As Rim country schools deal with changes in the educational system, more focus is being placed on accountability to the students, the parents and the school districts in which they operate.
The following are brief reports by top officials at each of the Rim country schools, detailing their successes and observations of the past 12 months, as well as their schools' response to the tragedy of Sept. 11 and its effects on the students.
JULIA RANDALL ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
Over the past year, I have seen enormous change at Julia Randall Elementary School. This being my first year as principal in the Payson Unified School District, everything is new.
I must commend this district for the highest level of professionals with whom I have ever had the privilege to work with in my career.
This district has made it a goal to maintain the teachers that we have and I must commend them for their efforts.
The staff at Julia Randall has proven to be awesome in every way. Our students have truly learned and practiced the concepts taught by their teachers using the Character Counts curriculum.
The students are incredible and show evidence of their character using the six traits: respect, caring, trustworthiness, fairness, responsibility and citizenship.
Coming to JRE has given me great faith that, in spite of all the obstacles we go through to educate every child, teachers will rise to the occasion and continue to do what is best for children.
The enthusiasm of our parent-teachers organization and their level of commitment to improve education for their children have overwhelmed me. This is a vital link at Julia Randall; the PTO has provided so much that we cannot afford.
The PTO is made up of parents and teachers working together to keep our campus and our educational system at the highest level for our students.
This is not to say we are without difficulties. We deal with state mandates without funding, budget cuts, poverty, students with no support from home, and many other difficulties.
Changes in education are constant, but I see a true, high standard of education being maintained for our students.
I know that Sept. 11 affected the lives of every American citizen. For the students, parents and staff at JRE, the day was spent unsettled.
The students continued as usual because we chose not to have them watch this overwhelmingly frightening event.
The event was discussed in an assembly the following day when our superintendent, Herb Weissenfels, addressed the issue with the students.
The students were frightened, but we talked with them and let them talk with us. This event affected education, but it is too soon to evaluate at what level.
PAYSON ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
In terms of education, a year is a short time to recognize "change," per se. Three years of data or three-year trends are much better for determining if what you see is an anomaly or truly representative of change.
If pressed however, I would say that the greatest change is an increase in children from homes where drug and alcohol abuse has had a detrimental effect on the child's ability to concentrate and perform academically.
Not surprisingly, and rightfully so, the call from the Legislature, business and anyone else who deems themselves influential is, "More accountability, more accountability!"
A statistic I think is interesting: By the time a child is 9 years old (third grade), they have been alive for 78,840 hours. If they have been in school from kindergarten to third grade, they have spent 3,894 hours or 4.9 percent of their time.
The question is: What has been happening in their life for the other 95.1 percent of the time?
Have they been intellectually stimulated? Talked to? Disciplined?
We all agree that we need to have accountability in schools. However, is there accountability for the home?
My perception is Sept. 11 has not affected education in terms of the school day, what we teach, how we teach, or the ability of our children to learn.
What has affected education is the economic downturn that came on the heels of 9-11.
Many concur that the economy was slowing anyway, but 9-11 brought things to a skidding halt.
Public educational systems in one way or another depend on taxes, which are in turn tied to the economy.
In Arizona's case, this was the first year education would benefit from Proposition 301 taxes which are based upon sales.
Because the sales are down, funding in this area will be down. Additionally, our Legislature tends to have a less than charitable attitude toward education to begin with.
During an economic slow time, they can be downright parsimonious.
FRONTIER ELEMENTARY SCHOOL
The 2001-2002 school year has been marked with profound change for our country.
I think we see a renewed commitment to the values which we hold so dear as a result of the terrorist attacks.
In the Payson schools, I see teachers working with great skill and renewed commitment to teach students all that will be needed in the future ... skills that may very well mean life or death in the future, not just more money, or a meaningful job.
Family values have always been very strong in Payson. Each elementary school works hard to strengthen the families within the district.
Each elementary school works very hard to build a feeling of community among their children and their families.
We told the children at a memorial service Sept. 12 that this was a grown-up problem, and that the grown-ups would take care of them.
The children's job was to pray for our president, for our elected officials, for our military, for the firemen and police, and all of those who lost loved ones on Sept. 11.
The children wrote letters, collected money, grew closer to each other, and to their families.
Their prayers continue.
Their concern for the victims continues.
TONTO BASIN SCHOOL
There have been many changes in elementary education over the past year related to testing (AIMS), and the push to make all schools accountable for student progress.
Many of these changes have been positive, and we think that as education continues to evolve, we can better enable our students to be successful in a changing world, and that this success will be measurable.
Public support for schools was confirmed in 2000 with the passage of Prop. 301, giving schools the opportunity to enhance their academic programs, their physical plants, and increase their teachers' salaries.
For Tonto Basin School, this has meant an opportunity to align our curriculum with the state standards, work toward improving our students' test scores, and seek to create a more positive school atmosphere.
Specifically, we have expanded our after-school tutoring program, planned for increased opportunities for professional development for our staff, and are currently undergoing major renovations to our plant.
The tragic events of Sept. 11 affected this nation and its children. We have all become more aware of security issues, and schools must work to ensure the safety of all our students.
The students and staff at Tonto Basin School were greatly affected by the events of Sept. 11. Our school board has worked with our staff to develop an emergency procedure code to deal with situations that might place our students in danger.
Obvious and immediate changes in our school community have included increased interest in current events and a greater appreciation for life's blessings.
A state and national focus on accountability and student achievement means taking a good look at how we teach, the strategies we use to teach, and the information we have about individual children's strengths and their instructional needs.
Our focus has and always will be student achievement academically, socially, and behaviorally.
What is changed is the way we use test data; the SAT9 and AIMS scores as well as our district assessments and classroom assessments.
While we have always used these scores to identify student growth and as indicators of curriculum needs, we now also look carefully at the need for staff development.
The Pine-Strawberry instructional staff has already begun working collaboratively to select and plan staff development for the next school year. Our staff development plan includes setting goals tied to performance pay, but really focuses on refining instructional skills and learning additional effective instructional strategies.
We know all students can be successful.
The events of Sept. 11 have given all of us new perspective, a greater appreciation for each other and the many choices we have as Americans.
Prior to Veterans Day this year we gathered the names of community and family members who are or have served in the U.S. military, their years of service and the branch.
Many families traced family members as far back as the Revolutionary War. The names and information were placed on a wall in honor of their contributions to freedom and this wall was presented to students and the community during our Veterans Day assembly. It was touching and humbling. We will continue to honor those who serve in the military by adding to our Wall of Freedom each year.
Daily world events have made American history, the U.S. Constitution, world culture and world geography an even more exciting area of study.
Technology the Internet, newspapers on-line, newscasts made it possible to compare media reports to local and state reports, as well as enable students to research many events worldwide not available in reference materials in the library.
As a staff, we are more aware and alert of our surroundings. We appreciate each other, take time to acknowledge accomplishments and the little things that make a difference in our lives together.
After all, it is the quality of those relationships that make the difference for all of us, whether teacher or learner.