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Three members of the Buffalo Soldiers of America, led by Arizona chapter President Chaz Jackson spoke to two sessions of students at Maricopa High School on Thursday, sharing the history of the military units comprised of African Americans from 1866 to 1948, when the military was desegregated. The units, primarily comprised of the 9th and 10th cavalries and the 24th and 25th infantries, were in action in the Plains Wars, where they picked up their informal moniker of buffalo soldiers from the Cheyenne, the Johnson County War, Victorio’s War, the Spanish-American War, the Philippines, World War I and World War II. They were stationed at Fort Huachuca for nearly 20 years. Leo Hernandez also spoke about the 201st Fighter Squadron, the Aztec Eagles. In sharing biographies of some outstanding servicemembers, the chapter representatives encouraged the students to talk to their parents and grandparents about their own family histories.

Maricopa High School Marching Rams achieved its best score to date in the AzMBA 3A Championship with its performance of “In the Cards” Saturday at Campo Verde High School in Gilbert.

The competition took place after the Rams had marched in the Veterans Day Parade in Maricopa that morning.

The score of 75.213 placed them ninth out of 24 schools. With higher-scoring bands like Mesa and Queen Creek unable to attend the Grand Championships, MHS qualified for the event Sunday at Mesa Community College. There, they finished 10th with a score of 71.51.

A grand championship judge said, “This year’s edition of the Maricopa Marching Band may be the one of the strongest groups of ambassadors to date.”

The Marching Rams are directed by Ivan Pour and Assistant Director Logan Harper. Colorguard coach is Eliana Araiza, volunteer assistants Dannie Bradley and Alyssa Harper, percussion caption head David Hales and front ensemble instructor Stuart Delaney.


Connor Schrader, shown in a previous competition, made the state finals this week.

Maricopa High School sophomore Connor Schrader debuted in the Arizona Interscholastic Association Division II State Swimming Championships by bettering his school record times in two events and qualifying for the finals in one.

In the preliminaries, Schrader swam the 100-yard backstroke in 57.9 to finish 13th and earn a spot in the final. He swam the 100-yard freestyle in 50.5 to finish 17th, one place out of making the finals.

In Fridays finals, he swam the 100 backstroke in 57.2, improving his school record again, winning the consolation heat and finishing ninth overall.

Schrader and junior Olivia Byers were the first MHS swimmers ever to qualify for the state championships. Byers was 33rd in the 50-yard freestyle and remained the first alternate.

The swim program was the only MHS sport to qualify athletes for state competition this fall. Coach Laura Logan called it “a great finish to year two of the program.”

From left, Grant Hall, Samantha Bayless, Principal Brian Winter and winner Riley Burke. Photo by Kyle Norby

A freshman inspired by a Scooby-Doo mashup won Maricopa High School’s Red Ribbon Week Art Contest. The theme this year was “Stay Drug Free.” Drawing from a DeviantArt illustration by Darrin Brege placing the Scooby gang in Ghostbusters outfits, Riley Burke added a drug-free message for her winning entry.

In second place was senior Samantha Bayless, and in third was freshman Grant Hall. They all took home cash prizes. Honorable mention went to Kat Tolles, Benea Quintero and Ashley Crider Wallace.

Olivia Byers and Connor Schrader are headed to state competition this week. Photo by Victor Moreno

Two Maricopa High School swimmers have qualified for the Arizona Interscholastic Association Division II State Championship Meet.

Sophomore Connor Schrader is ranked 11th in the 100-meter backstroke and 18th in the 100-meter freestyle. Junior Olivia Byers was placed 33rd in the 100 free, making her first alternate.

The top 32 compete.

Preliminaries start Thursday at 2:30 p.m. at the Skyline Aquatic Center in Mesa. Finals are Friday.

Schrader and Byers are school record-holders for the Rams’ 2-year-old swimming program.

MHS Rams gather for some final on-field words from the coach after a season-ending loss. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

The Maricopa High School varsity football team dropped Friday’s game at Gilbert, 35-14, bringing an end to the Rams’ season.

While defense and offense had shining moments throughout the contest, Maricopa could never catch the Tigers, never getting closer than a touchdown.

Junior Tykek Mooney had a busy night as the Rams scored on a 5-yard run and a third-and-12, 50-yard pass. Junior Mister Chavis was back in action and making impressive runs to try to set up scoring opportunities.

“I didn’t call good plays, and we didn’t execute the plays I did call,” head coach Brandon Harris said.

He also volunteered the blame for a disappointing 3-7 season. The Rams were outscored 351-192. Half the competition came against some of the toughest teams in the state, mostly in the San Tan region. Seven of the 10 teams on Maricopa’s schedule qualified for the 5A playoff bracket.

It was a challenging season.

“I’ve learned to keep going even when things aren’t going your way,” senior quarterback Daxton Redfern said. “You have to keep working no matter what happens.”

He said he also learned to be a leader for a young team, “teaching the guys how to put in the work, setting the example.”

Redfern wants to keep playing beyond high school, and Harris said he spoke to his seniors about what they need to do to move forward and play college ball.

“We’ll help those kids get out. Their job isn’t done,” Harris said. “I always tell our seniors they’re supposed to leave this place better than what they found it. We haven’t done that on the record, but I think we’ve done that in terms of the things that are the intangibles that programs need to have sustainability. That’s doing better in the classroom, being better people on school grounds and in the community, and I think that starts to transfer to our younger guys who watch them and see it.”

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Senior Airman Marquice Brown of Maricopa is now part of the Air Force Honor Guard. Submitted photo

By Francis Trast

Senior Airman Marquice Brown is a Maricopa High School AFJROTC alumnus who is currently assigned to Bolling Air Force Base in Anacostia, Maryland, on the firing line of the U.S. Air Force’s Honor Guard. He visited with MHS cadets on a recent visit.

As part of his Air Force duties, he works all through the week. When not on assignment, he is going to the gym or attending drill practices. Brown said being in ROTC four years greatly helped him with his military bearing and precision in drill, which is why he was noticed in basic training and invited into the Honor Guard.

“The job is great, and once you get in you’re gonna [really] love it,” he said. “But you have to be ready to adapt to [your new role]. Take your job seriously, but at the same time, have fun.”

Brown had a few words of advice for anyone going into the military. Firstly, he said to go in with a purpose. If you don’t know why you’re in the military – any branch – then you shouldn’t be there, he said. He also emphasized the importance of being physically prepared; being in shape before you go into the military will make basic training much easier.

His third and final piece of wisdom was that basic training is what you make of it; for those with a positive attitude going in, the experience will be exciting and educational. Brown had been taking a dance class at MHS and therefore had been fairly physically active when he enlisted.

Brown related the contrast in reality from his expectations, starting by explaining what most people expect when they think of basic training — an idea of having your face in the dirt, being broken down, being solitary and alone, and an absolute authoritarian rule of existing within the unit with the sole purpose of doing what you’re told. Brown says all of these things are half-truths; it isn’t quite so authoritarian as people assume, and the instructors are there, more than anything, to help.

Brown also recounted some of his most memorable moments: marching in the Macy’s Parade; promotions and retirements performed in the Hall of Heroes; and the active duty for Prisoner of War (POW) funerals.

Daxton Redfern (1), backed by Mister Chavis, against Casteel Oct. 25. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

At times exhibiting their strongest play of the season, Maricopa High School’s varsity football team came up short against Casteel Friday night in a game that could bring new challenges to next week’s finale.

Casteel won 41-27, leaving the Rams with a must-win against Gilbert if they wish for a chance to make the playoffs.

“I thought we had a good game plan. I thought our kids were focused,” head coach Brandon Harris said. “We had a good week of practice. I’m proud of them. They came out and played real hard.”

Senior running back Mister Chavis suffered a blow to the head that may have been a concussion. If so, his ability to play Friday is tenuous. Junior running back Steven Forester definitely won’t be playing against Gilbert – he was ejected in the first half after making a nice run to the red zone but responded with over-exuberance that drew three penalty flags.

“We’re building something here. We just need more bodies, and we don’t have them,” Harris said. “When we lose a guy, we don’t have the depth to fill in like teams that have 100 kids. So that’s kind of tough.”

Maricopa scored first after Dominic Hall intercepted Casteel to set up quarterback Daxton Redfern’s touchdown pass to Jackson Lindseth. However, the Colts answered on their next drive. Redfern’s 27-yard pass to Ilijah Johnson put the Rams ahead again.

“He had a great night tonight,” Harris said of Redfern. “He played really, really well. He’s grown up as a quarterback. He never had a varsity game ever before this season.”

Casteel scored back-to-back touchdowns for a 21-14 lead at halftime. Despite a 19-yard touchdown pass from Redfern and a five-yard rushing touchdown by Anton Avington Jr., Maricopa could not catch up again.

“The defense played great at times,” Harris said. “Our secondary didn’t hold up the way we needed them to, just not closing out on receivers.”

Maricopa will still be short-handed as it tries to qualify for the playoffs in a road game at Gilbert. The Rams also hope to benefit from the open division that could remove three or more of 5A’s top teams from the bracket.

Forester wasn’t alone in being thrown off the field in a tense game. Saying they didn’t need any help calling the game, officials tossed MHS Principal Brian Winter and Athletic Director Jake Neill off the premises in the second half (and even threatened to “call the cops”) after they complained about a late hit on Johnson.

Update: This story has been corrected to reflect the corrected spelling of Ilijah Johnson’s name.

Jae Luna (left) as Smee and Julie Goodrum as Black Stache in "Peter and the Starcatcher." Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Maricopa High School Theatre Company debuted its production of the Tony Award-winning play “Peter and the Starcatcher” at the Performing Arts Center. Imagined as a backstory to Peter Pan, the whimsical and often funny play continues Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m., with an additional Saturday matinee at 2 p.m.

With great performances all around from a cast taking turns in the spotlight, the production features Joey Russoniello as the nameless Boy who hates grownups (for good reason), Taya Johnson as the intelligent, adventurous and motherly Molly Aster, and Julie Goodrum as the hilariously preening villain Black Stache.

The production is supported by a set that serves as ship and island, great sound effects and witty stagecraft. The play is directed by Alexandra Stahl, with Princess Elisa Jimenez as student director. Kevin Piquette is technical director over the tech theater crew.

Photo by Kyle Norby

Be Awesome Youth Coalition’s inaugural Maricopa Teen Hall, presented by InMaricopa, drew teenagers and the parents for discussions about life choices and life skills.

The Saturday event at Maricopa City Hall had question-and-answer sessions with panels comprised of business owners and vocation leaders, law enforcement and health providers. Teens practiced interviewing for jobs, learned about conflict resolution and shot some hoops.

One of those helping the session on the job-interview process was Alexander Salgado, the vice president of finance for the Maricopa High School DECA Club.

“I was able to get a job just from DECA alone and learning from skills, and I want to help out other people by showing them the right way to interview and the steps to take to improve yourself,” he said.

Panelists included Sheriff Mark Lamb, Police Chief Steve Stahl, County Attorney Kent Volkmer, psychiatric Nurse Practitioner Kelsey Brisbin, La Frontera substance abuse therapist Alyssa Tonking, Ray Nieves of 911 Air, Terry Leamon and Toma Fitzgerald of My Maricopa Plumber, Chamerie O’Donnell of Test Track Builders of America, culinary teacher Hannah Norby of Maricopa High School and Jamie Brisbin of State Farm Insurance.

Teens and their parents asked pointed questions about serious concerns they face every day.

“I would say the major issues would be a lot of them don’t have the support that they need to get to where they want to go in life,” said Lisbeth Eriksen, an MHS student in the DECA program. “Like financial issues in order to get into college, and things like being surrounded by negative influences and negative energies that are just going to bring them down in life.”

Deputy Randall Snyder spoke about Internet safety, Linette Caroselli spoke about human trafficking, Julie Mack spoke about suicide prevention, Mary Witkofski spoke about the difference between consent and coercion and DECA advisor Julian Rodriguez spoke about becoming indispensable in your new job.

“I felt it went really well,” said Be Awesome coordinator Priscilla Behnke. “I am overwhelmed with the amount of support we saw from our partners, community leaders, and then the parents and teens who turned out that day. I really hope that people who attended had a meaningful experience and took with them information that will help them in their daily lives. It was really meaningful to see parents and teens talking with presenters and exhibitors.”

“I find these kinds of things interesting, so I decided to come out and volunteer,” Eriksen said.

The event was a partnership of InMaricopa, Councilmember Nancy Smith and Be Awesome.

Sponsors were Fitzgibbons Law Offices, Pinal County Supervisor Anthony Smith, McDonald’s, Pinal 40, Walmart, Vice Mayor Henry Wade, Councilmember Vincent Manfredi, SAMHSA, Water and Ice, Duncan Family Farms, Chris Cahall American Family Insurance, Great Western Bank and Mayor Christian Price.

Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Despite a Friday loss that dropped their record to 3-5, the Maricopa High School football team still has a shot at making the 5A playoffs.

While the top teams in the conference are among the best in the state overall, a large portion of the bottom-half 5A teams are terrible. That has placed the Rams above average despite blowout losses.

That includes Friday’s 50-19 home loss to Williams Field. Maricopa had a Jeykll-and-Hyde kind of night, with play ranging from torpid to terrific without finding a line of consistency. An interception by junior Dominic Hall in the first minute of the game, for instance, was followed by a safety and two touchdowns by the Black Hawks.

“We gave them their first 16 points,” head coach Brandon Harris said. “We left at least 28 points out there.”

The Rams did not have a first down from scrimmage until only 3:13 was left on the clock in the first quarter. But they then put together a drive than ended in a two-yard touchdown run by junior Mister Chavis. By that time, MHS trailed 23-7.

Senior Ram Anton Avington Jr. got to show off his speed by scoring on a 65-yard run, helped by a surprise block by quarterback Daxton Redfern, after putting on a defensive show as well.

Sophomore Merhauti Xepera grabbed a Redfern pass from the five for the final score of the game.

“I really thought that the bi-week was a timely thing for us to really almost getting back to camp up north and kind of remembering what we committed to, what we wanted to be and just telling those guys that they’re still those guys,” Harris said. “The record doesn’t mean you’re a different person. We’ve just got to get back to doing good things. We’ve got good players.”

While the Rams could never fully take advantage of numerous mistakes and penalties by the Black Hawks, Harris said he was telling his players he was not upset or disappointed with them, but they have work to do.

Maricopa may benefit from this season’s new “Open” division that could remove two or more of the best teams from the 5A playoffs to play against the best from 6A and 4A. The top 16 of the remaining 5A teams qualify for post-season play, within the Rams’ grasp before Friday’s loss. New rankings are due Tuesday.

“But we got to go win a game, at least two,” Harris said. “If we win two, we host a home game probably. If we win one, we’re on the road.”

Maricopa plays at Casteel (5-3) Friday and ends the regular season at Gilbert (3-4) Nov. 1. This will be Maricopa’s final season in 5A for at least two years, as Arizona Interscholastic Association moved the growing school up to 6A. That move was expected, and Maricopa would rank 30th in enrollment among the largest schools.

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Sophomore Conner Schrader takes a breather after lowering the school record in the 500 freestyle. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

The final home meet of the regular season was a victory for Maricopa High School’s swim teams over Poston Butte Thursday at Copper Sky. It was their third straight win.

“Last night was our final dual meet of the season and the kids swam amazing,” head coach Laura Logan said. “Coaches are extremely proud of their efforts and performances.”

The girls won 96-70, and the boys won 88-80.

“Last year, Poston Butte beat both of our squads, handily, by 40+ points,” Logan said.

Four school records were established, three by relay teams.

First-place finishers on the MHS girls’ team were Olivia Byers in the 200 freestyle in 2:22.56 and the 100 free in 1:02.16, Katelyn Owens in the 200 individual medley in 2:46.65 and the 100 breaststroke in 1:18.46, the 200 medley relay team of Shelbee Beecroft, Owens, Byers and Eva Zavala in a school-record 2:19.19, the 200 free relay team of Owens, Zavala, Aubree Wittemann and Byers in a school record 2:03.66, and the 400 free relay team of Sophie Occhiline, Emily Hollingsworth, Emily Fauth and Witteman in 5:12.18.

In second place were Witteman in the 200 free, Occhiline in the 500 free, Shelbee Beecroft in the 100 backstroke and teh 400 free relay team of Genevieve Pierce, Shelby Eisenacher, Isabella Piwowar and Lexie Nordhoff.

In third place were Zavala in the 50 free, Nordhoff in the 100 butterfly, Witteman in the 100 free, Hollingsworth in the 500 free, Rylee Pirtle in the 100 backstroke and the 200 free relay team of Kaitlyn Crean, Savannah Willman, Shelby Eisenacher and Fauth.

Top finishers for the boys’ team were Connor Schrader, who set a school record in the 500 free in 5:24.69 and won the 100 back in 1:00.86, Joseph Lambert, who won the 100 breaststroke in 1:23.28, the 200 medley relay team of Schrader, Lambert, Abel Rodriguez and Kian Carroll in a school-record 2:03.09, and the 200 free relay team of Kian Carroll, Anthony Nelson, Andrew Varga and Schrader.

Second place finishers were Bryan Perez in the 200 free, RAfe Scoresby in the 200 IM, Nelson in the 50 free, Geric Kammarczyk in the 100 breast, ad the 400 free relay team of Abel Rodriguez, Bryan Perez, Fermin Valenzuela and Scoresby.

In third place were Carroll in the 50 free, Rodriguez in the 100 fly, Scoresby in the 100 free, Nelson in the 100 back, the 200 medley relay team of Nelson, Kammarczyk, Victor Moreno and Andrew Valenzuela, the 200 free relay team of Moreno, Valenzuela, Scoresby and Rodriguez, and the 400 free relay team of Jacob Davis, Krammarczyk, Jose Preez-BArraza and Jayden Call.

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

By Joycelyn Cabrera

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

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

Proposition 437 seeks $68 million bond

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maricopa High School over-capacity

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Plan B?

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

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

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

Financing and tax-payer money

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bonds and overrides

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Statewide trend

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Abby Poland with her great-uncle Ernst in Germany. Submitted photo

Oktoberfest, one of the biggest, most extensive, annual parties in the world, is a staple of the Bavarian region of Germany. It inspires much smaller celebrations of German culture – food, traditional clothing and lots of beer-drinking – in sundry spots in the United States.

“Fun fact: All the stereotypes of Germany come from Bavaria – the lederhosen, Oktoberfest,” said Abigail Poland, who spent 24 days in Germany this summer as part of a cultural-exchange program.

Poland, a 15-year-old junior at Maricopa High School, is only two generations separated from Bavaria herself. Her grandmother, Gudrun von Kampen, emigrated to the United States alone at the age of 16 in 1950 after helping her family rebuild their bombed-out home.

“There are so many stereotypes with Germany, and there are a lot of misunderstandings because of everything that happened in the past,” Poland said. “That’s not what Germany is. World War II was one terrible period in German history, and German culture is so much richer and so much more amazing than that.”

Poland, who lives in Maricopa Meadows, studied two years of German at MHS and then took the National German Exam. She scored in the top 10 percentile, making her a gold medalist and qualifying her to apply for the Study Trip Award provided by the German Foreign Office and its Pedagogical Exchange Service. Winners stay with a host family, attend classes at a local high school and experience cultural field trips.

“The application process is, you answer a few questions, some in English, some in German, and you write a letter to a potential host family in German,” Poland said. “Then you have an interview in German – well, part in German. They were really forgiving. Because I was so nervous, a lot of mine was in English.”

She was one of 44 American students chosen for the Study Trip Award through American Association of Teachers of German. The program paid for her roundtrip flight from Newark, New Jersey, to Aschaffenburg in northeast Bavaria.

“I was so shocked and overwhelmed and so grateful that I had the opportunity,” she said.

Though “blessed with better-than-average, self-selected students,” MHS German instructor McKay Jones said, “it’s no exaggeration to say that Abby is a once-in-a-generation student. Motivation, attitude, ambition, love of languages – she’s just really enthusiastic. I think that’s one of the reasons she was selected. That really came across.”

Abigail Poland and her German teacher, McKay Jones, show where she spent three and a half weeks this summer in Bavaria. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Her grandmother, who now lives in Mesa, was one of the reasons Poland wanted to study German in the first place and why she was particularly excited about the trip.

“Her family was too poor. They weren’t able to feed all their kids and pay all their bills. There was an aunt that lived in America that my grandma didn’t really know and later found out that she wasn’t the nicest aunt. She said, ‘Send Gudrun to me, and I’ll take care of her.’ So, when she was 16, she came over and made a life for herself.”

But her grandmother was never chatty about the past.

“I’ve grown up my whole life visiting her very frequently, and she’s never even told me,” Poland said.

“She’s a very happy person, and obviously talking about your country being destroyed and being bombed and being homeless, and all that happening to her, she just never talked about it,” said Leah Poland, who is Abigail’s mother and Gudrun’s daughter. “I didn’t even hear the story until I was in junior high.”

Just earning a trip to Germany was not a guarantee Abigail would have the opportunity to travel to her family’s old haunts.

“I told her, ‘They’re not obligated to drive you all over the place,’ but her host family was amazing,” Leah Poland said. “They drove her twice more than an hour away to visit my uncle in an old folks’ home. He has no other living family. He was so happy to see her.”

Abigail previously had worn her grandmother’s dirndl, a traditional peasant dress that shows up frequently at Munich’s Oktoberfest. She wanted to purchase one but found them too expensive – “hundreds of euros” – but her uncle helped her acquire one.

Abby in her Dirndle. Submitted photo

Her uncle was also a treasure trove, sharing family stories and giving Abigail a huge box of family photos.

What’s more, her host family drove her two and a half hours to visit the home where her grandmother grew up, a home that was in the family for generations before being sold in the 1980s when her great-grandmother passed away.

“Even when I just mentioned visiting her house, my oma [grandmother] told me two new stories we’d never heard before,” Abigail Poland said.

Her host family was comprised of a mother, two sisters and, for part of the time, the mother’s “life partner.”

“I noticed right off the bat the feeling was different,” Poland said. “I felt like there was so much less pressure. A lot of people think Germans are cold, but I think Germans are chill. They are so much more open and talk about their feelings. It’s OK if you’re not happy and smiling and saying ‘Oh, I’m doing great’ all the time. The German stereotype is that Germans have no feelings, but I felt like it was the exact opposite, that Germans were very open with their feelings.”

Her hosts also got her to come out of her nervous-foreigner shell.

“Here, I make a lot of jokes,” she said. “In Germany I wasn’t comfortable because I didn’t know what the humor was. I didn’t know if it was going to go badly. But I remember a conversation I had with my host-sister, and she was like, ‘Just try. What’s it going to hurt if you try?’ That changed a lot of things for me.”

She traveled with a group of other foreign students to Munich, Frankfurt and Berlin. She hung out with her host-sisters and their friends. She couldn’t always follow conversational details but knew the gist.

“Her German when she got back just blew me away,” Jones said. “It was basically a month of immersion.”

“You can see how language mirrors culture,” Poland said. “In English, there’s a lot of ambiguity. In German, the words are what they mean. It’s very straightforward and real in the same way the people are straightforward and real.”

Abby with friends at grandmother’s house in Germany. Her grandmother emigrated to the United States at the age of 16 in 1950s. Submitted photo

Jones said the program is Germany’s investment in the future. “They want the German programs in the U.S. to stay vibrant, and there aren’t very many of them, especially in the Southwest.”

She gained a sense of independence that may have taken longer to obtain without the experience. The youngest of the five children of Leah and Matthew Poland, Abigail had never flown before she boarded the plane from Phoenix to the East Coast.

“I learned to not be afraid,” she said. I had adults and other people around to help me, but it was like I was completely alone. I learned how to do stuff for myself. And I learned to get over my fears. On the planes I was absolutely terrified on takeoffs and landings on the way there. I was sitting in the middle and on the aisle, which was good. Anytime I would look out the window, I was like, ‘Nope, nope, nope.’ On the way home I had a window seat, and I wasn’t terrified. I was leaning into the window. It was so interesting to me to see that difference.”

Poland’s experience realized the goals of the program and showed why the German government sets its sights on foreign teenagers. For her, the experience wasn’t about lederhosen or oompah bands or bier steins or anything else that might celebrate the German culture in an Oktoberfest kind of way.

“I want to raise cultural awareness, not just of German culture but of cultures around the world,” Poland said. “One culture is not more valid than another, and neither is a language, and neither is a people. I learned so much in Germany. I’m ready to take on the world, and I have so many opportunities now.”

This story appears in the October issue of InMaricopa.

Main River and Schloss Johannisburg

Photo by Victor Moreno

The Maricopa High School swim team defeated Benjamin Franklin Thursday in a home meet.

The boys won 104-43 and the girls won 82-78.

Junior Olivia Byers and freshman Katelyn Owens again led the girls’ team. Byers won the 50-meter freestyle in 27.8 and the 100 free in 1:06.3. Owens won the 100 breaststroke in 1:18.3. Also taking first place was the 200 free relay team of Owens, Aubree Wittemann, Eva Zavala and Byers in 2:04.2.

Second-place finishers for the Rams were Wittemann in the 200 free and the 100 free, Owens in the 200 individual medley, Zavala in the 50 free, Lexie Nordhoff in the 100 butterfly, Shelbee Beecroft in the 100 backstroke, the 200 medley relay team of Beecroft, Owens, Byers and Zavala, and the 400 free relay team of Emily Hollingsworth, Wittemann, Genevieve Pierce and Kaitlyn Crean.

In third place for Maricopa were Emily Fauth in the 200 free, Katelyn James in the 100 fly, Hollingsworth in the 500 free, Zavala in the 100 breast, the 200 medley relay team of Emma Carr, Nordhoff, James and Crean, the 200 free relay team of Crean, Hollingsworth, Shelby Eisenacher and Fauth, and the 400 free relay team of Nordhoff, Eisenacher, Izzy Piwowar and James.

The boys piled up on BF, winning seven of the events. Sophomore Connor Schrader bested his own school record in the 100 breast in 1:11.46, his fourth school record this season, according to head coach Laura Logan. He also won the 200 free in 1:57.6.

Rafe Scoresby won the 200 IM in 2:47.3. Abel Rodriguez won the 100 fly in 1:17.2, and Andy Varga won the 100 free. The 200 medley relay team of Schrader, Joseph Lambert, Rodriguez and Varga won in 2:06.9. The 200 free relay team of Varga, Rodriguez, Tony Nelson and Schrader won in 1:47.6. The 400 free relay team of Rodriguez, Jayden Call, Bryan Perez and Scoresby won in 4:24.5.

Second-place finishers for MHS were Call in the 200 free, Nelson in the 500 free and 100 back, Victor Moreno in the 100 fly, Perez in the 500 free, Lambert in the 100 breast, the 200 free relay team of Call, Jose Perez-Barraza, Fermin Valenzuela and Moreno, and the 400 free relay team of Perez-Barraza, Saul Rodriguez, Alex Borunda and Valenzuela.

Placing third were Varga in the 50 free, Scoresby in the 100 free, Call in the 500, Perez in the 100 back and the 200 medley relay team of Perez, Scoresby, Moreno and Nelson.

So far, three Maricopa swimmers have posted official times that put them in the top 50 in the state’s 5A division. That includes Schrader in three events – the 200 IM, 50 free and 100 back. Byers is top 50 in the 50 free, and Owens in the 100 breast.

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

By Bernadette Russoniello

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

This column appears in the October issue of InMaricopa.

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Submitted photo

The Maricopa High School Marching Rams performed at the AzMBA Rainer Classic at Mesquite High School in Gilbert Oct. 5.

The performance showed significant improvement in several areas from the hard work the students put in during their Fall Band Camp. The highlight was Maricopa High School Marching Rams receiving the caption award for “high Auxiliary,” which means the Color Guard received the highest score in the 3A class.

In fact, Maricopa received the highest Color Guard score in any class. The Color Guard instructor is Eliana Araiza, and her assistants are Dannie Bradley and Alyssa Harper.

Submitted photo

Overall, the band finished in sixth place in a very experienced group of strong marching band programs. The band received praise for the design of the show and ideas. It also received very clear feedback for improvement when they return from Fall Break.

“The band is excited to see what is in store for their next performances,” music director Ivan Pour said. “A special thank you goes out to MHS band parents for their help with meals. Without parent support, our success would not be possible. We invite you to come see the Marching Rams in action on Senior Night at the Oct. 18 football game and the AzMBA Williams Field Show on Oct. 19.”

Though holding their own in the first quarter and starting with a 2-0 lead, the Maricopa High School football Rams had a mountain to climb when hosting Gilbert’s Campo Verde. One of the top-ranked teams in the state, the Coyotes won Friday night, 43-9.

Campo Verde is undefeated and leads the 5A San Tan region. Maricopa’s record fell to 3-4 (0-2). The Rams are ranked 20th in 5A. Maricopa, on fall break, next plays Oct. 18, hosting Williams Field, 5-2 (2-0). As the final home game, it will be senior night.

Sequoia Pathway celebrates a side out in a Thursday win on the volleyball court. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

The Sequoia Pathway volleyball team ended its regular season Thursday with a tough home win over Desert Heights 3-2. The victory put the girls’ record at 11-3 atop the Canyon Athletic Association’s Region 5 of Division 2.

It was also senior night as the team honored six who are finishing their high school volleyball careers this season: Mikayla Gallon, Lynniece Andrews, Alanah Stoher, Chloe Shishmanian, Roniesha Davis and Emma Berg.

Post-season play starts Oct. 22.

Also in CAA play, Heritage-Maricopa is 1-9 after a Tuesday loss to Tri-City Christian. Heritage Academy has two games left on its schedule.

The Rams tried to turn shirts and clipboards into fanning devices to cool off in a hot gym Thursday.

Maricopa High School’s team had its annual breast-cancer awareness night Thursday while losing to Gilbert 3-0. The Rams are 4-11 overall, 0-5 in the 5A San Tan region of Arizona Interscholastic Association.

The girls wore special pink uniform tops in a game marked by a lack of air conditioning in the gymnasium. MHS has four more games before the end of the season.

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Photo by Victor Moreno


The Maricopa High School boys’ and girls’ swim teams defeated Combs in a home meet at Copper Sky Thursday, with Connor Schrader setting another school record.

“The depth of our team was the difference maker,” head coach Laura Logan said.

The girls won 93-72. Those winning their events were Aubree Wittemann in the 200-meter freestyle in 2:40.75; Olivia Byers in the 50 free in 27.42 and the 100 free in 1:03.3; Katelyn Owens in the 500 free in 6:30.62 and the 100 breaststroke in 1:19.48; the 200 medley relay team of Shelbee Beecroft, Owens, Byers and Eva Zavala in 2:23.2; and the 200 free relay team of Owens, Wittemann, Zavala and Byers in 2:04.78.

Taking second place were Katelynn James in the 100 butterfly, Sophie Occhiline in the 500 free, Zavala in the 100 breast, the 200 free relay team of Kaitlyn Crean, Emily Hollingsworth, Occhiline and Emily Fauth, and the 400 free relay team of Wittemann, Crean, Hollingsworth and Fauth.

In third place were Fauth in the 200 free and 500 free, Occhiline in the 200 individual medley, Zavala in the 500 free, Lexie Nordhoff in the 100 fly and Beecroft in the 100 backstroke.

The MHS boys won 97-57.

Schrader set a school record in the 100 fly, winning in 58.95. He also won the 200 IM in 2:11.93. Also earning first-place honors were Rafe Scoresby in the 500 free in 6:41.84; Bryan Perez in the 100 back in 1:28.96; the 200 free relay team of Andrew Varga, Anthony Nelson, Kian Carroll and Schrader in 1:46.22; and the 400 free relay team of Varga, Perez, Jayden Call and Scoresby in 4:39.82.

In second place were Varga in the 200 free, Scoresby in the 200 IM, Carroll in the 100 free, Perez in the 500 free, Nelson in the 100 back, Joseph Lambert in the 100 breast, the 200 medley relay team of Schrader, Lambert, Scoresby and Carroll, and the 400 free relay team of Geric Kramarczyk, Fermin Valenzuela, Egan Packard and Cole Perry-Turner.

Taking third were Call in the 200 free and the 500 free, Carroll in the 50 free, Varga in the 100 free, Kramarczyk in the 100 breast, the 200 medley relay team of Perez Kammarczyk, Nelson and Jose Perez-Barraza, and 200 free relay team of Kramarczyk, Perez-Barrazak Packard and Call.

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All Maricopa High School runners competing in Friday’s Nike Desert Twilight Cross Country Festival, a multi-state meet in Casa Grande, posted personal-best times.

Competing in the large-school category against almost 50 teams, the boys’ team brought eight runners while the girls ran four.

Senior Quinton Stapleton again led the squad, finishing the varsity race 237th out of 329 in the 5,000 meters (3.1 miles). At 19:27.95, he knocked 24 seconds off his best previous time.

Sophomore Tanis Palmer finished 246th in 19:34.94 in his first race, and fellow soph Xavier Rose was 270th in 20:00.00, which was 51 seconds faster than his previous best. Junior Jovanni Fentes was 275th in 20:06.61, nearly three seconds faster than his results in last year’s Twilight. Rounding out the team’s top five, sophomore Gabriel Garcia was 280th in 20:10.50, his best time by 29 seconds.

Sophomore Charles Liermann was 323rd in 22:21.02, more than a minute faster than his best time, and sophomore Nico McKinely was 329th in 26:20.30, improving his time by nearly six minutes. Running in the freshman race, Alex Blodgett was 226th in 23:24.10, better than his previous best by 22 seconds.

Centennial senior Alexander Coyle won the boys’ varsity race in 15:37.5.

Among the girls, MHS senior Zanaa Ramirez knocked her time down to 21:40.9, her first time under 22 minutes, in placing 91st among 320 runners.

Junior Stella Richter was 304th in 26:56.25, about 20 seconds better than her best time. Senior Coryuna Mitchell bettered her time by more than five minutes by finishing 309th in 27:50.08. Junior Francis Trast ran 310th in 27:59.14.

Ralston Valley (Arvada, Colorado) senior Elizabeth Schweiker won the girls’ varsity race in 18:23.47.

Junior Steven Forester scrambles against Higley Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Everything that worked for the Maricopa High School football team in its 49-12 win over winless Central a week ago did not work at all its in first region competition Friday at Higley High.

The 59-0 loss to the Knights evened the Rams’ overall record at 3-3.

“Our kids have to understand and learn that when you’re in big games and you come out and self-destruct, you can’t make mistakes,” head coach Brandon Harris said. “You’ve got to do the things that you’ve been coached to do. When you don’t, you lose games, you lose these games to good teams.”

The teams came into the game with identical records and looked evenly matched on paper. However, the Rams struggled to gain first downs from scrimmage (they did so just four times), let alone get near the end zone. The defense, meanwhile, left gaping holes for Higley running backs. By the middle of the third quarter, the referees were letting the clock run.

“The kids didn’t execute,” Harris said. “We’ve got to put them, I guess, in better positions to succeed.”

This week, the Rams come home to face undefeated Campo Verde, which sits atop 5A San Tan.

“We’ve got a lot of work, obviously. We’ve got to get their heads up,” Harris said, “make them understand there’s more games to be played, there’s more season left. Our goals are still intact.”

Harris said the region is not as strong as it was last year. With the young Maricopa team now having six games under their belts, he added, they can no longer use inexperience as an excuse.”

“They’ve got to be able to play a lot better than they did right now,” he said.

Against lesser teams, like Central, the Rams have been able to withstand their own mistakes, but against equal or better teams, those mistakes have turned into opposing touchdowns quickly. Maricopa has been outscored this season 181-123 while still hanging onto a .500 winning percentage.

Maricopa High School swimmers showed marked improvement in their re-match with Apache Junction in a Tuesday meet hosted by Saguaro.

That included two more school records.

“The first meet of the season we had a tri-meet that involved Apache Junction, and our girls finished third behind AJ by 26 points,” head coach Laura Logan said. “Last night we finished second, ahead of AJ by nine points. The depth of our girls really stepped up and made the difference.”

The Rams did not win any events on the girls’ side but did come away with three second-place and five third-place finishes.

Olivia Byers was second in the 100-meter freestyle, Sophie Occhiline was second in the 500 free, and Kaitlyn Crean, Emily Fauth, Emily Hollingsworth and Aubrey Witteman combined to finish second in the 400 freestyle relay.

Third-place finishers were Witteman in the 200 free, Katelyn Owens in the 200 individual medley, Byers in the 50 free, Katelynn James in the 100 butterfly and Fauth in the 500 free.

Saguaro won the meet with 134 points. MHS scored 85, and AJ had 76.

On the boys’ side, Saguaro won with 143 points, MHS had 79 points and AJ 65.

Connor Schrader won the 200 free in 1:56.25, a new MHS record. He finished second in the 100 free in 50.77, another school record.

“Connor set another two school records, bringing his season total to four new school records,” Logan said. “Just as the girls, the depth of our team is what helped secure our second-place finish.”

Also scoring second place was Rafe Scoresby in the 200 IM.

Third-place finishers for the Rams were Victor Moreno in the 200 IM, Abel Rodriguez in the 100 fly, Scoresby in the 500 free, Bryan Perez in the 100 backstroke, Joseph Lambert in the 100 breaststroke and the 400 free relay team of Andrew Varga, Jayden Call, Perez and Scoresby.

Members of the Maricopa High School football teams visited Maricopa Police Department and City Hall on Saturday. Head coach Brandon Harris planned the visit a year ago with MPD Chief Steve Stahl. Harris, who has police officers in his family, said he wanted the students to have a productive relationship with local law enforcement and he wanted to defuse any apprehension and suspicion about law enforcement that comes from “news reports about officers and young men that go horribly wrong – and how we can better ensure this doesn’t happen to our boys.”

Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

The Maricopa High School cross country team competed twice at Chandler’s Tumbleweed Regional Park in two weeks.

Senior Zanaa Ramirez earned a medal by finishing in the top 10 at the Chandler Invite Sept. 4. Then on Sept. 14, six Rams ran personal-best times in the Ojo Rojo Invitational in the same park.

The Chandler Invite was divided into grades for the 5K. For the seniors, Ramirez was ninth among the girls in 22:44.66. Coreyuna Mitchell was 39th in 33:11.80. On the boys’ side, Quinton Stapleton finished 47th in 19:52.02.

In the girls’ junior race, Stella Richter was 60th in 27.49.57, Frances Trast was 76th in 33:05.45, and Beatriz Gallardo Avila was 83rd in 38:57.53. For the boys, Jovanni Fentes was 47th in 20:28.30

For the sophomores, Gabriel Garcia was 60th in 20:48.98, Xavier Rose was 78th in 22:04.37, and Charles Liermann was 101st in 24:10.22. For the girls, Anel Kenezhekeyeva was 85th in 1:07:28.66.

Saturday morning, 33 schools competed in the Ojo Rojo , with freshman, varsity and open divisions.

Ramirez reached a personal best in 22:31.8 while finishing 63rd. The two other girls running the varsity race with her also posted their best times yet. Richter was 129th in 27:17.0, and Trast was 138th in 30:33.8. Brynna McQuillen of Vista Grande won the race in 18:41.5.

The boys’ varsity ran a full team and finished 20th overall. Stapleton finished 102nd in 19:59.5. Garcia was 121st in 20:29.9, a personal best. Rose finished 128th in 20:51, also a personal best. Fentes was 149th in 21:31.9. Liermann was 171st in 23:39.2, and Nico McKinley was 184th in 32.32.6. Trent Holiday of Page High School won the race in 16:04.

In the freshman race, Blodgett finished 66th in 23:46.5, a personal best.

Quinton “Q” Stapleton has been the MHS boys’ team leader this season.

Photo by Victor Moreno

Though Maricopa High School’s boys’ and girls’ swim teams finished third in their first home meet of the season, they knocked personal best times and set some school records in the process.

“From last week to this week, we saw improvement, in almost every event,” coach Laura Logan said.

Freshman Katelyn Owens won the 100 breaststroke in 1:18.22, a school record by over 3.5 seconds. Logan said the time is .20 of the Division II provisional state cut.

Also talking first place was Olivia Byers in the 50 freestyle in 27.42 and the 100 free in 1:03.4.

The girls’ 200 free relay team of Owens, Eva Zavala, Emily Fauth and Byers set a school record by three seconds while finishing second in 2:04.57.

While finishing third, the 200 medley relay team of Sophie ZOcchiline, Owens, Byers and Zavala set a school record, again by three seconds, in 2:21.85.

Also taking third was Owens in the 200 individual medley, just 0.7 of a second off a school record. Au

Photo by Victor Moreno

bree Wittemann was third in the 200 free, and Zavala was third in the 50 free.

Overall, the girls scored 83 points to finish behind Valley Christian (117) and American Leadership (98).

On the boys’ side, Rafe Scoresby won the 200 free in 2:19.15. Connor Schrader won the 100 backstroke in 1:00.38. The 200 free relay team of Andrew Varga, Abel Rodriguez, Kian Carroll and Schrader took first place in 1:48.75.

In second place were Schrader in the 200 IM and Scoresby in the 500 free.

Swimming third were Varga in the 50 free, Carroll in the 100 free, Jayden Call in the 500 free, the 200 medley relay of Schrader, Joseph Lambert, Rodriguez and Varga, and the 400 free relay team of Rodrigez, Anthony Nelson, Victor Moreno and Scoresby.

American Leadership won the meet in 111. Valley Christian scored 95 and MHS 64.

Superintendent takes blame for implementation errors

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maricopa Unified School District notified parents over the weekend of a “potential threat of a weapon on campus on Monday” at the high school.

The alleged threat was made off-campus Friday night. MUSD told parents it was working with Maricopa Police Department and had not substantiated the threat.

Classes will take place as normal on Monday, but MPD plans to increase patrols.

MUSD reminded parents threats against a school facility, even in jest, can be prosecuted beyond school discipline. “Please take this opportunity to talk with your children about the consequences of making statements of a threatening or dangerous nature at any time,” MUSD advised parents in its notification.

The alleged threat comes after days of student fights on and off campus, also involving MPD.

Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Despite being shorthanded and battling Murphy’s Law during the first half, the Maricopa High School varsity football team tested its depth to overcome Apollo Friday, 21-9.

The Rams were behind until midway through the second quarter having suffered through a series of miscues that included a safety. They were coming off a physically punishing loss to Millennium the week before that showed in the lineup.

The win moved the Rams’ record to 2-1.

Maricopa kept quiet during the week about the fact they would not have standouts like Ilijah Johnson or Michael Flood on the field, but from the outset it was clear the Rams were a lot smaller and a little less diverse.

“We have a saying around here: Next Ram up,” head coach Brandon Harris said. “We don’t have the luxury of kids sitting around waiting to be knighted to play varsity football. They’ve got to come in; they’ve got to prepare as if they’re going to have to play tonight, because they might very well have to do that. So, we had a team out there that was not our projected starting lineup at all, but we hid it. We kept it quiet all week. We had some kids that came out here and worked real hard. They did a nice job.”

The defense started the scoring for Maricopa as junior Patrick Garcia intercepted a pass and returned it for a touchdown. With Mister Chavis rushing and receiving, not to mention returning the kickoff, for the first drive of the second half, Maricopa scored again to go up 14-2.

Apollo (0-2) scored its only touchdown in the final seven seconds of the third quarter. Maricopa answered with another touchdown with 10:27 remaining in the fourth and held back the Hawks the rest of the game.

“The defense played great,” Harris said. “They held the line for us,”

Harris credited his assistant coaches with getting the team game-ready despite the vacancies. He said the Rams need to get a lot healthier by getting some guys back in time for Friday’s Homecoming game against South Mountain.

“We’re very, very, very, very young. They’re learning how to play on the fly,” he said. “I’m proud of them. A lot of kids played both ways. A lot of kids didn’t leave the field, and that’s a huge win in Division 5.”

A series of fights on and near campus have marred campus life at Maricopa High School this month.

A fight broke out Wednesday after school, bringing police to Honeycutt Avenue. That fight reportedly ended up in a Maricopa Meadows park west of the school. Thursday, Maricopa Police Department was on campus investigating what Mariopa Unified School District described as “three separate incidents involving an isolated number of students.”

MPD spokesman Ricardo Alvarado said there were charges pending.

“Investigations are still ongoing, and discipline will be aligned to our discipline matrix,” MUSD spokesperson Mishell Terry said, explaining the release of further details could violate the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act. “That said, the District will cooperate with law enforcement authorities if requested, to the full extent it can lawfully do so.”

MUSD sent out a message to parents signed by Principal Brian Winter explaining why the front office was briefly closed while MPD worked with students and families. “Please know the safety of our students and staff is always our first priority, and we will continue to partner with you to ensure Maricopa High School provides a safe and secure environment,” he stated.

Friday, however, another fight was reported in a campus building, again bringing additional police to campus.

Parents expressed anger and anxiety about the situation, with one parent telling InMaricopa his daughter is terrified of going to school.