Published: December 21st, 2017

Bringing After-School Programs into the 21st Century

21st Century Community Learning Centers

Long ago, in the last quarter of the 20th century, after-school programs often consisted of a snack, supervised playtime, and a table in the cafeteria for doing homework. In this, the 21st century, many lucky Arizona students get to participate in a new generation of out-of-school-time programs at truly impressive 21st Century Community Learning Centers (21st CCLC).

The 21st CCLC Movie Making and Drama Club at Billy Lane Lauffer Middle School in Tucson is a prime example of just such a program. As reported by Erika Hannemann of Sunnyside Unified School District (parent district to Lauffer Middle), the club “brings together the perfect combination of both academic youth development and the magic of filmmaking. The students, working as a team, find popular stories, adapt them, create a script, and produce a video complete with props and a green screen. This project-based after-school activity not only promotes highly engaging academic learning, it also teaches students teamwork, creativity, social bonding and intricate communication skills. Not to mention, it’s really fun!”

These federal grant-funded centers offer a rich variety of classes and activities programs focused on helping students not only meet Arizona academic standards, but develop new interests, talents, and skills. Each 21st CCLC program is the product of close collaboration with the sponsoring school, community members, and family members of participating students.

Visit the ADE website to learn more about the 21st Century Community Learning Centers program, read about some fantastic achievements, and see what it takes for your school to take part.

The 21st CCLC Movie Making and Drama Club at Billy Lane Lauffer Middle School has turned into a full-fledged movie production company! Students applied their newly-developed skills in writing, acting, directing, video editing, and digital special effects to produce a truly unique dramatization of the classic story of Rapunzel.

Posted in News |
Published: December 19th, 2017

Top 5 Ways Arizona’s K-12 Standards Are Different than Common Core

Top Five List Arizona Standards vs. Common Core

Common Core

  1. Common Core Standards are owned and copyrighted by an organization in Washington, DC and cannot be changed without their permission.
  2. Common Core had lists of recommended reading materials, some of which were questionable in their age appropriateness.
  3. Common Core did not emphasize students learning about time and money in the early grades.
  4. Common Core did not have our students learn to read and write cursive.
  5. Common Core not only asked math students to get a certain answer, but said they had to show that they got the answer in the Common Core way.

Arizona Standards

  1. Arizona Standards are owned by Arizona and can only be changed by Arizona. They were created with input from more than 200 Arizona educators and thousands of comments from the parents and people of Arizona.
  2. Arizona Standards allow school districts and charters to select their own curriculum and resources.
  3. Arizona Mathematics Standards have students learning about time and money in 1st through 4th grades.
  4. Arizona now requires students to learn cursive by 5th grade. Arizona is the only state with standards that lead to writing cursive.
  5. Arizona students and teachers can now use different methods to get the correct math answer.
Posted in News, Press Releases | Tagged , , , , |
Published: November 29th, 2017

Read 20 AZ: Read Early, Read Often, Read Together

5 Pillars of Early Literacy

Read 20 AZ is an Arizona Department of Education initiative to encourage early literacy. Throughout the nation, educators and child development advocates use the slogan “Read 20” to emphasize the importance of reading at least twenty minutes a day, either independently or with another person. The Read 20 AZ message is simple: read early, read often, and read together.

Read Aloud

Reading aloud is another powerful tool for promoting early literacy. When infants are read to, their brains begin preparing to learn words. By the time a baby is grabbing for the book, they are able to tell words apart. Toddlers who have been read to regularly can not only demand their favorite books at bedtime, but start matching sounds to letters. With the alphabet and years of stories under their belts, young children have the building blocks to start sounding out words. Reading aloud then becomes a technique young readers use to get better and faster. Fluent readers can complete the circle by reading to newer readers, even as they enhance their own vocabulary and comprehension. Reading aloud supports each of the “5 Pillars of Early Literacy.”

Posted in News | Tagged |
Published: November 20th, 2017

ADE Staff Gives 150 Turkeys to Fowler Elementary District Families

frozen turkey delivery

To kick off the 2017 Thanksgiving season, ADE’s senior executive leadership, following Superintendent Diane Douglas’s lead, decided to use a friendly intraagency competition to give back to the community. The First Inaugural ADE Turkey Drive was an astounding success.

In just ten days, the agency’s employees donated enough money to purchase and deliver 150 frozen fowls to Fowler Elementary District in southwest Phoenix. That is approximately one turkey for every four staff members or almost 3 pounds of turkey per ADE employee!

Shown: ADE Associate Superintendent Mike Mannelly delivering frozen fowls to Dr. Marvene Lobato, superintendent of Fowler Elementary District.

The last of the turkeys were delivered to the district on Friday, November 17, and immediately distributed to excited families just in time to set the frozen birds to thaw for Thanksgiving. After all, we did not want hungry kids crying foul about frozen fowls come Thursday or folks frying a frozen bird, which would definitely draw a foul from the fire department.

turkeys in car
How many turkeys fit in the back of a DAS’s jeep?

While the purpose of the Turkey Drive was to give back to the community, a little friendly competition between departments never hurt anyone. The (admittedly large) Information Technology division proudly led the flock-we-mean-pack by donating fully half of the turkeys, but the rest of the teams were close behind. After all, birds of a feather… (do we really need to finish that?)

Posted in News |
Published: November 8th, 2017

Arizona STEM Instructor Awarded Star Teacher Prize

Kazmierczak and class

We are proud to recognize the hard work and excellence of yet another Arizona teacher. Circle Cross Ranch K-8 STEM Academy instructor Tanielle Kazmierczak was awarded $2000 on Friday morning from the Star Teacher Awards program. The STEM classroom-focused program is funded by technology company PCM-G in partnership with

PCM-G is an IT product and services company involved in the education IT environment, with offices in the United States and Canada. is a well-known nonprofit specializing in getting classroom teachers the supplies and resources they need. The Star Teacher Awards contest provides STEM teachers with technology and classroom supplies.

Kazmierczak is the third teacher in the nation to receive the Star Teacher Award and the funds that come with it. Circle Cross Ranch is located in Queen Creek at the far southeastern edge of the Phoenix Metro area. In spite of the school’s semi-rural location, Kazmierczak earned enough votes to win the national contest.

The presentation was meant to be a surprise, but the money arrived one day early. Kazmierczak described her reaction as being, “Speechless,” and, “In shock. It’s so amazing to do this for the kids.”

Kazmierczak has big plans for the money. As K-8 STEM Instructor, she plans to spend her $2,000 on iPads to help her students program their robots. Kazmierczak has already purchased learning robots that can do everything from follow paths drawn by hand (for younger students) to perform complex programmed routines (for the older students).

STEM education is a key part of Arizona’s educational future. Congratulations to Tanielle Kazmierczak and Circle Cross Ranch k-8 STEM Academy for making Arizona proud!

Posted in News |
Published: November 8th, 2017

Benson USD: A Community on Track

On Track for Tomorrow

TRACK: Trustworthy, Responsible, Accountable, Community-Minded, Kind

These were the values chosen by an advisory group of Benson Unified School District employees to represent their educational community. All of these are good things. Trustworthy. Kind. Responsible. Any school district producing students who can be described in such terms is doing something right. Over and over again, though, they came back to the idea of “community”.

Benson was founded in 1880 when the Southern Pacific Railroad chose its location to cross the San Pedro River. The town is still connected to that history in many ways. The Benson Unified School District’s new slogan, for example, is, “On Track for Tomorrow.”

Benson USD and Southern Pacific Lines logos
With its motif of railroad tracks disappearing into a setting sun, Benson USD’s logo makes a nod to the town’s origins as a stop for the Southern Pacific Railroad.

It’s easy to see how Benson’s emphasis on community came to be. This small Arizona community is full of historic buildings and houses. The town of 5,000 has remained roughly the same size for decades, avoiding both the booms and exoduses that have radically changed most Arizona towns.

The school district office, where ADE personnel sat down with Superintendent Micah Mortensen, is located next to the primary, middle, and high schools for the district. All are just blocks from downtown. All five of the governing board members are alumni of Benson High School.

This emphasis on community is clear in the culture of the schools. Benson Middle School has the Where Everyone Belongs (WEB) program, where newly-minted 8th graders mentor the incoming 6th graders. Benson High School students have a parallel program called the Link Crew who help freshmen through their first year.

TRACK: Trustworthy Responsible Accountable Community-Minded Kind
TRACK Trustworthy Responsible Accountable Community-minded Kind Benson USD’s “TRACK” motto keeps the district moving forward with a nod to the community’s railroading past.

The application of this philosophy doesn’t begin with students, though; it begins with the adults. Within the BUSD, Superintendent Mortensen promotes an environment of respect, on the principle that people who are happy with their jobs do their jobs well. By emphasizing good relationships between teachers, faculty, and education stakeholders, the BUSD can do more to help students excel.

Outreach to the rest of the community is also important. Principal Jansson of Benson Primary School regularly holds open events, where members of the community can stop by for coffee and tell her what’s on their mind. Superintendent Mortensen describes this as, “Very brave of her.”

This is because creating and maintaining a community isn’t all about accolades and bake sales. People get angry, people disagree over how students should be educated. Having the courage to be open to criticism is a virtue many find difficult to cultivate. Superintendent Mortensen refers to this as a willingness to listen.

“When people come in,” he explains, “I go into student mode. What can I learn from you?”

Being part of a small community means being answerable to your neighbors. It means being recognizable to people you pass on the street. This is a challenge urban school district administrators don’t face. It’s often a true asset, however.

One such experience that has stuck with him was an encounter with a father of a student, a veteran, who used the phrase, “Mission first, people always.” Not only did Mortensen listen to what the man was saying, but he committed it to memory and let those words impact his teaching philosophy. Mortensen ran into the father again, and was able to tell him that he had told his story and shared those words of wisdom with others.

Big changes may be on the horizon for Benson. A massive new “master-planned” community is scheduled to break ground soon. This new development would bulldoze 12,500 acres of vacant land, and wedge 28,000 new homes (along with commercial space) onto it.

While the community is divided on the development, there is no doubt that the increase from 5,000 to 70,000 residents would dramatically change Benson. BUSD, while very small, has been one of the best school districts in the state for several years running, and took home the top spot in 2013.* Maintaining that quality, community, and the values which uphold it while bringing in hundreds of new teachers, thousands of new students, and building many new schools would be a major challenge.

Superintendent Mortensen appears comfortable with whatever the future brings and plans to confront any challenges with the same focus that has sustained Benson for more than a century: community. As Superintendent Mortensen puts it, “We can’t control funding. Can’t control testing. But we can control how we treat one another.”

*Corrected date to 2013.

Posted in News |
Published: October 17th, 2017

Migrant Education Program Changes Lives in Coolidge, Arizona

migrant farm workers near Coolidge

The following article was originally published in the Fall 2017 issue of Pinal Ways Magazine. All photographs are courtesy of the Coolidge Unified School District.

Migrant Education Program plants seeds of hope for next generation

By DARREN BARAKAT, Pinal Ways Magazine Sep 28, 2017

Seth Holmes, an American doctor and anthropologist, spent more than a year and a half doing something unimaginable to the typical Arizonan who works full-time in an air-conditioned office. He picked fruit on farms in North America alongside the migrant workers who have no other way to make a living.

His book “Fresh Fruit, Broken Bodies: Migrant Farmworkers in the United States” details his experiences feeling half asleep when starting work, suffering from knee and back pain, and doubting he could continue to work so fast with his arms while his legs fell asleep from lack of movement.

One day, as he has told multiple interviewers, he wrote “this feels like pure torture” in his journal.

Common descriptions of migrant farm work in the United States include words such as “grueling” and “exhausting.” Days can be more than 12 hours long and often include exposure to pesticides, walking through narrow trenches between crop rows and spending much of the day bent over. Oh yeah, and summertime temperatures in much of Arizona surge above 100 degrees.

The pay? According to an survey, the average farmworker in Arizona makes less than $11 per hour.

Parents of children enrolled in the Migrant Education Program work long, hot days as seasonal agricultural laborers. Children enrolled in the MEP receive services to help mitigate the effects migrant work has on academic progress.

Thanks in part to the U.S. Department of Education’s Migrant Education Program, these farmworkers’ children have a chance at an easier life. Almost 400 such children, including those whose parents work on dairy farms, are enrolled in the program through Pinal County school districts.

The Migrant Education Program (MEP) is a federally funded, state-operated program that provides services to the children, ages 3 through 21, of seasonal or temporary agricultural workers. The U.S. government established the program as part of Title I, Part C, of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act of 1965, and the program has been reauthorized over the years, most recently by the Every Student Succeeds Act.

According to the Department of Education website, “all children in the United States are entitled to equal access to a public elementary and secondary education, regardless of their or their parents’ actual or perceived national origin, citizenship or immigration status.” The program was designed to help provide equal access, so students “who move among the states are not penalized … by disparities among states in curriculum, graduation requirements or state academic content and student academic achievement standards.”

The latest figures from Arizona show about 11,000 students in the state are enrolled in the program, including 375 in Pinal County. Among state enrollees, 85 percent are in the Yuma area, said Mary Frances Haluska, Migrant Education Program director for Arizona. The state Department of Education website shows there are migrant education programs at four Pinal County school districts: Casa Grande Union, Coolidge Unified, J.O. Combs Unified and Stanfield Elementary.

Carmen Navarro, a migrant education interventionist with the Coolidge Unified School District, has seen first hand how much the program helps migrants.

young boy in graduation cap
This young preschool graduate enrolled in school with the help of employees from Coolidge USD’s Migrant Education Program.

A family with six children moved last year from California to the Coolidge area, Navarro said. One of the children needed special services, and the parents did not have the school records necessary for the child to qualify. The Coolidge staff tracked down the records.

“It took a couple of weeks,” Navarro said. “When you move from school to school, those records can get lost.”

During the initial meeting with parents, Coolidge staff discovered the family had a 4-year-old son who was not in preschool, so they helped to get the child enrolled.

“That family has really flourished,” Navarro said. “Mom and dad are working, the kids are doing well in school. That was a real success story.”

According to migrant education representatives from the Coolidge, Combs and Stanfield districts (Casa Grande Union did not respond to messages seeking information), common benefits and services include tutoring and academic support, and financial support for school items and sometimes even non-school items. Districts, however, are unique in what they are able to provide and what their families need most.

public meeting
Coolidge USD holds quarterly information meetings for current and prospective MEP families.

The Coolidge district holds a quarterly meeting to get feedback from parents. “They tell us what kind of services they would like,” said Jess Miller, director of curriculum for the Coolidge school district.

The Coolidge program has 148 participants from 51 families. It’s run by a full-time recruiter, Yolanda Magallanes, and two interventionists, Anthony Gonzales and Navarro, who work full time for the district but not exclusively on migrant education.

Parents of Coolidge students enrolled in the program would not speak to Pinal Ways in person but provided answers via email in Spanish to Magallanes, who relayed questions to them.

A mother who would only be identified as Mrs. Barrera said she appreciates the help and the communication from the district’s quarterly migrant education parent meetings and from regular contact with staff.

“The migrant team helps me if I have any problems,” Barrera wrote. “The team tells me what to do and who can help me. They advocate for me.”

Barrera wrote that through the program, directly or indirectly, she has received food, backpacks, personal hygiene products, assistance paying sports participation fees and enrollment in a Toys for Tots program. She was also referred to an attorney for legal advice on immigration questions, enrolled in an English class, and given information about “community resources” for help paying dental, health and other bills.

Another parent, Mrs. Ramirez, wrote that she received food and help paying a class fee, and she was “guided to resources to help with electricity, water and rent.”

According to Gonzales, who helps students apply for college and scholarships, “Most of our students and families are intimidated by the process because they may not understand it well enough. We do and we are there for them through the process.”

The Coolidge staff feels good about the work they do to help migrant families.

“It is rewarding to assist the unique and underserved population of students,” said Magallanes. “We help make sure students feel successful. We bring the families together, and among each other they have a sense of community.”

Kelly Guerra, coordinator of community education, runs the program for the J.O. Combs District with help from migrant liaison Elizabeth Kloehr, who also works as the district’s homeless coordinator. Thirty-nine students in 21 families are enrolled, Guerra said.

Migrant students typically lack internet service or even a computer in their homes, Guerra said.

“As we move toward digital resources, that’s a challenge,” she said.

The district is ordering two laptop computers to help with that, she said.

Guerra said migrant education students get food, clothing, school supplies and backpacks through a food bank that is open to all area residents and funded by donations. For medical and dental needs, families are referred to doctors and dentists who provide free or reduced services.

Guerra and Kloehr work with teachers and staff to find out what support is needed but often can’t offer after-school tutoring because the school doesn’t have late buses.

One migrant education student Kloehr works with requires special education and has an individualized education plan (IEP).

“Elizabeth is there for every IEP meeting and acts as a liaison between the home and school. She works side by side to help the family navigate that system,” Guerra said. “They (the family) bring her food. They just love on her for what she’s been able to do.”

Participation in the Stanfield district program ranges from 80 to 95 students, said Melissa Sadorf, district superintendent. The program is operated by a part-time clerk, a part-time coordinator and an instructional aide, the equivalent of 1.75 jobs.

Sadorf said a big issue in Stanfield is the isolation that comes with the language barrier and living in “a very rural community.” Many of the students are classified as ELL (English language learners) who don’t speak English fluently.

Sadorf said the children receive tutoring, backpacks, and resources for school supplies and homework materials. The district also works with providers in Casa Grande for free or reduced eyeglasses and dental checks.

The program creates “opportunities for parents to get involved, transportation to meetings for parents and home visits,” Sadorf said. “It’s a broad base of support that’s offered through a lot of access to services. The school steps in and fills the need that otherwise wouldn’t be filled.”

Posted in News |
Published: September 18th, 2017

AZ School Receives National Award

reaching for hedgehog

State Superintendent of Public Instruction Diane Douglas recently visited The Austin Centers for Exceptional Students (the ACES) to present the schools’ cofounder Francine Austin with the 2017–2018 School of Excellence Award from the National Association of Special Education Teachers.

While visiting the Phoenix West Campus, Superintendent Douglas also took the opportunity to meet with students and the center’s therapy animals. All four ACES campuses are home to members of the animal therapy program, with more animals rotating between campuses. The program works with approximately 20 different species (not counting humans), and includes everything from tiny tortoises to pint-sized ponies. (Okay, it’s actually a miniature horse.) As students care for the animals, they learn compassion and responsibility.

Posted in News | Tagged , , , , |
Published: September 14th, 2017

ADE Receives $0.5 Million Team Nutrition Grant from USDA

team nutrition

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Food and Nutrition Service recently awarded a 2017 Team Nutrition Grant to the Health and Nutrition Division of the Arizona Department of Education. The $494,000 grant will support the implementation of multilevel interventions to improve elementary student nutrition knowledge and attitudes in alignment with the 2015 Dietary Guidelines for Americans. ADE will administer the grant from October 1, 2017 through September 30, 2020.

ADE will use the Team Nutrition Grant to award up to five subgrants to Arizona local education agencies (LEAs, aka school districts or charter holders). Each LEA awarded a subgrant will be required to hire a Wellness Coordinator. This person will use the LEA’s own wellness policy and ADE’s Activity and Assessment Tool to work toward the following goals:

  • Offer appealing and nutritious school meals
  • Provide nutrition education
  • Build a school environment that promotes healthy eating

Each of the selected LEAs will be expected to document their experiences under the grant, as well as mentor other LEAs undertaking similar initiatives. ADE support the subgrant recipients with training and ongoing technical assistance.

Posted in News |
Published: September 14th, 2017

Helping Those Impacted by Irma

satellite photo

The Council of Chief State School Officers has released the following information on how educators can support their colleagues affected by Hurricane Irma in Florida and the U.S. Virgin Islands.


In most areas, it is too soon to assess the full damage and share specific needs. The Florida Department of Education shared the following information if you are interested in offering support at this time:

Governor Rick Scott has activated the Florida Disaster Fund to support individuals who are impacted by Hurricane Irma. The Florida Disaster Fund helps provide financial support to Florida’s communities in times of disaster. To make a contribution, please visit or text DISASTER to 20222 to make a one-time donation of $10.

US Virgin Islands

Officials in the U.S. Virgin Islands are expecting the recovery process, especially for the St. Thomas/St. John district, to be long and arduous. At this time, they have several needs but flagged the following that would provide the greatest relief for the SEA’s employees and families:

  • Batteries (all sizes)
  • Battery-operated radios
  • Battery-operated fans
  • Snacks
  • School supplies for children

Please contact Assistant Commissioner Chermaine Hobson at [email protected] of the Virgin Island Department of Education prior to shipping. She will let you know the best mailing address, as many post offices are working to re-open as quickly as possible.

Asst. Commissioner Hobson said in an email, “We are holding steadfast and are committed to the recovery process. Please let your members know that we are humbly grateful for any words of encouragement, prayers or assistance that they can provide.”

Posted in News |