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high school

Jacob Harmon is the new business director for MUSD.


Maricopa Unified School District is receiving $22.3 million dollars plus 40 acres of land from the state’s School Facilities Board (SFB) for a second high school.

The status of the land is a question mark.

“We do not have it defined. We do not have it located,” Superintendent Tracey Lopeman told the governing board Wednesday. “We are in the process of securing our representation so that we can be properly represented when we go out and discuss purchase and donations.”

She estimated the proffered 40 acres might be appropriate for a “starter high school” that had been discussed during capital-improvement talks. The new high school is estimated to be 125,000 square feet. The original cost is $179.69 per square foot.

“When we make application for a building-renewal grant, there’s a process and policies,” Facilities Director Scott Fall-Leaf said, leading to a brief explanation of new SFB policies regarding roofing and HVAC. The latter includes a flow chart that MHS has not yet submitted to.

SFB funding, which Lopeman described as “statutorily eligible new construction, renovation and repair projects,” is familiar to MUSD.

Jacob Harmon, the district’s new business director, said past projects at MUSD funded by SFB amounted to more than $122 million. That includes about $2 million in land from 2001 to 2008 and $115.6 million for the construction of eight schools between 2001 and 2011.

Currently, the district has two projects being paid for by SFB.

Facilities Director Scott Fall-Leaf (left) and Business Director Jacob Harmon

Fall-Leaf said a sewer line is being repaired at Maricopa Elementary School. SFB is giving $47,630 to that project. At the high school is the more involved project of a submersible pump and water well repair. SFB awarded MUSD $530,600 for that project.

The district has noted the possible need for a second high school since at least 2008, when a developer tried to donate 60 acres to the cause just before the housing bubble burst and the Great Recession stopped all development. This year, with the current high school over capacity, “possible need” is now a certainty and wheels have been put in motion to build a second high school sooner rather than later. While the high school is being planned, MHS is putting in portable classrooms on the east side of campus.

School land between the baseball and softball lands is prepped for portable classrooms to be used next school year.

By Bernadette Russoniello

Bernadette Russoniello

Government, media and families voice much concern over public school performance and accountability. We grade schools with letter grades based on standardized test scores, student growth in test scores, attendance, graduation rate, college and career readiness and English learner proficiency. Schools receive grades for their measured performance.

But what about our institutions of higher education? What grade do they earn as we prepare students for education beyond high school?

A report released last fall from the Arizona Board of Regents, representing Arizona’s public universities, paints a stark picture of student educational completion beyond high school. Nearly half – 47 percent – of Arizona high schoolers graduate without enrolling in a two-year or four-year college. The average college completion rate for Arizona high school graduates is only 27 percent – and that statistic is six years after graduation.

The statistics are even gloomier for students to complete their certificate or degree program within the standard two- or four-year timeframe. If trends stay on their current path, only 17 percent of today’s ninth graders (class of 2022) will graduate from a four-year college by 2028.

What do we need to do to improve this outlook?

Education. First, we need to stop making students feel like they only have value, purpose or worth if they pursue a four-year college degree. According to 2016 data from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics, only 21 percent of jobs in the U.S. economy required a bachelor’s degree to gain an entry position. Surprisingly, 36 percent of entry-level jobs only require a high school diploma or equivalent. An additional 28 percent of jobs require no formal educational credential at all.

What we need to do is continue to shift the conversation in homes and schools away from “you’re only successful if you go to college” and help students recognize careers and career pathways that match the student’s work values, lifestyle goals and financial requirements.

We need to recognize that only 26 percent of careers in today’s workforce require a bachelor’s degree or beyond. We need every student to realize their career potential, to know they can accomplish any goal with commitment and hard work. But we must do a better job of painting a fair picture for young scholars and their families, helping students identify careers and career pathways of potential interest, and learning about the range of options they have.

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

This column appears in the February issue of InMaricopa.

Rachele Reese will be shifting from Leading Edge Academy to A+ Charter Schools. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Maricopa is gaining more educational opportunities this year as two new charter schools plan to open in July.

What: A+ Charter Schools Open House
When: Jan. 10, 6 p.m.
Where: Leading Edge Academy, 18700 N. Porter Road

A+ Charter Schools is set to build a facility to be open by July 24. It is enrolling high school and junior high students. An open house for residents to learn more about A+ Charter is set for Thursday at 6 p.m. at Leading Edge Academy.

“Our goal in the first three years is 300 students,” said Rachele Reese, assistant principal at Leading Edge Academy – Maricopa.

Reese has been on staff at Leading Edge full-time for three years. Next school year, however, she will be an administrator at A+ Charter Schools.

Corporate board members are Rebekah Krueger, business manager of Arizona Charter Solutions, management company of Leading Edge Academy, and Laura Newcomb, owner and president of Autism Academy for Education and Development (AAED), with three campuses in the Valley. Newcomb also built the framework for special education still in use at Leading Edge.

Reese said Newcomb approached her about creating a high school. Reese told her that would be a good idea if it was in Maricopa.

“We need options in Maricopa if nothing else,” Reese said. “We also need to try to bring back some of the kids that are going out of town.”

A+ Charter Schools incorporated as a nonprofit in 2017. The governing board includes Mat Reese, principal of Leading Edge Academy – Maricopa (and Rachele’s husband), Derrick Jamerson, principal with LEAD and AAED, and Krueger.

“We wanted to start small,” Rachele Reese said. “I want to get to know the family and the kid and then really start creating that infrastructure that you need when you start a school before building.”

The charter was approved by the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools on Dec. 10. According to application materials, A+ Charter intends to start with grades seventh through 10th and then add 11th grade and 12th grade by 2021. It is intended to focus on workforce readiness.

“One of the things that I have always noticed from high schools is the fact that when you finish high school, the advisor can give you a test and then say, ‘These are your skills,’” Reese said. “But there is really no real-life idea of what that job is going to look like.”

She said she wants to take the culture and positive attitude of Leading Edge to A+ Charter Schools. Mat Reese said A+ Charter will also seek membership in the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

What: Heritage Academy Job Fair
When: Jan. 8, 5 p.m.
Where: HomeSmart Success, 19756 N. John Wayne Parkway, Suite 100

During the same meeting at which A+ Charter was approved by the state board, Heritage Academy received the OK to expand to Maricopa and increase its enrollment. It, too, is targeting middle school and high school students.

Heritage Academy Inc. has been in business 23 years. The Maricopa campus is to start with sixth through 10th grade and grow to sixth-12th by 2022. It is planning for 500 students.

With a more public outreach to families, Heritage Academy compiled a list of 1,340 Maricopans interested in a charter high school, according to its application. It expects to open with a staff of 39. Heritage is hosting a job fair Tuesday from 5 to 7 p.m. at HomeSmart Success.

School is expected to start at Heritage Academy July 22. It does not have school on Fridays and takes two-week breaks for fall, winter and spring.

Corporate Board members are Diane and Jared Taylor. Governing Board members are Raymond Jones, Travis Moore, Marie Renard, Eve Seaman and Jared Taylor.

A+ Charter may be built near Banner Health off Porter Road. Heritage Academy has a location at Adams Way and Conner Drive.

Maricopa athletes working for spots on this year’s high school varsity teams: (from left) Sequoia Pathway Academy volleyball players Lynniece Andrews, Kelsey Blatz and Keara Simpson, Maricopa High School cross country runner Megan Carr, SPA soccer player Brian Gardner, MHS football players Taylor Belcher, Kemo Akin and Cameron Sanders, MHS volleyball players Tyla Gooden and Mackenzie Ford, and SPA football players Jacob Burbo, Cade Bell, Richard Joaquin and Tyler Burton. Photo montage by Victor Moreno


  1. SPA Volleyball

Dawnell Haupt returns to Pathway for her fourth year as head coach of the varsity Pumas volleyball team. Most of the team is also returning, and the Pumas are expected to make a run for the Canyon Athletic Association title.


2. MHS Cross Country

The boys’ cross country team defied expectations last season and earned a spot in the state championships. They lost a couple of senior leaders but still have eyes set on qualifying meets at the end of the season. Meanwhile, the girls have struggled to field a consistent team. Both boys’ and girls’ teams are coached by Heather Abel, and both will be in competition Aug. 30 at Tumbleweed Park in Chandler.


3. SPA Boys’ Soccer

After a four-year hiatus, Pathway will have a varsity boys’ soccer team in the fall this year, led by new head coach Juan Garavito, who saw good participation in summer clinics and camps. The school didn’t have the student population to support a soccer program, but enthusiasm was recently renewed after a co-ed program at the junior high was introduced last spring.


4. MHS Football

Led by head coach Chris McDonald, the Maricopa Rams’ first action is a scrimmage at Notre Dame Aug. 11. They open the season Aug. 18 hosting Willow Canyon and then play at Paradise Valley Aug. 25. The Rams were 5-5 last season and finished fourth in 5A Metro in its first season of existence.


5. MHS Volleyball

The Rams’ volleyball team posted a 9-9 record in 2016, their first season with coach Jecksan Quinones. Maricopa returns to action Aug. 24 in a scrimmage at Valley Christian. The Rams’ first season game is at Vista Grande Aug. 29, and they host Paradise Valley Aug. 31. They have two tournaments scheduled.


6. SPA Football

The Pathway Pumas will be led by a new head coach this season. Anthony Nava was an assistant coach for Casa Grande Union High School, as well as a coach for semi-professional teams in the Arizona Football League. Pathway’s season begins Sept. 1 at Pacana Park against Gilbert’s American Leadership Academy.


MHS Golf

Maricopa’s boys’ and girls’ golf teams will be under the tutelage of coach John Tobin but with different schedules. The boys’ home course is Ak-Chin Southern Dunes. Their first competition is Aug. 29 at Seville Country Club in Gilbert. The girls, who played instructional league last year, don’t play until Sept. 11.


SPA Cross Country

Coach Justin Price will return to lead Pathway’s varsity cross country team. Athletic Director Nate Wong hopes new practice times will breed faster, stronger runners. The team will practice at 6 a.m. instead of the afternoon.


For complete schedules, visit InMaricopa.com/Calendar/.

The Maricopa boys track team placed fifth in the Aztec Invitational to start the season.

The Maricopa High School Track & Field teams will bring multiple state pre-qualifiers to their meet Wednesday at Notre Dame prep, carrying on with what will likely be a successful season for the Rams.

Head coach Sheldon Hutchinson believes his well-rounded athletes, several of whom have already qualified for state, are on the verge of breaking school records, while others are improving so fast they could be winning medals and breaking records in no time.

Junior Jesse Gaines ran a two-minute 800-meter run in last week’s Aztec Invitational in Tempe, coming within one second of the MHS 800-meter record at 1:59.

The Rams finished fifth out of 21 teams at the March 3 competition.

“I think both our teams, our boys and girls, have a lot of strengths,” Hutchinson said. “For the boys’ side of things, the strengths are going to be in the jumps.”

Three MHS jumpers prequalified for state at the Aztec invitational.

Clearing 22 feet 2.75 inches in the long jump, Phillip Austin is just one leg of the state-bound trio.

Seniors Darrell Handy and his brother Terrell are the other two pre-qualifiers, jumping 6-4 and 6-2 respectively at the high jump.

The brothers also prequalified at the triple jump with Terrell grabbing gold by jumping 44-9 and Darrell finishing fourth with a jump of 42-5.5.

As for the girl’s, Hutchinson said, despite being young, some are showing signs of remarkable progress.

“We have a lot of new [girl] throwers,” he said. “But they’re actually improving each time they throw.”

Though not qualifying for state, junior Leilena Young came in 15th out of 59 throwers in the shot put event at the Aztec Invitational, throwing 30-2.

The lady Rams also did well at long distance running, with Megan Carr finishing 46th of 65 in the 1600 with a time of 6:22.26.

Hutchinson had nothing but praise for his current roster, though he did indicate it’s proving hard to develop and retain track and field athletes because of an unfortunate competition between interscholastic sports and club sports.

“It’s always a struggle with so many club sports going on,” Hutchinson said. “A lot of our athletes just get sucked away because, of course, it’s a financial commitment they’ve committed to, so it’s hard to keep them in and keep them going.”

The girls and boys track teams will face off against Notre Dame Prep in Scottsdale today at 4 p.m.


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Sequoia Pathway won a tight CAA state championship came and took home the trophy Saturday. Photo by Victor Moreno

In the challenge of moving up to 11-man football in Division III of the Canyon Athletic Association, Sequoia Pathway Academy overcame odds and won the state championship on Saturday.

The Pumas defeated American Leadership Academy-Ironwood 20-13 at Phoenix Christian High School for the division trophy.

Senior running back Travion Bolds was named Most Valuable Player in the division. During the season he led the CAA in rushing with 1,731 yards. Senior quarterback Arthur Silva led Division III and was third overall in passing with 878 yards. Senior wide receiver Trey Anderson was first in the division and fourth overall in receiving yards with 658.

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Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

The fourth-ranked Sequoia Pathway Academy Pumas shut out Heritage Academy – Laveen Friday night in Division III of Canyon Athletic Association’s football playoffs.

Despite a slow start, the Pumas quickly picked apart the visiting Heroes at Pacana Park for the 36-0 victory.

The win pits the Pumas against No. 1 Canyon State Academy in the semi-finals on Saturday at 7 p.m. at Valley Christian Academy in Chandler.

Sequoia Pathway is 8-2 in its first year of 11-man football.

Puma running back Travion Bolds leads the CAA in rushing yards this season with 1,731. Quarterback Arthur Silva is third in passing yards with 878. Many of those passes have gone to Trey Anderson, who is fourth in receiving yards with 658. Bolds was fifth in tackles in CAA play with 51.

MHS sophomore Jathan Washington scored two touchdowns Friday night. Photo by William Lange

Homecoming can be as distracting as it is motivating for a football team. It turned out to be both for Maricopa High School Friday night, as the varsity took down Ironwood 37-22 in its first 5A Metro competition.


The Rams’ defense appeared shaky early against the Eagles’ passing game, with missed assignments leading to touchdowns and vulnerable open-field tackling prolonging Ironwood’s momentum at times. Maricopa did not allow that to define the evening, however.

“It’s all fixable things,” Maricopa head coach Chris McDonald said.

The coach would have preferred not have the tight score of the third quarter against a team with only one win. Considering the disruptions inherent in Homecoming week and some internal conflict, he said the Rams maintained their composure well.

Maricopa scored first on a field goal from Sam Aviles. It was the start of a personally fruitful night for the senior kicker.

But Ironwood quickly answered with a touchdown on a 38-yard pass from Mason Nguyen to Dustin Hoffarth. That initiated back-and-forth scoring.

Ram junior Cameron Sanders ran in from the 12 yard line and Aviles kicked the extra point to put Maricopa up 10-7. Hoffarth took another pass from Nguyen from Ironwood’s own 33 to take a 14-10 lead.

Aviles scored three more points on a field goal with 5:06 left in the half, and the Rams trailed the Eagles 14-13. The Maricopa defense forced a fumble on the kickoff return, setting up Aviles for his third field goal to give the Rams a 16-14 lead. They never trailed again.

At the beginning of the second half, sophomore Jathan Washington ran the ball back 61 yards for a touchdown followed by an Aviles kick to widen the lead to 23-14.

Ironwood crawled back with a rushing touchdown followed by a 2-point conversion and was just one point behind with 5:47 left in the third quarter.

In front a boisterous Homecoming crowd, the Rams’ defense dug in to stop the Eagles the rest of the game.

After a fumble recovery and a run down to the 5 yard line, Sanders carried the ball in for another touchdown. Aviles kicked the PAT, and Maricopa had a 30-22 lead.

Washington scored again from the Maricopa 33 with 2:01 left in the game to complete the scoring.

It was not a pretty win in McDonald’s estimation, but he was happy to take it.

“I just wanted to see us play a cleaner game of football, especially defensively.” McDonald said. “We still have not put a full football game together where offense, defense and special teams play to best of their ability. It seems like every game it’s one or the other, which I guess can be a good thing, too, because we’re 4-2 and we still haven’t played good football yet.”

Washington led the Rams’ rushing with 104 yards on 13 carries. Sanders carried the ball nine times for 53 yards. Senior Kenny Oliver caught four passes for 67 yards and sophomore Jacob Cowing had six receptions for 66 yards. Senior quarterback Zachary Bachelder passed for 139 yards.

Aviles scored 13 points for Maricopa with his foot.

The Rams next play at Apollo High School (2-4) in Glendale Oct. 7 at 7 p.m. in more section play.