In Hollywood movies set on school campuses, there is always the scene where the new principal arrives on the first day of school only to discover that the students are more suited to military boot camp than the halls of higher learning.
Ardyth Barnes' experience was nothing like that.
"My first thought was, 'Woah! We're doing something right around here!'" the new principal at Julia Randall Elementary said.
Of course, it didn't hurt that the results from the Stanford Achievement Test-Ninth Edition had just been released.
"I was very impressed with their scores," Barnes, the former assistant principal at Blue Ridge Elementary School, said. "They really increased from the year before and almost all of them in the entire school were above 50, which is great. I thought, 'Oh, cool! I like this school already!'"
Arizona schools use two main standardized tests mandated by the Arizona Department of Education the Stanford Nine and AIMS. The Stanford test, used in Arizona for 22 years, measures achievement in basic reading, language and math skills in comparison to a national sample of students.
Nearly all PUSD schools showed overall improvements over last year's AT scores and some made dramatic showings in specific areas.
Because the Stanford Nine is not a horse race it measures student improvement, not student-against-student or school-against-school it means nothing to Barnes that JRE outdistanced Payson Elementary School overall in math (scoring at the 66th percentile versus PES' score at the 61st percentile), or that JRE was outdistanced in the same category by Frontier Elementary School (which scored in the 69 percentile).
However, Barnes is pleased with the double fact that the national average for Stanford Nine test results is at the 50th percentile, and the Arizona average is currently at the 56th percentile far below JRE, PES and FES.
"Our performance in the Stanford Nine was exceptional," JRE fifth-grade math teacher Alan Ammann said. "It was something we had worked toward for about three years, and it finally culminated in a peak performance ... It was a cumulative effort by the entire staff."
But even that cooperative effort does not guarantee that future test results will be as impressive, Ammann said.
"One factor that's now working against that is reduced time in class for math," Ammann said. "I don't want to hammer the other programs, but I think time will tell that that reduction of time is something that we're going to have to give back to math ..."
Another wild card in terms of predicting future Stanford Nine performances is the individuality of every student and every class, according to JRE fourth-grade math teacher Shelli Creighton.
While there are no guarantees that JRE will repeat its history of success, Creighton does think that her school has a better shot at accomplishing that than ever before.
"I think Ardyth is a total asset to our school, in everything we do not just math," Creighton said. "She is such a positive influence on our staff, we all work well together, and she's always there for us. We have always had a great morale at our school, but her presence here makes this a really strong school."
"This is an awesome school," Barnes said. "I feel like I've stepped into heaven. The cafeteria's not even a bad place to be."