Tags Articles tagged with "MUSD"


Kenton Wilson (left) and Brady McMullen with their teachers. Submitted photos

Central Arizona College’s math department recently hosted the 2019 Middle School Math Contest at the San Tan Campus. More than 130 students from 13 schools throughout Pinal County participated.

From Maricopa Unified School District, Kenton Wilson of Desert Wind Middle School placed second in the individual competition. Brady McMullen of Maricopa Wells placed third. The top individual competitor was Logan Pflugfelder of J.O. Combs.

Two-person teams from San Tan Heights placed first and second in the team competition while J.O. Combs was third.

Combs placed first in the school rankings, followed by Circle Cross Ranch and San Tan Heights

Fifth-grader Max Gerena shakes hands with MUSD board members. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Maricopa Unified School District awarded its November spotlights to students, community members and staff during Wednesday’s meeting of the governing board.

Students honored were Abraham Hoopes, fourth grader at Butterfield Elementary, Max Gerena, fifth grader at Maricopa Elementary, Kendyll Raue, third grader at Pima Butte Elementary, Thonya Florez, first grader at Saddleback Elementary, Le’Neia Noreiga-Solig, third grader at Santa Cruz Elementary, Tayven Maybray, fourth grader at Santa Rosa Elementary, Elizabeth Coles, eighth grader at Desert Wind Middle School, Ashleymae Hulguin, seventh grader at Maricopa Wells Middle School, and Kanthikan Kanjana, senior at Maricopa High School.

Community members honored were Jennifer MacDonald, parent volunteer at Butterfield, Anna Schechenzubar, PTO member at Maricopa Elementary, Shawna Baca, parent volunteer at Pima Butte, Trisha Johnson, volunteer at Saddleback, Maegan Carter, business partner at Santa Cruz, Coree Adams, PTO president at Santa Rosa, Mike Pease, volunteer at Desert Wind, John and May Donohue, Kids Day Organizers at Maricopa Wells, and Elizabeth Witteman, parent volunteer and substitute at Maricopa High School.

Employees honored were Cindy Welch, second-grade teacher at Butterfield, Nancy Guggisberg, first-grade teacher at Maricopa Elementary, Tabri Hicks, first-grade teacher at Pima Butte, Sarah Rice, paraprofessional at Saddleback, Stephanie Arturet, third-grade teacher at Santa Cruz, Edith Martinez, administrative assistant at Santa Rosa, Misty McKenzie, bookstore and library assistant at Desert Wind, Jana Everett, administrative assistant at Maricopa Wells, Deana Paine, counselor at Maricopa High School, and Judy Valdez, substitute specialist and district receptionist.

Pima Butte Elementary School. Photo by Kyle Norby

One school in Maricopa Unified School District jumped a letter grade in the most recent assessment while another fell a letter grade.

The same phenomenon occurred among Maricopa’s charter schools, with a perennial A-lister falling a notch. Letter grades determined by the Arizona Department of Education are not yet final and can be appealed.

MUSD’s governing board will see a presentation on its results from the 2018-19 school year during Wednesday’s scheduled meeting at the district office.

Letter grades are determined by results of state testing as well as measurements of student growth in a variety of areas.

Pima Butte Elementary School, one of MUSD’s campuses in Rancho El Dorado, is an A+ school and, for now, is the only A-rated school in the city. Butterfield Elementary, which last year had climbed to an A from a C, now has a B.

Despite that, according to data from Principal Janel Hildick, Butterfield’s third and fifth graders saw more than 10-percent growth in English language arts (reading) proficiency. Math results decreased by 19.88 points among third and fourth graders.

Pima Butte, on the other hand, ranks 20th among the state’s more than 1,300 total points earned. Its math and reading passing percentages on AzMerit were among the top three in Pinal County.

Meanwhile, Saddleback Elementary, which had been MUSD’s only elementary school to receive a C for the 2017-18 school year, achieved a B this time around.

While all six of MUSD’s elementary schools are now A and B schools, its two middle schools and the high school remain C-rated.

Among the charters, Legacy Traditional School dropped from an A to a B, but still had among the county’s top AzMerit results. However, Sequoia Pathway Academy climbed from a C to a B. Leading Edge Academy maintained its B-rating.

Wednesday, MUSD Teaching and Learning Director Krista Roden and Assessment and Technology Director Dennis Koch will discuss the results with the district governing board. The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m.


Maricopa Schools                   2017/18                2018/19

Butterfield Elementary                 A                              B

Desert Wind Middle                      C                             C

Leading Edge Academy                B                             B

Legacy Traditional                         A                            B

Maricopa Elementary                   B                             B

Maricopa High School                  C                             C

Maricopa Wells Middle                C                             C

Pima Butte Elementary                A                             A

Saddleback Elementary               C                             B

Santa Cruz Elementary                B                             B

Santa Rosa Elementary                B                             B

Sequoia Pathway Academy          C                             B


Photos by Kyle Norby

Maricopa Unified School District hosted its annual Veterans Breakfast on Friday morning to showcase local veterans, especially those working or volunteering for the district. With breakfast catered by the culinary department, attendees sat in on a program that included Superintendent Tracey Lopeman expressing the district’s gratitude for those who served in the military.

Photo by Joycelyn Cabrera
MUSD Superintendent Tracey Lopeman

While most Valley schools seeking bonds, overrides and budget increases succeeded in Tuesday’s election, Maricopa Unified School District was not among them.

MUSD’s request for a capital-improvement bond was defeated 58%-42% according to the unofficial totals. It lost in 11 of the 12 reporting precincts.

“Prop 437 failed because the MUSD, an organization [whose] purpose is to educate, underestimated the intelligence of the voter, by presenting the taxpayer a financially irresponsible and uneducated proposition,” said Alan Marchione, one of the proposition’s most vocal opponents.

In a prepared statement, MUSD Superintendent Tracey Lopeman thanked all who exercised their right to vote and expressed appreciation for the 42% who supported the district’s cause.

The proposition was aimed to fund a comprehensive second high school for the district, something the state Legislature has proclaimed to be necessary. The school is 600 students over-capacity and using mobile classrooms to deal with the overflow.

“The City of Maricopa is exploding with growth, and, as a result, Maricopa Unified School District’s enrollment continues to rise,” Lopeman said. “Knowing that the state of Arizona does not provide adequate funding for districts to build new facilities or maintain existing facilities, districts throughout the state must rely on local community support to help provide funding to build much needed facilities, add safety upgrades, purchase school buses, and address lifecycle projects.”

Chandler Unified received approval for a bond with 62% of the vote. Deer Valley Unified voters approved a bond by 59% and an override by 51%. Gilbert Unified voters approved a bond (62%) and a budget increase (55%). Tempe Elementary District voters passed an override and a budget increase. Paradise Valley voters approved a bond and a budget increase. Scottsdale Unified voters approved the continuation of that district’s override.

Lopeman said the local vote did not change the needs at MUSD.

“Because the bond did not pass, we will continue to creatively manage overcrowding at the high school and will proceed with a scaled version of the plan to build a second high school using funds granted by the School Facilities Board,” she said.

That is a reference to more than $22 million the state Legislature approved to start another high school in MUSD. That deal also offers up to 40 acres of land if necessary.

“Maricopa Unified School District has an important role in educating the workforce for a city that is on the rise,” Lopeman said. “Our students deserve the support of the community and we will continue to seek the resources necessary to provide a first-class education.”

MUSD board members did not respond to requests for comment.

Early vote counts show the Maricopa Unified School District bond election failing by a 16-point margin.

MUSD Bond Early Vote Count 
YES 2,487
NO 3,444

The bond, aimed at building a second high school to relieve overcrowding at Maricopa High School, trailed in 12 of 14 precincts. The Province precinct, which includes The Lakes at Rancho El Dorado, was particularly opposed, with 63% voting against in the unofficial tallies.

For Pinal County schools seeking bonds, overrides and budget increases, it has been a mixed night.

Voters in Eloy turned down an override and in Florence and Apache Junction said no to budget increases. Apache Junction voters also denied a bond. However, school districts in Oracle and Ray received strong support for overrides and a bond. Coolidge Unified School District’s bond election is also ahead in a close early count.

While other district opted for a mail-in ballot, MUSD went with poll voting, which ended up primarily being early voting.

“The traditional election format was chosen to accommodate both voters who prefer mail-in options through early ballots, as well as those who enjoy the civic experience of voting in person on election day,” MUSD spokesperson Mishell Terry said.

Only the Ak-Chin Community precinct showed support for the MUSD bond, overwhelmingly so, with 93% of its participating voters (fewer than 50) voting in favor. That was wiped out by the Thunderbird Farms precinct, where 77% of voters said no.

The closest result so far is in the Santa Rosa precinct, where the bond is losing 53% to 47%.

The MUSD bond is for capital project, like a new school, buses and HVAC and roofing. The district received $23 million from the state to start a second high school when data showed MHS 600 students over-capacity.


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.

MUSD Superintendent Tracey Lopeman takes questions during a town hall on the bond election. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Resident JoAnne Miller said it was still all about the money.

Suspicious of Maricopa Unified School District and against Prop 437, the bond to build a second high school, she stayed through most of Tuesday’s town hall at MUSD to hear the presentation on the district’s needs. She remained unconvinced.

She said her taxes were already going up $50 next year for the school district.

“That’s a lot of freaking money because everybody else wants their two cents also,” Miller said. “The water department does, the electric does, [etc.]. So, giving it to the schools when I don’t see good management of the schools, it makes it very hard to say yes.”

She was one of a handful of residents amid several teachers and MUSD staff and elected officials at the town hall session. Superintendent Tracey Lopeman said she wished for a bigger turnout.

Lopeman explained the difference between an override and a bond election. In 2016 voters approved a seven-year override to lower class sizes and improve technology. The proposed bond for $68 million is primarily to construct a second high school, purchase land if needed and for capital projects like HVAC, buses and roofing.

Dan Cerkoney is a military veteran who moved to Maricopa in August. He said he is likely to vote no.

Cerkoney said he’s been catching up on the facts of the situation and the history of the district.

“We moved to Maricopa because it was a low-tax area,” he said. “I agree, I’ve looked at the schools and, yes, you need to do something. But I’ve also come from a district that they kept raising the tax. ‘We need it for better schools, better schools.’ And they went from $2,000, $3,000, $4,000 to $5,000 for my parents in their case.”

Cerkoney also warned the supporters against surrounding themselves with like-minded people to “feel good.”

“So, when you come across a guy like me, and I’m gonna ask you tough questions, you haven’t been prepared for it,” he said.

Ed Michael said he came from a school district in Wisconsin with the same issues of overcrowding that exist at Maricopa High School, which is 600 students overcapacity. A military veteran on a fixed income, he said he and his wife discussed the problem and the possible tax rates.

“I looked at her and I said, ‘Is Grace worth it?’” he said. “Grace is my granddaughter. She goes to school here in Maricopa. She’s worth it. Every one of my grandchildren is worth it.”

City Councilmember Rich Vitiello said it is also a matter of economic development. “We can’t bring businesses here if our school district isn’t at top-notch,” he said.

Lopeman said the $26 million the district received from SFB for the project is about a third of what is necessary for a “comprehensive” high school rather than a starter, “bare minimum” high school.

Cerkoney suggested the district reach out for more public-private relationships with major companies in the area like Nissan and Volkswagen.

Miller confronted Lopeman over the district’s past spending habits and future plans, including to improve the administration building. “When they built this, you didn’t consider maintenance, putting in new roofs down the road, insurance for that, whatever. That wasn’t considered?”

Lopeman said capital spending is limited by the School Facilities Board.

“We don’t have top-of-the-line HVAC units. We have what could be purchased with that SFB money,” Lopeman said.

Current enrollment in the district is around 7,200. It is projected to grow to at least 11,000 in eight years. When asked why the district didn’t recognize the population issue sooner and begun saving for bigger facility, Lopeman said the process of the state Legislature is to fund a year at a time and it would take 40 years to build up that kind of fund.

She said the high school would be able to manage for three years but the problem would only increase with time. If the bond does not pass this year, she said, a high school would still be built. “The scale in the first year will be impacted by whether this passes.”

See the full town hall

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

Some of the counselors at Maricopa Unified School District. Photo by Dawniele Castellanos

A counseling department plays a vital role in a school’s ability to meet the needs of all students. Maricopa Unified School District’s Counseling Department has grown to 16 full-time counselors, and Sequoia Pathway Academy has a counselor in its campus. Among them, they have earned more than 15 master’s degrees. MUSD is applying for the School Safety Grant through Arizona Department of Education to support future growth. MUSD has four guidance counselors, a mental health counselor, a college and career coordinator, an Ak-Chin advisor and an Exceptional Student Services counselor who serve the high school. There are four school counselors, an Ak-Chin advisor and an ESS counselor serving the middle schools, and three full-time elementary school counselors, an Ak-Chin advisor and an ESS counselor serving elementary schools. Four of the counselors hold clinical supervisor licensure through the Arizona Board of Behavioral Health.


Maricopa High School Counseling Department

Maricopa High School Counseling Department:
Seniors – Vanessa Stone. Photo by Dawniele Castellanos

Vanessa Stone (seniors)
Stone is a new addition to the counseling department at MHS. Stone received a Master of Science in clinical mental health counseling from Prescott College with a focus on ecopsychology and wilderness therapy, and bachelor’s degree in social work from Weber State University. Stone has a profound love and passion for people and connection with the natural world. Their prior work has included leading activity-based, adventure work and ecotherapy interventions with youth and adults in a variety of group settings. Outside work, Stone loves to spend time exploring with their dog, Xavier, rollerblading and swimming.

Maricopa High School Counseling Department: Juniors – Larry Veltrie. Photo by Dawniele Castellanos

Larry Veltrie (juniors)

“I have been privileged to have graduated almost 1,400 seniors in my 12 years here.” Veltrie received his B.A. at Eastern Washington University in Cheney, Washington, and a master’s degree from Whitworth University in Spokane.

Deana Paine (sophomores)

“I have been at Maricopa High School since 2012, starting as a math teacher before moving into the position of school counselor. I completed a BS in psychology at the University of Illinois, an M.S. in education and counseling psychology from the University of Kentucky and an M.S. in academic advising from Kansas State University. Married for 30 years, my husband and I have five children (including three MHS grads!) and one grandchild. I love baseball, travel, reading and spending time with my family and our dogs.”

Maricopa High School Counseling Department: Sophomores – Deana Paine. Photo by Dawniele Castellanos
Maricopa High School Counseling Department: Freshman – Mark Lavit. Photo by Dawniele Castellanos

Mark Lavit (freshmen)
“I have over 16 years of experience working in the behavioral health field and in education. I have worked in a variety of capacities, which include clinical supervisor, integrated care manager, rehabilitation counselor, case manager, high school guidance counselor and career counselor. I consider myself a lifelong learner and am currently seeking my doctoral degree in organizational leadership. When I am not working, I am usually with my two children, who are in third grade and kindergarten. We love taking road trips up north with our family dog and spending time with our horses.”

Maricopa High School Counseling Department: Ak-Chin – Teresa Valisto

Teresa Valisto (Ak-Chin students)
“I am a member of the Ak-Chin Indian Community. I am married to Benjamin Valisto, a member of the Tohono O’odham Nation. Our two daughters and I are graduates of MHS. I have been working as the Ak-Chin Student counselor 23 years. I started working in 1996 and have seen many changes over the years. I am here to assist students and the staff so that our students can be more successful in their education. I enjoy my job working with the students of the Ak-Chin Indian Community. They are like my own children and I am here for them.”

Maricopa High School Counseling Department: College and Career Coordinator – Bernadette Russoniello. Photo by Dawniele Castellanos

Bernadette Russoniello (College and Career coordinator)

“Serving at MHS 18 years, I am excited by my current role in advising students on opportunities beyond high school and organizing impactful events and experiences for college and career. I attended Arizona State University’s Barrett Honors College attaining concurrent degrees in English and history, a post-baccalaureate in secondary education, and an M.Ed. in curriculum design and instruction, in addition to an M.Ed. in educational leadership from Northern Arizona University. My years as an educator have taught me learning never stops, education and knowledge cannot be static, and a professional community of support is essential for success.”

Maricopa High School Counseling Department: Mental Health Counselor – Lynette Nelson. Photo by Dawniele Castellanos

Lynette Nelson (Mental Health)

“Originally from New Jersey, I have lived in Idaho, Washington, Colorado, Wisconsin and Korea. I have a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s in counseling from Arizona State University and a master’s in public administration from the University of Colorado. I have worked with children and families over 30 years. My husband and I have six children and five grandchildren. I love to travel, make jewelry and play with Peaches, my 4-year-old pug. I have a passion for supporting young people and am thrilled to be here at Maricopa High School.”

Maricopa High School Counseling Department: Exceptional Student Services Counselor – Amber Liermann. Photo by Dawniele Castellanos

Amber Liermann (Exceptional Student Services)
“This is my 16th year here at MUSD as an ESS counselor. My favorite part of my job is seeing students achieve their goals. I live in Maricopa and have three children attending MUSD. I am a foster parent and have positive relationships with community agencies. In my free time I enjoy working out at the gym and riding my motorcycle.”

Sequoia Pathway Academy Counseling: Rebecca Collins

Sequoia Pathway Academy

Rebecca Collins

“I have been a school counselor seven years and currently, for the past two years, have worked at Sequoia Pathway. I have three children – a senior, a sophomore and a seventh grader. My family has been in Maricopa 13 years, and I’ve been married for 20 years. I love our community and I am grateful every day that I get the opportunity to work with the students of Maricopa.”


Maricopa Wells Middle School

Laura Lopez

“I was born and raised in Phoenix. I began my journey as a school counselor in 2011 at Maricopa Wells. I have a bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University in social work and a master’s degree in education – school counseling from Ottawa University. I enjoy working with students and their families. My husband Rodolfo Lopez and I welcomed our beautiful daughter, Isabel, in 2017. She definitely keeps us busy. We love traveling and spending time in the Bay Area visiting family when we get the chance.”

Maricopa Wells Middle School: Laura Lopez – School Counselor. Photo by Dawniele Castellanos
Maricopa Wells Middle School: Danielle Baird – School Counselor. Photo by Dawniele Castellanos

Danielle Baird

“My role is to assist MWMS students with their academic, career and social/emotional development. I have been working as a school counselor in MUSD since 2014 and am a resident of our great city of Maricopa. Originally from New Jersey, I have a dual bachelor’s degree in psychology/justice studies and my Master of Arts in counseling psychology specializing in school counseling and mental health. I have worked previously in the juvenile justice system, child welfare and social service fields. Before I transferred to MWMS, I served at both MHS and Desert Wind Middle School.”

Desert Wind Middle School: Jackie Kellar – Exceptional Student Services Counselor. Photo by Dawniele Castellanos

Jackie Kellar (Exceptional Student Services)

“I am the ESS counselor for Desert Wind, Maricopa Wells and Maricopa Elementary. I have my master’s degree from University of Denver in social work and am an independently licensed clinical social worker. I am married and have three children. I’m not a regular mom, I’m a cool mom. Similar to Olaf, I like warm hugs. I can truffle shuffle with the best of them because nobody puts baby in a corner. I love working with kids especially being their biggest cheerleader. I am trained in CBT, DBT, solution-focused therapy and mindfulness, because there is no crying in baseball.”


Desert Wind Middle School 

Desert Wind Middle School: Rudolph Skeete – School Counselor. Photo by Dawniele Castellanos

Rudolph Skeete

Skeete earned a master’s degree in education and counseling with PPS credentials, licensee professional clinical counseling recertification from Azusa Pacific University; Child Welfare & Attendance credentials from California State University, Dominguez Hills; and a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice administration from California State University, Los Angeles. He brings over 20 years’ experience as an educator, 13 as a counselor in middle and high schools. “I truly love working in collaboration with students, parents and staff; enjoy cooking a variety of foods from around the world. Track and field is my favorite sport, but I also played professional rugby in South America.”

Desert Wind Middle School: Molly Colgan – School Counselor. Photo by Dawniele Castellanos

Molly Colgan

“I was born and raised in Arizona and cannot imagine calling anywhere else home. I first realized that I wanted to go into the field of education while I was in the sixth grade, and I never strayed from this path. I graduated from Northcentral University with my bachelor’s in secondary education – English. I became an eighth-grade English language arts teacher in Phoenix and later returned to school myself and received my Master of Education degree in school counseling from Ottawa University. In my spare time, I like to read, write, learn and travel cross-country by train.”


Butterfield Elementary and Santa Cruz Elementary

Butterfield Elementary and Santa Cruz Elementary: Tara Roy-Pablo – School Counselor. Photo by Dawniele Castellanos

Tara Roy-Pablo

Roy-Pablo has been a counselor with MUSD since 2006. She worked four years at MWMS, six years at MHS and recently began working at Butterfield Elementary and Santa Cruz Elementary. She is a licensed MSW with the AZ Board of Behavioral Health Examiners, a Certified Guidance Counselor and School Social Worker with the Arizona Department of Education and serves as a field liaison with Arizona State University’s School of Social Work. In her spare time, she enjoys hanging out with her family, road-trips, gardening and spending time with friends.


Santa Rosa Elementary and Saddleback Elementary

Santa Rosa Elementary and Saddleback Elementary: Alyse Belletti – School Counselor. Photo by Dawniele Castellanos


Alyse Belletti

“I am starting my second year with MUSD as an elementary school counselor. I was born in Colorado Springs but consider myself a native as I have lived in Arizona a majority of my life. At Arizona State University, I graduated summa cum laude with a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy. Most of my professional career has been spent working as a clinical therapist, providing community-based services to children with autism. In my spare time, you will find me with my family and two German shepherds. I enjoy camping, traveling and making lifelong memories.”


Maricopa Elementary and Pima Butte Elementary

Maricopa Elementary and Pima Butte Elementary: Anna Luna – School Counselor. Photo by Dawniele Castellanos

Anna Luna

“I have my master’s degree in social work from Loma Linda University and an undergrad in sociology with a minor in psychology. I have been in the education and social work field since 2006 and have worked for Native American reservations, public K-12 schools and in drug prevention education. I am a board member of Mindfulness First. I teach cultural competency in social work at the college level and work as a community liaison for Cornerstone Healing Center in Scottsdale. I am a foster mother-turned-adoptive mother to two amazing little kiddos who have caused me gray hairs and deep laugh lines.”

Maricopa Unified School District K-5 Counselor: Ak-Chin – Sheila Bandin

Sheila Pablo-Bandin (Ak-Chin)
“I am the Ak-Chin K-5th grade advisor for students of MUSD. I oversee all students of the Ak-Chin Indian Community with the permission of our parents/guardians. As the K-5th the adviser/tutor I am responsible for providing educational guidance and assistance for students and families within the MUSD. I have been in my position over 13 years and have found my home to help support my community and MUSD schools. I am grateful to be working with an amazing staff and am looking forward to the continued partnership.”

Dawnielle Castellanos Exceptional Student Services Elementary Counselor. Photo by Dawniele Castellanos

Dawniele Castellanos (Exceptional Student Services)

Castellanos is a licensed clinical social worker in Arizona. She is a transplant from California and has lived in Arizona for the past 13 years. She received her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Azusa Pacific University and her master’s degree in social work from California State University of Long Beach. Castellanos has worked with children, youth, and families since receiving her master’s degree. She likes to travel, read and go to movies.

This item appears in the October issue of InMaricopa.

Merry Grace

By Merry Grace

There seems to be a lot of wrong information being tossed around on the upcoming bond election for Maricopa Unified School District. We need to remember that this bond will be used for more than just a new high school, with funds also designated to be used district-wide to repair roofing, HVAC and to increase security and transportation.

The new high school is crucial and long overdue. This is more than just adding extra class space. A new high school means better student/teacher ratios, better counseling opportunities with a smaller student population, more gym space for events and athletics, minimizes the need to leave town to seek a large venue for an overcrowded Prom, decreases the consideration to limit guests at an overcrowded graduation, increases extra curricular opportunities, increases safety, increases cafeteria space for a reasonable size lunch period, increases better parking space and so much more.

There is a town hall coming up on Oct. 22 at 6:30 p.m in the Maricopa Unified School District office. This is the chance for everyone to come out to engage in a discussion while getting the facts. I hope to see this room packed.

This district serves the majority of the student population in our community including Ak Chin, homeless, ELL, Special Education, Gifted Education, etc. The award winning programs and success stories all lead to amazing accomplishments every year with each graduating class surpassing the previous class.  We cannot keep building new homes and expect to keep wrongfully packing in students to a small space, limiting the quality of their education, limiting opportunities and putting safety at risk with an over-capacity school.

Our household will be voting Yes, not as parents as we will no longer have a student in school after 2022. We are voting as concerned community members who understand the value of having thriving schools in a community. You cannot grow your community and not grow your schools.

I hope to see everyone at the town hall on Oct. 22. Let’s unite and get the facts. Our future students deserve the best. Maricopa it is time to elevate our community.

Merry Grace is a Maricopa resident.

Alan Marchione

By Alan Marchione

Alan Marchione

Here we go again. This November, taxpayers once again find themselves badgered by the Maricopa Unified School District on what percentage of their hard-earned dollars they can actually allocate to the care of and interests of their own families. The MUSD, already having an existing bond in place, after passing the current override, and the approval of the Red for Ed measure last year, wants even more of your money. Remember this measure is on the ballot as many of you are mailing your Pinal County property tax payments, due by Nov. 1.

It’s not surprising how strategic the MUSD is being in proposing Prop 437 to voters this November. This measure in the off-election cycle guarantees most of you will stay home, or be less interested in casting your vote, allowing advocates of the measure to pass it while most aren’t looking. In a calculated effort, Mayor Price, Council and School Board Members have all come out in favor of the measure, without addressing any of the valid arguments against the tax increase.

Prop 437 seeks voter approval for nearly $113 million of our hard-earned income. Don’t be fooled by the $68 million request, because that number doesn’t include the 28 years of interest we’ll all be on the hook for. On average, you’re looking at an additional $300 annually to the District on your tax bill – let that sink in.

Also, don’t be fooled by propaganda suggesting economic development will be adversely affected if not passed. Even with the MUSD’s years-long low ranking of 75th in Arizona, houses continue to be sold, and property values continue to rise. Maricopa is, and will remain a predominantly bedroom community for many years to come, and a majority of us feel that pain driving the 347 each day. There are no big companies coming to Maricopa with its limited infrastructure, and the Valley has too much unoccupied business capacity for Maricopa to become a viable option for business overflow.

What’s also not mentioned is the increased capacity for high school students at our local charter schools, and Heritage Academy which has a brand new facility coming online, serving grades 6-12 in the near future. If your child attends one of our many local charter schools, your increased tax spending will not benefit their education in the slightest. Not one dollar of Prop 437 tax dollars, or the current override tax will ever go to your child’s charter school. You’ll be subsidizing schools your children don’t even attend.

I’ll make the assumption the vast majority of Maricopa’s residents moved to the city because of the lower cost of housing. Many residents already question that decision, when factoring in the higher cost of utilities, fuel and maintenance costs on their vehicles, and with property taxes rivaling some counties in California, any savings in the cost of homeownership is basically eliminated; thus making a move to, or back to, the Valley more appealing.

If you’re a senior on a fixed income, can you afford another tax increase? Seasonal residents will again be realizing an increase in their property taxes, with no voice in the matter, and no realized benefits. Maricopa business owners will be burdened with increased costs as already high rental rates increase even higher to offset the cost.

Understand this… MUSD will never have enough of your money. Even with an existing bond in place, the override tax in place, higher tax revenues coming in from higher property values, and Red for Ed funds, they are continuing to petition for more funds, and will do so indefinitely. Their appetite for your tax dollars is insatiable, and they’ll tax you to death to get it.

Send a message to the MUSD to “budget for reality,” Join me in Voting NO on Prop 437.

Alan Marchione is a resident of Maricopa.


By Ioanna T. Morfessis, Ph.D.

Ioanna Morfessis

Senior Advisor, Maricopa Economic Development Alliance

Maricopans are rightfully proud of the phenomenal community they call home.  Maricopa citizens have brought committed and spirited engagement to build this great city – a city that is vibrant, growing smartly, safe and that treasures its small town, neighborly values.

Over the years, the City Government’s leaders also have worked vigorously to put into place the quality of life, business operating environment, and soon, actual sites where quality, small, medium and large employers will be able to find a location in Maricopa that can accommodate their business operations and growth.

Among the top factors that executives consider when making a business location decision is the availability of an educated, skilled and qualified workforce.  In fact, this is the #1 factor that CEOs care about the most, up from its #3 position in 2017.  Maricopa wins in this category hands down, bar none.

With its highly educated population, Maricopa ranks on par with other U.S. markets heralded for their levels of educational attainment.   And having an outstanding P-12 education system is among the quality of life factors that matter to business that is looking to establish new facilities in the U.S.  It also matters to people looking to find a community where their families can learn, play, work and thrive.

This is where Maricopa Unified School District (MUSD) comes in:  MUSD is a cornerstone institution that educates and prepares Maricopa’s youth for college and careers.

Serving more than 7,500 students in Preschool through 12th grade this academic year, MUSD offers programming and extracurricular opportunities that encourage students to explore and discover their passions.  Blended learning, STEAM opportunities and online education opportunities are just a few programs that make MUSD stand out in our community.

The City of Maricopa is growing and now boasts nearly 55,000 residents.  And with that, MUSD is also growing, exponentially.  The District added an additional 400 new students over the last year, and demographic experts predict the District will continue to grow.

But that additional growth has impacted the student capacity of Maricopa High School.  As it stands today, the high school is already more than 500 students over capacity. In the next five years alone, as the City continues to grow, this number will also increase.

Maricopa’s residents have an opportunity this November to make a positive impact, not only on the high school, but on all schools in the District. By voting yes for the Maricopa Unified School District bond you will ensure that MUSD can:

  • Acquire land and have the funds needed to build an additional high school.
  • Repair and replace heating, cooling, roofing, and weatherization systems throughout the District.
  • Purchase new air conditioned buses to replace older buses that have moderate to no air conditioning.
  • Make the necessary facility improvements to increase security and promote safety.

A citizen bond oversight committee will be created to ensure bond funds are spent on budget, on time and as promised.

MUSD – and the city itself – needs the support of all Maricopans to effectively address these critical capital needs.  Please vote YES on Proposition 437.  In so doing, all Maricopans can ensure that critically important investments needed for MUSD schools – and more importantly – for the city’s youth – are made.

We all need to continue to work hard to build Maricopa’s economy.  Having a traditional public school system that delivers an outstanding education to P-12 students is mission critical to a flourishing economy and healthy community.

Look for your early ballot starting October 10th.  Polls are open from 6AM-7PM on November 5, 2019.  Please visit www.YesforMaricopaSchools.com for more information.

Ioanna Morfessis is a business and economic development executive that has focused her professional life on helping communities and companies thrive and succeed. She is the senior advisor to Maricopa Economic Development Alliance (MEDA). As a 501(c)3 corporation, MEDA champions strategies and solutions that foster economic growth and prosperity in the City of Maricopa by bringing together the business, government, education and civic sectors to identify and advance forward-looking policies that facilitate investment, growth and workforce development.

Lilly Mather is congratulated by Board Member Joshua Judd. Photo by Kyle Norby

Maricopa Unified School District shone its September spotlight on students, staff and community members during the governing board’s Wednesday meeting.

Each month, one student from every school is chosen by their principal “based on their outstanding commitment to their education, their school and their community.” This month’s honorees: Butterfield Elementary – Analisa Barillas, fifth grade; Desert Wind Middle School – Alison Chapman, sixth grade; Maricopa Elementary – Pate Justin, fifth grade; Maricopa High – Ariana Vaida, 11th grade; Maricopa Wells Middle School – Abigayil Gindiri, eighth grade; Pima Butte Elementary – Lilly Mather, fifth grade; Saddleback Elementary – Calvin Woodward, second grade; Santa Cruz Elementary – Josalyn Morgan, third grade; Santa Rosa Elementary – Natalia Fores-Vidal, fifth grade.

One employee from each school was also selected by principals and department leaders: “These staff members are phenomenal individuals who give from their hearts and go above and beyond expectations to meet the needs of the students and families we serve.” This month’s honorees: Butterfield Elementary – Juanita Morton, paraprofessional; Desert Wind Middle School – Mike Pinkstaff, lead custodian; Maricopa Elementary – Paul Krigbaum, physical education teacher; Maricopa High – Cheryl Mount, English teacher; Maricopa Wells Middle School – Keith Gibson, sixth-grade ELA teacher; Pima Butte Elementary – Kelly Gomez, second-grade teacher; Saddleback Elementary – Tara Owens, administrative assistance; Santa Cruz Elementary – Megan Strom, first-grade teacher; Santa Rosa Elementary – Roberta Roberge, kindergarten teacher; Teaching and Learning Department – Krista Holder, administrative assistant.

Each school and the district office also select community members “who selflessly give time and resources to ensure our students’ success.” This month’s honorees: Butterfield Elementary – Murray Siegel, volunteer; Maricopa Elementary – Nathan Ullyot, City of Maricopa; Desert Wind Middle School/Maricopa High – Karen Fortunado, volunteer; Maricopa Wells Middle School – Christopher Leon, community leader; Pima Butte Elementary – Jeffi Pavlich, volunteer and PTO president; Saddleback Elementary – Brittany Smith, volunteer; Santa Cruz Elementary – Tammy Ash, volunteer; Santa Rosa Elementary – Pastor Luke Panter, Grace Fellowship; Superintendent’s office – Jim Irving, volunteer coordinator.

Vehicles line up in front of Maricopa High School as classes are dismissed. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

After hearing data from its Transportation Department earlier this month, Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board gave approval for the purchase of seven vehicles for a total of just under $1 million Wednesday.

The purchase is comprised of three new 84-passenger school buses, two new 42-passenger special-needs school buses and two 14-passenger shuttles. The lease purchase agreement shows $199,962.68 annually through Jan. 1, 2024.

Preparing for the lease-purchase, Director of Transportation Sergio Pulido had already outlined for the board the current fleet situation amid a growing student population.

“In transportation, you always want to be an organizational culture that prioritizes people over programs and invests in the support of students and staff,” Pulido said. “Transportation will continue to transport students in a safe, friendly and efficient manner anywhere at any time – let it be transporting students to different school sites, on field trips, routes or even functions for the City of Maricopa.”

Annual numbers
48 buses (including vans and shuttles)
800,000 miles
160 square miles

Pulido said the district’s many unpaved roads are responsible for much of the wear and tear on buses.

Daily numbers
124 general-education routes
72 special-needs routes
315 special-needs students door-to-door

40 bus drivers
4 substitute bus drivers
9 substitute bus aides
10 non-CDL drivers (also bus aides)
3 mechanics
5 office personnel

Pulido: “Retention is at its all-time high right now, and I’m very proud to say that.”

Aging buses
73% are 12 years or older
17% are 3-11 years old
10% are the newest purchases
Average mileage on current buses 180,000-280,000 miles (expected ideal lifespan 350,000)

Pulido: “Newer vehicles are important, knowing they have reliable vehicles that are not going to break down or overheat during their routes or field trips.”

MUSD Transportation Director Sergio Pulido

DPS inspections
“Last year, yes, we had a few failures. These items were addressed and repaired right away. Buses were back on line the very next day. To prevent future failures, what we have done in Transportation is added a mock DPS inspection to every vehicle that comes into the shop for [preventive maintenance] services. This is important because it would keep the vehicle in compliance according to minimum standards and to the Department of Public Safety. We will continue this practice on any future vehicles that we purchase.”

Air conditioning
“On newer vehicles, we’ve already experienced on the four big buses that we’ve bought in the past, they’re better quality AC units; they’re efficient and they work very, very well. Most of those vehicles are on field trips. Less breakdowns and more efficient units. What we’ve done is taken measures and better steps to improve our AC units, the older ones that we have, so they’re working. We’re replacing the parts, which are filters, condensers, compressors, expansion valves, things like that. We spent quite a bit of money last year on repairing these AC parts on these vehicles.”

“Student overload, we definitely want to prevent that. We’re not going through that right now, and I’m very proud to say that, but we’re very close to that. Avoiding double runs is another important factor. Last year, we all know that we experienced quite a few double runs at the high school and middle schools. Adding more buses will prevent that from happening.”

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.”

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.

Photo by Victor Moreno



MHS plays hard, fast against tough foes
There is no off-season for Maricopa High School football; just out-of-season. That’s where head coach Brandon Harris has tracked improvement in the players coming back from a team that was 5-6 and qualified for state play from the tough 5A San Tan.

“Summer was good for us,” Harris said. “We participated in a lot of 7-on-7 tournaments. It was nice. We came home and won the whole tournament here at Copper Sky.”

Out-of-season he had them working on speed and agility, skills and drills. Some players migrated to track and field to stay in shape.

“Seven-on-7 isn’t football; I say that all the time,” Harris said, “but it gives you an indication of how you match up skill-wise with other teams in the state. I think we match up really well this year, more so than we did last year. We’ve got weapons everywhere.”

Neill likes the direction the program is headed.

“We’re just getting compliments on how hard we play, in talking with football coaches who maybe didn’t expect the game they got from us,” Athletic Director Jake Neill said. “That’s a credit to the kids and coach Harris and his coaching staff. The consensus is that if a team is going to get a win [against MHS], it’s going to be a tough one.”

The 7-on-7 participation told the most about the growth of senior quarterback Daxton Redfern.

Daxton Redfern
Photo by Victor Moreno

“We realized how good he was when we went down to U of A in Tucson,” Harris said. “He’s grown exponentially. He knows our offense really well.”

In that 7-on-7 tournament, Redfern threw 42 touchdowns in 13 games against one interception. Coming up behind him is sophomore Merhauti Xepera, who is a tight end when not quarterbacking. “He’s a big kid, an athletic kid,” Harris said. “He’s going to be the future.”

Other expected standouts include junior Mister Chavis, Ilijah Johnson, Tylek Mooney, Steven Forrester, Anthony Valenzuela, Hunter Taylor and Bryan Pick, among other Rams who want to make a name for themselves.

“We’ll be fast. We’re always going to be fast here, explosive, resilient, family, very close team this year,” Harris said. “We got into the playoffs. Now the next step is to win some games in the playoffs, which is what I’m used to doing. That’s the goal. We think we have a really good chance of doing that.”

W, 33-22              at McClintock
L, 0-47                  vs. Millennium
Sept. 6                  7 p.m. vs. Apollo
Sept. 13                7 p.m. vs. South Mountain (Homecoming)
Sept. 20                7 p.m. at Central
Sept. 27                7 p.m. at Higley
Oct. 4                    7 p.m. vs. Campo Verde
Oct. 18                  7 p.m. vs. Williams Field (Senior Night)
Oct. 25                  7 p.m. at Casteel
Nov. 1                   7 p.m. at Gilbert

Jacob McIntyre
Photo by Victor Moreno

Sequoia Pathway gets new coach for growing program
Sequoia Pathway Academy has a new varsity football coach, but he’s no stranger to football in Maricopa. Donnie Margerum moves across town from MHS’s freshman team.

Coach Donnie Margerum
Photo by Victor Moreno

“This year, with Coach Donnie, it’s creating a new culture,” said Glen Hale, the school’s athletic director. “He came in with a new system. He also has another assistant coach from MHS, Corey Nelson.”

The Pumas grew from eight-man to 11-man football a couple of seasons ago, and this year are joined by more charter school teams in the Open division of the Canyon Athletic Association. In 2018 they finished third with a 4-3 record, but football didn’t end with the season.

“I’ve been saying, just taking it to the next level of play and playing throughout the season instead of just coming in through the season,” Hale said. “Now we’re moving to where it’s year-round and giving our kids opportunities to travel to places and compete against higher competition.”

Returning seniors include Shane Miller, Gavin Buchberger, Jacob McIntyre, Ajani Elliot and Patrick Lisby. The high school team has grown to 35 players.

“We had to go get more helmets and equipment, which is a good thing.”

Sequoia Pathway
W, 14-8                vs. Canyon State
Sept. 6                  7 p.m. vs. South Pointe
Sept. 19                6:15 p.m. at Canyon State Academy
Sept. 27                7 p.m. vs. San Tan Charter
Oct. 4                    7 p.m. vs ASU Prep
Oct. 11                  7 p.m. at South Pointe
Oct. 18                  7 p.m. at San Tan Charter
Oct. 25                  7 p.m. at ASU Prep

Shakira Gillespie
Photo by Victor Moreno


MHS trying to restore self-confidence
The Rams are trying to rebuild a team after a haphazard volleyball season in AIA 5A.

Returning as head coach for MHS varsity is Theresa Abernathy, who is also an instructor at Copper Sky. She is trying to overhaul a team that was 2-20 last season.

“We are completely going to start fresh,” Abernathy said. “We’re building the program from the ground up.”

Expected returning players include juniors Shakira Gillespie, Brooke Smith and Ashley Brown along with senior Tayler Riley-Coleman. But it looks to be a young team.

“They have improved an awful lot,” Abernathy said. “They listen to what I’m saying, and they seem to like each other.”

After the discouragement of 2018, she said they need to restore their self-confidence. She is encouraging more year-round play. In today’s volleyball climate, it is difficult for players who only play during the high school year to compete against those who participate in clubs.

“They need to believe they can win and be competitive with every team,” she said. “They need to be a team.”

W, 3-0                   at Camelback
W, 3-1                   vs. Fairfax
L, 0-3                    vs. Verrado
Sept. 10                6 p.m. at Paradise Valley
Sept. 12                6 p.m. vs. North Canyon
Sept. 16                6 p.m. at Campo Verde
Sept. 17                6 p.m. vs. Ironwood
Sept. 24                6 p.m. at Williams Field
Sept. 25                6 p.m. at Centennial
Sept. 26                6 p.m. at Higley
Oct. 1                    6 p.m. vs. Casteel
Oct. 3                    6 p.m. vs. Gilbert
Oct. 15                  6 p.m. vs. Campo Verde
Oct. 17                  6 p.m. vs. Williams Field
Oct. 22                  6 p.m. vs. Higley (Senior Night)
Oct. 24                  6 p.m. at Casteel
Oct. 29                  6 p.m. at Gilbert

Lynniece Andrews
Photo by Victor Moreno

Sequoia Pathway works to improve on remarkable year
Pathway wants to build off a hot year that saw them reach the Final Four in Canyon Athletic Association’s Division II, and has had a strong turnout of players. Varsity coach LaShieka Holley is keeping nine, while there are 16 in junior varsity, and 42 came out for junior high.

“I’m asking all the coaches from varsity to reach down into the elementary level, to reach down into the middle school level, so we’re not just working on one program; we’re building as a whole,” Hale said. “She’s done a really good job with that. She’s actually the coach of the junior high, too. It’s been good to see how that transition is happening with the girls, and how they’re just growing.”

Puma captains are Lynniece Andrews and Mikayla Gallon, returning from the team that was undefeated in the regular season.

“This summer they went to an ASU camp. That was amazing,” Hale said. “Once again, they competed against AIA schools. Some were state champions, so they got that experience of playing with top-level competition. That’s where we heading as an athletic program. We want to play people that are better than us so we can get better.”

Sequoia Pathway
W, 3-0                  vs. Basis-Peoria
W, 3-0                  at Basis-Chandler
W, 3-0                  at San Tan Charter
L, 2-3                  vs. Heritage-Gateway
Sept. 5                  7 p.m. at Imagine-Coolidge
Sept. 11                5:30 p.m. at Sequoia Charter
Sept. 12                7 p.m. vs. Mission Heights
Sept. 17                4 p.m. at Imagine-Coolidge
Sept. 19                7 p.m. vs. EVAC
Sept. 24                6:30 p.m. at Mission Heights
Sept. 26                7 p.m. vs. Heritage-Mesa
Oct. 1                    4 p.m. at South Ridge
Oct. 3                    7 p.m. vs. Desert Heights

Kian Carroll and Eva Zavala
Photo by Victor Moreno


MHS dives into 2nd swimming season
Coming off a rookie season in AIA competition, the MHS swimming team has about 30 returning swimmers and around 45 overall.

“We lost some to the new high school (Heritage Academy), but we have a lot of freshmen coming back from last year,” coach Laura Logan said.

She said having a year under their belts is allowing her to coach more instead of just teaching the basics of swimming as much as she did in 2018.

“They have a base of knowledge that they can build on,” Logan said. “We had so many kids with no experience whatsoever.”

She expects her team leaders to again Olivia Byers, now a junior, and Connor Schrader, a sophomore. The four seniors are Jose Perez Barraza, Kian Carroll, Jacob Davis and Eva Zavala. There are a few more boys than girls participating.

The team includes 16 sophomores and 14 freshmen.

A team goal is to get swimmers qualified for state competition and show the more established swim programs “what Maricopa is becoming.”

The Rams compete in AIA Division II.

Sept. 5                  4 p.m.                   at Apache Junction
Sept. 12                4 p.m.                   at Copper Sky
Sept. 24                4 p.m.                   at Saguaro
Oct. 3                    4 p.m.                   at Copper Sky
Oct. 10                  4 p.m.                   at Copper Sky
Oct. 17                  4 p.m.                   at Copper Sky
Oct. 23                  9:30 a.m.             at Apache Junction
Nov. 2-3               TBA                        State Championship

Quinton Stapleton and Zanaa Ramirez
Photo by Victor Moreno


MHS finding new motivation
MHS cross country is recuperating from a difficult year that saw flagging motivation on the boys’ team and not even a full team on the girls’ side.

“Right now, we’re definitely rebuilding,” coach Heather Abel said. “I think we’re looking at a better situation than we were last season, where we were real small and didn’t see a lot of commitment from kids who should have been committed. That seems like it’s changing this year.”

She bases those hopes on the initiative she sees runners taking for themselves and their teammates.

Abel considers this year’s leaders to be Jovanni Fentes, Quinton Stapleton and Zanaa Ramirez.

“Quinton’s really dedicating himself this year,” she said. “They live in San Tan Valley now, so he’s commuting like I am every day and coming to practice every day.”

Ramirez, meanwhile, is a member of the West Coast Striders, a club team based in Maricopa and coached by Corey Nelson. She qualified for the 800-meter run in the Hershey’s Junior Olympics National Championship in Sacramento in July.

Abel sees that level of competition giving Ramirez newfound confidence on the 5K course for cross country. Though literally miles apart, both events take a lot of mental toughness and physical endurance.

To grow the boys’ team, she has been encouraging athletes in other sports to run cross country to stay in shape between their seasons. Wrestlers have been doing just that. Freshman boys are also turning out.

Her goal is to get her runners in good shoes and keep them hydrated and healthy and they come to understand pack strategy while running not just for themselves but for the team.

“What they’re doing is really hard, and they don’t get a lot of recognition for what they’re doing,” Abel said. “Most people won’t do this because it’s hard.”

Sept. 4                  4:30 p.m.             at Vista Grande
Sept. 7                  7 a.m.                    at Chandler Invite
Sept. 14                7 a.m.                    at Fountain Hills Invitational
Sept. 14                7:30 a.m.             at Ojo Rojo Invitational
Sept. 27                TBA                        Nike Desert Twilight
Oct. 12                  TBA                        O’Connor Invitational
Oct. 26                  TBA                        Eye of the Tiger Invite
Nov. 8                   TBA                        State Sectionals

Tyler Kientzler
Photo by Victor Moreno


Sequoia Pathway wants to bounce back
The Sequoia Pathway boys struggled last fall, posting a 2-8 record. This year, the school took advantage of the opportunity to play more out-of-season soccer to improve.

Coach Juan Garavito is “real excited about this year, being able to work through summer and just being able to work with the kids outside of school,” Hale said. “I’m looking for definitely this year seeing improvement. I think it’s only up from there.”

The team is returning a couple of players from last year’s squad – Anthony Saldana and Tyler Kientzler – and are a little fewer in number. They play home games at Pacana Park.

“We did a summer program,” Hale said. “A major focus of ours is to start early and build that program. It’s always been, ‘Are you honing your craft?’”

W, 5-4                  vs. Imagine-Coolidge
W, 1-0                  vs. Basis-Scottsdale
W, 1-0                   vs. Mission Heights Prep
Sept. 5                  4:30 p.m. at Mission Heights Prep
Sept. 11                6:15 p.m. at BASIS-Chandler
Sept. 23                4 p.m. vs. Heritage-Gateway
Sept. 25                4 p.m. vs. Sequoia Charter
Oct. 1                    4 p.m. vs. Canyon State
Oct. 15                  4:30 p.m. at ASU Prep Polytechnic

Karson Collazo
Photo by Victor Moreno

BOYS’ GOLF – Division I Yuma

Sept. 3                  2 p.m.                   at Ak-Chin Southern Dunes
Sept. 10                3:30 p.m.             at Arcadia
Sept. 12                3:30 p.m.             at Tempe
Sept. 17                3 p.m.                   at Westwood
Sept. 24                3:30 p.m.             at Ocotillo Golf Course
Oct. 1                    2 p.m.                   at Ak-Chin Southern Dunes
Oct. 15                  3 p.m.                   at McCormick Ranch Golf Course


GIRLS’ GOLF – Developmental

Sept. 4                  3 p.m.                   at Western Skies Golf Club
Sept. 12                3 p.m.                   at Las Colinas Golf Course
Sept. 16                2 p.m.                   at Marcos de Niza
Sept. 18                3 p.m.                   at Granite Falls South Course
Sept. 25                3 p.m.                   at Apache Junction
Sept. 30                3 p.m.                   at Apache Creek Golf Course
Oct. 2                    2 p.m.                   at The Duke at Rancho El Dorado
Oct. 4                    1 p.m.                   at Girls Golf Developmental Invitational – Encanto 9

This story appears in the September issue of InMaricopa.

A political action committee for a school bond to fund a second high school in Maricopa Unified School District has a short time to educate voters.

Many of the PAC members, acting as private individuals, are also on the governing board or are employed by the district. In its first meeting Aug. 1, the PAC laid out a plan as the Nov. 5 election approaches. That includes creating social media accounts under the name “Yes for Maricopa Schools.”

The board is asking voters for a $68 million bond. With Maricopa High School more than 500 students over capacity, MUSD is seeking funds for an additional high school and for capital projects for aging buildings, like replacing heating/cooling units and roofs.

As the board debated the amount to ask in a bond, Superintendent Tracey Lopeman said a second high school alone will cost around $67-$75 million. The district received $26 million for construction plus funding for land from the state’s School Facilities Board. Under questioning from board member Patti Coutré, she said a $68 million high school would be a small but comprehensive school that might serve 2,600 students but without some of the programs of the current high school.

The PAC was created to campaign for the bond. “We are up. We are ready to accept checks,” said Paul Ulin of Primary Consultants, hired to manage the process.

“Outside of this room and about three other people, no one else knows there’s an election going on,” Ulin told the PAC. “It’s really after Labor Day that the campaign kicks off.”

Pro and con statements for the voter pamphlet had to be submitted in August. Ballots go out to military and overseas registered voters Sept. 21.

With a tight timeline to get the word out, Ulin explained what board members and employees are and are not allowed to do regarding letters of support and campaigning.

Jim Irving, volunteer coordinator at MUSD, said every election the district has covered the dos and don’ts of campaigning with PTOs and site councils. Mishell Terry, MUSD communications coordinator, said the same information had been given to all employees.

That included whether teachers can campaign for the bond election at community events or even school sports events like a football game.

“We’re not there in our official capacity; we’re there to watch a football game,” Maricopa High School Vice Principal Heidi Vratil said.

“At community events, and football games are great example, if you are a teacher and your school or another school are there, and you’re not there in the capacity of being a teacher, you’re there to watch the kids play, your kid play, and support the school; you are allowed to electioneer. And it should be outside that fence. In that case we don’t need to rent space,” Ulin said.

At events on school grounds not classified as “community events,” the PAC can get insurance and rent space to electioneer.

“What you can do is hand out information,” Irving said. “What we’ve always done, not using teachers, is just remind people of when the election is.”

He said the challenge in an off-year election is getting people to come out and vote.

Early ballots are mailed Oct. 9.

If this year’s bond passes but there is still not enough money for major capital expenditures like rooftops, HVAC and safety measures, the district may ask for a capital override or another bond. Board President AnnaMarie Knorr said she could see the day in the next five to six years when the district will need another middle school or another elementary school.


Dikta Reid The long overdue override was for staff and teachers. Bonds are for buildings, books and buses. Educating voters is the key, too many uninformed citizens go to the polls!

Gary Miller An overcrowded HS will indeed effect learning. If having strong schools and an overall strong district can have a positive effect on home prices, then I’m for the bond. My mind is on my money and money is on my mind after paying 378k for a home that dropped 70% in value. To be a destination city, we must have strong schools that are sustainable over time, are innovative and will improve the learning process.

Merry Grace What happens if there is no approval for a new high school? This district serves the majority of our student population including Ak Chin, special ed, ELL, homeless, gifted, etc. Neighborhoods are growing with still more new homes being built which means more students. You cannot grow your community without growing your schools.

Kassie Walsh Something needs to be decided, and quickly. The school is overcrowded and it’s only getting worse as more and more houses go up. And with the prospect of an apartment complex, a solution is needed sooner rather than later. It’s not safe to crowd that many people into a small school and argue over a $10 million difference. Besides, I’m sure a school closer to the other side of town might alleviate the bus problem that occurs every single school year

Joshua Babb I have been in budget committee meetings and all they want to do is to find ways to spend more not how to spend smarter. This is one voter who is going to vote no to any bond this time around. They also are not taking into account the additional charter schools coming into the area for the high school kids that will take stress off the high school. Additionally, the state has given MUSD land and 20 something million to start the project. Before I consider any additional money I want a detailed outline of dollar by dollar where they intend on spending it.

Duane Vick I’ve advocated against overrides in the past because they didn’t yield any concrete data as to their purpose. I supported the last one because it was very specific about how the funds will be used. We need a second high school. Overcrowding leads to kids getting less education. The back row moves even further back. A second high school will move them toward the front of the class instead.

Dan J. Borman Come on Maricopa. For once don’t vote yourself another tax increase.


Should Maricopa Unified School District seek a bond to help fund a second high school?
Yes         46%
No          44%
Maybe 10%
Source: InMaricopa.com Total votes: 261


How would you rate the Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board?
Poor                      41%
Fair                         30%
Good                     20%
Excellent              9%
Source: InMaricopa.com Total votes: 218

This story appears in the September issue of InMaricopa.

‘We will do better’

MPD Chief Steve Stahl


A major mistake by the Maricopa Police Department in July earned a live apology from the police chief.

“We messed up,” he announced at his monthly Coffee with the Chief, which is carried on the department’s Facebook page and generally involves information on current events and safety tips for the community.

It was a mea culpa from a department that does not like to air details of its inner workings in personnel matters.

Maricopa Unified School District allowed MPD to carry out training exercises on the Butterfield Elementary campus during the summer break. The July 3 training involved a K-9 searching for narcotics, but one small packet was inadvertently left behind in a room, an error that was not discovered until after school started.

“It’s our fault,” Chief Steve Stahl said. “This is on us.”

Superintendent Tracey Lopeman notified parents of the situation July 25 after the school had to go into “shelter-in-place” mode while police searched the premises. She said the district would re-evaluate its agreement with MPD.

As Lopeman and Stahl both said the relationship was important, MPD was re-evaluating, too.

“From a department standpoint, we are going to evaluate our policies and procedures to make sure that they are up to standards with other agencies that have K-9 programs,” MPD spokesman Ricardo Alvarado said.

Though Stahl apologized to Lopeman personally, he said he needed to apologize to her, the staff, students, parents and community publicly because of the potential of what could have happened.

It turned out a teacher had discovered the packet, wrapped and reportedly looking like an old sandwich, on July 15 and threw it out.

“We have higher expectations of ourselves and have taken measures to correct the issue,” Stahl said.

He said if any good came out of the situation it was that no children were ever in any danger because the school was out during the time between the training and the discovery of the narcotics.

“I can tell you this; the officer involved in this scenario has children, has children that attend MUSD schools, and is extremely remorseful for what occurred and has taken full responsibility,” Stahl said. “And we will press on from here.”

He expressed regret that parents experienced added apprehension and stress over the incident. “For that, we apologize, and we will do better.”

This story appears in part in the September issue of InMaricopa. For clarification, MPD released information publicly about what occurred at Butterfield shortly after MUSD informed parents of the situation. 

Athletic Directors Jake Neill (left) of Maricopa Unified School District and Glen Hale of Sequoia Pathway see changes ahead.

As Maricopa schools dig into their fall sports, much appears the same on the surface, but there could be changes afoot.

It’s not about personnel, though the athletic departments of Maricopa High School and Sequoia Pathway hired a couple of varsity coaches each. (For MHS it was baseball coach Brad Vericker and boys’ basketball coach Paul Gretkierewicz; for Pathway, football coach Donnie Margerum and boys’ basketball coach George Courtney.)

“The future’s looking like there is going to be a little bit of change because we’re growing so much,” said Jake Neill, Maricopa Unified School District athletic director. “If there’s a change in the next two-year block we could end up being a 6A school. Very good chance of that actually.”

MUSD reports enrollment to the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) in October and then is assigned a conference for a two-year block starting the next school year. However, close on the heels of that, is an election in November. If voters agree to a bond to build a second high school for MUSD, it could trigger a change in district athletics down the road.

Neill said he doesn’t even want to think about that until November, and then will wait to see how things fall out. A second school, for instance, might not have sports initially. Even if it does, it could be years away.

“It really depends on the timing of how everything happens,” Neill said. “What we hope to avoid is turning in our numbers and then split schools and be playing a 6A schedule with two schools of 1,500 kids. We can prepare for that and inform the AIA if that should ever happen.”

For now, the fall season is looking comfortably familiar.

“The good thing is there’s nothing new,” Neill said. “There’s a little bit of consistency from last year to this year. We’re still competing in the always tough 5A San Tan region with the likes of Williams Field, Casteel, Campo Verde, Gilbert High. So, we definitely have our challenges with being in probably the most competitive region in the 5A conference again, but for the most part we’re status quo.”

Maricopa High School’s fall sports include football, volleyball, cross country, swimming and boys’ and girls’ golf.

He said MHS is building a reputation for having great student-athletes, and programs are improving. Tying into that is creating strong bonds between middle school and high school programs. Neill said a recent change made to junior high scheduling could foster more of that.

MUSD’s middle schools are joining the Signal Peak Athletic Conference, playing mostly schools in the Casa Grande area rather than Queen Creek and Apache Junction.

“It’s going to benefit the program because our parents can get to their kids’ games on time. Our students and our coaches that are teachers aren’t going to be missing as much class time and instruction time,” Neill said. “When you look at middle-school athletics, it’s not supposed to be taxing on the student. Just traveling as much as we were, it was taxing on the student. We want to make sure we set our kids up to succeed.”

It may also make it easier for high school coaches to be involved with the middle school sports, he said.

“It’s an expectation that our varsity coaches are somehow, someway involved in our middle school athletics, and everyone does a good job with that,” Neill said. “Being seen and talking to kids. Just creating that connection with kids and getting them excited to be a Ram and come to MHS and maybe future high school No. 2.”

At Pathway, which enrolls about 275 high schoolers, Athletic Director Glen Hale also expects his varsity coaches to maintain a strong link to the junior high. That includes instilling this year’s motto, “Expect great things.”

“It encompasses life,” he said. “If they come to practice, if they’re on time, if they work hard, they can expect great things to happen. Grade-wise, if they’re in the classroom and they’re making their grades and doing their homework and they’re working hard, they can expect great things to happen.”

He said that starts with the coaches working hard and doing their jobs, modeling their behavior they want to see in the student-athletes.

“Each coach, as we go to the next level, is going to sacrifice things so we can get better,” Hale said.

The “next level” could mean a change if Hale gets his way. He intends to apply to join the AIA. Pathway is currently in the Canyon Athletic Association, comprised of charter schools.

“We basically want our kids to play higher competition,” he said. “The CAA is really good, but everybody knows the AIA.”

If accepted, it would mean a big shift for the athletes, who would be facing completely new competition. Having watched the kids face AIA teams during summer competitions, Hale said it could help them grow. He also looks forward to adding girls’ soccer to the array of high school offerings.

“We’re homing in on academics, we’re homing in on character, we’re homing in on serving our community and playing at the next level.”

See the upcoming September issue of InMaricopa for more on this year’s teams.

MHS Varsity Football
W 33-22               at McClintock
Aug. 30                7 p.m. vs. Millennium
Sept. 6                  7 p.m. vs. Apollo
Sept. 13                7 p.m. vs. South Mountain (Homecoming)
Sept. 20                7 p.m. at Central
Sept. 27                7 p.m. at Higley
Oct. 4                    7 p.m. vs. Campo Verde
Oct. 18                  7 p.m. vs. Williams Field (Senior Night)
Oct. 25                  7 p.m. at Casteel
Nov. 1                   7 p.m. at Gilbert

Sequoia Pathway Varsity Football
Aug. 30                7 p.m. vs. Canyon State Academy
Sept. 6                  7 p.m. vs. South Pointe
Sept. 19                6:15 p.m. at Canyon State Academy
Sept. 27                7 p.m. vs. San Tan Charter
Oct. 4                    7 p.m. vs ASU Prep
Oct. 11                  7 p.m. at South Pointe
Oct. 18                  7 p.m. at San Tan Charter
Oct. 25                  7 p.m. at ASU Prep

MHS Varsity Volleyball
Sept. 3                  6 p.m. at Camelback
Sept. 4                  6 p.m. vs. Fairfax
Sept. 5                  6 p.m. vs. Verrado
Sept. 10                6 p.m. at Paradise Valley
Sept. 12                6 p.m. vs. North Canyon
Sept. 16                6 p.m. at Campo Verde
Sept. 17                6 p.m. vs. Ironwood
Sept. 24                6 p.m. at Williams Field
Sept. 25                6 p.m. at Centennial
Sept. 26                6 p.m. at Higley
Oct. 1                    6 p.m. vs. Casteel
Oct. 3                    6 p.m. vs. Gilbert
Oct. 15                  6 p.m. vs. Campo Verde
Oct. 17                  6 p.m. vs. Williams Field
Oct. 22                  6 p.m. vs. Higley (Senior Night)
Oct. 24                  6 p.m. at Casteel
Oct. 29                  6 p.m. at Gilbert

Sequoia Pathway Varsity Volleyball
W, 3-0                  vs. Basis-Peoria
W, 3-0                  at Basis-Chandler
W, 3-0                  vs. Phoenix College Prep
Sept. 3                  6 p.m. vs. Heritage-Gateway
Sept. 5                  7 p.m. at Imagine-Coolidge
Sept. 11                5:30 p.m. at Sequoia Charter
Sept. 12                7 p.m. vs. Mission Heights
Sept. 17                4 p.m. at Imagine-Coolidge
Sept. 19                7 p.m. vs. EVAC
Sept. 24                6:30 p.m. at Mission Heights
Sept. 26                7 p.m. vs. Heritage-Mesa
Oct. 1                    4 p.m. at South Ridge
Oct. 3                    7 p.m. vs. Desert Heights

MHS Swimming
Sept. 5                  4 p.m.                   at Apache Junction
Sept. 12                4 p.m.                   at Copper Sky
Sept. 24                4 p.m.                   at Saguaro
Oct. 3                    4 p.m.                   at Copper Sky
Oct. 10                  4 p.m.                   at Copper Sky
Oct. 17                  4 p.m.                   at Copper Sky
Oct. 23                  9:30 a.m.             at Apache Junction
Nov. 2-3               TBA                        State Championship

MHS Cross Country
Sept. 4                  4:30 p.m.             at Vista Grande
Sept. 7                  7 a.m.                    at Chandler Invite
Sept. 14                7 a.m.                    at Fountain Hills Invitational
Sept. 14                7:30 a.m.             at Ojo Rojo Invitational
Sept. 27                TBA                        Nike Desert Twilight
Oct. 12                  TBA                        O’Connor Invitational
Oct. 26                  TBA                        Eye of the Tiger Invite
Nov. 8                   TBA                        State Sectionals

Sequoia Pathway Boys’ Soccer
Aug. 29                6 p.m.                   vs. Imagine Prep-Coolidge
Aug. 30                5 p.m.                   at Basis-S
Sept. 2                  5 p.m.                   vs. Mission Heights Prep
Sept. 5                  4:30 p.m.             at Mission Heights Prep
Sept. 11                6:15 p.m.             at BASIS-Chandler
Sept. 23                4 p.m.                   vs. Heritage-Gateway
Sept. 25                4 p.m.                   vs. Sequoia Charter
Oct. 1                    4 p.m.                   vs. Canyon State
Oct. 15                  4:30 p.m.             at ASU Prep Polytechnic

MHS Boys’ Golf
Aug. 22                 3 p.m.                   at Las Colinas Golf Course
Aug. 27                 2 p.m.                   at Ken McDonald Golf Course
Sept. 3                  2 p.m.                   at Ak-Chin Southern Dunes
Sept. 10                3:30 p.m.             at Arcadia
Sept. 12                3:30 p.m.             at Tempe
Sept. 17                3 p.m.                   at Westwood
Sept. 24                3:30 p.m.             at Ocotillo Golf Course
Oct. 1                    2 p.m.                   at Ak-Chin Southern Dunes
Oct. 15                  3 p.m.                   at McCormick Ranch Golf Course

MHS Girls’ Golf (Developmental)
Sept. 4                  3 p.m.                   at Western Skies Golf Club
Sept. 12                3 p.m.                   at Las Colinas Golf Course
Sept. 16                2 p.m.                   at Marcos de Niza
Sept. 18                3 p.m.                   at Granite Falls South Course
Sept. 25                3 p.m.                   at Apache Junction
Sept. 30                3 p.m.                   at Apache Creek Golf Course
Oct. 2                    2 p.m.                   at The Duke at Rancho El Dorado
Oct. 4                    1 p.m.                   at Girls Golf Developmental Invitational – Encanto 9


Superintendent Tracey Lopeman cuts the ribbon on office space at Maricopa High School, where Central Arizona College will set up CAC Connect: (from left) MHS senior Freya Abraham, Bernadette Russoniello, City Councilmember Rich Vitiello, MUSD board member Patti Coutre, City Councilmember Marvin Brown, Lopeman, MUSD board member Torri Anderson, CAC President Jackie Elliott, Principal Brian Winter, CAC board member Dan Miller, CAC outreach coordinator Monica Vogan and CAC Director of Student Affairs Megan Purvis. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Central Arizona College launched its new partnership with Maricopa High School in a ribbon-cutting ceremony Tuesday.

CAC Connect gives the college office space in the high school’s Career and College Center so CAC advisors and recruiters can meet with students on their own campus.

Speaking directly to the high school students attending the opening event, CAC President Jackie Elliott said the college “is happy to enhance your learning experience and assist you in pursuing your academic goals through higher education. CAC Connect will provide you a true learning community, and we look forward to seeing this program grow throughout Pinal County.”

Monica Vogan, outreach coordinator for CAC, said the program will allow CAC to help students explore educational options, apply online and register for classes.

“It’s incredible what we can accomplish when we actually come together,” said Bernadette Russoniello, MHS College and Career coordinator. “This started as a sit-down, brief meeting where we said, ‘How can we do it better?’

Principal Brian Winter pointed out MHS is the first high school in the county to have that kind of connecting program.

“We are proud to pioneer such a unique program, one that will bridge high school resources with college resources in one easy to access package for our Maricopa students,” he said.

CAC student Rebekka Harris said CAC Connect will be a great way for the college to have impact and recognition within the school. “When I was actually a student at MHS, I didn’t know about CAC until the semester before graduation and I was panicking.”

CAC students Rebekka Harris, Elizabeth “Mimi” Prentice and Timonyeh Shines

She first attended CAC to become a teacher but realized about halfway through her studies that was not the path she really wanted. Changing majors, she said, felt like less of a blow at CAC than it would at a huge university.

Timonyeh Shines, a CAC graduate now starting at ASU, said CAC Connect would have been a better influence on her younger siblings as they went through high school but are currently not in college.

“CAC has been a wonderful, wonderful school to attend,” said Shines, who did not attend high school but earned her GED to qualify for college. “I feel like if they had had this opportunity, they would have been along the path that I am on now. I’m really happy this is part of this high school so it can influence other people to actually attend.”

Maricopa Unified School District Superintendent Tracey Lopeman said the program helps the district achieve its first board-adopted goal: “Every student graduates prepared to create, innovate, lead and succeed.”

MHS students were part of the ribbon-cutting ceremony.
CAC President Jackie Elliott
MUSD Superintendent Tracey Lopeman
MHS Principal Brian Winter in front of the CAC Connect cubicle.

Maricopa Police Department had calls from two schools this week for very different reasons.

Thursday night, Leading Edge Academy reported a SnapChat message by a student stating he was going to “shoot up the school.” Police officers met with the student and a parent at their home.

According to MPD, the student admitted to making threats but said he was joking. Officers determined “he did not have the means to carry out the threats.”

This morning, a “suspicious man” in a car was reported at a bus stop in Homestead trying to approach a student on her way to school at Desert Wind Middle School. He reportedly tried to get her to enter his vehicle. MPD was still investigating this afternoon.

The man was described as being in his 30s or 40s with dark skin and wearing a green shirt with white stripes. He was driving a vehicle “similar to a tan, four-door, Honda Accord.”

Anyone with information is asked to call MPD’s non-emergency number, 520-316-6800.

MUSD reported the incident to police and distributed the information to parents along with stranger-danger tips.

Advice for children:

  • Always be aware of your surroundings and report suspicious activity immediately to a parent, responsible adult, teacher, school administrator, or police officer.
  • If you are approached by a stranger and offered anything, say NO and tell an adult immediately.
  • If a stranger approaches you at a bus stop, tell the bus driver immediately that the person is a stranger.
  • Never walk alone. Always walk in pairs or with a group.
  • Take well-traveled, open routes to school. Avoid alleys or poorly lit areas.
  • Never go anywhere with someone you don’t know.
  • Do not speak to strangers; do not respond to calls or comments from strangers.
  • Stay away from an adult who is asking children for help, as in seeking directions, or looking for a lost puppy.
  • Don’t let a stranger into your home.
  • If you have any fear of an adult stranger speaking to you, walk away.
  • If someone grabs your wrist, make your arm spin like a windmill; yell as loud as you can; then run.
  • If you’re riding your bicycle, keep the bike between you and the adult.

Advice for parents:

  • Keep young children at play outside your home or in the park within view.
  • Make sure that outdoor activities are supervised.
  • Teach your children that they can use any telephone, even a pay phone, to call 911.
  • Teach your children that it’s okay to say “no” to what they sense something is wrong.
  • Have your child photographed at least once a year, more often if he/she is under 5 years old.

Aidan Balt

The U.S. Department of State and the J. William Fulbright Foreign Scholarship Board announced Aidan Balt of Maricopa High School has been offered a Fulbright Teachers for Global Classrooms Program grant and fellowship.

“Being awarded a Fulbright Fellowship and grant is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, and I am so grateful that out of over 450 applicants, I was selected to participate,” said Balt, a National Board Certified teach.

“I am always seeking to be the best educator I can be, and I’m positive this experience will lead to new ways of thinking and have a big impact in my classroom at MHS.”

She is one of approximately 76 U.S. citizens who will travel abroad through the Fulbright Teachers for Global Classrooms Program in 2019-20. Recipients of Fulbright grants are selected on the basis of academic and professional achievement, as well as demonstrated leadership potential. The grant pays expenses associated with the fellowship.

“The process was long, and I’ve been waiting since the spring to hear if I was awarded a spot or not,” she said.

Fulbright Teachers for Global Classrooms is a year-long professional development opportunity for U.S. elementary, middle, and high school teachers to develop skills for preparing students for a competitive global economy. The fellowship includes a 10-week course online and a three-day summit in Washington, D.C., in January.

“From there, I will find out where my exchange with the U.S. State Department will take me,” Balt said. “I will be assigned a country, a school and a cooperating teacher/classroom. I will be overseas for 2-3 weeks, working with the cooperating teacher and students. Once I return, I will have until the end of August to complete a Capstone project based on the action research I complete during my time overseas.”

The Fulbright Program is the flagship international educational exchange program sponsored by the U.S. government and is designed to build relations between the people of the United States and the people of other countries that are needed to solve global challenges. It operates in over 160 countries worldwide.

“I can’t wait to see what learning comes out of this experience,” Balt said. “I am always seeking to be the best educator I can be, and I’m positive this experience will lead to new ways of thinking and have a big impact in my classroom at MHS.”

Maricopa Unified School District emailed Butterfield Elementary parents July 25 informing them the Maricopa Police Department inadvertently left narcotics at the elementary school after a July 3 K-9 unit exercise.

Superintendent Tracey Lopeman released a follow-up statement:

“Maricopa Police officers informed an overnight security guard late Wednesday night that there was a concern regarding a training exercise that took place on July 3.  Thursday morning, the security guard alerted District officials who contacted the Police Department. The District immediately began working with the Maricopa Police Department to conduct a search. We asked students and staff to shelter in place. After interviewing teachers, officers determined a search was not necessary.

Our relationship with the Maricopa Police Department is important and the District will continue its partnership with all City agencies. However, this incident necessitates a reevaluation of our agreement to include modifications that ensure human error never puts any of our students or staff at risk.

Student and staff safety is always our first priority. We are very grateful that the students were never exposed to the package.”

“I can’t get into how it happened because the K-9 officer is currently under investigation,” MPD spokesman Ricardo Alvarado said. “From a department standpoint, we are going to evaluate our policies and procedures to make sure that they are up to standards with other agencies that have K-9 programs.”

Alvarado said MPD will not be training in any public locations for the time being.

“Any building or facility that the public may have access to, we’re going to suspend that until we have an opportunity to look at our policies and procedures,” Alvarado said.

Earlier today MUSD sent a notification to parents regarding an incident at Butterfield Elementary School. The email shed light on officials asking students and teachers to shelter in place as Maricopa Police Department searched for narcotics they left behind during a drill on July 3.


See a copy of the email below and we will update when more information is available.

Dear MUSD Parents:

Maricopa Unified School District partners with Maricopa Police Department in a number of ways to keep our students safe.  Part of that relationship is the use of District facilities for training purposes. This morning, district officials were informed that during a July 3rd training exercise, Maricopa Police Department may have inadvertently left narcotics on the Butterfield Elementary School campus.

This morning, District officials advised Butterfield Elementary to have students and staff shelter in place while the Maricopa Police Department conducted a search of the school.   After interviewing teachers, it was determined a teacher found the package on July 15; not knowing what it was, the teacher discarded the package in the trash.  At no time were students ever exposed to the package.

As always, our first priority is student and staff safety. We are committed to transparency and collaboration with our families and, in our connected community, receiving factual information from the source is important. If you have any questions, please contact us at 520-568-5100.

Dr. Tracey Lopeman


Maricopa Unified School District

Logan Harper introduces himself to parents and students as the new band teacher at Desert Wind Middle School. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

Most schools in Maricopa start the New Year this week and prepared for opening day with Meet the Teacher nights. Maricopa Unified School District hosted a welcome-back gathering for certified and classified employees. Classes will be under way Monday. Watch for buses on the streets and children on foot near school zones.

MUSD Board Vice President Ben Owens convinced two other members to vote for a $68 million bond. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

A Nov. 5 election ballot won’t be asking voters for a $50 million, $65 million or $75 million bond for Maricopa Unified School District. Instead, three of the five members of the governing board opted to compromise for $68 million.

The two dissenting members, Patti Coutré and Joshua Judd, pushed for $75 million.

The bond is for construction of a second high school to mitigate overcrowding and for capital projects for aging buildings, like replacing heating/cooling units and roofs.

Superintendent Tracey Lopeman said a second high school alone will cost around $67-$75 million. The district received $26 million for construction plus funding for land from the state’s School Facilities Board. Under questioning from Coutré, she said a $68 million high school would be a small but comprehensive school that might serve 2,600 students but without some of the programs of the current high school.

Board Vice President Ben Owens proposed the compromise. He said he talked to several people who had signed petitions to put him on the board, and all but one favored the $68 million idea.

Coutré said her constituents stressed the fact they did not like the district continually coming back to them for funds. A $68 million bond, she said, will likely lead to another bond request or capital override in a few years.

Judd, who attended via telephone, warned the board that interest rates will likely rise from the current 3.25 percent to the average 5 percent. He asked for the $75 million with the rate locked in.

“Currently we are at record lows for interest rates,” he said. “The further and further we go out from putting this on the ballot next year, the more we increase the risk of looking at the interest rates which were presented to us when we were given information earlier.”

He said it could cost voters money by not being aggressive now. “I think that’s the most responsible choice. Someone could be conservative now, but it ends up becoming the bad choice two or three years from now when interest rates increase.”

Lopeman said $68 million could result in $20 million left over but not enough to meet all the capital needs.

“We could be at capacity in, say, five years and still have needs,” she said.

“We’re always going to have needs. That’s the nature of the beast, which is great because we’re an awesome district and this is where everybody wants to be,” Anderson said. “But we’re always going to have to keep going back to the voters.”

Anderson said she thinks the state will come through with more capital funding that might help with repairs.

Board President AnnaMarie Knorr said she could see the day in the next five to six years when the district will need another middle school or another elementary school. Though she implored the board to reach a unanimous choice, Coutré and Judd could not agree to do so.

MUSD is currently under an M&O bond that paid for more teachers, smaller class sizes and technology. The district may ask for a renewal in 2020 or 2021. If this year’s bond passes but there is not enough money for major capital expenditures like rooftops, HVAC and safety measures, the district may ask for a capital override or another bond.

Tracey Lopeman is beginning her second year as superintendent of MUSD. Photo by Kyle Norby


How would you describe your first full year at MUSD?
I’ve been able to meet so many great kids and great families along the way and really enjoy the benefits of a close relationship with city partners and business partners. So, it’s just been a wonderful experience.

How did that come about, being able to grow those relationships with the city, for instance?
Well, we started off by having a large stakeholder meeting where we articulated the Maricopa Why. And we invited the mayor, the city manager. We had police representation there. We had city agencies like Be Awesome, parents, students, of course, teachers and administrators. That was in August of last year. They took us up on the invitation, and we were able to identify all the dreams we have in common for the kids of Maricopa. When you have those kinds of commonalities, it’s a pretty good start.

What in your background prepared you for some of the challenges you’ve faced in the past year?
Actually, as a school-level administrator, I spent a lot of time building relationships with parents. It always came back to those core values – if we all want what’s best for kids, the differences we bring are less disruptive and can be turned into the strengths of the final outcome. I came into the work in Maricopa ready to meet people and ready to listen. From our beginning, starting with the Maricopa Why, and having superintendent’s advisory councils with certified, classified staff, parents and students, it really fit well with all my professional experience but also my professional passion.

What were some of the district’s successes during the past year?
It’s a pretty long list. For starters, we have a new website. It’s a much more effective representation of who we are to the rest of the world. We are launching a preschool in July. From the day I started, we had to begin planning for growth at the high school. Of course, that’s a multi-year project. We have been rewarded from the School Facilities Board $23 million to begin that project. The Legislature funded that, so we know we have a future for a high school vision as well. Plus, we had to have an intermediate plan that was agile. If you go over to the high school right now, you’ll see there are 16 classrooms, some of them are brand new, some of them are one-year used, gently used, pre-owned. We’re proposing a 5-percent raise, and we believe our board is going to definitely approve that when they adopt the budget, so we have been able to effectively allocate our resources to get the money back in the classroom, keep the money in the classroom.

When did you know you would need a new school? Was that before you took the job?
Before I arrived, the early spring of 2018, the district completed a demographic study. It was very evident then that a new high school was going to be necessary. Really, I think that just validated what everybody knew.

Can you describe what funding options are available, including the bond?
I mentioned we have the $23 million from the SFB. The board has given very serious consideration to calling for a bond election. That decision is on the horizon. But we began capital planning with a Capital Planning Committee last fall. We’ve had probably a half-dozen meetings with a diverse group of stakeholders, faith-based, business, elected officials, teachers, administrators, parents and students to develop consensus around what was most urgent, in addition to a high school. Our buildings are anywhere from 10 to 12 to 15 years old, so roofs and air conditioning are also a necessity. So is transportation. So is security. Those kinds of things, that’s all part of the funding needs that we have in addition to a high school.

Is there a certain tact you expect the district to take if they go for a bond when you just had the voters approve an override?
We’re committed to communicating the value of education, not only to the individual student or the individual family but the value of an educated population here in Maricopa. What it brings in terms of wealth to the community. If a child has a high school diploma, they have a certain expectancy for income, and how that is so exponentially increased once they have a college diploma. The more educated our city is, the more tax revenue there is, the less crime there is, it’s a more attractive place to live. We don’t want to just sell a bond. We want to promote the idea of making Maricopa a destination city. Part of that is doing our part as a district to educate our children.

While this was your first year as superintendent, there were also changes among the administrative staff. How did that work, with you bringing them up to speed while also still learning the ropes yourself?
I’ll go back again to what we articulated in our strategic plan. We have some very clearly articulated vision and mission statements, and that produced some very powerful goals and strategies. It minimizes the time you have to get people on board because we already did that. We already spent a tremendous amount of time and energy and dedication to articulating what we want for this community. We identified blocks and obstacles, so that already captured any resistance we might face, any obstacles along the way. So, we’re prepared to link arms, not only as professionals but with our parents, with our students, with our elected officials, with our business partners, with our faith-based partners. We’ve got the path already laid for us.

What was your biggest surprise of the last year?
Probably just how many great kids I met. I’ve had a couple of surprises actually. I thought I was going to be stuck in my office all the time. My admin assistant and I made plans to get me out into the schools. I was surprised at the welcome. I was surprised at the warmth. I was surprised at the partnership that I felt continued beyond the articulation of the plan, the partnership that continued beyond the superintendent’s advisory councils. It just was personal. I was surprised at the personal nature I was able to enjoy. It really drove me to get out there more and to listen more and to get out there the next time. It’s just an upward spiral.

Where would you put the level of transparency now compared to when you first came in?
Transparency is a priority for us. We have applied that concept and that philosophy across all departments and throughout all levels. We want to be open and communicative with our parents and with all the constituents in Maricopa. In terms of our communication, part of that is just being available. The website is better, as we mentioned, but we also made sure we had a human answering the phone. We had one of our stellar, superstar Maricopa Unified office people picking up the phone every time someone called. That’s the first part of transparency, saying, “We’re here to listen.” So, we can have a two-way conversation. We’ve also this past spring changed some of our administrative procedures to create greater transparency around our budgeting processes, the way we’re allocating resources and how we’re sharing leadership and ownership in much greater fashion at the school level.


This story appears in the July issue of InMaricopa.