of Distinction.

Now a resident of Desert Cedars in Maricopa and the principal of Stanfield Elementary, Lineberry has written a book with like-minded educators aimed at improving student fitness.

The book, “Recess Was My Favorite Subject: Where Did It Go?,” is subtitled “Improving Academic Achievement and Addressing Childhood Obesity in Your Classroom by Integrating Best Health and Wellness Practices with Required Instructional Standards.”

With the advent of more rigorous, standardized tests, many school districts across the country decreased or eliminated recess and physical education classes to make room for more academics. Lineberry saw that as an ill-informed response that did more harm than good.

“There is a significant body of research that demonstrates the connection between physical activity and achievement,” Lineberry said.

His goal is to show teachers and administrators how to keep recess a regular part of the daily schedule without limiting academics or spending money. He is doing so by example at Stanfield.

“We are the first and only school in Arizona to ever win the Gold with Distinction award from the USDA,” he said. That is awarded for a high level of physical education and nutrition.

Kindergartners exercise while counting to 100 at Stanfield Elementary. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson
Kindergartners exercise while counting to 100 at Stanfield Elementary. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

In October, Stanfield Elementary was awarded a $100,000 fitness center from the National Foundation for Governor’s Fitness Councils. It was presented by Jake “Body by Jake” Stienfeld, the director of NFGFC, and is open to students and staff. Lineberry said the district may also provide access to the public next year.

In January the state Board of Education’s A-F Accountability Committee discussed adding points for PE/Health Education.

Melissa Sadorf, superintendent of Stanfield Elementary School District, spoke to the ad-hoc committee, telling them that as a former PE teacher, she found it imperative to address the whole child.

“Every student at Stanfield gets at least 30 minutes of physical activity daily,” she said. “Out-of-seat time is expected every hour in every classroom; oral hygiene, which is the No. 1 cause of student absences, is also addressed.

“Health and wellness are just as much a priority as student achievement and should be recognized as such for the districts that choose to take those opportunities on,” Sadorf said.

This week, the state House of Representatives gave preliminary approval to a requirement that elementary school students be given at least 50 minutes of “unstructured recess.”

Stanfield Elementary was awarded a $100,000 fitness center from the National Foundation for Governor's Fitness Councils. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson
Stanfield Elementary was awarded a $100,000 fitness center from the National Foundation for Governor’s Fitness Councils. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Lineberry and his co-authors are passionate about educating the “whole” child. William Shane Hesse is a lecturer for Arizona State University and was the state’s Middle School Physical Education Teacher of the Year in 2011. Lynn Miller is the principal of Sandra Day O’Connor High School. J. Allen Queen has been a professor at UNC-Charlotte for 25 years. Queen also owns the Writers Edge Press, which published “Recess Was My Favorite Subject.” All have doctorates in education.

“Most teachers got into teaching because they love kids, they love to interact with kids, and they want to help make their lives better,” Lineberry said. “Test scores are part of that. I’m not anti-test scores and I’m not anti-accountability. I am anti-accountability at the price of the health of our students and our future.

“The misconception is that we have to choose – either healthy kids, active kids, or highly-performing, academically-strong kids. We don’t have to choose. The two go together.”

He said the basic human need to be active, well-nourished and healthy is interrelated to the ability to problem-solve, read, do math and formulate a cognitive perspective.

The book leads educators to programs and lesson plans that work physical activity into the classroom. Lineberry said he does not schedule recess periods but leaves that to the teachers. He also encourages teachers to feel free to take the kids outdoors when they are getting squirmy and antsy.

According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, the obesity rate for children age 2-19 years in the United States is 17 percent. The rate has seen a significant decline for ages 2-5 years, from 14 percent in 2004 to 9 percent in 2014, while other age groups showed little change. The percentage of American youth considered overweight is around 40 percent.

“The time has come for a paradigm shift,” Lineberry said.


From left: Lynn Miller, Chris Lineberry, Jake Stienfeld, Gov. Doug Ducey and William S. Hesse. Submitted photo
From left: Lynn Miller, Chris Lineberry, Jake Stienfeld, Gov. Doug Ducey and William S. Hesse. Submitted photo

Murray Siegel

By Murray Siegel

In December, Maricopa Unified School District (MUSD) was one of only four Arizona school districts named to the seventh annual Advanced Placement Honor Roll. Many citizens of Maricopa might ask, “What’s the big deal? What is important about Advanced Placement (AP)?” and “Is this just another meaningless public relations announcement?”

The AP program is conducted by The College Board, a nonprofit corporation whose purpose is to allow high school students to take college courses while still in high school and receive credit via a national exam managed by the Educational Testing Service, also a nonprofit corporation. The AP program is trusted by the vast majority of colleges and scores on AP exams are used by colleges to award credit to incoming students.

The AP Honor Roll recognizes school districts that maintain successful AP programs. Among students enrolled in AP courses there are at least 30 percent who are from underserved minorities or at least 30 percent who qualify for free/reduced lunch. AP students at Maricopa High School qualified on both standards. Only four Arizona districts met the requirements for the Honor Roll, thus MUSD’s receipt of this award is quite significant.

MHS has increased its AP course offerings to 11 – Studio Art, English Language, English Literature, Calculus, Biology, Chemistry, World History, U.S. History, Government, Economics and Spanish. It takes more than qualified AP teachers to obtain student success in AP. The coursework students take going back to elementary school must build a level of knowledge and work ethic that prepares students to meet the challenge of an AP class.

Given the success of MUSD’s AP program, credit must be spread throughout the district schools.

Special notice must be given to the high school’s AP teachers. As challenging as the coursework is for the students, the teachers must have the subject-area knowledge to meet the demands of an AP course. This is national curriculum and topics cannot be skipped. Failure of the teacher to cover the course curriculum thoroughly will result in low exam scores. Obviously, the scores of MUSD students validate the qualifications of their teachers.

Indeed, MUSD being awarded a place on the AP District Honor Roll should bring pride to our community. The teachers and administrators of the district should be congratulated for their contributions to the success of the AP program in Maricopa.

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.

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Principal Janel Hildick introduces Butterfield AMIC students and discusses the AMIC program. Photo by Mason Callejas

Butterfield Elementary teachers and students presented Maricopa Unified School District’s governing board an update on the programs at the school during a board meeting Wednesday night. They specifically addressed the Advanced Mathematics Intervention Class (AMIC).

Maricopa Wells Middle School

The Maricopa Unified School District’s governing board voted Wednesday to approve the relocation of sixth grade classes from the district’s six elementary schools to its two middle schools.

The decision came down as a result of the recent override measure, which will expand elementary school faculties by an average of four teachers per school, reducing the number of available classrooms.

To accommodate this growth the district has decided to move sixth grade classes to Desert Wind and Maricopa Wells middle schools, where Superintendent Steve Chestnut believes the sixth graders belong.

“Those schools were designed to be middle schools,” Chestnut said.  “I’m a former middle school principal, I love middle schools and I think sixth graders thrive in that environment.”

Board member Torri Anderson voiced her concern over the possible infringement on special-needs and blended learning programs, which currently use space at Maricopa Wells that sixth grade classes will be occupying in the future.

Chestnut acknowledged there will be some issues with relocating those programs, but classroom space is available elsewhere in the district which can be utilized for those smaller programs, he said.

No decisions on the relocation of those programs has been finalized.

Anderson also inquired about the move effectively reversing a 2013 board decision, which resulted in the relocation of sixth grade to elementary schools. The move was in part designed as a cost-saving effort by the district. However it was also meant to encourage parents to retain their children in MUSD for as long as possible.

“That was one of the deciding reasons as to why we moved them,” Anderson said. “Because, we thought, ‘Oh, if we can keep them here for sixth grade, then guess what, they stay here for seventh and eighth.’”

It’s unclear if the effort did, in fact, have an impact on the retention of students, as Chestnut did not have statistical information to present on the topic.

Relocation of the sixth grade classes is set to begin with the 2017-2018 school year.

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Maricopa Unified School District Administrative Office

Maricopa Unified School District was one of four Arizona school districts receiving national recognition for its advanced placement program.

MUSD was named to the College Board’s seventh annual Advanced Placement District Honor Roll. Other Arizona school districts are Vail, Tucson Unified and Diocese of Phoenix Catholic Schools.

“I am honored to congratulate these four Arizona school districts on their hard work to enhance student learning through their progressive Advanced Placement Programs,” state Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas said in a statement. “This accomplishment highlights the dedication of both students and teachers in their efforts to reach the highest levels of academic achievement.”

To be included on the honor roll, school districts were studied on three years of data, 2014-2016

Schools were judged on increased participation in and access to AP courses (at least 4 percent in large districts, 6 percent in medium districts and 11 percent in small districts), increased percentage of minority students scoring at least a 3 on an AP exam and increased percentage of students scoring a 3 or higher from 2014 to 2016.

The percentage of students who qualify for a free or reduced-price lunch is also considered.

MUSD Superintendent Steve Chestnut said the high school increased its AP offerings from 8 to 11. “I think that’s a new high for us,” he said.

In Maricopa, under-represented minority students – defined as “African-American, Hispanic/Latino and American Indian/Alaska Native” – are in the majority. Chestnut said the school has a white population of 36 percent. And 57 percent of students are considered low-income.

“We try to send more and more teachers to AP training,” Chestnut said.

As part of the district’s strategic plan, the district budgeted for the extra training and AP textbooks to provide more access to the advanced courses.

“We are pleased we scored well,” Chestnut said.

In AP exams, a score of 2 will allow high school credit but not college credit. A score of 3 or 4 provides college credit.

MUSD was among 433 districts in the United States and Canada to qualify for the honor roll.

Murray Siegel

By Murray Siegel

What does the word “elementary” mean when considering elementary school?

Many would say elementary means simple or basic. Actually, what students learn in elementary school is the foundation of their future learning, both formal and informal.

Are our state universities giving future elementary teachers what is needed to prepare them for the elementary classroom?

To answer these questions, two MUSD teachers were queried. One, a fourth-grade teacher and graduate of Northern Arizona University, is in her second year of teaching. The other, a sixth-grade teacher who had a business degree and obtained her academic preparation for teaching via an online program at a community college, is experiencing her first year in the classroom. Both believe their preparation was adequate, but each pointed to enhancements that would have been a great benefit for a new teacher.

Specifically, each would have liked more practical experience in the classroom before completing the program, and both agreed they should have been provided with more resources. Entering a school without a toolkit of resources leaves the teacher scrambling to find activities and teaching methods once that teacher is assigned to a specific grade level. The university might believe the school district will provide this, while the district assumes that a library of resources is something the new teacher obtained at the teacher-training institute.

Despite different backgrounds, both professionals feel their respective programs fell short in two important areas – sufficient knowledge of constructing lesson plans, with emphasis on meeting district/state standards, and dealing with students with a variety of behavior problems.

Lesson plans are required and a specific structure is defined. With little experience creating lesson plans in diverse subjects while using specific guidelines, the new teacher can plan on spending an inordinate amount of time meeting the school’s lesson-plan requirement.

Anyone who has spent more than a few days in a public school classroom knows misbehaving students are a fact of life. The behavior can vary from simply speaking out of turn to a significant demonstration of disrespect and even violence against other students. A new teacher, without another adult in the classroom, needs to have the preparation to confidently deal with the problem student when confronted with serious misbehavior.

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 December issue of InMaricopa.

Murray Siegel

By Murray Siegel

You would be surprised to learn that an airline pilot responsible for the safety of 150 or more passengers earned an annual salary of $40,936. You would be shocked to learn that a family doctor is receiving an annual salary of $40,936.

Yet you would neither be surprised nor shocked to learn that a teacher in the Maricopa School District with five years of teaching experience, and responsible for the learning foundation of 25 to 200 students (depending on grade level and subject area), has an annual salary of $40,936.

Yes, but teachers get three months off in the summer so the difference in pay is understandable. A pilot’s hours are limited by the FAA. Most pilots have time for a second source of income. Some own a travel agency or dabble in real estate or fly for the Reserves or the Guard. Many physicians take time off, perhaps every other Wednesday or they leave early on Friday. Certainly patient hours in the evening or on weekends can be left to associates.

What is the reason for the significant difference between a pilot, a physician and a school teacher? All three professions demand knowledge, have a certification process, and impose serious responsibilities upon the professional.

If one flashes back to the mid-20th century, one will find almost all airline pilots and most physicians were men, while the vast majority of teachers were women. There is no question that the disparity in earnings between teachers and other professionals is based on the gender inequality that existed 60 years ago, and that inequity has persisted.

Another interesting difference between teachers and the other two professions is how the individual is evaluated. A doctor whose patients fail to follow health advice is not castigated if those patients become severely ill or die. An airline pilot is evaluated on flying skills. If passengers fail to heed the pilot’s warning to fasten seat belts and are then injured due to violent turbulence, the pilot does not suffer a poor rating.

A teacher, however, is evaluated based on the performance of his/her students. If many of the students have uncaring parents, subsist on a poor diet, live in a dysfunctional family or are abused, these factors are not considered when viewing the students’ scores on standardized tests.

If our schools are to provide students with the education needed for success in the future, should we not demand the very best teachers, provide salaries that are commensurate with a teacher’s abilities and evaluate those abilities in an equitable manner?

Murray Siegel is a Maricopa resident. He has a PhD in Math Ed 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 October issue of InMaricopa.

Murray Siegel

By Murray Siegel

In this column published a few months ago, it was suggested teaching undergraduate students might not really be the primary purpose of a university. Despite most Americans believing universities are there for student learning, and despite statements from universities proclaiming the importance of teaching, research is the primary criterion for evaluating and promoting university faculty. That article promised that possible means to improve college teaching would be offered in a future column, and this is that column.

First, let us define how college faculty are classified. Adjunct faculty are part-time instructors, hired by the semester who get paid a small amount per class and receive no benefits. Contract faculty are full-time faculty with a contract for one, two or three years. They are paid a salary and do receive benefits but are restricted in how they can serve the university. Tenured faculty, who are the professors, are at the top of the pyramid and have salaries considerably higher than contract faculty. They are required to perform research and teach fewer classes in order to have sufficient time for research. New professors are “tenure track” until they are granted tenure or are asked to leave. The tenure track can take as long as six years.

How are college faculty evaluated as teachers? The primary tool is an online evaluation completed by students. Participation in these surveys is voluntary and, thus, this method suffers from voluntary response bias, a well-documented bias caused by respondents who are negative or angry being more likely to complete a survey. There are rare classroom observations by peers, which my experience indicates are not valid.

During my eight years at ASU, I was observed only once, and the evaluator was a biologist, despite the fact I taught mathematics. To the best of my knowledge that evaluator received no formal assessment training. Compare this to my experience as a high school department chair where I received extensive training in classroom observation and teacher assessment prior to being able to evaluate teachers in my department.

What can be done?

A simple solution is to create two classifications of tenured faculty, research professors and teaching professors. Research faculty are primarily evaluated by their research. They teach the most advanced courses and are expected to mentor undergraduates and advise graduate students. Teaching faculty would be primarily evaluated by regular classroom observations by properly trained assessors. Student evaluations of teaching professors would be conducted in structured face-to-face interviews with a random sample of the professor’s students. Teaching professors would be expected to write articles for academic journals and/or make presentations at professional conferences, but would not be asked to perform research.

This approach should improve the quality of teaching at the college level and most likely cause better retention rates among faculty members who will be the teaching professors.

Murray Siegel is a Maricopa resident. He has a PhD in Math Ed 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 September issue of InMaricopa.