Category Archives: school districts

Teachers and districts pursue excellence

Story and photo by Dan Friedman

Teachers have to be certified by the state in which they teach. In education classes they learn teaching methods, strategies and classroom management skills and they also must log sufficient hours in the content area they intend to teach. Middle and high school teachers must take specific classes in and/or be degreed in their content area specialty.

Truthfully though, it takes time in the classroom to make sense of the material you learn in education classes. Classroom management theories only make sense when 150 eighth graders are showing up every day.

In my experience, principals and vice-principals had little or no time to observe teachers beyond once or twice a year for a few minutes. The number of issues at any one school, both trivial and significant, is mind-boggling.

I was observed more in my first few years of teaching at Aztec Elementary in Scottsdale (when it first opened and the student body was small) than I was in the following eight years combined. That was a real luxury. There’s nothing better for a new teacher than meaningful feedback from someone who understands teaching. Especially when it’s something like, “I didn’t understand where you were going with your lesson. What was your intention?” It’s one thing to think you’re reaching a bunch of 8- and 9-year-olds, and another to know you are.

It takes time (years) to master teaching, so feedback and training is crucial.

The Scottsdale Unified School District recently honored nine teachers who received National Board Certification, bringing to 46 the number of national board-certified teaches in the district. Many districts have teachers who have put in the considerable time and effort to become certified above and beyond the state-required level.

National board certification is a process teachers voluntarily undertake to improve their teaching skills. Teachers demonstrate through portfolios, videotaped teaching and documented accomplishments outside the classroom their understanding of their students’ needs and their ability to meet those needs.

This is not a weekend seminar or an online class. It takes at least one year to complete. The certification process costs $2,565; of that, districts or the State will kick in $500. Fortunately, the national certification can lead to career and salary advancement. Nearly  100,000 teachers nationwide have earned national certification.

School districts also undergo significant processes to ensure they are meeting their students’ needs and making continual improvements. The Peoria Unified School District is the first Arizona school district to pursue AdvancED District Accreditation. AdvancED accreditation certifies that your child’s high school provides a program of study that results in meaningful high school credits when students apply to colleges and universities.

AdvancED also  works with districts to help ensure that K-12 systems meet the highest standards. The Peoria district has 40 schools, so the process is lengthy, complicated and will involve ongoing efforts. A meeting Feb. 8 in Peoria will provide information for those interested in the process.


Friday FUN photos from school: Festival Foothills Elementary

Second graders at the West Valley's Festival Foothills Elementary School meet Zion.

There were plenty of wide eyes and dropped jaws at Festival Foothills Elementary this week, as students enjoyed a visit from the Phoenix Zoo‘s Zoomobile.

Students in preschool through fifth grade participated in the zoo’s Predator and Prey Presentation, a chance to get up close and personal with the likes of snakes, scorpions and hedgehogs.

Face to face with Bernie the hedgehog.

Zookeeper Carrie Flood brought each creature around to meet the kids face to face. Students were asked to consider whether the species was predator or prey, based on its features. They decided Turbo the Turtle was prey and learned that Zion the king snake — a predator — eats rattlesnakes!

They met a cactus beetle and Bubbles, the whip scorpion. They learned that Bernie the hedgehog is a small but ferocious African predator who completely terrifies his prey.

Students “were very excited to have the Zoomobile visit this year,” says Principal Christina Strauss. “This is just another example of how Festival Foothills Elementary is providing exciting opportunities for its students despite tough economic times.”

Festival Foothills Elementary is a K-8 school located at  26252 W. Desert Vista Blvd. in Buckeye, 10 miles west of Surprise. It is part of the Wickenburg Unified School District.

Festival Foothills opened in January 2008 as a K-5 school, and has grown to include a preschool and middle school. One-third of the student population comes from neighboring communities through open enrollment.

The Phoenix Zoo offers two outreach programs, Zoomobile and Zoo to You, that align with Arizona Department of Education Academic Content Standards.

Want to see your school featured next Friday? Send your FUN photos to:

Zookeeper Carrie Flood shows Turbo the turtle to Anthony Morales.

All’s well on Indianola

We get press releases all the time from school districts touting their new programs, facilities, teacher awards and student achievement. Scottsdale Unified School District (SUSD) sent a release about an award for excellence in financial reporting.

Scottsdale Unified School District Education Center on Indianola and 44th St.

Often a press release like this might be deleted post-haste, but having worked in the SUSD from 1993-2003 this caught my eye and I gave a little cheer.

In the late 90s, SUSD was in hot water with the Arizona Attorney General’s office. In fact the AG’s office set up shop at SUSD district offices (44th and Inianola) so there were plenty of rumors, reports and media attention about what was going on down there. There were questions about how money was spent and accounted for, which for a district, is of major importance as there are strict rules regarding how money is spent.

Clearly though, things have changed for the better and I’m glad to hear that, because back in those dark days, the district had to spend a bunch of money to remedy the problems they faced.

Scottsdale district received the Certificate of Achievement for Excellence in Financial Reporting by the Government Finance Officers Association of the United States and Canada (GFOA) for its comprehensive annual financial report. Sherry Celaya, interim director of Business Services and Chief Financial Officer, received the Award of Financial Reporting Achievement for preparing the award-winning comprehensive annual financial report. Celaya is one of the many district personnel who spend many hours unraveling red tape and keeping the lights on in the classrooms in SUSD and districts across the country.

Everyone assumes school districts spend money willy-nilly, but for well-run districts, there is no willy-nilly. Certain accounts can only be used for expendable materials like art supplies, or copy paper. Other accounts can only be used for capital goods like computers or tables. And if one account is empty there is no dipping into another. Keeping track of how money is spent and on what, is no small task.

People love to complain how wasteful public school districts are but truthfully, a district is a huge business, with many different locations serving customers with a wide range of needs and demands. The mission for any district is to provide as much of their service as possible, to as many kids as possible, every day, without charging them extra.

Dan Friedman