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Arizona Educational Foundation awarded Pima Butte Elementary with an A+ School of Excellence recognition.


Pima Butte Elementary received the prestigious A+ School of Excellence Award from the Arizona Educational Foundation.

It was one of just 52 schools statewide recognized this year and the only school in Pinal County. The award is in place for three and a half years. Earning the distinction, which has been around since the 1980s, was no easy task.

During a meeting of the Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board, Principal Randy Lazar held up the 33-page application comprised of 53 questions requiring answers of 600 to 1,500 words each. It was completed over four months by staff and parent volunteers.

“It was a long, drawn-out process,” he said. “Not just a one-time thing. It was like preparing for the Boston Marathon.”

Superintendent Tracey Lopeman said the school was evaluated on student focus and support, active teaching and learning, climate, parent involvement, community building and leadership. The award, she said, spotlights successes “happening at Pima Butte every single day.”

Pima Butte Elementary is also an A-rated school by the Arizona Department of Education.

Lazar credited the hard work of his staff, pointing out many of the teachers had been with the school 10 or 12 years.

“For a school to remain successful, you need a consistent staff, and that’s what Pima Butte has had over the years,” he said. “Not only a consistent staff, a dedicated staff.”

He said many of his teachers were at school before and after classes, on weekends, during breaks and during the summer.

“All of their hard work has led to this award this evening,” he said.

Principal Randy Lazar

Aidan Balt

Maricopa High School teacher and National Board Certified Teacher Aidan Balt was invited by The Atlantic Magazine to the fifth annual Education Summit in Washington, D.C., on May 14.

She will be participating as a speaker on a panel with other teachers from across the nation, discussing teacher advocacy and the profession of education. The conversation will run for about half an hour and will be moderated by one of the top Atlantic journalists.

The program is free and open to the public, and The Atlantic is expecting around 300 educators, policymakers, students, business and community leaders, and journalists to attend. The program will also be live-streamed.

The event receives financial support from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the Amgen Foundation, VIPKID, K12, and the College Board. The editorial team at The Atlantic maintains complete independence in putting together the Education Summit. Join the conversation on social media: #atlanticEDU. You can find information on the event and the full list of speakers at: http://educationsummit2019.theatlantic.com.


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Jennifer Nguyen

By Bernadette Russoniello

February was CTE month, celebrating all things related to Career Technical Education. Maricopa High School hosted a number of events, from Future Freshmen Tours and Showcase to CPR classes, Market Day student business expo and technology recycling. What better way to celebrate CTE than to profile some of our most successful seniors?

Jennifer Nguyen (Technical Theatre) initially chose Technical Theatre because she wanted to be part of a fun, hands-on program… and to get to DJ. She was inspired her freshman year when she attended her first dance concert – she found herself more fascinated by the digital lighting, the sound and transitions than by the dancers. She found even more opportunities in Tech Theatre, including event management, show production, set design, construction, lighting, sound, rigging. She even was part of the flight crew for “Peter Pan.” She intends to pursue audio engineering as a career and will start class at the Conservatory for Recording Arts and Science this fall.

Brayden Sanders

Brayden Sanders (Computer Networking) enjoys taking things apart and learning how they work. He always has had an interest in the complexity of computers. However, it was the mentorship of teacher Brad Chamberlain who inspired Brayden to take his interests to the next level. He loves the possibilities in the Networking class – competitions, work experience, industry certifications and the potential for high paying jobs and careers. Brayden is already an IT assistant for MUSD. Brayden plans to attend a university in the fall, majoring in computer science with the goal of working as a cyber security analyst to protect companies and consumers. Brayden has already been accepted to University of Michigan, Penn State, Colorado School of Mines, New York Institute of Technology, Illinois Institute of Technology, ASU, NAU and Gus Davis. He is considering the many offers and scholarships and will make his final decision later this spring.

Hayley Mase

Hayley Mase (AFJROTC) originally joined Junior ROTC for the leadership opportunities. The core values of service before self, integrity first and excellence above all resonated with her as a ninth grader. She explains the most impactful experience in JROTC has been the personal changes, morphing her from a shy young woman afraid to speak publicly to the commanding officer for the entire program. Hayley aspires to a career in the military as a pilot and has received Congressional nominations to the U.S. Air Force Academy, U.S. Naval Academy and West Point. She will receive her appointment by April.

Katelyn Dayley

Katelyn Dayley (Graphic Design) was accidentally placed into graphic design her sophomore year – she never even signed up for the course. However, because of her background in art, she soon realized the potential in the program. Katelyn was fascinated realizing we are surrounded by graphic design in images, logos, social media posts, print media, TV and broadcast. She has enjoyed her ability to create while contributing to her school and community with her designs. Katelyn plans to pursue a career in graphic design and advertising. She will attend CAC on her Promise for the Future Scholarship, serve a mission for her church and eventually transfer to BYU-Idaho to finish her degree.

Jacquelyn “Jackie” Cooter

Jacquelyn “Jackie” Cooter (Marketing) chose marketing on purpose. She was new to Maricopa, painfully shy and knew she needed a program to help her get out of her shell. What she’s enjoyed most about marketing are the real-world skills – public speaking, presentations, pricing, the psychology of marketing and perspectives into the adult world. Jackie plans to major in nursing at ASU on a full-ride scholarship and knows she will take the professional skills, conflict resolution, project management and inter-personal communication skills with her into her future career.

Ivan Maldonado

Ivan Maldonado (Automotive Technologies) joined Auto because of his personal interest in cars. He enjoyed working on engines before joining the class. However, in MHS Auto Shop he learned more than he imagined possible. He credits teacher Erick Fierro with finding ways to teach both practice and theory; to demonstrate hands-on in the shop yet familiarize students with manuals and “by the book” techniques. Ivan will attend Yavapai Community College to study collision repair.


Alana Daniels

Alana Daniels (Culinary Arts) a comes from a family heritage of cooks; her mother is a professional chef. She entered the program as a sophomore with a passion for food and fond memories of making dough in her grandma’s kitchen. Alana has an interest in culinary arts therapy – using food and food preparation as healing. Alana will attend Johnson and Wales University in Denver, earning $70,000 in scholarships. Pending the outcome of her upcoming CCAP competition, Alana could earn a full ride from the American Culinary Federation to complete her study in culinary arts.

Tyler Griego

Tyler Griego (Computer Repair and Maintenance) had an early interest in computers. He figured taking a computer class would be an “easy A.” He was unprepared for where the rabbit-hole of technology would lead him. Tyler enjoys creating websites and appreciates the most important elements of his learning: personal accountability, time management and people skills. Tyler attributes teacher Brad Chamberlain’s caring, enthusiasm and genuine passion as a major source for his success. Tyler will attend ASU with a full tuition waiver and major in computer science with an emphasis in cybersecurity. He’s open to career possibilities in any tech-related field.

This story appears in the March issue of InMaricopa.

The City of Maricopa Police Department, Victim Services Unit was awarded a grant through Ak-Chin’s State-Shared Revenue Program (Prop 202) in the amount of $16,910 in partnership with Maricopa Unified School District.  The grant will provide a high level of service from crisis intervention and support in the education system for victims of crime and children with adverse experiences in Maricopa.

The funding will be used to:

  1. Increase on-scene response having Victim Advocates available on stand-by pay during the weekends. This is estimating 30 percent of victims served will receive services through on-scene response at the time of the incident.
  2. Provide training to elementary school staff at Butterfield and Maricopa elementary schools on mindfulness and trauma informed classrooms through a professor at ASU School of Social Work.
  3. Provide trauma sensitive classrooms through Calming Corners at Butterfield and Maricopa Elementary School.

Mary Witkoski, MPD’s Community Program manager, reflected the strong support the police department has provided in both assessing the needs of the district and applying for the funds. “This is a very effective partnership, and I’m glad we could help in securing this important grant.”

Krista Roden, MUSD’s director of Teaching and Learning, said, “The safety of our students is and will always be a top priority of the District.  We are excited to partner with MPD to respond to the evolving needs of our students.  The professional development will extend the reach of trauma informed practices to our most vulnerable students and expanding Calming Corners offers a safe space inside classrooms where students can regroup and process feelings of anxiety or other intense emotions that could disrupt their day.”

Financial advisor Mike LaVallee said the state formula will artificially inflate projected tax rates on a possible bond for Maricopa Unified School District. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

The growth of Maricopa Unified School District mirrors that of many other districts in Arizona recovering from the Great Recession. And that could lead to a communication problem with voters.

MUSD is preparing to ask those voters for a bond to relieve the pressure on an already-overcrowded high school. Over the past five years, the district’s valuation has grown 5.34 percent.

However, the 10-year growth average is only 0.82 percent. By state statute, the 10-year historical average must be used in voter pamphlets to project the growth in assessed value in the tax-impact schedule.

“That’s a big disparity,” said financial advisor Mike LaVallee, a managing director of Stifel, Nicolaus & Company. “Even though you’re adding growth now, it’s not making up for what you lopped off 11-12 years ago.”

Using the 10-year average will produce a tax-rate impact that LaVallee said will be artificially high.

As an example, LaVallee showed the 10-year growth average creating a tax rate of 88 cents on a $50 million bond. For the owner of a home valued at $100,000, that would be an annual cost of $88.24. However, LaVallee said a “more realistic scenario,” based on the five-year average, would be a tax rate of just 55 cents, costing the same homeowner $55.49 instead.

“By law, we have to, in the voter pamphlet, talk about 1A, ‘Here’s what the state says it’s going to be.’ Then we would explain, ‘No, really, it’s going to be 1B for these reasons, X, Y and Z,’” said board member Torri Anderson. “That makes sense. Frustrating, but it makes sense.”

LaVallee called himself a K-12 specialist, but he also worked with the former Maricopa Fire District on bond elections before the city incorporated. He also worked with MUSD previously on refinancing debt and bond elections.

The assessed valuation history of the district “is so important as it relates to bonding capacity and tax-rate calculations,” he said. Bonding capacity is determined by the assessed value.

In 2009-10, before the recession fully impacted the area, the full cash assessed value was $441,000. By 2013-14, it was down to $224,000. Then the district grew again.

Now, the most recent estimate from Pinal County has the assessed valuation at $390,000, a growth rate over last year of 10.88 percent.

“That’s a very healthy growth number,” LaVallee said.

The limited assessed property value, on the other hand, determines all tax rates, including bonds. It is called limited because it is restricted by formula.

“If somebody’s property value grew market value year-by-year 8 percent, the tax value can only grow by 5,” LaVallee said. “Every property, existing homeowner, existing business can only grow tax value by 5 percent a year, even if they grew at 10 or 7 or 12. It will keep carrying over every year, but it will be capped at 5 percent.”

He said the message to the community needs to recognize what the voter pamphlet will show but explain what the real rate will be. He said that kind of outreach will be up to a pro-bond committee.

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Levi Sholes, Chance Frutchey, RyAnn Liermann, Brianna McVey, Katelyn Owens and Zoie Zimpleman, with Superintendent Tracey Lopeman, board members Joshua Judd, Torri Anderson and Vice President Ben Owens and Rotary's Alma Farrell and Jim Irving. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Rotary Club of Maricopa honored six “Students of the Month” from Maricopa Unified School District, including Central Arizona Valley Institute of Technology, during a meeting of the governing board Wednesday.

Levi Sholes, a Maricopa High School junior, was selected by the staff and administration of CAVIT. He is a second-year veterinary assistant student with a career goal to attend the University of Arizona and earn a bachelor’s degree in veterinary technology. He is an Honor Roll student with perfect attendance honors at MHS and Second Year Honor Roll with perfect attendance at CAVIT. He has a goal to receive national veterinary assistant certification and work while attending CAC and Pima Community College’s Veterinary Technician program. He is also a volunteer at Maricopa Community Food Bank and Church of Celebration.

Chance Frutchey, also an MHS junior, was selected by CAVIT to be Student of the Month for December. He is a CAVIT medical assistant I and on the Honor Roll with perfect attendance. He has a career goal to attend CAC and U of A to become a paramedic and work toward industry certification as a registered medical assistant while working part-time as a medical assistant to pay his way through college. He is involved in football and wrestling.

RyAnn Liermann was named CAVIT’s November Student of the Month. She is a CAVIT Nursing Assistant 1 student and is on the Honor Roll with perfect attendance. She wants to earn her state nursing assistant certification and work in that area part-time to pay for college. RyAnn is involved with MHS Link Crew, Student Council, volleyball, track and AP Honors classes and is a Maricopa Community Church worship leader.

Brianna McVey, a senior at MHS, was nominated by Bernadette Russoniello, who said Brianna is an outstanding campus leader and has been a role model and leading officer in the Air Force Junior ROTC. She was selected to the MHS Girls State delegate for convention 2018. She is a volunteer in the school and community, donating hundreds of hours of service to local food banks and events. She is a Link leader, helping to welcome, orient and involve new students, especially freshmen, to the MHS campus.

Katelyn Owens is an eighth grader at Desert Wind Middle School. She was nominated by three teachers, who said she is “one of the most thoughtful and hardworking students” and “brings energy and a fine balance that can be hard for a middle school student to master with a great work ethic and drive to do things.” She was part of the foundation of the Desert Wind Performing Arts programs and a talented swimmer. Last year, her Future City team qualified for state competition.

Zoie Zimpleman is a Maricopa Wells Middle School eighth grader. Principal Thad Miller said she is an excellent example for all students at MWMS and can be trusted to make the right choice. She has straight A’s in algebra and ELA classes. Zoie is president of the school’s National Junior Honor Society and is in band and after-school clubs. She was also one of the creators of the award-winning middle school short film “Kindness Equals Calm.” She was called a true leader in academics and behavior.

By Bernadette Russoniello

Bernadette Russoniello

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

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

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

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

What do we need to do to improve this outlook?

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

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

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

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

This column appears in the February issue of InMaricopa.

Native American Parent Advisory Committee at Maricopa Unified School District hosted the Native American Regalia Fashion Show Thursday at Saddleback Elementary. Students, Ak-Chin royalty and Arizona State University represented an array of cultures that honored family in their designs. Miss Indian ASU Kyla Jade Silas, Mr. Indian ASU Randal (RJ) Morin and other Sun Devils spoke to local youngsters and their parents about educational opportunities beyond high school.

After a possible threat against Maricopa Wells Middle School, parents are being cautioned by Maricopa Unified School District and Maricopa Police Department to talk with their kids about making social media threats.

The administration posted on its site: “Our district is committed to the safety and education of all our students, and we want to clearly communicate with parents about safety issues when they arise. Recently, a student reported a concerning social media message about a threat to Maricopa Wells Middle School to take place on January 30th.  School and District officials are working with the Maricopa Police Department to investigate and out of an abundance of caution, there will be an increased police presence while the investigation continues.”

School will be in session as usual on Wednesday.

MUSD asked parents to talk with their kids about the consequences of posting messages that could be interpreted as threatening.

MPD offered further tips on what to do if such a message is found on social media: “You need to notify authorities, but we ask that you please do not share or forward the threat until we have had a chance to investigate. This can spread misinformation and cause panic, and possibly expose you to legal consequences, depending on the situation.”

Emphasizing that a threat over social media, email or text is a federal crime, MPD reminded parents those making the threats can receive up to five years in prison.

“In addition to consequences for individuals who issue threats, there is also a significant societal cost. Law enforcement agencies have limited resources, and responding to hoax threats diverts officers and costs taxpayers,” the MPD post continues. “The threats can also cause severe emotional distress to students, school personnel, and parents.”

Submitted photo

MHS Theatre Company took 30 students to compete in 20 events at the Arizona Thespian Regional competition known as CAFT Jan. 26.

Eleven Maricopa High School students qualified for nationals this summer in Lincoln, Nebraska. Theater instructor Alexandra Stahl said the group musical piece received a perfect score from all three judges.

Superior ratings went to:

Group Musical: Kjirsten Lemon, Aidyn Curtis, Taryn Story, Hannah Panter, Antonio Gonzales, Brandon Korittky, Alexia Esquivel, Kade Kruse, Alex Hurley, Haley Raffaele and Joey Russionello
Monologue: Antonio Gonzales
Monologue: Aidyn Curtis
Monologue: Emma Schrader
Monologue: Emmeline Boothe
Solo Musical: Taryn Story
Solo Musical: Genevieve Burno
Solo Musical: Fallon Fruchey
Duet Musical: Brandon Korittky and Antonio Gonzales
Duet Musical: Julie Goodrum and Chloe Seekings
Stage Management: Keara Burke

To raise money for the Nebraska trip, MHS Theatre Company is presenting three plays repertory-style in February. See all three for $5 in the Black Box Theatre inside the Performing Arts Center for the Winter Show Series:

Feb. 12, 7 p.m.: “The Curious Savage”
Feb. 13, 7 p.m.: “[Title of Show]”
Feb. 14, 7 p.m.: “Silent Sky”
Feb. 15, 7 p.m.: “The Curious Savage”
Feb. 16, 2 p.m.: “Silent Sky”
Feb. 16, 7 p.m.: “[Title of Show]”

The troupe will also have a presentation of event sometime before spring break to help raise money to send the students to Nebraska.

MHS Theatre Company’s spring musical will be “Fiddler on the Roof” April 25-27 in the PAC auditorium.

Maricopa Unified School District was informed in December 11 teachers achieved National Board Certification.

Certification consists of four components

  1. An assessment of the teacher’s content knowledge.
  2. A portfolio showcasing student work samples and how the teacher provides feedback and reflects on student learning.
  3. Two videos of the teacher in the classroom, showing lessons taught and the interaction with and among students demonstrating the depth of teaching and learning.
  4. A portfolio of “reflective” work demonstrating what the teacher does outside the classroom that translates in the classroom, from collaboration to using assessments to inform instruction and learning.

Often referred to as the “gold standard” of achievement, NBCT certification asks educators to demonstrate standards-based evidence of the dynamic instruction that takes place in their classrooms. Each teacher spent time evaluating their own instructional strategies and worked purposefully to adjust their practices to better meet the needs of their students.

MUSD’s newest National Board Certified teachers are:

Butterfield Elementary School

Inez Ramirez has been an employee with the school district since 2007 and has been at Butterfield since the 2012-13 school year. She is a first-grade structured English immersion (SEI) teacher.

“Mrs. Ramirez is an amazing teacher who challenges herself, her students and others to improve and succeed. She is always looking for ways to help our school be the best it can be. She is an essential member of our Butterfield staff.” ~ Principal Janel Hildick

Maricopa Elementary School

Janet Stensgard has been in the district since 2004 and has taught at Maricopa Elementary for the past seven years. She is an instructional coach/specialist providing resources and instructional support to fellow teachers.

“Mrs. Stensgard strives to impact our school culture on a deeper level ensuring scholars and teachers are successful. Janet supports teachers by working to create professional development based on their needs and the needs of our scholars. She is an asset to our school’s growth and success as a Leader in Me Lighthouse school.” ~ Principal Jennifer Robinson

Taryn Cummings began her career with MUSD in 2011. She has taught at Maricopa Elementary School for seven years. Currently, she teaches fifth grade.

“Taryn seeks out new strategies and feedback to help support her scholars and their learning, pushing on them to provide evidence and explain their thinking. She also openly shares and collaborates with other colleagues elevating teaching and learning across our campus. She is an asset to our school’s growth and success as a Leader in Me Lighthouse school. An outside the box thinker, she challenges herself and others to be the best every day.” ~ Principal Jennifer Robinson

Maricopa High School

Aidan Balt is an eight-year veteran at Maricopa High School. This year she is teaching ninth-grade Honors English Language Arts (ELA) and Advanced Placement (AP) Literature.

“Ms. Balt is a shining example of support and collaboration and shares her expertise with her peers as a mentor and master teacher.” ~ Principal Brian Winter

“I was in Ms. Balt’s class in my freshman year. She was the best teacher I had ever had and going to her class was the highlight of my day. I learned so much from her and gained my love of language in her class. Ms. Balt completely deserves this certification and I’m not at all surprised that she got it.” ~ Student Abby Poland

Jenn Miller has been committed to the district and MHS for 16 years. This year, she is teaching English 2 Honors and is a mentor and master teacher. Mrs. Miller is also a favorite of her students, and they lined up to share what she means to them:

“The best thing that Mrs. J. Miller has done for me is that she helped me accomplish my goals of becoming a better writer and reader in my life.” ~ Alana Daniels

 “I have never had a teacher like her (in a good way) and I absolutely love being in her class. She is an amazing teacher. I learn something new every day, and not just about English. I feel privileged to be in her class.” ~ Abby Poland

“The best thing about Ms. Miller is her sole dedication to seeing every child succeed in her class. She will look over the need of the student and help them individually to make certain that they do their best.” ~ Hannah W. Paul Gindiri

“The best thing about J. Miller is that there was never a moment where I didn’t think she cared. There was never a moment that I thought I wasn’t good enough to be in her class. Even when I would get the slightest bit of doubt, she would tell me that I was enough. She never let me question myself. That’s what the best thing about J. Miller is.” ~ Hannah Bailey

Katherine Persitz has been a mainstay of Maricopa High School and the district for the past nine years. She teaches 11th and 12th grade ELA and Journalism and is an Arizona Master Teacher as well. You can tell she is making a positive impact on her students.

“Ms. Persitz impacted my education by really giving me the feeling that she cares about not only me but all of her students, and our personal lives.” ~ Bryce Wildermuth

 “The best thing about Ms. Persitz is that she is always so caring and willing to help students. I love Ms. Persitz!” ~ Chayla Holloway

Maricopa Wells Middle School

Treva Jenkins is a 12-year veteran teacher and has spent every year at Maricopa Wells.

“Ms. Jenkins is a long-time staff member at Maricopa Wells Middle School, a district mentor, and she runs our Panther Ambassador program here at Wells. Her experience and understanding of all students is a great example of how to be an excellent educator.” ~ Principal Thad Miller

Jennifer Cameron has been with MUSD for seven years and has called Maricopa Wells home for the last two.

“She is a district mentor who has an immense background in multiple areas of education. That experience and knowledge is what makes her so great for kids, while also being helpful to our entire staff here at Maricopa Wells Middle School.” ~ Principal Thad Miller

Jacqueline Hahn has been with the MUSD for six years and has been part of the Maricopa Wells team for the last two.

“Mrs. Hahn is a part of our Leadership Team here at Maricopa Wells, while still heading up our Site Council committee on campus. Her educational and real-life experience allows her to apply those concepts in everyday practice for her students.” ~ Principal Thad Miller

Pima Butte Elementary

Shelly Fisher has been an MUSD teacher 13 years and a teacher at Pima Butte for 12 years. Mrs. Fisher teaches third grade; however, she’s also taught first grade and second grade, too.

“I appreciate Mrs. Fisher’s dedication and commitment to do the best job teaching each and every day. Mrs. Fisher has high expectations for all of her students and strives to see that each student in her classroom succeeds.” – Principal Randy Lazar

Staci Oliver has been a teacher for the Maricopa Unified School District for 12 years and joined the Pima Butte family 11 years ago. Mrs. Oliver teaches third grade and previously taught fourth grade.

“Mrs. Oliver praises her students often for a job well done and encourages her students to praise each other. She ensures that her students are engaged in her lessons and when she notices that a student may need more direct guidance and support, she takes the time to get a student back on track.” – Principal Randy Lazar

This story appears in the January issue of InMaricopa.

John Reese takes his trophy for winning the 2019 MUSD Spelling Bee. Photo by Jim Headley


It took nine rounds but John Reese, a student at Desert Wind Middle School, won the 2019 Maricopa Unified School District with the word “Adios.”

Reese was locked in a head-to-head battle with Tyron Davis of Santa Rosa Elementary through six words at the end of the spelling bee after 16 of the 18 participants were knocked out.

Davis misspelled “diagnosis” while Reese took control by spelling it correctly and then sealed the deal by spelling “adios.”

As the two went into the final rounds against each other, Reese was getting a little nervous. At one point he was nervously smiling and crossing his fingers for luck.

“I just wanted to spell the word,” he said.

At Desert Wind, he was the second-place speller and is now the district competition.

He said he thought it was kind of funny to win on the word adios.

“It was like, goodbye, I won!” he said. He thanked his parents for “telling me to study.”

Second place was captured by Davis while Bella Hennings was third place. All three may now participate in the county spelling bee.

Students from the six elementary schools and the two junior high schools participate in the district spelling bee. This is the first year in quite a while that third graders have been allowed to participate. Students up to eighth grade can compete in the bee.

Judges for the event were Jim Irving, Talitha Martian and David Warren. Torri Anderson was the pronouncer for the event.

Other students participating in the district spelling bee Tuesday evening were Baltej Beemat, Lillian Judd, Dante Flores, Andrew Schrader, Shavonda Jones, Carter Hill, Kaylin Grimm, Lilly Mather, Kimora Holloway, Robert Lyndell-Less, Aubrey Bradshaw, Kaleb deGruyter, Dominic Buttafucco, Ronin Spaulding and Parker Girouard.

Teens who need help putting together a resume in preparation for a job interview are invited to a free event Tuesday evening.

Maricopa Youth Council is hosting the Resume Writing Workshop at Copper Sky in Multipurpose Room A from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. Focused on career prep, the workshop will cover best practices in writing a resume and offer interview tips. There will be pizza and drinks.

The event is free.

Below, Youth Council members Ariana Vaida and Hannah Paul Gindiri created an invitation video with classmate Erin Hildick and World History teacher Tyler Miller (posing as a sophomore):



Maricopa High School is over capacity and getting newly enrolled students every week, which forcing MUSD to consider its options for building a second high school. Photo by Jim Headley

With a high school already more than 200 students over capacity, Maricopa Unified School District is making moves for short-term solutions while weighing options for the long term.

In a special meeting Wednesday, the governing board approved placing eight almost-new portable buildings on the east side of campus to accommodate 16 classrooms. The plan is to place four or more portables on a strip of land between the baseball and softball fields and the others in the north section of the parking lot next to the band room. As planned, the portables would take up about 24 parking spaces that are rarely used.

The governing board followed the recommendation of Principal Brian Winter and rejected an option that would have placed all the portables in the stadium parking lot, a plan that would have discarded 82 parking spaces heavily used during events.

The main purpose of the special capital-improvements meeting, however, was looking at the needs in space and upkeep for the entire district. According to Winter, the high school already has enrollment of more than 2,330.

Mark Rafferty, a partner at Facility Management Group, said the demographic projections for the high school are “astonishing.”

“We see a high school population growing by 1,600 students in the next six years,” he said.

Rafferty presented the needs and estimated costs of changes needed around the district as MUSD creates its capital improvement master plan. He said a second high school is a necessity.

“If you put a shovel in the ground tomorrow, you’ll only be a year behind,” he said.

Main capital costs

  • $83 million – Construction/property purchase for a second high school
  • $24 million – “life cycle” maintenance projects over six years, such as replacing HVAC, roofing, weather proofing, carpeting, asphalt to correct normal wear and tear at existing facilities
  • $14.5 million – Energy-conservation projects such as LED lighting district-wide, solar shading devices and energy management system for HVAC
  • $11 million – a rough estimate for technology projects district-wide
  • $9.6 million for additional activity rooms at six elementary schools, a need universally expressed by principals.
  • $3.2 million – Transportation upgrades of six new buses and two white fleet vans every two years for six years

The estimated total for capital projects is $148 million.

However, board member Patti Coutre said the technology portion did not take into account the current inventory is new, paid for by override funds.

“The override moneys are not figured in that estimate,” she said.

Rafferty said cutting some planned facilities from the new high school costs could get the total to $98 million, and having all new technology paid for by the override could move it closer to $75.

Don Brubaker, principal architect at One Architecture, said a new high school campus would require 65-80 acres. He said a “starter” high school had to have at least space to accommodate teaching, but support space like a cafeteria, gyms and arts programs could be compromised.

Board member Torri Anderson said she did not think two schools sharing some facilities would be viable.

“Our current facilities aren’t going to support another group of students,” she said. “I just don’t see both high schools being able to utilize the current high school facilities as far as for sports, band, that sort of thing. I think it’s unrealistic for us to just go with a starter high school.”

“You’ll need a piece of property that will accommodate the ultimate growth,” Brubaker said.

Rafferty said Arizona School Facilities Board was already looking at the numbers for Maricopa High School because of the profound rate of growth projections. SFB has asked the Legislature for at least partial funding for school space ($22.5 million) and school land ($3 million).

The district also has to consider the shrinking capacity at its two middle schools, especially Desert Wind. Since sixth grade was moved out of the elementary schools to the middle schools, Desert Wind and Maricopa Wells have been full while most of the elementary campuses are below capacity. If the option of moving sixth grade back to elementary is eliminated, the district may have to consider a third middle school soon.

The study of the capital improvement situation has been ongoing the past five months as MUSD officials consider asking taxpayers for a bond on the November ballot. At the next regular meeting of the board Jan. 23, Superintendent Tracey Lopeman is asking to work with consultants on a bond-election plan. (The board will also consider selling vacant land it owns.) Rafferty said even if a bond election were successful it would take up to three years to reach a date of occupancy in a new high school. But the necessity of another high school was not a point of debate.

“At the very least,” said board member Joshua Judd, “we see from the demographic information, that is something we clearly cannot do without.”

Murray Siegel

By Murray Siegel

In October, Arizona Department of Education released school letter grades. Three Maricopa schools received the highest grade of A: Legacy Traditional, Pima Butte Elementary School and Butterfield Elementary School, the latter two being Maricopa Unified School District schools.

Butterfield reached the A grade after having been a C school last year. What does it take to obtain the A grade?

Principal Janel Hildick said there were many contributing factors, including:

– A new math curriculum

– Override funds, which reduced class size

– An advanced fifth-grade math class

– An on-site school counselor

– The implementation of the PBIS Program to reduce discipline issues and keep children in classrooms learning

With these important tools, teachers could enhance student learning in English Language Arts, math and science. The school received 49.3 out of 50 points in the student-growth evaluation.

I sought reaction from Butterfield parents and faculty. One parent replied three of her children had attended Butterfield with one currently in fourth grade.

“For the last 10 years we have had the joy of watching Butterfield grow, change and excel,” she said. “The teachers we have had along the way have such a connection and personal interest in our children. Their passion and dedication prove their desire to see the student succeed.”

One teacher, who is the parent of three Butterfield students, said, “As a parent, you want the best for your children, and Butterfield has now officially proven what we have always felt about the school, which is that it provides an outstanding education for its students. I have so much invested in this school and we as a staff have worked so hard to achieve this kind of success. I know that my children are getting the absolute best education possible at Butterfield and It is a privilege to be a teacher there.”

Another teacher, who has one son at Butterfield and another in middle school, wrote, “The staff and students at the school are some of the most incredible people in Maricopa.”

She and her husband, both actively involved at the school, are proud to be Butterfield parents. Another teacher who is the parent of a third grader and whose daughter is at the middle school, responded, “I know that my child is more than just a number on a test; he is a student that deserves every opportunity to succeed. As a parent, I can’t picture my child at a better school. I am proud of what the staff and students have accomplished.”

One more Butterfield parent said she had a daughter at Butterfield in third grade and another daughter now at middle school. She wrote, “I didn’t need a grade to know how wonderful the faculty and staff were.”

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

This column appears in the January issue of InMaricopa.

The Maricopa Unified School District has officially begun their recruitment efforts for the upcoming school year.

The District will be recruiting for both classified and certified staff members to join their team.  The District is asking for support from the community and encouraging all internal and external stakeholders to share the news with family, friends, and professional acquaintances.  As part of this effort, the District will be hosting a Job Fair on Saturday, Jan. 26, at the district’s Administrative Office Building, 44150 W. Maricopa-Casa Grande Highway in Maricopa from 10 a.m. until 2 p.m.

Administrators and supervisors will be present to discuss opportunities and also to conduct interviews for the projected openings.  Interested candidates should access the District’s online application at https://musd20.tedk12.com/hire/index.aspx and complete the appropriate application prior to the Job Fair.

For more information about career opportunities with the Maricopa Unified School District please call 520-568-5100 or visit the District’s website at www.maricopausd.org.

A full-day, 6 a.m-6 p.m. preschool is in the works at MUSD.

Arizona Department of Health Services lists four operating preschools that are state-licensed to teach ages 3-4. Maricopa Unified School District wants to expand that.

MUSD started its strategic planning in August, and administration wants to have its state licensure for a full-day preschool by Feb. 1.

The district currently has a preschool at Saddleback Elementary School. It has been preparation for the larger program.

“I’m so, so excited that all the sudden something is happening,” said Pat Wilson, preschool teacher at Saddleback, who has been advocating for a full-time program.

“My hope is that this will be able to morph into a young-5’s program for those kindergarteners who are just on the cusp, that aren’t ready for kindergarten,” said MUSD Governing Board member Patti Coutré. “So then we’d have a young-5’s program so parents don’t have to pay the tuition.”

The governing board received an update on the development of the preschool at its Wednesday meeting.

“We want every student to dream, learn and become. In a practical sense, when they graduate high school, they need to be able to create, innovate, lead and succeed,” Superintendent Tracey Lopeman said. “Realizing that outcome begins in preschool.”

Krista Roden, director of Teaching & Learning, said the Preschool Planning Committee researched the community, made comparisons in other districts and surveyed Maricopa parent on whether a full-time preschool was needed.

The survey came back “overwhelmingly yes,” Roden said.

Krista Roden

The committee worked through class space, food service and curriculum as it executed a state checklist.

“With that we know that we need to have some remodeling,” Roden said. “Very minimal. Along with that, we’re going to be doing some recruiting with [Human Resources Director Tom] Beckett coming up in January.

The district is hosting a Job Fair Jan. 26.

The plan is have a state walk-through in June in order to have three classrooms open for the new school starting in July.

The full-day program, which combines with child-care wrap-around from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m., is for preschoolers ages 3 and 4 to be taught by highly certified teachers with both elementary certifications and early-education endorsements.

“It’s very, very important for us,” Roden said. “That kind of sets us ahead of the state with everyone else.”

The program expects to tout STEM activities, social development and emotional development.

“Competitive pricing is one of our sales points, as well,” Roden said, saying there are subsidies to help parents with financing.

Wilson cited early findings of an ongoing Harvard University early-learning study showing preschool leads to “greater cognitive abilities, better impulse control, more sociability.”

She also said it was early intervention for special education and drop-out rates.

“One of the charter schools has already jumped on board with this, she said, “and we need to get in the game immediately so we don’t lose any more students to any other school, including charter schools.

This week, Maricopa Unified School District rolled out a new safety alert system district-wide.  SafeSchools Alert is a tip reporting service designed to give students, parents, and employees easy ways to report any concerns that may need to be addressed by school leaders.

The tip reporting service allows students, staff, and parents to submit safety concerns by:

APP: Search for “SafeSchools Alert” in the App Store to download for free
PHONE: 833-284-6770
TEXT: 833-284-6770
EMAIL: 1679@alert1.us
WEB: http://1679.alert1.us

Users can easily report tips on bullying, harassment, drugs, vandalism, threats of violence, or any safety issue they are concerned about at MUSD schools.  When users submit tips, they are asked to reference the district’s unique identification code, 1679, to ensure the message is routed to the district’s account.

Every tip SafeSchools Alert receives is immediately logged in the system and a school administrator is notified so they can take appropriate action.  Tips may also be submitted anonymously, if the reporting party prefers.

Former MUD Business Services Director Aron Rausch


After a decade as Business Services director of Maricopa Unified School District, Aron Rausch abruptly resigned this month to go into retirement.

Rausch, who was hired by MUSD in 2008, dated his resignation Dec. 12 to go into effect Dec. 19, the day of the most recent board meeting and before the end of the semester.

MUSD spokesperson Mishell Terry said Wednesday an interim director had not yet been chosen. Rausch said he did not suggest a name for his temporary replacement.

“That’s up to the leadership that’s there,” he said.

Friday, the district posted an immediate opening for the position. The salary range is $78,750-$102,751.

Rausch said he and his wife Becky wanted to spend more time with their daughters and grandchildren, who live in the north Valley. “We had been planning this for a couple of years. I’m excited.”

In his resignation letter addressed to Board President AnnaMarie Knorr, Rausch also said he wanted more time for “woodworking, attending sporting events, hiking and volunteering, and of course maybe a little bit more time chasing the white ball around the golf course.” The two-page letter touted the long list of accomplishments of the finance department during his tenure.

Rausch is a lifetime member of Rotarians International. Thursday, he said he fully expects to continue that community service, but “we’ll see if we stay in Maricopa.”

His wife is an academic coach at Butterfield Elementary School.

Rausch’s departure was part of a personnel schedule on Wednesday’s agenda. He was not in attendance. Knorr gave the board the uncommon reminder to not speak of any listed employ by name but rather by number. Board members approved the schedule without comment.

Thursday, already out of town, Rausch said he might take part-time work in the future but described his departure from MUSD duties as “divorcing” himself from the district.

Rausch has been a chief finance officer under various titles and at various locations for 28 years. He was an auditor for nine years in Washington state. He was CFO of schools for 16 years, including the Walla Walla School District.

He left Walla Walla after not seeing eye-to-eye with a new superintendent and started as business director for MUSD in the middle of the semester. He was the district’s seventh business manager in five years.

MUSD earned awards from the Government Finance Officers Associations and Arizona Association of School Business Officials for each of the past 10 years.


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Eleven MUSD teachers achieved National Board certification, the most of any district in the state for 2018. Submitted photo

The Maricopa Unified School District leads the state in the number of new National Board Certified Teachers. Of Arizona’s 87 new NBCTs, 11 of them call Maricopa Unified home. Often referred to as the “gold standard” of achievement, NBCT certification asks educators to demonstrate standards-based evidence of the dynamic instruction that takes place in their classrooms. Teachers spend time evaluating their own instructional strategies and work purposely to adjust their practices to better meet the needs of their students.

Learn more about these MUSD teachers in the upcoming January issue of InMaricopa Magazine.

MUSD’s newest National Board Certified Teachers are:

Inez Ramirez
Grade 1 ELL
Butterfield Elementary School

Taryn Cummings
Grade 5 Teacher
Maricopa Elementary School

Janet Stensgaard
Instructional Coach
Maricopa Elementary School

Aidan Balt
English Teacher / Master Teacher
Maricopa High School

Jennifer Miller
English Teacher / Master Teacher
Maricopa High School

Katherine Persitz
English Teacher / Master Teacher
Maricopa High School

Jennifer Cameron
Grade 6 ELA Blended Learning
Maricopa Wells Middle School

Jackie Hahn
Grade 6 Math Blended Learning
Maricopa Wells Middle School

Treva Jenkins
Mentor Teacher
Maricopa Wells Middle School

Shelley Fisher
Grade 3
Pima Butte Elementary School

Staci Oliver
Grade 3
Pima Butte Elementary School

MUSD was in a 2-year partnership with the National Board for Professional Teaching to increase the number of Board Certified teachers. Research shows that National Board Certified teachers have a greater impact on student learning and achievement with their scholars outperforming their peers in other classrooms.  With their students in mind, MUSD teachers took action to further their growth and knowledge through this self-reflective certification process.

National Board Certification is a one-to five-year process that includes taking an assessment and assembling three portfolios. According to the NBPTS, completing the certification shows that each teacher knows and practices “the definitive standards of accomplished teaching.”

Certification consists of four components:

  1.    An assessment of the teacher’s content knowledge.
  2.    A portfolio showcasing student work samples and how the teacher provides feedback and reflects on student learning.
  3.    Two videos of the teacher in the classroom, showing lessons taught and the interaction with and among students demonstrating the depth of teaching and learning.
  4.    A portfolio of “reflective” work demonstrating what the teacher does outside the classroom that translates in the classroom, from collaboration to using assessments to inform instruction and learning.

National Board Certification is an investment in our teachers and our students. Earning Board Certification allows teachers to hone their practice, demonstrate their professional knowledge and reinforce their dedication to their students and their career.


Murray Siegel

By Murray Siegel

Each school-day morning, a bevy of yellow school buses head north on State Route 347.

These are not Maricopa district (MUSD) buses taking students on field trips or to competitions. These buses are taking more than 1,000 Maricopa children to schools in Phoenix and Tempe. Each child represents a loss of $4,199 per year from the state, and since these students live in homes where education is important, it is reasonable to assume their attendance at MUSD schools would raise test scores.

The time devoted to travel could be used for more productive activities than sitting on a school bus. Given the distance from school to home, are these students restricted in the after-school activities in which they can participate? Why would parents subject their children to these limitations? When asked, parents mention special programs available at the Kyrene and Tempe schools, programs funded by the many overrides passed by voters in these districts, unlike most of the recent override attempts in Maricopa.

I personally have observed at a number of MUSD schools and have seen exceptional classroom teachers. The award-winning middle school blended-learning program and the investigation of rocketry at Butterfield Elementary School have been highlighted. Did folks take notice of the improvements occurring in our schools? InMaricopa, online and in print, has covered recognition received by MUSD schools and personnel. Do the citizens of our city (including the parents of the bused students) read these articles and see all the significant accomplishments of MUSD schools?

I would ask you, the reader, to take one of two actions. If you are a parent whose child rides the bus to Kyrene or Tempe, please contact me at siegel.educ@gmail.com and answer two questions: Why do you send your child on the bus to Kyrene or Tempe? Also, what should MUSD do to allow you to consider having your child attend school here?

If you are a parent of an MUSD child or are a volunteer in an MUSD school, write and tell me what you have observed that makes you believe there are some excellent personnel in MUSD schools and that MUSD students are receiving an exceptional education. The results will appear in a future column.

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

This column appears in the December issue of InMaricopa.

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Gabriella Fisher (MUSD photo)

As far as Desert Wind seventh-grade Blended Learning student Gabriella Fisher can remember, her mind was “constantly swimming with all sorts of stories and ideas.” She had notebooks full of her short stories and she enjoyed sharing them with her friends.

“It’s always been a struggle for me to remain in reality, but in my writing I can go anywhere I want,” she said.

As a fifth grader in the Maricopa Unified School District at Pima Butte Elementary School,  she started writing a story called “Inferious” one day when her class had a substitute teacher. The story was “mainly about a high school girl who gets captured by a secret organization known as Covax and discovers that there is an entire other world that she never even knew about, filled with demons, magic, and adventure. She meets all of these new people, good and bad, and for a long time she struggles to decide who she can trust, especially after learning about her true identity.”

She stated, “I passed it around to some of my friends and before long nearly everyone in class was bugging me for the next chapter.”

Even with her dozens of ideas and countless short stories, “Inferious” became popular and really stuck out as something that she should continue to write.

Writing the rest of the story took another year and a half, but, according to Gabriella, that was the easy part. “Once you get writing it is the best feeling in the world. My fingers just fly across the keyboard as I get to watch the story come to life.”

Editing, publishing and marketing “Inferious” followed. That process was stressful for Gabriella and not nearly as fun as writing. The final step was coming up with the pen name, R.J. Carestia.

“R.J. stands for Riley Joanne, which was the name of a character in one of my very first short stories about a published author who was 13. Carestia is my family name on my mom’s side, my great-grandma’s maiden name.”

“Inferious” was officially published on Dec. 1. It is available to download on Kindle for $2.99 and the paperback version can be purchased on Amazon for $12.95.

Maricopa High School and Desert Wind Middle School choirs performed a winter concert Thursday to a packed house at the Performing Arts Center.

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David Onquit gets the advantage in Wednesday's dual meet. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Maricopa High School varsity and junior varsity wrestling hosted Sierra Linda and North Canyon in a dual meet Wednesday and came out ahead.

Both Rams who faced two opponents had a split night. In the 160-pound class, senior David Onquit led his North Canyon opponent until he was suddenly pinned with just 6 seconds left. He turned around to defeat his Sierra Linda opponent by decision.

Hunter Taylor also lost to North Canyon but took down his Sierra Linda opponent in the 182-pound class.

Also posting wins for Maricopa were Esteban Santillan by fall (120 pounds), Jonathan Childers by fall (126), Reed Colton by fall (132), Matthew Blodgett by decision (138), Patrick Garcia by major decision (145), Connor Paine by fall (152), Nicholas Mooney by fall (170) and Jaikub Cook by fall (220).

The Rams finished ahead of Sierra Linda 58-15 and North Canyon 60-18.

It’s not unusual for a large corporation to experience technical difficulties, but the communication issues at Maricopa Unified School District this week had a dark source.

“We noticed extreme spikes of data usage and pockets of data being dropped onto our network with traffic that was not supposed to be there,” district spokesperson Mishell Terry said.

Schools reported intermittent phone and Internet outages, and the tech department monitored network traffic to find the hack. The intrusion affected communications district-wide.

By Thursday, the Internet was running again but the district was still troubleshooting issues with the phones.

“CenturyLink teamed with our technology crew to make network changes in order to block the attack,” Terry said. “There are still some glitches in our phone lines due to the changes to our network.”

The source of the hack?

“We haven’t identified the software used for the attack.”

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Band seniors get a selfie with director Ivan Pour at the end of the concert. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Maricopa High School’s bands performed the annual Pass in Review concert, featuring symphony, chamber orchestra and marching band playing music from their competitions this semester and tunes of the season. The department also honored its senior performers.

Pima Butte Elementary is again an A-rated school. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

They don’t just teach students.

How did they do that?

Butterfield Elementary’s successful strategy to rise from a C to an A school:

  • Revamp the master schedule
  • Use data results to set grade-level and school-wide goals
  • Use results-based funding to equip third-, fourth- and fifth-grade students with 1-to-1 laptops
  • Reconfigure classes to better prepare students

Learn more about Butterfield’s turnaround in the next issue of InMaricopa.

Maricopa’s A-rated elementary schools can teach other educators how to improve their schools.

Butterfield Elementary had the most dramatic improvement, moving from a C to an A. It is the first A-rating for the Maricopa Unified School District school. Butterfield was not a “bad” school a year ago. Superintendent Tracey Lopeman pointed out its C rating was just five points away from a B.

Similarly, other elementary schools in the district were only a few percentage points from the next grade up this year.

Maricopa Elementary was 0.5 from an A. Santa Rosa Elementary 0.89 away from an A. Santa Cruz Elementary was 1.88 away from an A. Saddleback Elementary was less than 3 points from a B.

“I think the district as a whole is really doing well,” said Betty Graham, who teaches fourth grade at Pima Butte Elementary. “They’re working wonders, going up and up and up.”

Pima Butte, like the high-achieving charter school Legacy Traditional, is more old-hat at receiving A ratings, but it had to rise above a B last year after missing an A by just 4 percentage points through the more demanding AzMerit test. With ratings reliant on results of AzMerit, there was a lot of pressure on third, fourth and fifth grade students and their teachers.

“That A rating didn’t come easy,” PBES Principal Randy Lazar said. “It was a lot of hard work on behalf of our teaching team as well as the assistants with our students and also the support of our parents. It was a collective effort by our entire team.”

“We prepare with our rigorous curriculum each and every day in preparation for the big event,” said fifth-grade teacher Jessica Ansley.

Lazar said a brand new language arts curriculum and a relatively new math curriculum have helped create a very comprehensive academic experience and prepare the students for AzMerit or any other test.

Pima Butte was an A-rated school before there was an A rating. The state’s first rating system gauged schools on whether they met or exceeded the standard. PBES was an “excelling” school. When the grade ratings began, eyes lit up on campus.

“We were going to get an A, I remember that,” Graham said. “That’s what was on our minds, the kids’ minds, everybody’s mind. We were going to do it. They had an A; we were going to get it.”

Ansley called it teaching vigorously bell to bell.

At Pima Butte that means “lots of repetition,” third-grade teacher Denise Palmer said. “There’s no down-time, really. Coming from second to third grade is a big transition for these kids, so from the first day in, we’re hitting the ground running.”

The students do hit the books, but they also experiment with what they’ve learned in the classroom through hands-on activities. Positive reinforcement works wonders in galvanizing students to achieve.

Lazar said his main advice for other Arizona elementary schools trying to rise to a higher grade is to focus on student growth.

“We get our test results from the spring and then look to see how did each student perform,” he said. “If we have students that scored minimally proficient, that’s the group you want to put a lot of attention on the next school year. The way the state calculates the letter grade is when you have kids grow. It’s a growth model as far as earning the points.”

Meanwhile, he said, it is also important to maintain kids who are already at proficient or highly proficient.

A voter-approved override helped fund carts of technology in Netbooks and Chromebooks. The new equipment allowed the students to get more practice in the basic use of a computer. Lazar said that is key when taking the online-based AzMerit.

“Our whole focus last school year was just doing the best we could to prepare our third, fourth and fifth graders for AzMerit,” Lazar said. “Also what helped – AIMS Science, which is given in fourth grade, we were able to earn points for that, so that was factored in.”

There is also a lot of communication between teachers at different grade levels, Palmer said. Teachers share ideas that worked or didn’t work, they share information on the best approach for certain students, and they share ideas among campuses within the district.

Graham said she goes back to her students’ third-grade teachers to compare notes as a way to measure how students are progressing.

“And we’re very competitive, in a good way,” Graham said.

Pima Butte has approximately 465 students enrolled, about 100 of whom live outside the school’s boundaries. Because the override allowed the creation of new teaching positions, every classroom is in use.

MUSD Board Member Joshua Judd, a teacher in another district, said Pima Butte is the reason his children attend MUSD and are involved in Maricopa. “Pima Butte pulled my children into the city,” he said.

“We do what we need to do, and we do it in a fun and engaging way,” Ansley said.

There is no time for “filler.” Coloring days, extra recesses, non-curriculum videos – not at Pima Butte.

“My kids know,” Palmer said. “They will tell you, ‘Gotta do the work before we can have the fun.’ That’s the way it is. That’s how life is, isn’t it?”

This story appears in the December issue of InMaricopa.

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Three schools in Maricopa have earned A-ratings from the state as announced this fall, and other schools showed marked improvement.

Butterfield Elementary (MUSD)
Legacy Traditional School (charter)
Pima Butte Elementary (MUSD)

Leading Edge Academy (charter)
Maricopa Elementary School (MUSD)
Santa Cruz Elementary School (MUSD)
Santa Rosa Elementary School (MUSD)

Camino Montessori (charter – closed)
Desert Wind Middle School (MUSD)
Graysmark Schools (charter)
Maricopa High School (MUSD)
Maricopa Wells Middle School (MUSD)
Saddleback Elementary School (MUSD)
Sequoia Pathway Academy (charter)

Stanfield Elementary School (SED)


A = Excellent: Distinguished performance on the statewide assessment, significant student growth, high four-year graduation rates, students are on track to proficiency or overall performance is significantly higher than the state average.
B = Highly Performing: High performance on statewide assessments and/or significant student growth and/or higher four-year graduation rates and/or moving students to proficiency at a higher rate than the state average.
C = Performing: Adequate performance but needs improvement on some indicators including proficiency, growth or graduation rate.
D = Minimally Performing: Inadequate performance in proficiency, growth and/or four-year graduation rate relative to the state average.
F = Systematic failures in proficiency, growth and graduation rates and/or performance is in bottom 5 percent of the state.

“We are excited to earn an A rating for our wonderful school. This A rating represents the dedication and care of each and every one of our staff and our students’ hard work. I am so proud and excited for our students, staff and community to have another A school in Maricopa.” – Butterfield Elementary School Principal Janel Hildick

“Pima Butte is ecstatic about receiving the 2018 ‘A’ rating. This achievement was due to the tireless effort and dedication of our teachers, the hard work of our students and the support of our families. We are extremely proud of this recognition.” – Pima Butte Elementary Principal Randy Lazar


Sequoia Pathway Academy          0.18%
Desert Wind Middle School        0.69%
Maricopa Wells Middle School   2.58%
Maricopa High School                  4.51%

Percent graduating in four years from Maricopa High School and Sequoia Pathway Academy

MHS                      SPA
                                                                 350 Grads             97 Grads
Total                                                          76%                        97%
Economically Disadvantaged               77%                        96%
Male                                                           71%                        97%
Female                                                       81%                       96%
White                                                         81%                        94%
Hispanic                                                    80%                       100%
African-American                                   65%                        *
Native American                                     54%                        *
Asian                                                          73%                        *

*Sample size too small

Source: AZED Oct. 5

This information appears in the November issue of InMaricopa.

Butterfield Elementary showed off its new banner designating it as an A-rated school. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

How did they do that?

Butterfield Elementary’s successful strategy to rise from a C to an A school:
*  Revamp the master schedule
*  Use data results to set grade-level and school-wide goals
*  Use results-based funding to equip third through fifth grade students with 1-to-1 laptops
*  Reconfigure classes to better prepare students

Arizona Department of Education announced school letter grades during Fall Break at Maricopa Unified School District. For at least two campuses, that resulted in a buzz of emails, texts and phone calls to make sure everyone heard the news they had achieved the top rating.

Pima Butte and Butterfield elementary schools were given A ratings. Wednesday, the district and governing board formally recognized their achievement during a board meeting.

Butterfield Elementary had the most dramatic improvement, moving from a C to an A. It is the first A-rating for the school. To be sure, Butterfield was not a “bad” school a year ago. Superintendent Tracey Lopeman pointed out its previous C rating was just five points away from a B.

Similarly, other elementary schools in the district were only a few percentage points from the next grade up this year.

Maricopa Elementary, which achieved Lighthouse status, was 0.5 from an A. Santa Rosa Elementary 0.89 away from an A. Santa Cruz Elementary was 1.88 away from an A. The only MUSD elementary with a C, Saddleback Elementary was less than 3 points from a B.

“I think the district as a whole is really doing well,” said Betty Graham, who teaches fourth grade at Pima Butte Elementary. “They’re working wonders, going up and up and up.”

Pima Butte, like the high achieving charter school Legacy Traditional, is more old-hat at receiving A ratings, but it had to rise above a B last year after missing an A by just 4 percentage points. With ratings reliant on results of the AzMerit testing, there was a lot of pressure on third, fourth and fifth grade students and their teachers.

“That A rating didn’t come easy,” PBES Principal Randy Lazar said. “It was a lot of hard work on behalf of our teaching team as well as the assistants with our students and also the support of our parents. It was a collective effort by our entire team.”

Lazar said his main advice for other Arizona elementary schools trying to rise to a higher grade is to focus on student growth.

“We get our test results from the spring and then look to see how did each student perform,” he said. “If we have students that scored minimally proficient, that’s the group you want to put a lot of attention on the next school year. The way the state calculates the letter grade is when you have kids grow. It’s a growth model as far as earning the points.”

Butterfield Principal Janel Hildick expressed a similar sentiment for Wednesday’s honor.

“It’s not just about how many students are passing but how effective we are as teachers, how our students are growing. This year we scored 49.3 out of 50 possible points for growing our students.”

Teachers credited improvements to the voter-approved override, which allowed for more technology and more teachers to reduce class sizes. Funds helped buy carts of technology in Netbooks and Chromebooks. The new equipment allowed the students to get more practice in the basic use of a computer. Lazar said that is key when taking the online-based AzMerit, which is the state standard.

The district’s high school and two middle schools received C ratings.

Learn more about Pima Butte Elementary’s success strategy in the upcoming December issue of InMaricopa.

Pima Butte Elementary is again an A-rated school. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Roger Wagner directs music at Desert Wind Middle School. Photo by Kyle Norby


For Desert Wind Middle School music teacher Roger Wagner II, classes are about more than sick beats and woodwinds.

In addition to teaching kids how to play instruments and compose music using digital tools, Wagner II is also helping develop their social and life skills. For Wagner, who is also assistant marching band director at Maricopa High School, and his wife Michelle, music teacher at Legacy Traditional School, music is part of daily life.

Wagner received his bachelor’s degree in music from Grand Valley State University in Michigan and began teaching in Maricopa in 2013. At that time, Desert Winds had around 90 kids in band and orchestra. The school’s choir was defunct. Further, he learned many elementary schools in the Maricopa Unified School District didn’t have any music education.

“They could realistically could go K through 12 without having a music class,” Wagner said.

Wagner immediately set out to revamp the school’s music programming and restart its choir. He estimates more than 300 students now participate in the school’s band, orchestra and choir.

Working toward his master’s in music education from Arizona State University while teaching at Desert Wind, Wagner began developing his modern music class in 2014. The class gave him an opportunity to experiment with a new kind of music education for his students.

“When you get in your car and you flip on the radio, you’re probably not listening to concert band,” Wagner explained. “There’s a cognitive dissonance not only for me internally, but for the profession about what’s the future.”

Photo by Kyle Norby

Wagner happened to be in the right place at the right time and met the brand manager for Ableton Live, a company that produces tools for creating and arranging music digitally. At first just using Ableton’s software, which the company gave to him through an educational partnership, Wagner began creating a course that would help prepare students to create and play their own music.

“In music education, we call that [course] more of a music industry sort of thing,” Wagner said. “What we’re working towards is having almost a little boutique record label.”

At first Wagner didn’t have instruments for the class, so he began by making instruments from reclaimed materials, what the unpretentious teacher preferred to call “trash.” Eventually, he was able to secure a number of guitars from a tax credit and later ukuleles as well. After reducing the class size slightly, he had enough instruments for each student.

“I’ve seen him grow that program considerably since he’s been here with the integration of technology,” said Desert Wind Principal June Celaya. “I think some of that is because he uses some really cool assessment approaches so that kids can really evaluate their own personal growth with it and how they’re playing.”

Celaya noted Wagner has also been very successful in engaging the community by partnering with ASU, CenturyLink and others. He also worked to integrate school music more deeply into Maricopa, helping make the band a fixture at parades and other public events.

Bella Ebner. Photo by Kyle Norby

While his integration of technology and contemporary music have done much to help him build his school’s music programing, his passion and humor are still key to his success as a teacher and music director.

“It’s really cool because he’ll use fun analogies when teaching us about intonation and notes and stuff like that,” said eighth grader Bella Ebner, who is also president of the school’s Band Club. “He just likes to make sure that we’re all on the same page and that we’re all getting better together.”

This story appears in the November issue of InMaricopa.

Photo by Kyle Norby
Photo by Kyle Norby