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MUSD

 

Getting children back on school campuses is less fun than it sounds.

Self-regulation and stress-management are going to be really, really important this year.

The opening of the 2020-21 year looms for Maricopa Unified School District and charter schools, with most starting entirely online. With an unknown date for returning to in-person education, school leaders looked for a balance between best health practices and the wishes of families before presenting a plan to roll out the return. Another component is preparing students psychologically for a new experience.

As the Arizona Department of Education presented a “Roadmap for Reopening Schools,” it told schools that implementing direction from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention “should be guided by what is feasible, practical, acceptable and tailored to the needs of each community.”

Gov. Doug Ducey’s executive order keeps kids off campus until at least Aug. 17, and Arizona School Board members are pushing for a delay in the return to physical classrooms until October. MUSD board member Torri Anderson said she would like to keep children learning remotely until fall break, which is Oct. 5.

Heritage Academy has a July 22 all-online start date. MUSD starts July 30 online. A+ Charter Schools, which is debuting this year, starts Aug. 3 online. Sequoia Pathway will start Aug. 4. Legacy Traditional School starts Aug. 5 and is hosting a July 15 virtual town hall to explain the plan. Leading Edge plans to start school Aug. 17 in person but with an online option for families that prefer to stay at a distance.

MUSD surveyed parents to learn if and how families wanted children to return to campus. Some shared their ideas and concerns about reopening with InMaricopa, as well.

“Open the schools as normal, but with extra sanitation precautions,” Jesselee Evans Green said. “At my work, we stop every two hours to clean every surface that’s been touched. It only takes a couple of minutes. Kids can help with that by wiping their desks down at the end of the class. Extra hand washing stations around the schools as well …. My kids need to go back to a learning environment that they enjoy.”

HEALTH

District Nurse Lizabeth Stephens, R.N., created an infection-control plan for MUSD that is ready to go when the day comes. She and the Health Services Department will put together health tubs for each teacher.

“It contains some backup hand sanitizer and also some Lysol spray, the larger alcohol wipes that are also with virucide. I read the label; it works perfectly. And with gloves and masks,” Stephens said.

School nurses will also create a video for teachers about the items in their infection-control tub, explaining how and when to use them. Stephens said she does not want teachers to use certain items incorrectly.

They will explain the difference between disinfecting and cleaning, for example.

“I’m also going to put together a video for the kids on the first day about the importance of social distancing, keeping as far apart as possible under the circumstances,” she said. “Coughing and how important it is to keep their hands clean.”

To convey the basics to students of all ages, they will explain the concept of sterile technique, “Clean to clean; dirty to dirty.” That means if something is dirty and you touch it with your hand, your hand is now dirty and needs to be cleaned.

At Leading Edge, all students and staff will be temperature checked upon entry to school each day. Masks may be worn but are not mandatory. All classrooms will have hand sanitizer. Cleaning and disinfecting procedures will be intensified, and there will be training in health and safety protocols.

MUSD schools will establish entry points where health workers will take the temperature of each student that comes in. It’s not a diagnosis but it is a screening. Students who have a temperature of 100 or more are sent to the health office. Students with a temperature of 100.4 are sent home.

Students are expected to go to their classrooms immediately rather than milling in the hall and mixing with large groups before the first bell.

“We’re trying to cohort the classrooms as the group, however many kids there may be,” Stephens said.

For the elementary grades, that means, where feasible, schools will try to have art in their classroom and music in the classroom. They may even have breakfast and lunch in the classroom.

Principals and teachers will plan the recess times, which may not allow use of playground equipment. A cohort may be assigned a specific section of the play area for physical activity. And hand sanitizer will always be nearby.

But they are still dealing with very young children.

“All we can do is the best we can,” Stephens said. “We try to teach them to be safe. As long as they’re not hugging each other and slobbering all over each other, I don’t care if they hold hands.”

Health Services has had video meetings with custodial staff to go through the cleaning and disinfecting process. If more than one cohort uses a classroom, the room will be disinfected between each cohort. If only one cohort uses the room, it will be disinfected once or twice a week.

For all ages, the nurses are encouraging masks on the bus or from their drop-off point onto school grounds. If parents want their children to wear a mask in more settings, that can be accomplished up to a point.

“Children should not sit in a mask all day long in a room,” Stephens said. “It’s the rebreathing of the carbon monoxide. It’s not safe for anyone to wear a mask all day long.”

She said teachers would not wear masks while teaching unless they approach students to help with something. Afterward, both teacher and student are asked to clean their hands.

Middle school and high school, however, leaves Stephens at a loss, even with her many years of infection control. She has students wearing masks when they change classes. The schools may mark hallways to divide traffic moving in separate directions so students are not face to face.

To prevent congestion in the hallway, there may be monitors to move students along instead of stopping to chat. As they enter the classroom, they will be asked to clean their hands with school-provided hand sanitizer.

Meetings between Health Services and the principals were organized to get everyone’s ideas about how to put best health advice into practice. The Arizona Interscholastic Association’s COVID-19 guidelines are also a point of conversation.

There are procedures in place if a child who has been to school tests positive for COVID-19, especially determining who else has been exposed.

MENTAL HEALTH

“Overwhelmingly, what I’m hearing is students just want to go back to school,” said Amber Liermann, Exceptional Student Services behavioral counselor and licensed professional counselor and clinical supervisor.

Many parents, too, want their kids in the classroom.

The counseling department at MUSD has had weekly meetings during the fourth quarter of last school year and all through the summer to prepare for a start to a new school year unlike any other.

“We want to make sure that we’re staying on top of the developments of what’s going on and making sure that we are prepared to support our students and our families for whatever happens and whatever options are offered,” Liermann said.

They have discussed validating each family’s and each student’s personal experience with COVID-19. Some families might have lost a loved one. Some might have financial impact while others were not as affected.

They will be coming back with different levels of socialization as well. When students do come back, reestablishing attachments, from elementary to high school students, has vital importance.

“It’s important to create routines as normal as possible so the students regain security,” Liermann said. “We would replace old rituals with new rituals. At the elementary schools, in particular, students want that hug from teachers. So, instead of a hug or a high five, they’ll have a tingle and a dance.”

The campuses have Positive Behavior Interventions & Support (PBIS) teams to help students make good decisions if they are feeling stressed. All schools also have Comfort Corners but will change how they are used to avoid sharing tools.

The teletherapy and video chats available last quarter will continue when appropriate.

“Self-regulation and stress-management are going to be really, really important this year,” Liermann said. “There are going to be fears and anxiety coming from students going to school. We will be teaching stress-management tools, help teachers know when to give breaks.”

Health Services asked to participate in administration training to talk about trauma informed care, crisis prevention and de-escalation strategies for a most unusual beginning of a new school year.


This story appears in part in the July issue of InMaricopa.

AnnaMarie Knorr

 

Maricopa resident AnnaMarie Knorr feels exonerated after the Arizona House of Representatives Ethics Committee dropped its investigation into her friend Rep. David Cook.

Though the investigation, which begin in February, was into Cook’s behavior as a House member, Knorr was equally under the microscope in a very public way. The investigation cost her job and caused more private stress.

“I feel like it was a total dumpster fire,” said Knorr, who was dragged through the gauntlet of accusations against Cook. “They had an agenda and they had no interest in the actual evidence and the actual truth.”

The accusations against Cook included having an extramarital affair with Knorr, a former lobbyist, which a complainant alleged compromised his actions as an elected official, and misusing his office to exert pressure on the Pinal County Sheriff’s Office to benefit the Knorr family.

Knorr was mentioned frequently in the original complaints and the detailed investigators’ report. She was interviewed by investigators but not brought in to testify before the committee. When the case was dropped by Chairman John Allen, she was not officially told and had to learn of it from the news media.

“I felt like the entire process was created to do damage to my reputation and to Rep. Cook’s reputation,” Knorr said. “Even until the very end, they refused to allow him to present witnesses or cross-examine their witnesses. A total lack of due process… There was nothing in this process that was fair and unbiased.”

Knorr said she was completely unheard by the committee. When it became apparent she would not get the chance to speak for herself, she sent a “declaration” to all representatives explaining her side of the story. In doing so, she had to reveal very private personal and family information. In it, she called the allegations of an affair “a disgusting lie” perpetrated by her father and her estranged husband.

During the months of investigation by the Ethics Committee, Knorr was deep into heavy educational issues as president of the Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board. The district was working through all the complexities of the COVID-19 pandemic as well as normal, critical board decisions.

“It’s unfortunate that this was such a public political process and that my service to the board was associated with it,” Knorr said. “It had nothing to do with my role as president of MUSD. I haven’t and I won’t let any of this make me shy away from my commitments or make me do any less of a job for the students and the staff and the parents. I’m 100% committed to my role there.”

Monday, she filed her paperwork to seek re-election to the board. Two days later, Allen announced he was dropping the case against Cook, but not because he felt Cook was innocent.

“Although I am deeply troubled by the investigators’ findings and Representative Cook’s subsequent behavior, I do not believe that Representative Cook’s conduct unequivocally constitutes the sort of ‘disorderly behavior’ punishable under the House’s Rules and article 4, part 2, section 11 of the Arizona Constitution,” Allen wrote in a nine-page letter to the Ethics Committee.

That letter, like the original complaints and the investigators’ report, reiterated the accusations against Cook and, by implication, Knorr, again making the details part of public record. He even called their denial of an affair “incredible,” continuing to cast a shadow.

“I would hope that the public can see through that and [see] the fact that the complaints were dismissed exonerates me and Rep. Cook and all the others who were dragged into this,” Knorr said.

As chairman, Allen took particular offense at Cook’s behavior during the investigation, accusing him of several lies in his response to the committee. Cook also refused to respond to a subpoena, and Allen pointed to “threatening behavior” on his part. But he still called all evidence of unruly behavior “equivocal.”

Not being a member of the House, Knorr became a side note to the representatives.

“My reputation has been compromised,” she said. “Being vindicated at the end of the process is great, but the damage is done.”

Knorr is now considering options for her future, focusing on her children and rebuilding her life.

“I’m blessed with some amazing friends. And I love the state I live in; I love the City of Maricopa,” she said. “I don’t think that God saw me through all of this for it not to work out well in the end. So, I don’t know what’s next but I’m excited to find out.”

Students in K-5 and 6-12 will start "virtual" classes at the end of the month that will include synchronous teaching.

 

Maricopa Unified School District will begin school July 30.

The school year will begin online with two different virtual academies. A 6-12 Virtual Academy, which had been planned before COVID-19, had already been approved. A version for K-5 is new.

The governing board voted unanimously on the first-day-of school decision Wednesday.

All students will start with distance learning. Superintendent Tracey Lopeman, Ed.D., said that will include “daily synchronous instruction” with teachers teaching live and students participating through their district-owned devices. The plan also includes honors, AP, foreign language and electives classes.

Lopeman said the schedule adheres to 180-day requirements. For contracts, there are 189 days for new teachers and 187 for returning teachers.

When virtual will become brick-and-mortar is still up in the air. Gov. Doug Ducey’s executive order will not allow that to happen before Aug. 17, a date he called “aspirational.” So that is a date MUSD is aiming for, too, until more information comes from the governor’s office and the state Department of Education.

The board will discuss a date to return to in-person classes at a special meeting July 22.

At Wednesday’s meeting, Board member Torri Anderson said she would prefer to keep students on the online platforms until fall break and then switch over to in-person for those families that wish to do so.

The schedule takes away one week of fall break.

Human Resources Director Tom Beckett said it has been a complicated process to get all the moving parts together.

“As we approve this school calendar, we also have 13 different employee work calendars that are all going to be impacted by the decision we make tonight on this,” he said.

Lopeman said the delay of five school days from the original July 23 start date was to better help staff and parents get prepared, allow for smooth tech checkout of devices and allow more time for training.

Teachers that wish to may conduct their virtual teaching from their own classrooms.

As discussed last week, Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board plans to meet in special session Monday at 6:30 p.m. to discuss changing the date of the first day of school.

Opening day is scheduled for July 23. The district is currently using a modified schedule that includes two-week breaks for fall, winter and spring.

This week’s agenda states delaying the start of the school year is recommended “due to the unpredictability of the data associated with the COVID-19 pandemic.”

Arizona has drawn national attention as a hot zone for the coronavirus.

During the June 24 meeting, Bernadette Russoniello, a counselor at the high school who is also a mother of students and a spouse of a teacher, asked the board to consider delaying the school year or opening fully online. She said she is “terrified” of returning to campus under current conditions.

To accommodate all students and alleviate health fears, the district has put together a plan that would provide education models to be in place for the first semester. Those include the traditional on-campus, brick-and-mortar instruction model that would engage a litany of health protocols, a fully online, real-time instruction model and a hybrid model that would have students on campus part of the time and online part-time.

For the moment, only the fully on campus and the fully online models are completely developed. It is doubted the hybrid model would be set by July 23.

Sue Swano, president of the Maricopa Education Association, said the organization took issue with some of the stipulations entailed in the brick-and-mortar model. She wrote to the board, stating staff and students should be able to move around throughout the day rather than be confined to one classroom.

“MEA fully understands that it is easier to trace contact from person to person if someone tests positive for COVID-19 , but we also know for mental health reasons, it is not best practice to be contained in the classroom for seven to eight hours a day.”

While nursing professionals at the district have asked that students wear face masks on buses and when entering campus, wearing face masks all day is not feasible. As planned, elementary students and their teachers would stay within their cohorts in the classroom, where they would not have to wear a mask, and outside for recess. MEA, on the other hands, suggests wearing masks or face shields in class.

The discussion and decision about delaying the start of the school year is the only action item on Monday’s agenda.

Casting doubt that the district will be prepared to start school July 23 as tentatively scheduled, the Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board will look at changing the timeline.

Board members are looking at postponing the first day up to two weeks and will meet in special session to make that decision.

Wednesday, the board looked at the options for launching the 2020-21 year.

Superintendent Tracey Lopeman, Ed.D., said the administration and board had been considering delaying the start of the new school year since May. Several aspects to coming back are changing daily based on state and national responses to COVID-19.

“I’m going to buy a T-shirt with an asterisk – ‘Subject to change,’” Lopeman said.

Board member Patti Coutre suggested the district wait until Aug. 5. Board member Torri Anderson suggested Aug. 7.

“I don’t think everyone is emotionally ready to come back right now,” Coutre said.

Anderson agreed.

“Until we have people in our audience, I don’t know why we could have students in our classroom,” she said.

The administration has limited the number of people allowed in the board room during meetings.

Lopeman said a delay would probably mean taking a week out of the fall and spring breaks, and reworking contracts. A delay may also lengthen the amount of time families have to decide their preferred option for coming back to class.

Today, Gov. Doug Ducey announced $270 million more from AZCares for reopening schools. That will help MUSD fully develop its hybrid model. At the moment, models for brick-and-mortar classes and online-only classes mostly have developed framework.

Curriculum Director Wade Watson said the online model would have Advanced Placement and Honors courses available, though possibly not to the same scale.

MUSD had accredited its Virtual Academy for grades six through 12 this year. Wade said the governor’s action allows them to make Virtual Academy Jr., for kindergarten through fifth grade, available as it applies for accreditation.

Technology Integration Specialist Christine Dickinson said the district will be technologically prepared for fully online or hybrid infrastructure.

During the last quarter of the year, only seniors were guaranteed personal devices. This year, the district will exceed 1-to-1 in devices for all students.
Board member Jim Jordan expressed concern for the credit-deficient students who attend Ram Academy. “I know they’re there for a reason. They need a high touch,” he said.

Watson said those students can have a combination of online learning and live teaching.

“Should there be students in Ram Academy who choose to stay home or look at hybrid-type model, we can accommodate that,” Watson said. “It’s just critical, if they are not physically present, that we reach out to them on a daily basis and provide synchronous, video-type instruction so they don’t get lost in the shuffle.”

The district is still deciding if face masks will be mandatory in classrooms. The district is supplying face masks to teachers and may provide face shields.

“Maybe wearing face masks is what allows us to come back at all,” Lopeman said.

Tonight, Maricopa Unified School District will present the first draft of its “Welcome Back” plan as it prepares to start classes July 23 in the wake of COVID-19. Tomorrow, everyone can begin choosing their preferred option as the district touts its flexibility.

MUSD received survey responses from 3,073 parents and 636 staff regarding their preferences and concerns.

That survey showed 45% of parents wanted a brick-and-mortar setting for classes, while 44% of teachers preferred a hybrid of onsite and online learning. The opinions of parents and teachers were mostly in line on questions of face mask use and daily temperature checks.

The framework for returning will be published on the district website Thursday. It includes a caveat: “Plans for a hybrid model that integrates in-person and remote learning are in development and highly dependent on several external factors.  Therefore, we cannot commit to launching this model on the first day of school.”

Families will have the option of choosing to go to school in person on campus or attending class via the newly established Virtual Academy. All students will receive a personal, dedicated device.

Health Services has had video meetings with custodial staff to go through the cleaning and disinfecting process. Because social distancing is not considered feasible on a school bus, school nurses are encouraging masks on the bus or from their drop-off point onto school grounds. If parents want their children to wear a mask in more settings, that can be accomplished up to a point.

“Children should not sit in a mask all day long in a room,” District Nurse Lizabeth Stephens, R.N., said.

Meetings between Health Services and the principals were organized to get everyone’s ideas about how to put best health advice into practice. The Arizona Interscholastic Association’s COVID-19 guidelines are also a point of conversation.

Though meals, art and music may be in the classroom for elementary students, the daily schedule will be regular. The district is also expecting afterschool programs like 21st Century and the new Boys & Girls Club to operate in their designated locations.

“We are preparing to be there when school starts,” said Matthew Lemberg, executive director of Boys & Girls Clubs of the Casa Grande Valley, which is launching its Maricopa club this year.

The middle schools and high school will have “virtual clubs” available.

The online learning platforms will have “daily synchronous instruction” such as ZOOM or Google Meets. It is expected to be more direct learning experience than the distance learning of last quarter.

Starting tomorrow, families can choose their option at www.musd20.org/musdsafe.

Learn more about the district’s physical and mental health preparation in the July issue of InMaricopa magazine.

Property taxes are in a generally downward trend, but there is still uncertainty in local budgets. That is causing finance experts to calculate zero revenue growth in building budgets.

The City of Maricopa and Pinal County are dropping their tax rates as the overall tax levy increases. Maricopa Unified School District expects its secondary tax rate to decrease while the primary rate rises.

With economic and population growth, even through COVID-19, the City’s lax levy is gaining about $190,000. That is allowing the city to lower its primary tax rate from 4.7845 to 4.6309 and its secondary rate from 1.1871 to 0.9348.

The county is planning to drop its primary property tax rate from 3.79 to 3.75 when rates are adopted in August. Angie Woods, director of Management & Budget, said it was a huge effort by the county to meet goals of bringing down the tax rate. The budget, she said, was built with an eye on the pandemic.

“Our local excise tax and state shared tax revenues were built in as flat,” Woods told supervisors this month.

She said April revenue numbers were better than projected.

“Very, very positive numbers for the month of April,” she said in a supervisors’ meeting this month. “Very surprising.”

MUSD’s governing board will discuss its proposed budget at its meeting today. The district’s secondary tax rate, which pays for the voter-approved override and bonds, is scheduled to fall from 2.5557 to 2.5327 for fiscal year 2020-21. The primary rate, however, may rise from 4.2475 to 5.2256, as previously reported. Without the addition of an Adjacent Ways levy for the second high school, the primary rate would have decreased about a cent.

The budget is based on the estimated 100-day average daily membership. That has grown from 979 in 2016 to 1,593 in 2020.

“Before the COVID-19, closure I was projecting a growth of 340 ADM,” Finance Director Jacob Harmon said during an earlier meeting. “Since there are so many unknowns due to the changes in the world and our economy, we’ve decided to build the budget based on zero growth so we can be prepared for worst-case scenarios.”

Though the district is receiving funding through the CARES Act, estimated at $1 million, how far it will stretch is a question.

“I have a strong feeling, based on different information we’ve seen in trends in other states, other districts, that the expense of reopening is probably going to outweigh the CARES money,” Harmon told the board.

The governing board meets tonight at 6:30 p.m. and can be viewed live on the district’s YouTube channel.

MUSD Governing Board

 

Want to be a school board member?

Prospective candidates have until July 6 to file paperwork to run for three open positions on the Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board. School board elections will be part of the General Election ballot in November.

To qualify for the ballot, candidates must collect at least 179 signatures. That is based on one-half of 1% of registered voters in the district.

Find nomination packets

The terms of AnnaMarie Knorr, Torri Anderson and the newly appointed Jim Jordan are up this year.

MUSD Superintendent Tracey Lopeman

 

Tracey Lopeman is retiring, but she’s not going anywhere.

The superintendent of Maricopa Unified School District is signing a contract to continue in her position but as an employee of Educational Services Inc. Approaching 30 years in education in Arizona, she is able to take state retirement and still qualify to work.

“This contract keeps me employed with the district for one year,” she said. “That does not mean I’m leaving in one year.”

Through ESI, an education employee can collect their state retirement benefit and be paid by ESI while the district pays a fee to ESI. The governing board approved the contract Wednesday.

Board President AnnaMarie Knorr said those kinds of contracts have become commonplace in Arizona. ESI has been around more than 20 years.

Lopeman signed a three-year contract in 2018 to receive $140,000 annually. The ESI program often results in more money for the employee while the district pays less money.

 

 

As it works out  a plan to fully fund a second high school, Maricopa Unified School District must also look at funding access to that school.

That requires improvements, like sidewalks, roadways, utility lines and sewer, in public ways on district or neighboring property within a quarter-block of school property. The cost of such improvements must come from a different pot of money than construction funds.

It’s known as Adjacent Ways funding and is described in Arizona Revised Statutes 15-995. MUSD Governing Board added a tax levy for it to the Fiscal Year ‘21 budget this week.

Business Director Jacob Harmon said the very rough estimate for those costs come to $7.3 million. The district is splitting the cost between two budget years for $3.63 million each.

The school is planned for the southwest corner of Murphy and Farrell roads in East Maricopa. The Adjacent Ways projects include around $4.3 million for work on Farrell Road, $2.13 million for Murphy Road and $875,000 on campus. The state’s School Facilities Board is responsible for approving all Adjacent Ways expenditures.

“We are setting the levy based on half the estimated amount to spread out the levy among the two years we have during the construction of the high school,” Harmon said.

With the Adjacent Ways levy of $1.0704, the district’s primary tax rate is expected to increase from $4.2475 to $5.2256. The secondary tax rate, which applies to the ongoing override and debt service, is expected to decrease from $2.5557 to $2.5327.

Harmon said any decrease in the tax rate is mostly due to the primary assessed valuation increasing from $311 million to $340 million.

The Arizona Constitution caps the total amount of property taxes levied to 1% of the property’s full cash value. The only exceptions are taxes levied to pay debt service or override election taxes. The cap does not include Adjacent Ways.

If the 1% limit is exceeded, the county’s Board of Supervisors must apply a credit against the primary property taxes owed by the property owners. This amount is then deducted from the school district’s levy, and the state provides “additional state aid” for the school district to make up for the reduction.

The property where MUSD would like to build a second high school is at the junction of Murphy and Farrell roads.

 

Trying to close the gap between necessities and budget realities, Maricopa Unified School District is pondering a 15-year loan to help  pay for a second high school.

Superintendent Tracey Lopeman, Ed.D., pointed out the discrepancies between the School Facilities Board’s minimum requirements, what the SFB is paying for, and MUSD’s standards. The MUSD Governing Board met Wednesday to discuss the issues again.

SFB allocated MUSD a little over $26 million in 2018. The district has three years from the allocation date to start the project, which was compelled by serious overcrowding at Maricopa High School.

From the $26 million, $3.7 million was for land purchase. The district is still in the process of purchasing property at the southwest corner of Murphy and Farrell roads, acres that are currently pecan groves.

Of the remaining $22.4 million, 20% is for soft costs (fees) and contingency expenses, Lopeman said. That leaves $18.5 million for the school.

With that amount, SFB requires MUSD to build a high school with a minimum of 125,000 square feet  to accommodate 1,300 students.

“This allocation requires us to make serious compromises where quality, long-term plans and functionality and aesthetics are concerned,” Lopeman said. “In light of the board’s decision to wait on a bond, it is imperative that the board has complete clarity around the gap between the SFB minimum standards, what the SFB allocation will cover, and the design and construction of a high school that will make the community proud.”

Business director Jacob Harmon told the board the difference between what can be built with $18.5 million and what is considered minimum standards is about $3 million. If the district, which does not have a bond, gets a 15-year loan for $3 million at 2.75% interest, he said, the annual cost would be $260,000.

Asked for his personal recommendation by board member Ben Owens, Harmon said a $5 million loan would allow the school to exceed the district’s minimum standards and improve technology. That loan would cost the district an estimated $425,000 annually.

What could be built for $18.5 million would not meet the SFB’s minimum standards, Harmon said. If the district gets a loan and later succeeds in passing a bond, he said, it could use the bond to pay off the loan.

The $3 million difference between unacceptable and minimum standards would permit masonry and metal instead of wood and stucco, a 34-foot gym height instead of 22 feet, and furnishings, fixtures and equipment for the cafeteria food service instead of a dining experience limited to outdoors.

Lopeman said the board had to be comfortable with owning the decisions “for the next five to 40 years.”

She said Maricopa High School expects an increase of 100 students this coming year. The district has already invested  $2 million in portable classrooms to lessen possible crowding, so Lopeman said they are prepared to accommodate those additional students.

Coach Brandon Harris at work last season.

The scheduled beginning of the new school year is looming large in July, and schools are trying to plan their return approach.

Maricopa Unified School District meets in regular session Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. with a discussion of the re-opening options on the agenda. MUSD has a task force of subgroups on the case. The district hopes to have a complete plan to roll out to staff by June 30.

The athletics subgroup is tasked with “the correct and safe way to reopen athletics and extracurricular activities throughout the school district” following guidance by Arizona Interscholastic Association. That is partially underway, as fall sports like football were allowed to start practice June 1.

Maricopa High School football coach Brandon Harris hoped the AIA guidance would be more direct than it turned out to be.

“I wish the AIA would have taken a leadership position, but everybody’s in CYA mode, pretty much because they left it up to the member districts to determine,” Harris said. “So, some people are able to do certain things, and some people can’t. Some people started on the first, some people didn’t.”

For summer practice, the Rams players are separated into eight groups of 15. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, they are on the field and in the bleachers doing plyometrics and field conditioning. Tuesday and Thursday, there are eight sessions of 50-minute workouts.

“It makes for a long day, but it’s nice to have 13 guys on staff to help push that through,” Harris said. “And they’re doing a great job.”

In the first phase, no contact is allowed, and they are not using equipment. Starting Monday, they will be able to start using footballs, but there will still be no contact. The students are not allowed to congregate closely or use the same water bottle. In the weight room, each player is responsible for cleaning equipment under monitoring by a coach.

Harris said other schools are on different schedules. Desert Ridge, for instance, moved from 15 players per group to 30 in one week.

“We’re real proud of our kids,” he said. “I think three months sitting at home and getting minimal outside activity, they are raring to go.”

All together there are more than 100 students involved in the summer practice, varsity, junior varsity and some freshmen.

To add to the complexity of the situation, an AIA stipulation states there must be a COVID-19 point of contact for each team. That is Athletic Director Jake Neill, but Neill is leaving at the end of June and the new interim AD has not yet cycled in, nor has the new principal. So, Harris intends to turn to Vice Principal Heidi Vratil for that duty.

The MHS football season is expected to start Aug. 21 hosting Tucson. Volleyball starts Sept. 3 hosting Amphitheater. Cross country plans to host a meet at Copper Sky Sept. 2. Boys’ golf is expected to start Aug. 20.

MUSD’s task force duties for the new school year are to be spelled out in a presentation to the governing board during this week’s meeting. The task force has six subgroups: teaching and learning, communications and partnerships, athletics and extracurriculars, technology, daily operations and finance, and health and safety.

If technology is working as it should, the meeting will be shown live on the MUSD’s YouTube page. The public can email comments about agenda items to the board or superintendent.

As discussed in an earlier meeting, the task force ideas mirrors those announced by the state’s Department of Education. That includes the possibilities of returning to campuses as normal, or using online learning only, or creating a hybrid of the two, or delaying the start of school.

The first day of school is still scheduled to be July 23, with a two-week fall break, two-week winter break and two-week spring break built into the calendar.

The concept of a hybrid has two models. One would divide students into morning and afternoon sessions on campus and have them learning online when not in the classroom. The second model, called a cohort hybrid, would have students on campus for regular hours two days a week, some on Mondays and Tuesday and others on Thursdays and Fridays, and the other days filled with online learning.

Possible schematic of portion of first floor.

Another look at the phased plans for a second high school is on the agenda for this week’s meeting of the Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board.

The plans start with a bare-bones first phase, known as the School Facilities Board phase. It does not come with carpet, paint, technology or shade. The SFB has given the district $26 million.

The presentation on possible construction of a second high school was part of a May 27 meeting in which failed technology thwarted the public’s attempts to watch remotely. The district had asked the public to tune it to its YouTube channel but was unable to upload live video coverage of the meeting.

Questions arose during that meeting, such as the time limit of the SFB funding and monetary limit of the Adjacent Ways funding for offsite improvements, that administrators said they would bring back to the board. The selected property is on the southwest corner of Murphy and Farrell roads.

The Wednesday meeting starts at 6:30 p.m. The public is again encouraged to watch via YouTube.

With concrete floors and drywall, the extremely limited SFB facility outlined by Finance Director Jacob Harmon and Facility Management Group partner Mark Rafferty reflected the cautionary description on the 2019 bond issue that was rejected by voters.

“As a community member, why would I want to send my kid there? It’s gonna be gross,” board member Torri Anderson said at the earlier meeting. “What we’re doing with $18 million is nothing. There’s nothing, and offsite costs are going to be pretty high.”

The basic high school building is two stories, with an estimated guaranteed maximum price of $18.6 million. Another $10.3 million for a supplemental package includes items integral to the construction of the school, Rafferty said.

“Some of those things would want to happen at the same time as the original construction,” he said.

SFB Phase

That includes interiors, structure, technology, site improvements and a shell building. The site plan includes an outdoor basketball court and unshaded dining area.

Lopeman said the school has the ability to purchase a shade cover for the dining area, estimated to cost more than $500,000, but Board President AnnaMarie Knorr had a caveat for that assertion.

“Dr. Lopeman can answer those questions with the reality of today, but we don’t know what the reality of tomorrow is and what the state budget is going to look like after this pandemic,” she said.

A second supplemental package involves a playing field, administration building, media center and site improvements for $8.1 million.

SFB supplemental

During the earlier meeting, Anderson encouraged the pubic to email the board and Superintendent Tracey Lopeman with their questions about the project. Anderson said repeatedly she has a “huge concern” about the plans.

“I’m extremely concerned with the location, with all of it,” she said. “I just think that there’s a lot of problems that are going to come with this.”

Anderson was not part of the initial discussions on land use because she recused herself from conversations on buying the property due to family ties. She warned staff there were no water/sewer “tie ins” on the property for Global Water.

She said she wanted to know if the district had time to hold off a year and try for another bond election to help pay for a nicer facility.

If completely built out, the school would need an estimated $17 million for football, baseball, track, softball, basketball, grandstands and practice fields. Phase 2 alone has an estimated cost of $33 million for student parking, traffic gates, second two-story classroom building, music/band building and related site improvements.

Phase 1B

Phase 2

Phase 3

Full Build

The May 27 meeting of the MUSD Governing Board, which inadvertently became a closed meeting, will get something of a re-do in a special meeting June 10.

Maricopa Unified School District is putting itself in the corner.

When the May 27 meeting became blacked out by failed technology, preventing constituents from watching the proceedings, it became a legal issue. Due to COVID-19 precautions, residents could not attend the meeting in person and were directed to watch it live on the district’s YouTube channel. That was the case during earlier meetings as well.

But on May 27, when the governing board was not only reviewing important information about a second high school but also was voting on several issues like the budget, the video did not move beyond a fitful start.

The inability of the public to attend, watch or hear the meeting in real time became a violation of Arizona’s open meeting laws.

In an attempt to make up for the “possible and/or actual violation,” the board is having a special meeting Wednesday at 6 p.m. to publicly ratify the decisions made by vote during that meeting.

The votes include the approval of the personnel schedule, the suspension of board policy on staff vacations, an intergovernmental agreement with the Pinal County Elections Department for the Nov. 3 election, revision of the budget and three adjournments to go into executive (closed) sessions.

Discussed in those intentionally closed sessions were a real estate deal, a protest filed by a landowner adjacent to the property selected for the second high school and the superintendent’s contract.

The video of the May 27 meeting was made available to the public the following day.

The June 10 special meeting will be followed by a regular session at 6 p.m.

An element of public safety in any community is the relationship between police and youth.

Maricopa Police Department has provided officers to school campuses for years as school resource officers, with the numbers varying, but it’s not cheap. It is also not a certainty.

Last year, Maricopa Unified School District had only one SRO, an officer at the high school, enhancing the presence of hired security staff. The SRO is not just a cop on campus.

“School Resource Officers add a great deal to our school environment,” Superintendent Tracey Lopeman said. “Not only do they provide law-related education, the presence of the MPD adds a sense of safety and security for students, staff and parents.”

The positions have always been grant-funded through the City of Maricopa in an agreement between City Hall and schools. If the city does not land the grant, the position is eliminated.

For the new city budget, the City is applying for a grant to fund three SROs. City Manager Rick Horst said the three-year grant would fund 75%. The other 25% would be split between the City and participating schools. MUSD indicated its interest in participating in a letter to City Hall.

High schools and middle schools tend to be priorities for SRO postings, forming relationships with teens. But both the schools and MPD would like those relationships to be formed even younger.

“In an ideal world, we would have a member of the Maricopa Police Department at every school,” Lopeman said.

However, the City must be awarded the grant, which is not guaranteed. If the grant is awarded, the City and school district must lock in their budgetary obligations for the three years.

“We’re in a good position because we’re a growth city,” Horst said. “We know we’re going to adequately staff police officers as we go anyway. If we were a built-out city, I’d probably be a little reluctant because we may not have the ability to retain their services after the grant period of three years.”

Horst said the positions would be filled by new employees. “We’ll make it clear upfront that this is contingent upon continued grant funds.”

The SROs are not the only positions for which the City has hopes for grants. One of those, a victim youth advocate, is also somewhat related to public safety, helping young victims of crime.

“This is a grant that would fund a position at 100% at no cost to the city whatsoever,” Horst said. “In essence, if we get the grant, we’ll hire somebody. If the grant’s not funded in subsequent years, the position will not continue to exist.”

The final grant-funded position the City applied for was in transit. It would allow the City to move a City of Maricopa Express Transit (COMET) employee from part-time to full-time. Without the grant, the employee would continue as is.

As Gov. Doug Ducey was announcing Arizona’s return to school in the fall, the state’s leading youth athletic-regulating body was already distributing its plans to get student athletes back on the practice fields and courts and courses.

That includes no hugs, no high fives, no fist bumps.

The Arizona Interscholastic Association presented its “Recommended Guidelines” for returning to competition with an abundance of caution.

“As long as there is active community spread, which means that new cases are still increasing, we must all be stewards of maintaining a healthy community by limiting the spread of disease,” AIA stated.

Though seasons are not expected to begin until August at the earliest, fall sports have summer training sessions usually underway in June. The plan outlines a phased return to practice that several school districts were already putting together while waiting for state guidance.

“Many districts, including us, were already working on plans to start phasing back in athletic workouts during the summer months, so when that was released by the AIA it reaffirmed everything that we had been working on,” said Jake Neill, athletic director for Maricopa Unified School District.

Though Neill is leaving at the end of June, to be replaced by interim high school AD Evelyn Wynn, his focus has been setting up the MUSD sports programs to move into a new season in unprecedented circumstances. The information from AIA reaffirmed the direction coaches were already heading.

“The guidelines they put out are great and show that everyone involved is trying to do this the right way,” Neill said. “The No. 1 priority while working our way back into things is the safety of the student athletes and coaches.”

Maricopa High School’s fall sports include football, volleyball, cross country, swimming and golf. Sequoia Pathway, a Maricopa charter school coming into the AIA for the first time this year, has football and volleyball on the line as well.

“I think it’s a good first step,” Pathway AD Glen Hale said of the guidelines. “We all want to get the student athletes back on field and court, but the safety and health of our athletes are super important.”

AIA’s new protocols include having a designated COVID-19 point of contact. It reiterates basic healthy behavior outlined by the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention such as staying home when sick, washing hands, using soap, avoiding physical contact and avoiding touching the face with hands.

AIA is discouraging a common athletic activity of spitting. Athletes should also “shower immediately upon arriving home and wash hands after placing clothes in a place to be washed that other people living in your house are not in contact with.”

The use of a “cloth face covering” for athletic competitions, strongly recommended by AIA, is not without precedent during pandemic conditions. Photos survive from 1918 of professional baseball players (and umpires) wearing masks on the field to ward off the so-called swine flu that killed more than 500,000 Americans.

For AIA, maintaining healthy environments means:

• No water fountains
• Outdoor practice when possible
• Modified layouts and social distancing, with at least 6 feet of distance between all people
• Physical barriers and guides that 0utline training areas for each athlete
• Communal spaces, including closed locker rooms and athletes shall come to play and leave immediately after practice
• No shared objects, with each participant having his/her own ball, additional equipment, and protective gear. All gear should be disinfected before and after training sessions, and each athlete should have has own water bottle and towel.
• Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces between uses and deep cleaning daily.

Outside observers will not be allowed to stay and watch practice. Protocols are explained in the event an athlete or a coach becomes ill. Teams are expected to have daily symptom reporting and temperature checks.

According to the AIA, the guidelines for athletic activities are based on the White House Phases for “Opening Up America Again.”

“The recommendations will require adjusting for schools, coaches and  athletes, but during these times everyone will have to monitor and adjust to keep everyone safe,” Hale said. “As we do that, guidelines will be ever evolving as more information is brought to light.”

MUSD Governing Board members (from left) Ben Owen, Torri Anderson, Jim Jordan, Patti Coutre and AnnaMarie Knorr have kept to social-distancing protocols during meetings and are trying to work out what that will look like district-wide when classes come back in session. (MUSD)

Maricopa Unified School District has $950,000 from the CARES Act, but it’s seeing the costs ahead as it plans an opening strategy in the wake of COVID-19.

“That looks like a lot of money, but I’m telling you it goes quickly,” Superintendent Tracey Lopeman said.

Technology alone has gobbled up $100,000 in anticipation of having a hybrid program of in-class studies and online instruction. Though the hybrid model is one nearly every district in the state is considering, even that is not yet set in stone. There are still options for being entirely back on campus or entirely at home.

While Gov. Doug Ducey announced public schools will open in July, the state level plan won’t come down to the district level until Monday.

CARES Act funds are to go to cleaning supplies, extra personnel as needed and instruction. The latter includes technology, internet access, training and related supplies and equipment.

Among ideas being considered at MUSD to have the in-class experience while following social-distance guidelines are staggered start times and schedule cohorts, both of which are meant to limit the number of students in a classroom.

Lopeman told the governing board Wednesday, as an example, Cohort A might attend class on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays and have online instruction Tuesdays and Thursdays, while Cohort B is in class Tuesdays and Thursdays and has online instruction the other days of the week. Or the cohorts could be based on morning and afternoon sessions.

Those kinds of proposals would redefine class time as measured by state law.

“We need legislative accommodation for how we account for time,” Lopeman said.

If remote learning is incorporated into the schedule for the 2020-21 school year, Lopeman said there is a difference between the distance learning that was used to finish out this school year and the online instruction that MUSD would incorporate in a new model.

Board President AnnaMarie Knorr and Board Member Torri Anderson both said all parents they have heard from want the school year to start July 23 as originally planned. Anderson also said she had heard some teachers would not be comfortable coming back that soon. She asked if those teachers could be put in charge of online instruction. She said she would like parents to have a choice if they, too, are not comfortable sending their children back to school.

Board member Patti Coutré warned there would be a “huge gap” between students learning in the classroom and those only learning at home.

Coutré was also worried about the idea of students being required to wear face masks all day if they do come back to campus. She said that would be particularly difficult in younger grades when they are learning to read.

MUSD is drawing guidance from the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention, Arizona Department of Education, and federal and state law.

The district’s list of considerations:

health and well-being
● staff preparedness
● transportation
● facility cleanliness
● illness prevention
● academic intervention
● technology
● on-grade-level instruction
● applying guidance
● care and compassion

Even more immediate than a possible July 23 start date, fall sports programs have been up in the air, and athletic directors are putting together plans to allow coaches to have their summer training camps.

Jake Neill, outgoing athletic director for MUSD, has met with other East Valley high school ADs to see what protocols they were considering. Arizona Interscholastic Association on Thursday released its guidelines for a safe return to practice. That includes designating a COVID-19 point of contact.

As outlined by MUSD’s “next steps,” phase one, ostensibly for June 1-14, is only for individual conditioning and skills, with no contact allowed. There would be no more than 15 in a group, no sharing of water or equipment, no locker room use, staggered practice times and a sanitization protocol for all equipment.

SFB phase of a second high school for MUSD.

Maricopa Unified School District wants to open its second high school in 2022.

With just a little over two years to make that happen, the district is contemplating the size and curriculum of the school, how much of the cost will remain after the School Facilities Board grant and the possibility of seeking a bond. The district’s last attempt at bond failed with voters.

Meanwhile, the district is examining the current status of the ongoing, seven-year budget override. It was approved by voters in 2016 to decrease class sizes and improve technology districtwide. In fiscal year 2018, the override brought in $3.5 million to pay the salaries of 50 teachers, 688 computers and tech staff. In FY19, it brought in $3.8 million, again for 50 teacher salaries plus tech staff, teacher computers and student technology.

The estimate for FY20 is $4.3 million. Class sizes dropped from an average elementary target of 33 students per class to an actual average of 25. With the growth of the city, enrollment has also increased, and class sizes are edging up again.

How all of that will be impacted by the Nov. 3 election is part of a work study for the governing board this week.

The School Facilities Board designated $26 million to go toward the second high school. The basic building cost of the initial SFB phase is expected to be $18.6 million. An additional $28 million is expected to be needed for structure, technology, site improvement, interiors and more “supplementals.” That does not include adjacent-ways expenses at the new site.

The contractor, Chasse Building Team, has drawn up Phase 1 plans that meet the SFB requirements. That includes 125,000 square feet for 1,330 students. Additional architectural plans expand through two more phases to a fully comprehensive high school that includes athletic fields, a music facility and career and technology education building.

Freya Abraham

Freya Abraham, a graduate of Maricopa High School, has been named a U.S. Presidential Scholar, considered among the highest recognition in the country.

She is one of just three Arizona representatives on the list of 161 outstanding high school seniors from across the nation. Her selection was announced by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

The White House Commission on Presidential Scholars selects honored scholars annually based on their academic success, artistic and technical excellence, essays, school evaluations and transcripts, as well as evidence of community service, leadership, and demonstrated commitment to high ideals.

Abraham was the valedictorian of this year’s graduating class at MHS. She posted the highest GPA in the school’s history and became its most-decorated scholar.

Each Presidential Scholar can select their most influential teacher for a special distinction, and Abraham chose Bernadette Russoniello, who was her DECA advisor and is now the College & Career counselor for MHS. She will receive a personal letter from DeVos.

Of the 3.6 million students expected to graduate from high school this year, more than 5,300 candidates qualified for the 2020 awards determined by outstanding performance on the College Board SAT or ACT exams, and through nominations made by Chief State School Officers, other partner recognition organizations or the National YoungArts Foundation’s nationwide YoungArts program.

“These exemplary young people have excelled inside the classroom and out,” DeVos said. “And, while they are facing unprecedented challenges as they graduate from high school into a world that looks much different than it did just a few months ago, their determination, resilience and commitment to excellence will serve them well as they pursue their next steps.”

The 2020 U.S. Presidential Scholars are comprised of one young man and one young woman from each state, the District of Columbia and Puerto Rico, and from U.S. families living abroad, as well as 15 chosen at-large, 20 U.S. Presidential Scholars in the Arts, and 20 U.S. Presidential Scholars in Career and Technical Education.

Arizona’s other Presidential Scholars this year are Rithvik Reddy Musuku of Gilbert, attending BASIS Chandler, and Jake Okun of Scottsdale, attending Desert Mountain High School, and is the Career and Technology scholar.

How Maricopa Unified School District will open for the new school year remains a thorny question for the governing board.

It will be the topic of conversation at the regular board meeting May 27 at 6:30 p.m.

In a note to families and staff Thursday, Superintendent Tracey Lopeman encouraged all to tune into the meeting on the district’s YouTube channel.

“There is no playbook for times like these,” she said. “However, the lessons we’ve learned over the past two months will inform a sustainable blueprint for educating the children of Maricopa with care and new understanding.”

The new school year is currently scheduled to begin July 23.

The Centers of Disease Control & Prevention offered decision-making tools to schools pondering whether to open. They include the ability to screen students and employees, train staff and provide ongoing monitoring.

The CDC also offered advice on reopening, but those guidelines have received pushback from school districts when discussing “modified layouts.” That included creating distance between children on school buses, such as “seat children one child per row, skip rows.” It also suggested placing desks at least six feet apart, using staggered scheduling and closing most communal spaces.

In the bathrooms, it suggested placing plastic flexible screens between sinks if the sinks are not six feet apart.

The CDC has emphasized the guidelines are advice, not rules.

Though the state has offered re-opening guidance to several trades, organizations and churches, it has not yet added schools.

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Maricopa Unified School District Administrative Office

As it decides how to start a school with $26 million, Maricopa Unified School District has been investigating concepts from around the country.

In particular, the curriculum department has a steering committee looking at “small learning communities” and career academies. The governing board looked at a presentation on the ideas at its meeting Wednesday. Curriculum Director Wade Watson said the district has been studying small learning communities for a couple of years.

Small learning communities operate within the larger school. Students and teachers are scheduled together and frequently have a common area of the school.

One version of the so-called SLC is a heterogeneous team of teachers and students number from 350-500, with subteams of 150.

Watson said it was similar to the middle school model of pods, “where students may be grouped by core teachers so they have that smaller community where they kind of know each other a little bit better and build those bonds and don’t feel part of such a larger school.”

He said it has become popular across the nation because it helps students make connections with their peers. Some versions of SLCs have students in the same pod all four years while others change it up year by year.

The SLCs are part of the concept of the career academy.A career academy may have three or four academy focuses. As presented, each academy has a broad-based career theme, an integrated sequence of courses, work-based experiences, and strong alliances with business and community partners. These designs include a career theme, and may lead toward industry certifications or earned college credit.

“I’m really excited about this,” Board Member Patti Coutre said. “I think this is kind of a cool thing for us to embark on, especially with our limitations we’re going to have building a new school.”

Board Member Torri Anderson said large schools in Arizona, such as Phoenix Union, are going with the career academy model because parents have been requesting it.

How freshmen would come into a career academy without getting stuck on an unwanted path remains a question. Watson said some schools use the freshman year as career exploration, allowing students to study one field per quarter and see if there is one they lean toward as a career.

Funding is an important element. Though Watson provided internet links to successful programs, Superintendent Tracey Lopeman said MUSD cannot afford to fully duplicate those programs at this point.

Academies of Nashville
Howard County Public School System
Eastmark High School

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Seniors will pick up their diplomas curbside on Thursday. Photo by Kyle Norby

Maricopa High School is sticking with its May 21 graduation date, but it will be very different than imagined.

With COVID-19 causing the postponement of the traditional ceremony, the school looked for ways to celebrated the seniors and also get them their diplomas before they head off into the world. Thursday, the new graduation plan gets started at 10 a.m. as MHS releases videos on the district YouTube page and on the MHS graduation page.

Valedictorian Freya Abraham, Salutatorian Haley Lemon and Principal Brian Winter recorded their messages to the Class of 2020 to be part of the videos.

Then, at 10:30 a.m., the school will begin the distribution of diplomas in a drive-by setting. The campus had a similar distribution of senior awards this month.

MHS hosted a similar drive-by event this month to distribute senior awards. Photo by Kyle Norby

Seniors and their families can drive through the bus lane off Taft Avenue next to the student parking lot to pick up their diplomas. They are encouraged to wear their caps and gowns. A backdrop will be available in the student parking lot for quick photos. Otherwise seniors and parents are encouraged to stay in their vehicles.

Diplomas will be handed out in alphabetically groupings.

Last Names A-F: 10:30-11:30 a.m.
Last Names G-L: 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
Last Names M-R: 1:30-2:30 p.m.
Last Names S-Z: 2:30-3:30 p.m.

Deana McNamee comes to Maricopa High School from Winslow. (submitted photo)

Two new principals have been named in Maricopa Unified School District.

Deana McNamee of Winslow will take over Maricopa High School for the coming year, replacing Brian Winter. Elizabeth Allison, currently a teacher on special assignment for MUSD, will replace Randy Lazar at Pima Butte Elementary. Lazar resigned in April after seven years.

“I was drawn to MUSD by the small town feel of the community and the diverse population it serves,” McNamee said.

McNamee is a member of Navajo Nation and has held several positions at Winslow Unified School District, including assistant principal at the high school. She said it was important for her to relocate to a community that “that not only celebrates diversity but also promotes inclusiveness.”

She has been a high school art teacher and academic counselor, among other positions. The Winslow district in Navajo County has an enrollment of about 2,000. Enrollment at Winslow High School is about 650. MHS enrollment is around 2,200. Both high schools are carrying a C rating.

MUSD Superintendent Tracey Lopeman said McNamee’s background was important to her has well.

“I am excited to bring someone of Ms. McNamee’s background and experience in school improvement to our District,” Lopeman said. “Her track record demonstrates a commitment to student success and desire to develop systems and processes to support diversity. I am confident that she will respect the traditions and history that make MHS a wonderful place to work and learn while collaborating with the staff and families along the way to greater success.”

Allison will be taking the helm of MUSD’s top-rated school. It has an A rating from the state and an A+ designation by the Arizona Educational Foundation. Pima Butte has an enrollment of about 650.

“I am honored and excited for the opportunity to serve as principal of a school with a long history of academic excellence and strong community relations,” she said. “I look forward to working with the staff and community on identifying new opportunities to build upon the strengths of Pima Butte Elementary.”

Before becoming a TOSA for Pima Butte and Santa Rosa elementary schools in 2018, she was an assistant principal at Toltec School District in Eloy.

“Ms. Allison is an outstanding educator who has the skills, experience, and historical knowledge to be an extremely effective school leader, and I am excited for the Pima Butte community,” Lopeman said.

Santa Rosa Elementary staff left upbeat messages on the school fence during the closure. Photo by Raquel Hendrickson

School is officially still in session, but Maricopa Unified School District is deciding how it will start next school year in the wake of COVID-19.

The 2020-21 school year is expected to start July 23. Wednesday, Superintendent Tracey Lopeman told the governing board there are currently three options being weighed, and all will have some baggage attached.

“We’ve been thinking about that since the middle of March,” Lopeman said. “What are we going to do in July? And it’s a head-scratcher, for sure.”

Traditional schooling at the district’s various campuses is the first option and the one most districts have as a goal. To have students back in class would require additional training, safety and cleanliness procedures.

Other options are to continue distance learning or a hybrid of traditional and online. Lopeman said if the district were to continue the distance-learning program it has been using since the end of spring break, it would be a different version.

Currently, most distance learning lacks accountability and feedback from students, she said. It has also limited student advancement, with only high school students able to improve their grades in the final quarter because those grades impact their future advancement.

Middle school parent Jennifer Reyna has not been happy with the limitations.

CURRENT DISTANCE LEARNING

Students in grades K-8

  • Students receive printed materials and a calendar to help pace their activities. Teachers provide consistent instructional support and guidance through email or phone.  
  • While no fourth quarter grades will be calculated for K-8 students, teachers will provide regular feedback and document progress to keep scholars academically on-track.

Students in grades 9-11

  • Students have the opportunity to improve their semester grade by creating a plan with their teachers to redo assignments from prior to the closure. 

Students in grade 12

  • Seniors may choose to improve their semester grade by completing assignments during the school closure which are graded by their teachers.  If seniors choose not to complete assignments during this time, their semester grade will be calculated on work completed prior to the school closure.  

“Keeping third-quarter grades the same will impact my child,” Reyna said. “She was working so hard to improve her final grade, and now nothing will be counted.”

The district shared with InMaricopa the information it sent to parents to explain why administrators made the decision: “In MUSD, a significant number of students do not have the ability to access and submit assignments through an electronic format. Asking students to physically submit paper documents to be graded and returned places students, their families, and teachers in circumstances that could compromise their health and safety. For this reason and because of disparities in electronic access, we cannot offer a grading system for students in K-8 that is equitable while preserving the safety of families and staff.”

Reyna, whose child is in sixth grade at Maricopa Wells Middle School, said teachers had also expressed frustrations to her about not being able to award credit.

“So just in my daughter’s situation, she had two F’s and two D’s. Even though she will move on to seventh grade, she will have to repeat sixth-grade-level work for the first semester on those four classes,” she said. “But if they were to count the fourth quarter, she would be right on track.”

Lopeman said MUSD is doing the “work, research and collaboration” to find a model that will work best for everyone for the new school year. She said she wants it to better define accountability.

That could include a hybrid of brick-and-mortar class-time and online learning. The hybrid model, which would allow athletic participation like the traditional model, would also require extra athletic sanitization and a modified schedule. Lopeman said she expects to get more guidance from the state by the beginning of June.

Whatever the new school year looks like, it will likely include waiving some state and federal education laws.

The property where MUSD would like to build a second high school is at the junction of Murphy and Farrell roads.

Sworn in Monday as the newest member of the Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board, Jim Jordan will jump right into business Wednesday as the board looks at options for building a second high school.

With both Jordan and Judge Lyle Riggs wearing face masks and the rest of the room socially distancing, Jordan took the oath of office and then received a goodie bag from Board President AnnaMarie Knorr. Jordan replaces Joshua Judd, who resigned earlier this year.

No, it’s not a stickup. Masked against COVID-19, Jim Jordan takes the oath of office from Judge Lyle Riggs at a brief Monday ceremony.

“We have an amazing board in Maricopa Unified School District, and adding new members is a wonderful way to further our mission to provide outstanding education opportunities for the children and families we serve,” Knorr said. “We are fortunate to have such a diverse group of members with the expertise and desire to help us achieve those goals. We look forward to working with you and the fresh perspective you will bring to our work at MUSD.”

The board will here a presentation on concepts for phases of a second high school.

That work includes considering how to build the second high school on a site in East Maricopa. The board has $26 million at hand from the School Facilities Board to help with the first phase of the school. At Wednesday’s regular meeting, architect firm Orcutt/Winslow and contractor Chasse Building will present design possibilities of phased development of the lot on the southwest corner of Murphy and Farrell roads.

The first phase is expected to have a capacity of 1,330 students in 125,000 square feet. If eventually built into a full, comprehensive high school, it might accommodate up to 2,400. The evening includes an executive session for legal advice on the purchase of the agricultural property called Cortana from an investment LLC, Maricopa 240. The property, thick with pecan trees, is south of Anderson Farms land to be developed into housing and just down the street from the Volkswagen test track.

Also at Wednesday’s meeting, Curriculum Director Wade Watson will present a steering committee’s recommendations on career academies and small learning communities as the district creates a long-term vision for the second high school.

The agenda includes personnel changes, including the resignations of JROTC instructor Dishon Gregory and Butterfield Elementary academic coach Becky Rauch. Among new hires are replacements for the principal, athletic trainer and choir/guitar teacher at Maricopa High School.

The meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. in the board room at the district office. It can also be watched remotely on the district’s YouTube channel.

Phase 2 of the proposed project
The proposed project at full build

 

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MUSD

School lunches (and breakfast) have always been an important service at Maricopa Unified School District, but the closures caused by COVID-19 placed the Child Nutrition Department squarely in the spotlight.

Friday is the eighth annual School Lunch Hero Day, a chance to showcase the difference school nutrition professionals make for every child.

The department worked around the clock during spring break to mobilize meal distribution centers at all nine campuses that provide breakfast and lunch Grab-and-Go meals for children in the community aged 18 and younger. By the end of this week, employees will have served more than 120,000 meals, and that number continues to grow.

“I am amazed at their dedication – not only for the hard work they do during regular school days, but during this time, I am particularly amazed,” Child Nutrition Director Suzette Moe said. “They put these meals together and stand outside every day to deliver them to students. It can be a thankless job at times, and I don’t think everyone understands the hard work they do. I am so proud of each one of them.”

These “School Lunch Heroes” remind every that beginning May 4, meal distribution hours will be 9-11 a.m. at all schools. The distribution times for the mobile location at Mountain View Community Church will remain 10 a.m.-noon.

Jim Jordan was appointed to an empty seat on the MUSD board.

 

The newest member of the Maricopa Unified School District Governing Board has been surrounded by teachers all his life.

Jim Jordan’s parents were both teachers, his two daughters have been teachers and his sister was a gym teacher. A pastor by vocation, he was appointed to the board by Pinal County Superintendent Jill Broussard to replace Joshua Judd, who resigned earlier this year.

He said he plans to run for the seat in the November election.

Jordan, a Northern Arizona native who has lived in Maricopa nine years, said he spoke to MUSD Superintendent Tracey Lopeman about losing some students to other schools.

“I asked her, ‘Can we be better than them?’ And she said, ‘Yes,’” Jordan said. “I asked her, ‘Can we be No. 1 in the state?’ And she said, ‘Yes.’ I have my philosophy about financially managing a school, and they’re doing it.”

His economic philosophy is wrapped up in the financial discipline espoused by Dave Ramsey courses he has coordinated 16 years. He would like to see similar programs available to high school students.

“We need to teach financial literacy,” said Jordan, an across-the-board conservative. “It would save a lot of heartache.”

He wants to have students taught the basics of personal finance so they can graduate and go out in the world with confidence.

“They would learn how to invest, build wealth,” he said. “It’s possible.”

Jordan said when he first moved to Maricopa after living in Kansas 40 years, many of the seniors influencing his opinion of MUSD were primarily against school bonds. But he gained first-hand knowledge of the district’s programs when he took his brother-in-law, a remarkable veteran of the Vietnam War, to speak to the Junior ROTC.

“I was very impressed,” he said.

Then he came to know students and teachers in the district and watched what was being accomplished.

“I know they’ve had some problems with discipline and security, and I know they’re addressing that,” Jordan said. “Kids move here and bring their own school culture with them.”

MUSD’s last bid for a bond to help pay for a second high school was rejected by voters. With the district in the process of building a first phase, the administration has introduced the idea of coming back to voters to seek a bond during the second phase.

Jordan said he does not yet know enough to speak on that issue. But he said the time may come when he feels it might be necessary.

“I am for teachers,” he said. “And I am also for kids. I want to help the board in making the school great.”

Adapting for COVID-19 may have long reach

Maricopa teachers (from left) Maria Pour, Ellen Zoretic and Paul Krigbaum are among hundreds teaching from home during COVID-19.

“This is a crazy time, and I don’t think any of us expected to ever be teaching like this.”

The things that our kids are concerned about go from funny to heartbreaking.

Stephanie Arturet is one of hundreds of Maricopa teachers who made a dramatic shift to educating their students online for the last two months of the school year to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. A third-grade teacher at Santa Cruz Elementary School, she is also helping her own children with their online classes at home.

“It’s not easy, especially while I’m doing school with my own two kids, both of whom are MUSD students,” she said. “But we want the best for our students and are figuring it out as we go.”

Shannon Hull, who teaches Blended Learning at Desert Wind Middle School, said the toughest impact of not returning to school was the lack of closure and not getting to say goodbye to students and staff.

“When teachers found out we were closing the doors for the rest of the school year, the first thought was not about math or English or science; it was all about the end-of-year field trips, the graduations, the promotions, prom, senior nights for baseball, softball and track, etc. – all these life events that our seniors will now miss. All of the end-of-year activities we all plan for our students are now gone.”

Instead, everyone had to find a way to stay connected and keep teaching. Everyone went virtual.

Posting videos on Google Classroom and communicating with students and parents via ClassDojo are the new normal. Maricopa Unified School District purchased workbooks for all students in math and English with a schedule for completion by the end of May. After a Santa Cruz staff meeting to clarify the dos and don’ts, Arturet created a calendar and activities.

“I also want to post some videos about content we would be covering now, math especially, and assigning some practice activities, games and challenges to put those skills to use,” Arturet said. “I’ve posted a multiplication fact game through Kahoot.com for students to compete in and plan to do this a couple times a week. It’s an activity we use in class a lot, and they love the competition aspect.”

Some classes demand a little more tactile activity, such as cooking, physical education, art and music.

When I open my email now, it is from a student, and they are sharing their cooking pictures with me. So awesome.

For Sequoia Pathway students, culinary coach David Smith basically hosts his own cooking show. The class preps for a new recipe during the week, seeing a video on the dish and reading an explanation of the recipe and ingredients.

Then Thursday is cooking day, or, as Smith puts on his lesson calendar, COOKING DAY! That is when he posts his full cooking video so students can watch before they start cooking at home.

“I like to make my cooking videos fun and engaging so they will hopefully be inspired to cook something during this time,” Smith said. “So far, the students are responding very well. When I open my email now, it is from a student, and they are sharing their cooking pictures with me. So awesome.”

Paul Krigbaum, who teaches PE at Maricopa Elementary School, said reaching students is the biggest challenge. He also uses ClassDojo.

“I could make a calendar, but how do I know they’re actually doing that?” he said.

So, he created 5-7-minute videos every day of workouts the students (and their parents) can do at home, knowing most will not have the same equipment at the house that they would have at school. He posts them on his “Get Fit with Coach K” Facebook page, and parents respond by posting photos or videos of their children working out.

A Tobata workout will have throwing and tossing. Kids have created their own exercise course with sidewalk chalk. Krigbaum has created a ball from duct tape for a game of hamper ball. He’s been happy to see 110-200 views a day. His exercise challenges have prizes of jump ropes and Gatorade.

He sees ways to incorporate what he is doing temporarily into his regular lesson plans when “normal” school begins again.

Pima Butte PE teacher Jesus Leyva also set up his students with a program and videos.

“I’ve created a Google Classroom where I post weekly skills that students will be working on for that week,” he said. “I have also created YouTube videos to accompany the skills being taught for the week. This provides the students an opportunity to see me give instruction on their iPad, tablet, laptop or electronic device that they are accessing their lessons with. The students post their comments and share their thoughts on the Google Classroom page.”

Hopefully, that leads to more independent musicianship for students and more at-home practice, which is a top goal for any music educator.

Music teacher Ivan Pour also sees a future for elements of the distance-learning curriculum beyond the pandemic.

“I’ve been wanting kids to use SmartMusic more and this is an opportunity to get more kids connected and comfortable on the system,” said Pour, who chairs the Fine Arts Department at Maricopa High School. “I’m also learning a lot about making videos and live online events. Since I’m more comfortable with it, when we get back, I will probably have a more robust selection of online resources for them to use at home than before. Hopefully, that leads to more independent musicianship for students and more at-home practice, which is a top goal for any music educator.”

SmartMusic, which has made its entire catalogue free, is an online practice platform Pour calls “a very cool practice resource.” Band students are expected to use their time working on their individual playing. They have two assignment each week, one a playing assignment and one “virtual concert attendance” using streaming platforms to watch symphonies, bands, opera, etc. Pour encourages them to listen to music they normally don’t hear or play.

Pima Butte Elementary art teacher Ellen Zoretic uses Google Classroom, ClassDojo, email and phone calls to stay connected to her families.

“In my Google Classroom I post videos I’ve recorded of myself teaching the students art lessons as well as reading them art books,” Zoretic said. “I have an extra activity section where I have uploaded links to art games online, printable coloring pages, virtual museum tours and other ideas to keep busy and be creative.”

One of those ideas was creating a color-wheel challenge. Students had to find household items of every color of the rainbow and put them in a circle in their categorized color ranges. “They loved that project!”

She found another way to keep students engaged by reading Diane Alber’s “I’m Not Just a Scribble” while her bird sat on her shoulder as a special guest. She maintains Facebook and Instagram accounts to connect and show student artwork.

“One thing that I think is interesting is that our Blended Learning students at both middle schools are at a distinct advantage with the new online learning that is now happening across the nation and world,” Hull said. “Our students already received their schoolwork online, so this doesn’t change. Our students are also already used to doing research on their own and not needing that direct instruction that most teachers do on a daily basis.”

What’s changed is Hull is teaching her Blended Learning students from her computer table at home instead of in a classroom. She’s making WeVideo math content to post on Google Classroom. In language arts, weekly assignments include blogs or vlogs, where students can express themselves in a safe environment.

“And the things that our kids are concerned about go from funny to heartbreaking,” she said. “Most are concerned about food in the house, parent’s jobs, taking care of siblings, worrying about grandparents’ health. But the biggest thing our students talk about is not seeing friends and teachers and wondering if we will see each other at all before school starts next year.”

At Maricopa Wells Middle School, seventh and eighth grade history teacher Shelby Rostas keeps her students engaged with daily tasks using Google Classroom.

  • Multi-media Mondays
    “I will post a video for you to watch and respond to, a movie that I suggest you watch (if you can find it on Netflix, Amazon Prime, or Youtube), a short video called “This Week in History” as well as the CNN10 for the day.”
  • Time Travel Tuesdays
    “I will post a short reading comprehension article on topics that cover the basics of American History with a few questions to answer, a virtual field trip for you to explore and comment on, and the CNN10 link for the day.”
  • Wacky Wednesday Writing
    “I will post a journal prompt for you to respond to as well as the CNN10 link.”
  • Thankful for Thinkers Thursday
    “I will post a short biography on someone from history with questions for you to answer, and the CNN10 link for the day.”
  • Fun Fact Friday
    “I will post a fun fact and ask you to do some independent research to discover the 5W’s & H on each topic (Who did it impact, What is important about it, Where was it created or happening, When it was created or happening, Why it matters now, and How it has impacted society), as well as the CNN10 link for the day.”

Graphic design teacher Maria Pour said she wants her MHS students to feel they are at least connected with her. It’s been a learning experience for her, too, as she created her own YouTube channel, showing students her home studio and posting enrichment lessons.

“Throughout our entire school year, we’ve used Google Classroom to submit student work, so that has continued as usual and offered the students some stability when it comes to Graphic Art & Design,” she said.

Through the school’s main software vendor and in-house information-technology expert, students were set up with the Adobe Creative Suite at home. Maria Pour said that gave her graphic designers a creative outlet and opportunity to master technical skills.

“I’ve done a Livestream for my students, which felt awkward for me until my students began submitting comments, feedback and jokes through my e-mail,” she said. “It was a wonderful way for me to feel connected to them again.”

I make sure and leave a personal note for them, to let them know I appreciate their work.

Enna Post is the K-5 technology teacher at Saddleback Elementary. She normally would see students twice a week 30 minutes at a time.

“Now with the Distant Learning method, I’m reviewing their computer skills, combining files and video tutorials,” she said. “When students finish and turn in their work, I can see it in Google Classroom. I make sure and leave a personal note for them, to let them know I appreciate their work.”

The program allows her to explain and show the students basic skills like copy/paste and text editing. They can hear her voice and follow along as she moves objects or creates graphics.

Hull said the technology aspect of Blended Learning may get new attention when this vast experiment is over.

“I think now more people will look to our Blended Learning model of how to better integrate online and in-person teaching for the new world we live in.”

Old-fashioned communication still has a place, too. Arturet said she is continuing to connect with kids the way she always has, even by “snail mail.”

“I’ve mailed all of my class postcards and plan to do that every two weeks or so,” she said. “It’s something I do during the year sometimes, and they’re always super excited to get their own mail.”

More than anything, teachers want to see their kids in person again.

“All this is keeping us moving in a bad situation,” Ivan Pour said. “Nothing is the same as in-person ensemble rehearsal. It’s not the same. I can’t wait to run a full rehearsal with my students again. I miss them.”


This story appears, in part, in the May issue of InMaricopa.

Butterfield Elementary teachers posted notes outside the school where children picking up daily meals can read how much they are missed.

To continue to grow our local coverage of COVID-19’s impact on Maricopa in the difficult weeks to come while continuing our day-to-day newsgathering, we are partnering with the Local Media Association’s foundation to ask our readers to help with a tax-deductible donation at GiveButter.com/inmaricopa.

Graduation at Maricopa High School will be different in 2020.

In a year when high school graduates nationwide are missing out on traditional celebrations due to public health considerations over coronavirus, Maricopa High School is working to ensure its seniors get proper recognition for their achievement.

After seniors voted overwhelmingly to have a traditional graduation ceremony in December, a planning committee continues to work on the details and will share them when finalized.

On May 21, the high school will release its graduation video on the district web site, according to the district calendar. In addition, Ak-Chin UltraStar will play the video on its large outdoor screen on dates and times to be determined and shared soon.

InMaricopa is helping to produce the video and will again print the high school’s graduation program, to be handed out to graduates with their diplomas. The plan to distribute diplomas is still being finalized and will be announced soon.

The high school’s online program and senior awards listing will be shared on May 4 with the school community, according to the calendar. Award pick-up will be May 6 in the student parking lot by the campus entrance gate. Yearbooks will be distributed on May 13 from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.

Dealing with an overcrowded high school and denied a bond to build a comprehensive second high school, Maricopa Unified School District is creating an additional high school as a “career academy.”

Plans are for a July 2022 opening.

MUSD is in the process of purchasing 80 acres, known as the “Cortona” site, on the southwest corner of Farrell Road and Murphy Road currently owned by Maricopa 250 LLC. Board member Torri Anderson recused herself from the decision, stating a conflict of interest.

“I am excited for the children in our city,” Governing Board President AnnaMarie Knorr said in a district announcement Friday. “The additional high school will not only address overcrowding but will arrive with its own identity and focus. It is not meant to be a cookie cutter replication of Maricopa High School, this is about expanding opportunities. It is important to us that each school continues to develop its own unique culture and programming to meet the diverse needs and interests of all our scholars.”

The district received funding through the state’s School Facilities Board that would have started a typical school with a full offering of extracurriculars. But it needed extra funding from taxpayers to complete, funding that did not come, when voters rejected a bond.

The new plan, according to the announcement, is “an initial phase of four modular academies of learning communities.” The capacity allowed by SFB funding is 1,330 students, which would place up to 333 students in each academy.

For the first phase, MUSD has $26 million from SFB, including $3.75 million for land acquisition,

“We are stewards of taxpayer money, and we are committed to building a high school that maximizes every dollar in the first phase while providing an infrastructure set for expansion into future phases,” Superintendent Tracey Lopeman said. “Programming will follow a similar path. We will identify
foundational programs that will blossom into the career academies and learning communities that help shape young people into responsible citizens, great employees, and wonderful neighbors right here in Maricopa.”

The district has stakeholders developing programming ideas.

The announcement from the district noted initial ideas of global learning, additional career and technical education options, a community college partner, transitioning programming and agriculture.

Phase 1
● School Facilities Board capacity is 1,330 students, so each Academy or Small Learning Community (SLC) will house approximately 333 students or 13.32 teaching stations at 25 students per station (SFB metric).
● The architects propose a design with 14 teaching spaces per Academy or SLC. With 26 students per teaching space, which would be 80% utilized, the teaching spaces would provide an excess capacity of 350 students [100% utilization is 30 students/TS].

MUSD may seek bonds from voters for Phase 2 expansions, which could use existing modulars to house two academies/SLCs instead of all four and adjust the facility footprint with new construction to meet future growth needs.

According to MUSD, the Cortona property was chosen after evaluating land options and considering location, infrastructure, floodplain, size, topography and price.

“The Cortona property is priced the best, it is not impacted by the floodplain and is in an area of our city that is predicted to see substantial growth,” Business Director Jacob Harmon said.