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Maricopa Unified School District

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Really thoughtful’

Many graduates were grateful for the show of support.

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

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

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

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

He said the school year was a bit surreal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quick and patient, with social distancing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

‘Doing as much as they can’

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He said the event had one focus: the students.

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

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


MHS Senior Giveaway
A promotional poster for the MHS 2020 student giveaway.

Seniors at Maricopa High School have one last chance to get entered for free prizes, but the clock is ticking.

The MHS 2020 Senior Giveaway will award more than 150 prizes contributed by local businesses and members of the community, including gift cards to restaurants, Visa gift cards, jewelry and makeup. Every prize is worth at least $25, organizers said.

Only MHS seniors are eligible for prizes. Anyone can enter a senior on the @Parents of MHS Rams Facebook group, but the senior must pick up the prize if they win.

A student’s name must be entered by the student or by family and friends in the comments on the Official Post of the @Parents of MHS Rams group while sharing a favorite high school memory. Students can be entered only once.

Seniors are being temporarily approved to join the group to get entered for the giveaway.

Winners will be selected by a computer-generated prize wheel.

But time is running out to get entered, as prizes will be awarded live on the Facebook group at 5 p.m. Thursday. Organizers of the giveaway are trying to reach as many students as possible, so enter your favorite senior’s name if not entered already.

Prizes have been donated by many businesses, including Buff City Soaps, Honeycutt Coffee, Plaza Bonita, Yogurt Jungle, Water and Ice and InMaricopa. Many others have donated prizes.

Community members helping with contributions include Patti Coutre, Cindi Price, Bob Marsh, Bree Campbell and many others.

The giveaway was organized by Amber Flores, a teacher at the high school, with the help of senior moms Kellie Goodrum, Gayle Randolph, Tahani Hanani, Diane Berg and Jamie West.

Earlier Thursday, graduating seniors will receive their diplomas in a drive-by distribution, according to an alphabetical schedule from 10:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Students were encouraged to wear their cap and gown for photos against an MHS banner/backdrop in the student parking lot.

The MUSD Governing Board examined the duties and proposed salary of the new position of facilities/operations director in what ended up a split decision.

Setting salaries for newly created positions has been difficult for Maricopa Unified School District.

Torri Anderson

The district had posted a job opening for a “Coordinator of Communications and Social Media,” and then had to increase the compensation to get more qualified candidates. Tuesday, the issue was a revisit of the proposed pay for a “Director of Facilities & Operations.”

Board member Torri Anderson was emphatic that the base salary range of $76,650-$89,051 was too high. The full compensation package would cost the district $95,800-$111,400.

“We need to prove to the public that we need this position,” she said. “To start out at the top is concerning me.”

MUSD had a facilities director before the recession and budget cuts. Anderson said the facilities/operations director position should be re-created, but the board should come back later and adjust the salary as they did for the communications coordinator.

“I could swallow $65,000-$75,000 as the range,” Anderson said.

Human Resources Director Tom Beckett said he compared all the salaries for facilities directors in the range of school districts with 5,000 to 10,000 students. He said the 2016 number showed the median starting salary of $67,000. But, he said, MUSD is competing for employees with districts that can pay over $80,000.

“I’m fairly confident that you all, just like I do, want to see the very, very best candidate,” he said. “To get that, we have some serious things that we need to be addressing at this point in time, and we need somebody who’s going to hit the ground running.”

Saying she had already received many phone calls about the salary, Anderson said she feared it would impact the yearly Auditor General’s report, saying MUSD overpays its administrators. “I don’t need that headache at the grocery store.”

Board member Joshua Judd said he, too, had received “a lot of push-back” from community members and staff over the proposed salary. He also said he was concerned about the broadness of the job description.

Superintendent Tracey Lopeman said the job does entail a lot. The director would be in charge of maintenance, custodial, grounds and safety such as installing appropriate locks and cameras.

“We’re positioning this to get some experience so that we are not starting at the entry level,” Lopeman said.

Board member Patti Coutré said she agreed with Beckett and Lopeman. “We have to put forth that investment to get a quality person.” She likened the position to putting in future infrastructure.

Joshua Judd

“Things are starting to fail on our new buildings that aren’t new anymore,” Coutré said. “

MUSD’s high school has already approached capacity. That and other growth indicators are signs the district may need new buildings in the next 5-10 years.

“I believe we are positioned right now with potentially coming to our voters asking for a bond issue for facilities,” Beckett said in making his case for hiring an experience facilities director.

Board members agreed the position is necessary.

“It’s definitely needed,” Board member Gary Miller said. “It’s definitely important to invest in the front end.”

Ultimately, Anderson and Judd were not convinced. They voted against the personnel line item in the 5-3 board approval.

Maricopa Wells Middle School

The Maricopa Police Department is investigating an anonymous threat sent to a Maricopa Wells Middle School student yesterday.

MPD Spokesman Ricardo Alvarado said the alleged threat was vague, but included “somebody coming to the school with firearms.”

Alvarado said the message was sent through a social media app that allows messages to be shared anonymously.

After the threat was reported to police by a school resource officer, MPD increased its patrols around the middle school and assigned its Detectives Division to investigate.

MPD interviewed the student who received the threatening message as well as “some other people that we thought may have been involved,” Alvarado said.

But so far the team has been unable to substantiate the threat or identify a suspect.

“We’ve tried to contact the social media app provider and tried to get information from it – who sent the message – but so far they have not been willing to help,” Alvarado said.

MWMS Principal Rick Abel said MPD and the Maricopa Unified School District are working together to identify the sender.

“Our No. 1 responsibility is keeping kids safe and we continue to take the necessary steps to meet that goal,” Abel said.

The name of the app used to facilitate the threat could not be confirmed by Alvarado. However, multiple message-sending apps for both Apple and Android smart phones have the capability for users to send anonymous messages, including the popular app “Sarahah.”

Jeff Kramerczyk

By Jeff Kramarczyk

Taxes are a necessity, one that we have all come to accept. However, any proposal to increase them is typically met with pushback.  The 2016 MUSD override proposal is no different. Property owners within the Maricopa Unified School District boundaries are being asked to fund a proposal totaling $9.2 million over seven years. This is estimated to cost $132 per year in additional property taxes (based on an assessed property value of $100,000), and residents have dug their feet in, repeatedly.

In contrast, when a community is asked to pay for a new park, recreation facility or a new college campus, these bond measures get a much warmer reception.  In 2008, Maricopa residents were asked to approve two bonds totaling nearly $164 million to finance the construction of a college campus, two parks, a recreation center and a library.

These proposals were passed with an approval rating of 60 percent and we now have a beautiful facility in the Copper Sky Recreation Complex, a source of pride for our community and the envy of many of our neighbors.

So what is it that makes bond measures different? I suspect that greater acceptance is rooted in three areas, a well-documented need, clarity in the proposal and tangibility of the final product.  Surveys indicated the community clearly felt there was a need for additional recreational facilities.

A proposal was created that provided a wonderfully illustrated blueprint of how the money would be used, with a well-defined timeline of when the final products were to be delivered. Finally, the result of these expenditures was something the community could see, from the expansive green in the park’s turf to the highly polished floors of the indoor basketball courts. All of this gave voters the confidence to approve the measure.

In years past, these were elements the MUSD override attempts were missing, but not this year.  With current class sizes pushing the threshold of acceptable levels and classroom technology being well behind competing schools, teachers, administrators, parents and steering committees all agree that the need for funding a solution is paramount.

With the override, that solution has been clearly defined in the proposal outlined before us.  Annually, approximately $2.2 million will be used for hiring 47 teachers to reduce class sizes and expand the curriculum, with the remaining $500,000 invested in instructional technology. This is a clear and simple proposal to solve the identified need.

As for the tangible product, we will immediately see a reduction in student-to-teacher ratios, a core metric for those researching the best option for their children. We will also see the immediate implementation of current technologies to provide teachers with the necessary tools to challenge and engage.

Less immediate is the impact these improvements will have on school performance, and even further out is the impact this will have on our community as a whole.

Make no mistake, a thriving school district is a source of pride for a community, and recent trends indicate MUSD can deliver a product that will be the envy of our neighbors. Just as with our Copper Sky Recreation Complex, we just need to make the investment to reap the rewards.

Jeff Kramarczyk is president of the Maricopa Education Foundation.


This op/ed appeared in the April issue of InMaricopa.

Maricopa Unified School District Administrative Office

Dumped yard clippings raised some hackles in The Lakes at Rancho El Dorado, and the fingers are pointing at Maricopa Unified School District.

MUSD owns vacant property on both sides of Placone Road, a connector between Rancho El Dorado Parkway and Powers Parkway. Property owners in The Lakes complained to the homeowner’s association about dumping going on within those parcels and accused the school district’s landscape crew.

“On March 21, we did dump some grass, and we are checking with the city regarding spreading this type of biodegradable green matter on our property,” MUSD Superintendent Steve Chestnut said.

Robert Mathias, development manager for the city, said it looked like clippings and tree limbs had been dumped on the property some time ago as well.

“That is not something we would allow,” he said. “People think it’s biodegradable, but that takes a long time.”

He said yard clipping and similar debris should be packaged up and disposed of at a waste facility or mulched.

Mathias said there was no record of a citation being sent to MUSD, but he said he would talk to the district about the situation.

Copper Sky Maricopa Police Substation. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

The ribbon will be cut on the new police substation at Copper Sky, the Maricopa Music Circle will perform its annua spring concert, comedian Faizon Love will be on stage, residents can look at plans for a new Palo Verde Regional Park, and much more is happening this week in Maricopa. For details on these and other events, or to add your own, visit InMaricopa.com/Calendar.


Maricopa Planning & Zoning Commission meeting is at 6 p.m. at City Hall, 39700 W. Civic Center Plaza. Among the agenda items is a Planned Area Development at Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church.

A Ray of Hope meeting of Narcotics Anonymous is at 7 p.m. at 44977 W. Hathaway Ave. (enter through door on right side of building)


Coffee with Friends of the Maricopa Library is at 1:30 p.m. at Maricopa Public Library, 41600 W. Smith-Enke Road. Meet every Tuesday for refreshments and conversation and get acquainted with the library. All ages welcome.

Copper Sky Police Substation Grand Opening is at 5:30 p.m. with a tour of the building housing the new communications center, 17985 N. Greythorne Drive


Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board meeting is at 6:30 p.m. at MUSD District Office, 44150 W. Maricopa-Casa Grande Hwy.


Open House on proposed Palo Verde Regional Park is from 4:30 to 7 p.m. at Copper Sky Multigenerational Center in multipurpose room A, 44345 W. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.

A Ray of Hope meeting of Narcotics Anonymous is at 7 p.m. at Ak-Chin Social Services, 48227 W. Farrell Road.


Picacho Peak Day Hike starts from Copper Sky Multigenerational Center, 44345 W. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., at 8 a.m. and returns at 6 p.m. This trip is for age 18 and up. Fee is $10 for Maricopa residents and $12 for nonresidents.

Maricopa Music Circle Spring Concert, “Dancing into Spring,” is at 7 p.m. at UltraStar Multi-tainment Center, Theater 2, 16000 N. Maricopa Road, with accompanying performances from Desert Sun Performing Arts.

DT Comedy Show featuring comedian/actor Faizon Love is at 7 p.m. and 9:15 pm. in Theater 1 at UltraStar Multi-tainment Center, 16000 N. Maricopa Road.

MUSD Superintendent Steve Chestnut. Photo by Devin Carson

With a statewide vote on Proposition 123 coming in May, Maricopa Unified School District is mulling budget recommendations for the next two fiscal years.

The Budget Committee put together a list of “budget additions,” top 12 priorities ranging from critical to desirable. If Prop. 123 fails, several items will not be fulfilled. The most critical items, as voted by the committee, were reduction of class sizes and updated curriculum.

The budget recommendations are still a work in progress.

If Prop. 123 passes, it would mean a one-time payment of about $1.25 million to MUSD from the state.

“It is truly to reimburse us for funding that we did not receive over a four-year period,” Superintendent Steve Chestnut said. “It’s a bit of a make-up by the Legislature. It’s a way to end the lawsuit and gives us an interesting revenue stream here as we consider our budget.”

The state Legislature was court-ordered to compensate schools for failing to make inflation adjustments. As part of a settlement to a lawsuit brought by the Arizona Education Association, the Arizona School Boards Association and the Arizona Association of School Business Officials, lawmakers placed the question on the ballot for voters.

Prop. 123 would draw approximately $3.5 billion from the Permanent Law Endowment Trust Fund over a 10-year period to pay the money owed.

“Prop. 123 is money that is past-due to our teachers and our schools,” board member Torri Anderson said. “This is not new money. This is money that was taken out of our schools clear back in ’08, ’09 and ’10.”

She recalled when the district had to “terribly RIF” teachers and increase class sizes after the Legislature swept Prop. 301 funds, earmarked to reduce class sizes and to make inflation pay for teachers. The “Inflation Settlement” and Prop. 123 came from the resulting litigation, Cave Creek v. DeWit.

The special election is May 17. If approved, those funds are immediately available in June, Chestnut said.

He said there is a good chance Prop. 123 will be approved, thanks to strong support voiced by Gov. Doug Ducey, who was originally a defendant in the case as state treasurer.

If it succeeds, MUSD is prepared to hire five new teachers with $275,000 to reduce class sizes, but only for a year.

“That was a conscious decision by the Budget Committee,” Chestnut said. “The hope is that our override will pass, and then those five positions could be funded the following year with override funds.”

Also on that one-year plan and reliant on Prop. 123 funds are curriculum updates, increased site budgets, longevity stipends for teachers and expansion of the Gifted program.

Items on the Fiscal Year 17 budget additions are two more security officers at the high school, two elementary counselors, three behavior techs, three mentor teachers, another nurse and five daily enrichment specialists.

The only top-priority item on the proposed additions list that is in both FY16 and FY17 is the cost of living adjustment (COLA) for all staff. In 2016, it is a proposed 1-percent increase, paid for by Prop. 123 funds. In 2017, it is a 3-percent increase if the funding is there from a budget override.

That proposed budget override is on the November ballot. It asks for a 10-percent, seven-year override from voters in the district. Its aim is to hire 47 more teachers and add more technology.

The board must pass its budget by July.

Chestnut said the budget discussions have been more interesting because of Prop. 123.

MUSD board member Torri Anderson. Photo by Devin Carson
MUSD board member Torri Anderson. Photo by Devin Carson. Ph

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Evan Grace is congratulated by Superintendent Steve Chestnut. Photo by Merry Grace

On Feb. 19, Maricopa High School freshman Evan Grace was presented with a 2015 Prudential Spirit of Community Excellence Award for demonstrating “exceptional initiative in service to the community” and he was designated as one of the top student volunteers in Arizona.

Evan’s signature event for the past two years has been the “Sock Drive.” Both years, he has spearheaded in cooperation with the Blue Star Moms of Maricopa a donation drive to provide socks for our active military service troops. This past summer 500 pairs of socks were collected and donated. Evan was nominated for this award by Renita Myers, principal of Maricopa High School, with support and encouragement from Rick Abel, principal at Maricopa Wells Middle School.

In an unanticipated follow-up, Evan also received a signed personal letter from President Barack Obama along with a President’s Volunteer Service Award. This award offered by the Corporation for National and Community Service is presented “in recognition and appreciation for (Evan’s) commitment to strengthen our nation and communities through volunteer service”.

Along with the Sock Drive, Evan is a Youth Champion for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life. He is also a 2-year member of the City of Maricopa Youth Council, a role that necessitated a lowering of the age requirement to allow his participation as an eighth grader.

Evan is also deeply engaged at Maricopa High School and also is involved in many community projects. His passion and commitment to the Maricopa community is inspiring and the Maricopa Unified School District is proud to call Evan one of our own. Evan was recognized at the MUSD Governing Board meeting on March 16 for these accomplishments.

How do you like your salsa? Search out your favorite on Saturday at the annual Salsa Festival in Maricopa.

Maricopa City Hall will be busy this week, but the big event for the week – even the year – is Saturday’s Salsa Festival at Copper Sky. For details on these events and others, or to add your own, visit InMaricopa.com/Calendar.


Arizona Rattlers public practice is from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. every day next to the dog park at Copper Sky Regional Park, 55345 W. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.


A Ray of Hope meeting of Narcotics Anonymous is at 7 p.m. at Maricopa Chamber of Commerce Office, 44480 W. Honeycutt Road, Suite 106.


Maricopa Planning & Zoning Commission Meeting is at 6 p.m. at City Hall, 39700 W. Civic Center Plaza. Agenda items involve the draft General Plan.

A Ray of Hope meeting of Narcotics Anonymous is at 7 p.m. at Maricopa Community Church, 44977 W. Hathaway Ave. (enter through door on right side of building).


Leading Edge Academy Groundbreaking is at 8:30 a.m. for the expansion facility in Maricopa, 18700 N. Porter Road. RSVP.

Coffee with Friends of the Maricopa Library starts at 1:30 p.m. at Maricopa Public Library, 41600 W. Smith-Enke Road. Meet every Tuesday for refreshments and conversation and get acquainted with the library. All ages welcome.

Maricopa Artists’ Gallery Show Opening is from 5 to 7 p.m. at Maricopa City Hall, 39700 W. Civic Center Plaza. Local artists will display Maricopa-themed art through June.

City Council Work Session is at 6 p.m. at Maricopa City Hall, 39700 W. Civic Center Plaza. The mayor and council will hear a presentation on mosquito abatement at city parks.

City Council Regular Session is at 7 p.m. at Maricopa City Hall, 39700 W. Civic Center Plaza. Agenda items include an IGA for the overpass design, a financial audit, mold remediation and City Manager Gregory Rose’s performance evaluation.


Non-profit Funding Evaluation Committee meets at Maricopa City Hall, 39700 W. Civic Center Plaza. Agenda items include a recommendation of funding for the Scholarship Match Program.

Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board Meeting is at 6:30 p.m. at the District Office, 44150 W. Maricopa-Casa Grande Hwy. The agenda includes the budget, updated policies and changes in personnel.


Friends on the Porch meet at 9 a.m. at Maricopa Public Library, 41600 W. Smith-Enke Road. Join the Friends of the Library for coffee, cookies and entertainment. Meet under the tent.

A Ray of Hope meeting of Narcotics Anonymous is at 7 p.m. at Ak-Chin Social Services, 48227 W. Farrell Road.


Salsa Festival is from 2 to 8 p.m. at Copper Sky Regional Park, 55345 W. Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Food, entertainment, Arizona Rattlers, free shuttle, Maricopa Science City and much more.

Rotary Students of the Month were John Blodgett, Bailey Petty, Odessa Galvan Fuentes, Sage Horsley and Britney Daniels. Photo by Devin Carson

The Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board honored the January Maricopa Rotary Club Students of the Month as well as the participants in the 2016 Future City competition.

The Future City students were separated by school and brought up one by one to receive recognition in front of the board and their parents.

The board also heard a presentation from Pima Butte Elementary School on their academic focus and what challenges they face in achieving their goals of maintaining an “A” rating.

“We would like to do more extracurricular activities after school,” Principal Randy Lazar said. “In fact, that was a big discussion during our academic focus meetings. We ended up doing this school day activity, but we would still like to add extracurricular activities.”

Pima Butte staff and students showcased their progression in science, technology and art.

Sixth grade students have been tutoring third grade students to help with science comprehension, and the success was shown when 84 projects were entered into the school’s science fair this year. The school has also added dance lessons to expand its art program and use Chromebook laptops to help keep students involved in the classroom.

Pima Butte Principal Randy Lazar. Photo by Devin Carson
Pima Butte Principal Randy Lazar. Photo by Devin Carson

The board also heard a presentation from Stifel, Nicolaus & Company, Inc. to authorize the issuance and sale of refunding bonds of the district. In 2006, MUSD passed a $56 million bond to assist in the construction of facilities. The district will continue to pay off the bonds for 10 more years, but the potential refunding of district bonds could result in significant savings of approximately $2 million, or 6.3 percent of the refunded principal amount, for district taxpayers.

“Any time we can save money for the district and our stakeholders can save money on their tax bills seems like a win-win situation,” MUSD Governing Board President Patti Coutre said.

The Governing Board will reconvene on March 9 at 6:30 p.m.

Leading Edge robotics students in competition earlier this month. Submitted

Maricopa kids know their Vex IQ Robotics.

Students from four local district, charter and home schools qualified for the Feb. 27 state tournament at Microchip Technology Inc. in Chandler.

For the Pima Butte Robotics team, it will be the second state competition in a row.

“This year, we actually had three separate teams building robots, and two of the three teams have qualified for state,” assistant coach Michael Gray said.

Santa Cruz Elementary, also in the Maricopa Unified School District, qualified a team, as did the charter school Leading Edge Academy and the Maricopa Homeschoolers.

The Homeschoolers, whose team name is Light Signal, are the only Maricopa middle school team to reach the state competition. They will compete against 12 other schools.

“This Vex season they’ve won four trophies,” Homeschoolers parent Theresa Walton said. “We are so proud of them.”

Leading Edge has had three teams place in February competitions, and it was the fifth-grade team that qualified for state. They were fourth overall at the Sequoia High School Classic, and they took first place and the trophy for programming skills at Imagine Prep Superstition.
The MUSD and Leading Edge teams are sponsored by the Ak-Chin STEAM Foundation. There are 18 teams competing in the elementary division.

At the state tournament, six teams can earn a spot in the World Championships in Louisville, Kentucky. The winners of the following awards will automatically advance: Middle School Excellence, Teamwork Champions (two), Design Champion, Programming Skills Champion and Robot Skills Champion.

Matches start at 10:30 a.m. Microchip is at 2355 W. Chandler Blvd.

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Desert Wind Middle School students presented their Future City concepts to university professors. Submitted photo

Submitted by Jennifer Szoltysik, Desert Wind 20+1 Instructor

On Feb. 15, students from Desert Wind Middle School (DWMS) were invited to show off their award-winning “Future Cities” projects at the Arizona Science Center and Desert Botanical Gardens.

These presentations are part of the Sustainability Solutions Festival that is happening statewide throughout the month of February.

The two teams, Gronn Vekkelse and Novos Comecos, won two of the five Walton Sustainable Community Awards at the Arizona Regional Future Cities Competition in January. As highlight to their day at the Arizona Science Center DWMS students presented to professors from the Arizona State University’s College of Sustainability as well as hundreds of curious kids and parents.

Team members include:

Submitted photo
Submitted photo

Team Gronn Vekkelse – Alysa Huffman, Henry McCloskey, Parker Hunsaker, Project Manager – Matt Whitley, Alternate – Kian Pack

Team Novos Comecos – Savannah Shelabarger, Jordan Levy, Rhiannon Reed, Project Manager – Jaden Pyle, Alternate – Landen Thomas

For more information about Desert Wind Middle School, the District’s 20+1 Program or the Maricopa Unified School District visit www.maricopausd.org.


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“No matter what we do we aren’t going to make everybody happy with this decision,” MUSD Governing Board President Patti Coutre said. Photo by Devin Carson

After postponing the decision at its last meeting, the Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board voted to eliminate two “teacher in-service” days and extend the 2016-17 winter break but not change the starting date from Aug. 8, 2016.

During their last meeting on Jan. 27, the board reconsidered next year’s starting date after teachers voiced their concerns regarding the school breaking away from synchronized schedules with surrounding districts. However, after gathering data for two weeks, the board unanimously voted to uphold next year’s starting date.

Click to see the calendar

“No matter what we do we aren’t going to make everybody happy with this decision,” MUSD Governing Board President Patti Coutre said. “We have to do what is best for our students and for our district.”

Board member Torri Anderson, who felt it was too late in the process to change the starting date, echoed Coutre’s sentiment.

“It’s not up to us to figure out if the district changes their calendar,” Anderson said. “No [other districts] asked us [when they changed their calendars].”

The board also heard a presentation from Maricopa High School regarding their expanded dual-enrollment offerings and academic progress.

MHS Principal Renita Myers and staff speak achievements and new courses. Photo by Devin Carson
MHS Principal Renita Myers and staff speak achievements and new courses. Photo by Devin Carson

The high school has been successful in implementing their blended learning program into freshman and sophomore classes this school year. MHS also has plans to expand their foreign language curriculum by offering Spanish III and German I and II, and add additional English and math classes to the dual-enrollment offerings for the 2016-17 school year.

“I want to compliment you guys on how wonderful you have done with communication,” Coutre said. “As I’ve stated before, if you have a student at the high school and you don’t know what’s going on, you’re living under a rock.”

The MUSD Governing Board will reconvene on Wednesday, Feb. 24 at 6:30 p.m.

Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board. Photo by Devin Carson
Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board. Photo by Devin Carson

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Submitted photo

The Desert Wind Middle School Rubik’s Cube Club competed at ASU-West on Saturday as part of the 2016 Arizona Sci-Tech month of festivities.

DWMS competed against 31 other schools in team and solo competitions.

For the team competition, teams of eight students try for the best time to solve 25 cubes. DWMS had only seven students, and they solved all 25 cubes in 6 minutes and 11 seconds.

“Although this was the fastest time our students have ever completed this task, it was not quite good enough to get into the finals,” advisor Shannon Hull said.

Three DWMS students chose to compete in the solo competition. Seventh grader Jarom Hoopes solved his in 48 seconds. Seventh grader Shilin Cardenas solved it in 1:40. Eighth grader Shane Sexton completed his cube in 2:15.

“Being involved in the solo competition is a very daunting experience for our students,” Hull said. “We are so proud of how great they did and can’t wait to see how much they improve.”

The Rubik’s Cube Club is part of our 21st Century After School Program at Desert Wind.

Submitted photo
Submitted photo

“Even though I am the sponsor for this club, I still cannot solve a Rubik’s Cube, although the students are still trying to each me,” Hull said. “It is awesome for me to see how far these students have come in solving these complex puzzles, the algorithms and the combinations that they memorize are not easy; it is a lot more work than I ever thought.”

The event at ASU-West was DWMS Rubik’s Cube Club’s first competition. Hull said it was a learning experience and gave the students new strategies.

“The Tigers are now even more excited for more competitions that we can compete in and keep improving our times,” she said.

The design of the overpass project involves more than a bridge over the railroad tracks.

An overpass in Maricopa will be more than an overpass – at least in terms of strategy.

The future grade-separation project at the State Route 347/Union Pacific Railroad crossing is actually three projects in one. The city of Maricopa is responsible for one of the primary elements, and the Arizona Department of Transportation is responsible for the other two sections, though they coordinate efforts.

1. Relocation of Amtrak Station

This effort is under design by the city. The Design Concept Report estimated the project will cost $4.64 million. The station is to be moved up the tracks less than a mile, northwest to Estrella Gin property.

The relocation will involve constructing a station building and associated structures, adding rail siding and creating drainage. City officials have been studying historical photographs and examples from other cities regarding the possible aesthetics of the building.

Concurrently, the relocation will also bring about moving a large object to the new site – the historic Zephyr train car, which belongs to Pinal County and is under the auspices of the Maricopa Historical Society.

2. Realignment of local streets

The overpass project will require realignment of streets on both sides of SR 347 and on both sides of the tracks.

“ADOT will work closely with the city and be responsible for reaching out to residents and property owners in the area,” ADOT Senior Community Relations Officer Paki Rico said.

Involved roadways on this part of the project are Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway and Honeycutt Road on east of SR 347 near Maricopa Unified School District offices, and Honeycutt Avenue and Edwards Avenue on the west side near Maricopa High School. The improvements will extend the road next to the MUSD transportation department on Honeycutt Road all the way through to MCG Highway.

“We have known about this plan for years, and when our two facilities in the area were built we planned for this realignment,” MUSD Superintendent Steve Chestnut said. “We know this realignment will greatly improve the flow of traffic in Maricopa and we do not foresee any problems.”

ADOT is responsible for this element of the project. Paki said the estimated cost is $11.2 million if the street realignments are part of the overpass project and not an independent project.

3. Realignment of SR 347 and construction of roadway over UPRR tracks

The overpass is, of course, the meat of the project. The estimated cost of realigning SR 347 between Hathaway Avenue on the north and Alterra Parkway on the south plus building the overpass is $39.1 million, which is ADOT’s responsibility. Paki said that estimate is contingent upon the overpass being in the same project as the city street realignments.

Once ADOT reaches 30 percent completion on its design for this primary element of the project (possibly this year), the city of Maricopa can determine which properties will be in the path of the project and need to be acquired for demolition.

This story appeared in the February issue of InMaricopa News.

Members of the MHS football team were honored at a meeting of the school board Wednesday for being named All-Section : (from left) front - Jackson Stensgard, Isaiah Pedro, Claytin Valenzuela, Nikolai White and Coach Chris McDonald; back - Nicholas Carbajal, Andrew Earle, Eanis Olmos, Dakota Halverson and Aaron Owens. Not pictured: Johnny Johnson Jr., Johnny Smith Jr. Austin Troyer and David Owens.

The Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board honored members of the Maricopa High School football team who earned All-Section honors for the 2015 season, as well as the December Rotary Students of the Month.

In total, 11 members of the MHS football team were voted All-Section. Eight of the players were able to come to the meeting Wednesday night, and the Governing Board awarded them with a certificate of recognition.

“Not only did these kids do great things on the football field, but academically all these kids are very good students and good leaders around the school,” head coach Chris McDonald said. “They’re good ambassadors for this community and for this program, and I’m very proud of these guys. They did a good job of putting the school on the map.”

The board also heard presentation from Saddleback Elementary School and Desert Wind Middle School regarding their academic progress throughout the school year.

Saddleback has been hosting a grant-funded after-school program for the last two years. They have been able to bring over 120 students in that time and have three more years of grant funding left.

“We at Saddleback understand this is a patient process,” Saddleback sixth grade teacher Kevin Connell said. “It’s not a quick fix or a purchased packaged program. It’s based on establishing honest relationships developed over time.”

Desert Wind has been instituting a blended learning program focused on science, technology, engineering, art and math (STEAM). Students in the blended learning program recently competed in the “Future Cities” competition, and a team from DWMS placed fourth in the state.

“I think what we have is an incredible pilot program in this district for blended learning,” Desert Wind Principal June Celaya said. “We get to see how kids can critically think and problem solve. I think it’s our job to stretch that and stretch them in their critical thinking.”

The board also made some adjustments to the wording for their evaluations and will vote to approve the new script at a later meeting.

There was some controversy over the board’s decision to adjust the 2016-17 school year schedule. See related story.


The Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board met before a packed room Wednesday. Photo by Adam Wolfe

After commuting teachers spoke against it, the Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board is reconsidering changes to the 2016-17 school schedule. The changes were made two years ago.

The board was considering taking away two “in-service” days from teachers and adding two days to winter vacation. The change was the last step of the schedule change that put MUSD on a different schedule than the Tempe and Kyrene school districts for the 2016-17 school year.

During the “call to the public” section of the school board’s meeting Wednesday night, teachers from around the district spoke up against the schedule changes for next year. They said it will be detrimental to the teachers who commute to Maricopa from other parts of the valley, and feared veteran teachers will be forced to leave.

“Let me first say that I have been happily teaching in Maricopa since Butterfield opened in 2008,” Butterfield Elementary School fifth grade teacher Karie Russell said. “I’m extremely invested in my students, my school and the Maricopa school district. My concern is that Maricopa school calendars have mirrored the Kyrene and Tempe school calendars for as long as I have taught in Maricopa, and I am concerned about next year’s calendar and the departure from the status quo.”

Russell’s concerns included not having the same spring, fall and winter breaks for teachers who have students enrolled in other districts, and the cost of care for teachers who will have students on vacation at different times will be too much.

Other teachers also spoke up against the change and agreed that the schedule differences could cost Maricopa veteran teachers since they will have to adjust their schedules to fit their family’s need.

“I would like to see additional thought put into some sort of study,” Santa Rosa Elementary School fifth grade teacher Christine Dickinson said. “I know the turnout was pretty low for our voting. Mr. (Tom) Beckett was clear on sending the options out, however, many staff members did not take advantage of that. So I would suggest redoing that.”

The opposition from the teachers sprang a debate among the board members. Annamarie Knorr and Torri Anderson felt the teachers have had plenty of time to review the new schedule and adjust accordingly. However, Board President Patti Coutré and board member Rhonda Melvin wanted more time to gather feedback from teachers and parents within the district.

“I think it’s really late in the game to change the calendar,” Knorr said. “When you look at the calendar we are considering, it was approved on Jan. 8, 2014, and revised on the 18th of November. None of these issues was brought up then. So it’s hard for me because we’ve had this calendar on our website for (over) a year.”

Coutré was not swayed by the argument, however, and still requested the board bring the item back to the agenda at their next meeting.

“I really feel at this point, for me personally, to make an informed decision, I need more input from the stakeholders,” Coutré said.

According to MUSD Superintendent Steve Chestnut, 40 percent of the district’s teaching staff voted in the survey for the schedule. Approximately 52 percent voted for the change, and 48 percent voted to stay aligned with Tempe and Kyrene.

“As a parent, I’m pretty ticked that all of the sudden we’re considering changing the calendar now,” Anderson said. “People had an opportunity to talk about this before.”

After a lengthy debate, the board came to a consensus that the schedule needs to be based on what is best for MUSD as a whole and not focus on what surrounding districts are doing. However, the item was tabled for two weeks to gather feedback from the district’s stakeholders.

A vote to keep the district’s start date as Aug. 8 or revert back to Aug. 1 is expected to take place at the school board’s next regular meeting on Feb. 10 at 6:30 p.m.

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Ba Shoileir placed second in the Future City Competition at ASU and won other awards as well.

Maricopa students collected 17 awards at the Arizona regional Future City Competition at Arizona State University on Saturday.

Maricopa Unified School District sent 16 teams from its two middle schools. One team from Maricopa Wells placed second overall, and a Desert Wind team finished fourth.

Through the Future City Competition program, students implement science, technology, engineering and math to build their vision of “the urban world of tomorrow.”

The imagined city of Ba Shoileir, created by MWMS students Megan Hahn, Erin Hildick and Anabelle Dayley, earned the second-place plaque and claimed the Public Choice Award. Noted for its humorous presentation, Ba Shoileir also won the Architectural Excellence Award and Best Application of Quality Concepts to Future.

This year’s theme was “Waste Not, Want Not,” emphasizing sustainability through waste management. The team Veritas Home Schoolers won the competition and will take their city to the national competition in Washington, D.C.

“The success at this competition is the product of the blended learning environment at Desert Wind and Maricopa Wells,” said Jen Szoltysik, 20+1 Blended Learning teacher at DWMS. “We utilize project-based learning that enhances the students’ intellectual creativity. We are lucky to have such amazing students and the support of all of the parents in our program. We are thankful that the district supports the Blended Learning program at all of our schools.”

Shannon Hull from Desert Wind and Robyn Rice and Joe Szoltysik from Maricopa Wells also guided the students through their projects. Both schools had help from engineers Gerry Hahn, Damon Hahn, Robb Witte and Christian Schrader.

The DWMS team Novos Comecos, comprised of Savannah Shelabarger, Jordan Levy, Rhiannon Reed and project manager Jaden Pyle, was the fourth-place team. They also won the Special Award for Project Management for Jaden and the Walton Sustainable Community Award.

The Rugsberg team of D’Avion Cyprian, Jailynn Cannon, Elizabeth Barba and project manager Alexia Timmons from DWMS won the award for Best City Description and the Award of Distinction.

Volturnus, created by MWMS students Connor Witte, James Daxton Redfern and Bryan Pick, won Best Scale Model and Best Multimodal Transportation System.

Gronn Vekkelse, DWMS’s Alysa Huffman, Henry McCloskey and Parker Hunsaker, won Best Team Presentation, Best Team Effort and a Walton Sustainable Community Award.

Reine Luft, created by DWMS students Riley Bell-Niver, Jarom Hoopes and Jeanette Gord, won Best Design for Sustainability.

The Innovative Use of Infrastructure award went to Gexin, comprised of Emma Shrader, John Travis Daniel and Joseline Nowell from MWMS.  The award for Excellence in Use of Building Materials went to
Tulevaisuus, a team comprised of Airen Fortunato, Sydney Anderson and Genesis Uriarte-Sandoval from DWMS.

“Many of these awards also came with a monetary prize along with a plaque that will be proudly hung in our Blended Learning classrooms,” Szoltysik said.

Central Arizona College's Promise for the Future program offers two years of tuition free education to Pinal County high school graduates if they sign up in eighth grade.

Central Arizona College is offering graduates of Pinal County schools two free years of college if they participated in the “Promise for the Future” scholarship program.

The program is offered to eighth grade students and provides them two free years of classes at CAC if they sign the program’s contract, keep a GPA of 2.75 or higher, and graduate from a high school within Pinal County. Students who sign the contract but move to a high school outside of Pinal County are no longer eligible.

According to Maricopa Unified School District Superintendent Steve Chestnut, the estimated value of the scholarship is $5,904. He hopes the prospect of earning two years’ worth of college at no charge is enough to entice more students to remain in the district.

Each year, hundreds of Maricopa students are bused to Tempe and Ahwatukee school districts. There are “A” districts within these cities, and the districts have been seen as better over the years. However, Maricopa has been steadily improving.

Partnerships with CAC have provided more dual credit courses and more advanced placement classes. The rising number of enrollment at MHS is also encouraging. The 2015-16 school year is set to break enrollment records, and more expected next year.

According to Chestnut, the number of students in the incoming freshman class rose from 492 eighth grade students at the end of last year to 545 ninth graders currently enrolled at MHS. More students are expected to return to MUSD from Kyrene and Tempe school districts as the district keeps improving.

“The other three grades at MHS seemed to roll up about the same number of students,” Chestnut said. “We lost a small senior class of only 386. On Oct. 1, we had 1,944 students at MHS. [Elementary] enrollment was at an all time high 0f 6,447.”

MUSD school board displays the ASBA Boardmanship awards at the Jan. 13 meeting. Photo by Adam Wolfe

Wednesday’s meeting of the Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board mostly consisted of approving plans and strategies for the year, but members unanimously voted to retain Patti Coutré and Annamarie Knorr as the board’s president and vice-president.

“I would just like to thank you,” Coutré said. “I appreciate the opportunity you have given me to serve as president and all the support you have given me.”

Board policy states the presidency must be chosen each year, but previous boards have set a precedent of having each president serve for two years.

“I like the idea of changing up leadership, but I think a two-year term gives you the opportunity to learn your role,” Knorr said.

Throughout the night, the board discussed policies and goals for the upcoming year. Most policies were kept the same, but the board determined new goals for 2016.

In 2016, each board member will attempt to visit all nine MUSD schools. In an effort to be more involved with the district’s stakeholders, board members will also attempt to appear at more public events together.

“I would really like to see us (get involved) with PTOs and site visits,” board member Gary Miller said. “When I was campaigning I visited each school, and I’d like to get back to that.”

The board also brought up the need for an alternative learning program. Most districts around MUSD have alternative programs for struggling secondary students, and the board wants a concerted effort to reach those students locally.

“We did a lot for our gifted kids, and I would like to see us also meet these other kids’ needs,” board member Torri Anderson said. “We can’t just continue to long-term suspend or short-term suspend. There needs to be some place for these kids to go.”

The board will place the alternative program on a future agenda to work out the details and needs of the program.

The MUSD Governing Board will reconvene on Jan. 27 at 6:30 p.m.

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Ariana Vaida was first and Joey Russoniello finished second in MUSD's district spelling bee. Submitted

The Maricopa Unified School District held the annual District Spelling Bee at the District Administration Building on Tuesday.  The contest was very well-attended and outstanding spellers went a total of 10 exciting rounds.

The following students are the District’s winners and the potential alternates that will represent the Maricopa Unified School District at the Pinal County Spelling Bee to be held in Casa Grande on Feb. 19:

1st Place – Ariana Vaida – seventh grade – Maricopa Wells Middle School
2nd Place – Joey Russoniello – sixth grade – Santa Rosa Elementary School
3rd Place – Tyrel Packard – seventh grade – Maricopa Wells Middle School

Odessa Galvan Fuentes – eighth grade – Desert Wind Middle School
Romael Canlas – fifth grade – Pima Butte Elementary School
Emily Peters – fourth grade – Maricopa Elementary School

A special thank you goes out to Board Member Torri Anderson for acting as announcer and also to three judges – Jim Irving, Heidi Vratil and Jane Tifft.

For more information about the Maricopa Unified School District please visit our website at www.maricopausd.org.

Submitted by Karen Gadinski, Dennis Koch and Diane Vigil, Spelling Bee coordinators

Maricopa Fire Department stopped a kitchen fire Monday morning (photo courtesy MFD) while an MUSD bus driver was unknowingly helping out one of the firefighters.

A kitchen fire in Rancho El Dorado Monday morning led to a series of events that left a firefighter profusely thanking a local bus driver.

The call came in for a fire at a home near the corner of Davis Way and Hillman Drive. One of the responding units came out of Fire Station 572 in Tortosa. That was where firefighter James Huerta laid aside his wallet and keys during the response.

The fire itself was a smoky affair contained to the kitchen. Residents and pets were all accounted for as Maricopa Fire Department took over the scene.

Huerta’s wallet, however, was on a journey of its own.

Left on a vehicle that went into action, the wallet flew into the roadway during the response to the fire, scattering contents near the crossroads of Bowlin Road and Hartman.

Huerta was horrified to realize what had happened. His wallet secretly contained more than $400 he was saving to buy his wife Beth a ring for their 20th wedding anniversary.

“Jimmy said he found a couple of ones and a couple of fives, but everything else was gone,” Beth Huerta said.

However, MFD dispatch received a call from Maricopa Unified School District’s dispatch.

Beth and Jimmy Huerta (submitted photo)
Beth and Jimmy Huerta (submitted photo)

During her route that morning, bus driver Maureen Tobin saw the wallet and its contents scattered on the pavement.

“I told Amy, ‘There’s money on the street,’” Tobin said.

Amy Kowalski is Tobin’s bus monitor. While Tobin stayed on the bus with one passenger, Kowalski retrieved the wallet and the money.

“I just knew I would be so heartsick if that happened to me,” Tobin said.

They sealed the wallet in an envelope and turned it into MUSD Transportation Director Fred Laguna.

“That was nice to know that someone would be that honest,” Laguna said of Tobin, who has been with the district since 2012.

Laguna said he locked it away after they identified the owner through EMT information and made sure MFD had been contacted.

“It was all there. It was amazing,” Beth Huerta said. “We cannot thank her enough.”

It’s not the first time Tobin has been in that situation. Once on vacation, she stepped on a lost engagement ring at a swimming pool, was able to find out the owner and mail it back to her. After leaving a golf course in northern Michigan, she and her husband saw a wallet in the road and picked it up. Using a letter in the wallet, they were able to track down the owner.

She said it’s sad people consider returning lost property to be extraordinary. She said keeping Huerta’s wallet had not occurred to her or Kowalski.

Beth Huerta said she intends to give Tobin a reward.

“We just wanted to do the right thing,” Tobin said. “I’m glad it all worked out for them.”

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The electronic sign at Butterfield Elementary is the culmination of four years of fund-raising by the PTO. Photo by Adam Wolfe

After years of fund-raising, the Butterfield Elementary School’s Parent/Teacher Organization was able to raise funds for an electronic sign to welcome students and parents to the campus.

The electronic sign has been a goal for the Butterfield PTO for years. The installation of the sign over winter break was the culmination of many PTO members’ hard work.

“It took the PTO over four years to save for this sign,” Butterfield PTO Vice President Chris Eldridge said. “It was identified years ago from parents that the school needed to better work on communication to parents. The idea was put as a goal for the PTO to provide the sign. We wanted a digital sign so that the communications from the school would be eye catching for parents, and easy for the staff to update.”

The Maricopa Unified School District also updated signs at Maricopa and Saddleback elementary schools last school year. “Readerboards” were brought in at a cost of approximately $6,000 each.

“The district’s goal is to have a readerboard at each school to improve communication with parents and the community,” MUSD superintendent Steve Chestnut said. “Maricopa High School, Pima Butte Elementary and Santa Rosa Elementary had readerboards installed when they were built as part of the original construction cost.”

The district hopes the signs will help parents, students and faculty stay better informed throughout the district.

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Butterfield students went on virtual-reality field trips Friday. Photo by Adam Wolfe

Butterfield Elementary School was chosen to participate in the Google Expeditions Pioneer Program to allow the school’s students to go on digital field trips around the world.

The students were equipped with special “Expedition” viewers that utilized their motion to see more of the area. Students were able to get a full 360-degree view of landmarks in Rome, Egypt, the Grand Canyon and below the Pacific Ocean.

“It was really cool to see everything in 3D,” 11-year-old Luzmaria said.

The experience felt so real to some students they tried to reach out and touch the digital surroundings.

“I saw the Egypt pyramids, what types of sharks there is, and I saw the Grand Canyon,” 11-year-old Aeduardo said. “We used this type of machine where you put a camera in cardboard and then you look directly at it. You get to see everything there.”

According to Kim Foutz, teacher on special assignment, the program is intended to support students in their academic focus and provide opportunities with Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM) in order to prepare students for college and future careers.

The virtual field trips will not replace any pre-planned travel for Butterfield students, but it does provide an opportunity for the students to briefly immerse themselves in new experiences and cultures. Whether they are seeing Rome or diving with sharks, Butterfield students have a unique opportunity to see more of the world.

Jeff Kramerczyk

By Jeff Kramarczyk

In the December issue of InMaricopa News, the opinion piece “Point/Counterpoint: Potter and Kramarczyk on MUSD’s Attempted Override” was published to compare two different perspectives on the MUSD Board’s decision to have a budget override measure placed on the November 2016 ballot.

Since this publication, I have received numerous comments and questions from individuals on both sides of the debate. This attempt at an open dialogue on the merits of the proposed measure is both exciting and encouraging. It is an indication that this is an important issue for the community, one that impacts us directly through an additional tax and/or through the education of our children and indirectly through the growth and advancement of our public school system and community at large.

As with all important decisions, it is critical that we have the opportunity to get insight into both sides of the debate, that we become armed with the full scope of information and, when the time comes, we approach the decision with a clear understanding of why we are choosing a yes or no vote. To this end, I feel this is a great opportunity to begin to share some of the comments and questions that are floating around this topic and to provide a response.

Comment: MUSD has been showing signs of improvement for the last few years without these additional override funds. Why invest this money, when it seems that it is not necessary to generate results?

Response: MUSD has been making great strides, even within its financially constrained environment. The district as a whole is currently at a “B” rating by the state of Arizona Department of Education. The district’s goal is to be at an “A” rating and even further, to have each individual school at an “A” rating. These override funds will help eliminate some of the obstacles that are challenging these goals, including class size, expanded programs and technology. It would be inaccurate to say the district will not achieve these goals unless these override funds are in place. It would also be inaccurate to guarantee the district will achieve these goals if these override funds are in place. What can be said with confidence is these additional funds will help clear the way for continued progress toward obtaining these goals and increase the speed at which they could be achieved. The additional $3.2 million gained from the override measure will increase the opportunity for success from an organization that has proved it can succeed.

I encourage you to have these discussions with fellow community members, voice your concerns, ask questions and get informed. This is a decision that will impact us all for many years to come. Whatever that decision might be, make sure it is based on a complete and clear picture of the cost (financial or otherwise) and benefits.


Jeff Kramarczyk is president of the Maricopa Education Foundation.

 This column appeared in the January issue of InMaricopa News.

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By Yvonne Gonzalez

The first test results under AzMERIT, the assessment that replaced AIMS (Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards), have some districts and public charter schools in Maricopa looking for ways to improve come spring.

Leading Edge Academy Principal Mat Reese said with the test approved late in 2014, schools didn’t have much information on it until January. Students were taking the test three months later.

“We’ll just keep on working as hard as we possibly can and go from there,” he said. “This has been a really tough thing for everybody. We just need to keep pushing.”

The new test is intended to be taken online. Maricopa Unified School District Superintendent Steve Chestnut said unlike last year when the district didn’t have enough computers to equip all the test-takers, all nine MUSD schools will give the spring assessments online thanks to additional laptop carts and wireless laptops and an enhanced network.

Results were mixed across all schools. Legacy Traditional School outscored the state average in every grade while MUSD’s junior highs and high school test-takers struggled.

At the 55-student Holsteiner Agricultural School, founder and director Tanya Graysmark wrote in an email that students taking the math test were exhausted after the test and frustrated with the on-and-off-again WiFi.

She said the math was presented differently.

“We have reviewed the data and will work with students on mastering the skills they are struggling with,” she said.

The test is intended to be comparable to the National Assessment of Educational Progress. On NAEP and AzMERIT, “proficient” is the second-top scoring category students can achieve.

“There were a lot of variables, so hopefully we’re going to be smarter and wiser the next go around,” Reese said.

MUSD's overall student performance on the AzMERIT. See below for grade-by-grade scores: Red=Minimally Proficient; Pink=Partially Proficient; Blue=Proficient; Green=Highly Proficient.
MUSD’s overall student performance on the AzMERIT. See below for grade-by-grade scores: Red=Minimally Proficient; Pink=Partially Proficient; Blue=Proficient; Green=Highly Proficient.

Maricopa Unified School District

The district’s superintendent says the scores on the new test were disappointing.

“We had hoped to do better,” Chestnut said.

He said there were bright spots in the data.

“We were very pleased with the results from third and fourth grade math,” he said, noting they were above the state average and “pretty good for a first time out.”

In English language arts, more of MUSD’s fourth graders scored in the proficient category or above compared to NAEP results.

By eighth grade, a disparity appears that is even below a state-level comparison. Compared to the rest of the state, fewer of the district’s 10th and 11th graders were proficient or highly proficient in English language arts.

“College readiness adds a new wrinkle to that,” Chestnut said of the higher levels of the assessment.

“One test doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about a kid’s college readiness,” he said.

Chestnut said data is still being reviewed from the new assessment and, “There’s a lot of work to do there.”

“We’re just beginning to get a plan on how we’re going to move forward on this,” he said. “We aren’t where we want to be and we think our kids can do better, and that’s what we’re working on.”

Due to the shorter length of the test, intended to limit the amount of time students spend on assessments, AzMERIT data does not break down results into the same types of strand data that AIMS did.

“Another problem is that we don’t get as much detailed information as we did on AIMS,” Chestnut said.

Interpreting the data is a step toward improving classroom instruction. Some districts find this difficult without the in-depth data.

According to the Arizona Department of Education, a score of proficient or better “indicates that a student is prepared for the next grade or course without requiring additional support. It is a far higher expectation than the previous AIMS expectation.”

Fourth grade math testing results were roughly in line with NAEP, but, again, a disparity appears by eighth grade that also exists compared to state results. In the highest-level math, Algebra II, 17 percent of Maricopa students scored in the proficient or highly proficient categories compared to 30 percent statewide.

One percent of MUSD’s geometry students tested as highly proficient, a category that 2 percent each of the district’s Algebra I and II students qualified for.

“Parents, particularly high school parents, understand there are a variety of things you have to look at to see if their kid is college ready,” he said.

Sequoia Pathway's AzMERIT results: Red=Minimally Proficient; Pink=Partially Proficient; Blue=Proficient; Green=Highly Proficient.
Sequoia Pathway’s AzMERIT results: Red=Minimally Proficient; Pink=Partially Proficient; Blue=Proficient; Green=Highly Proficient.

Sequoia Pathway Academy

In English language arts, more of the Sequoia Pathway Academy’s third graders were in the highly proficient category than their statewide counterparts. They also fared better on AzMERIT’s math portion.

Fourth-grade math students scored roughly in line with their peers who took the state and national assessments. Slightly more language arts test-takers in fourth grade earned passing scores, 45 percent versus 42 percent statewide. On NAEP’s English language arts test, 35 percent of fourth graders scored in the proficient category or better.

Sequoia’s eighth graders, however, lagged behind their peers at the state and national level with 77 percent failing the AzMERIT language arts section. Statewide, 62 percent did not pass, and on the National Assessment of Educational Progress, 69 percent scored in the basic category or below.

More than half of Sequoia’s 11th graders were minimally proficient, roughly in line with statewide results.

In eighth grade, however, 86 percent of Sequoia students did not pass the math portion of AzMERIT and 88 percent of algebra II test-takers fell below proficient. None of the school’s students scored highly proficient on either test level.

Algebra I students also struggled, with 21 percent earning passing scores compared to 32 percent at the state level.

School officials could not be reached for comment.

Leading Edge Academy's AzMERIT results: Red=Minimally Proficient; Pink=Partially Proficient; Blue=Proficient; Green=Highly Proficient.
Leading Edge Academy’s AzMERIT results: Red=Minimally Proficient; Pink=Partially Proficient; Blue=Proficient; Green=Highly Proficient.

Leading Edge Academy

At the K-8 public charter school Leading Edge Academy, 82 percent of its third graders passed AzMERIT’s math assessment, double the state’s 41 percent.

Reese said the strong scores on AzMERIT came a year after 94 percent of the school’s third graders “exceeded” in the old assessment’s category.

Reese said interventions are in place to help students improve on areas of weakness.

More fourth graders (55 percent) passed the test compared to the statewide average (42 percent). Nationally, 39 percent of fourth graders scored proficient or better in math.

He said “things get more complicated” as the grade levels advance. Fewer of the school’s sixth graders passed the test compared to statewide numbers.

No Leading Edge eighth graders scored “highly proficient” in math, and only 15 percent passed the test, far below the statewide and national averages of 34 and 32, respectively.

The school had 75 percent of test-takers qualify as minimally proficient.

Reese said last year over two dozen students transferred from other schools into the eighth grade, setting up students at varying starting points for the academic year.

There were 8 percent more students passing the language arts assessment compared to statewide data.

Sixth graders’ scores were more in line with the rest of the state, and more students taking the seventh grade assessment passed compared to their statewide peers.

Scores lag among the school’s fifth-grade test-takers, where 81 percent did not pass. In the rest of the state, 67 percent scored below proficient.

The eighth-grade assessment showed the biggest gap, with 85 percent of Leading Edge Academy’s students not passing, compared to 65 percent statewide and 69 percent nationally.

The principal said it’s not ideal to evaluate everything that’s going on in a classroom based on what he called a “one-shot test.”

“It is raw scores, and it doesn’t tell the rest of the story,” Reese said.

Legacy's AzMERIT results: Red=Minimally Proficient; Pink=Partially Proficient; Blue=Proficient; Green=Highly Proficient.
Legacy’s AzMERIT results: Red=Minimally Proficient; Pink=Partially Proficient; Blue=Proficient; Green=Highly Proficient.

Legacy Traditional School

Test takers at the K-10 Legacy Traditional School outscored their statewide peers in every grade level on both the math and English language arts portions of AzMERIT. They also outstripped NAEP scores for fourth and fifth graders.

Fifty-seven percent passed the English language arts portion compared to 35 percent statewide. Sixty percent of third graders and sixth graders scored “proficient” or higher.

In math, third, fourth and fifth grades did particularly well compared to their peers. More than 50 percent in each grade scored at least proficient.

With the state averaging 24 percent proficient in third-grade math, 46 percent of Legacy’s third graders were proficient. Another 17 percent were highly proficient.

There is more room for improvement in Algebra I. Sixty percent of the Legacy students taking that portion of AzMERIT failed to achieve proficiency. Statewide, 68 percent did not pass.

A school official could not be reached for comment.

Holsteiner Ag School's AzMERIT results: Red=Minimally Proficient; Pink=Partially Proficient; Blue=Proficient; Green=Highly Proficient.
Holsteiner Ag School’s AzMERIT results: Red=Minimally Proficient; Pink=Partially Proficient; Blue=Proficient; Green=Highly Proficient.

Holsteiner Agricultural School

In math, 27 percent of the school’s students passed AzMERIT compared to 35 percent statewide.

“This was our first year taking the AzMERIT as well as taking the test in an online format,” Graysmark, the school’s owner, wrote in an email. “The students were on a learning curve for both.”

She said AzMERIT data is interpreted the same by small and big schools like.

“We work with each student on their individual score and create an action plan based on their strengths and weaknesses,” she said.

More than 40 percent of Holsteiner students who took the English language arts assessment passed it, better than the state’s 35 percent.

“We have great teachers here,” Graysmark said. “Working hard every day before school, after school, working with parents, etc. A lot of work goes into daily instruction and preparation.”

“As a school we will continue to support our students learning to the best of our ability and try our best to help them fit their (sometimes) square peg into a round hole.”

Graysmark said there weren’t enough fourth, fifth or sixth grade students for scores to be reported.

All Maricopa schools had bright spots on the AzMERIT and areas needing improvement.

“These are the highest standards we’ve ever held our kids accountable to,” Chestnut said. “There’s a lot more higher-level thinking that has to be demonstrated on both the English language arts and math assessments … those are good things we want kids to learn.”

Chestnut said students who take AzMERIT may not all be college ready, but those who take ACT tests to submit to colleges do pretty well.

This story appeared in the January issue of InMaricopa News.

The lobby of Maricopa High School is being remodeled this year. Earlier, grants from the Arizona School Facilities Board paid for maintenance upgrades at the campus. MUSD photo

The Maricopa Unified School District received five grants from the Arizona School Facilities Board totaling $666,400 for maintenance upgrades to Maricopa High School.

The majority of the funding came from one grant worth $622,400 to reseal the exterior of the high school. The four remaining grants totaled $44,000 for smaller maintenance projects around the school.

“Maricopa Unified School District staff regularly applies for grants to supplement the district’s budget,” MUSD Superintendent Steve Chestnut said. “The most recent successful grant awards were from the Arizona School Facilities Board. Four small Maricopa High School projects were funded for a total of $44,000. These projects include a water heater replacement, roof repair, fire well repair, and ductwork repair.”

The funding allowed MHS to stay on top of maintenance issues and remain in accordance with the safety standards set forth by the Facilities Board and the “Students FIRST” law.

“Work on the MHS reseal project began the last week of December,” Chestnut said. “Thanks to maintenance coordinator Gordon Ponticello for submitting these grant applications and for overseeing these projects.”

Campaigns have begun to inform voters of two 2016 ballot issues that will affect funding for MUSD.

School funding will get a lot of focus in 2016, and Maricopa Unified School District is hoping voters see the difference in two ballot issues – and the importance of each.

The statewide Proposition 123 has a special election in May, and an MUSD budget override proposal is on the general election ballot in November.

Both ballot measures would provide the district with much needed funding, but one cannot replace the other.

Prop. 123 is the result of a five-year lawsuit settlement between state legislators, the education community and Gov. Doug Ducey in October. The agreement allows Arizona schools to reclaim the money that was owed to them during the recession, but only if the voters approve it.

According to a press release from the “Let’s Vote Yes for Arizona Schools” committee, if the voters pass the proposal in a May 17 special election, Prop. 123 will deliver billions of dollars to schools through increased state appropriations. The measure does not raise taxes.

In November, MUSD will have a second ballot measure in front of voters. During the general election, the district has proposed a 10-percent budget override over seven years. If approved, the override would provide the school with approximately $3.2 million to hire more teachers, lower class sizes and improve the district’s education programs.

For MUSD Governing Board members, ensuring voters understand the difference between the two ballot measures is key to receiving the needed funding. The lawsuit settlement in May is money that is already owed to the district. The override is money the district needs from Maricopa residents. Neither negates the need for the other.

“Knowing that voters are already going to be going to the polls on May 17, voters have a very long memory when it comes to funding education,” Governing Board member Torri Anderson said. “They [may] think, ‘I already voted in May for education, so I don’t need to vote in November for education.’ So the percentage of ‘no’ votes could go up.”

However, the funding provided from November’s override vote will be used to lower class sizes and expand programs.

“Our staff wants to provide the best education possible for our students,” MUSD superintendent Steve Chestnut said. “[The override] would allow us to buy some additional resources to meeting that goal. I don’t think that money is the only thing we need to do to be an ‘A’ rated school district, but we know that additional resources can provide additional [teachers] and reduce class sizes.”

The “Let’s Vote Yes for Arizona Schools” committee is committed to raising awareness for Prop. 123 in May. It will be equally important for the district’s override committee to raise awareness for the vote in November, and ensure Maricopa residents understand the difference and need for both ballot measures.

“The district can only provide information and we will do that,” Chestnut said. “The budget committee has begun its work and they will be considering two scenarios – if 123 passes and if it fails. The board will consider those recommendations but they will make the final decisions. The board plans to communicate those decisions in a timely manner so that voters will be informed as they vote on the 123 issue.”

Briana Barba (center) was named Rotary Student of the Month. Photo by Adam Wolfe

In its last meeting of 2015, the Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board recognized Maricopa High School’s December Rotary Student of the Month and approved the district’s personnel schedule.

MHS junior Briana Barba was honored by Alma Farrell and the Maricopa Rotary Club for her academic performance. By being named the Rotary Club’s December Student of the Month, she will have the opportunity to win a scholarship at the end of the year as well.

“We honor these students for their achievement in school,” Alma Farrell said. “At the end of the year, we will give a scholarship away and it will be based on your interpretation of the Rotary Four-Way Test.”

The board also heard an “Ignite Presentation” from MHS Principal Renita Meyers. Her path to becoming an administrator wasn’t expected, but after realizing her childhood dream of swimming with orcas wasn’t what she wanted, she discovered her passion for teaching.

“When I began teaching, I fully intended on spending every year of my career in the classroom,” Meyers said. “Then, like some, I got to a point where I felt like I wasn’t doing enough. With the help of incredible teachers and incredible mentors throughout my career, I was able to find my niche.”

School-Board-12-16The board also approved the most recent personnel schedule and the minutes from their shorthanded meeting on Dec. 2.

The MUSD Governing Board will reconvene Jan. 13 at 6:30 p.m.