Community Helps Pine Strawberry School Succeed

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Pine Strawberry School has plenty to be proud of, and principal Mike Clark is happy to share the news.

Among the highlights Clark pointed out:

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Students in the Pine Strawberry School's third-grade class recently completed a study of the rain forest and as part of their lessons, designed a wall mural showing the inhabitants of various rain forests throughout the world.

  • The school received a "Highly Performing" ranking from the Arizona Department of Education for the 2004-2005 academic year.

Public school rankings have been doled out annually since former Governor Jane Hull signed the AZ LEARNS (Leading Education through the Accountability and Results Notification System) law in 2002.

The purpose of AZ LEARNS is to tell administrators, parents and the public how a school has performed against recent statewide trends, precisely where a school needs help, and by how much it should progress in order to meet or exceed new growth benchmarks.

Arizona's system also measures school performance by student achievement on the Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS) test.

In ranking schools, the AZ LEARNS formula takes into consideration the percentage of students in the school passing AIMS, the change in the percentage of students in the lowest AIMS performance category and Measure of Academic Progress (MAP) or the academic performance of individual students from year to year.

Pine Strawberry School did so well in the ranking for several reasons.

  • Pine Strawberry School has an ideal teacher to student ratio. The largest class at the pre-kindergarten through eighth-grade school is the eighth grade class, in which 17 students are enrolled. The school currently has a student body of 136 and 36 employees.
  • The school is known for its Fall Festival, which includes not only staff and students, but the entire community.
  • A terrific partnership has been developed with Gila County, its library district and the Isabelle Hunt Memorial Public Library of Pine to provide library services for the students and faculty of the school.
  • All the students, their families and the staff participated in a Red Ribbon Walk.
  • The 2005 Credit for Kids program brought more than $56,000 into the school.

Clark asked his staff to participate in pointing out school highlights from 2005. They remembered several highlights, including:

  • The annual Christmas tree auction -- classes decorate trees and community members and businesses bid on them to help raise funds.
  • The students in the band program participated in the Payson Band Night, the Payson Rodeo Parade and the Arizona State Fair.
  • The first and fourth grade classes took part in the Black Stallion Reading Program.
  • Fifth-grade students participated in a trip to the Grand Canyon.
  • The student council hosted a "Penny War" to collect funds for the victims of Hurricane Katrina, raising $685.
  • Students were given the opportunity to participate in a photography class and continue to have work displayed at the school.

Clark said the two top highlights, in his mind, were the cooperative library program and the success of the Credit for Kids program.

"The library program has been extended for another year," Clark said. The Credit for Kids program is part of the library's success story, too. Clark said about $5,000 of the Credit for Kids money was used to buy new books for the library.

He said the Credit for Kids program had terrific community support.

"I was pleasantly surprised," Clark said. "It was not just residents of the community who contributed. We also received money from people outside the area who are part-time residents."

Another outside supporter of the school is the Fort McDowell Casino, Clark said. This year the casino staff bought a Christmas toy for every student in the school's pre-K through fifth grades.

"This is the first time they have supported us at that level," Clark said.

Other support has come from anonymous sources, he said. A number of residents, who wished to remain anonymous, "adopted" several of the school's more needy families and provided holiday celebrations for them -- buying the trees, the presents and the food for the holiday dinner.

"Our parent support has been great," he said. He can tell from the way his students work that they get help and encouragement at home.

The school also enjoys the support of a large corps of volunteers, Clark said. While quite a few are visible, participating in the classrooms, there are many who remain in the background, providing equally important support.

"Our volunteer force is great," Clark said. He will be honoring them at a special luncheon May 17. "We have a fantastic staff. They are very professional and all are competent in their fields and all of them put the kids first."

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