In town on a multi-pronged visit, Arizona’s top schools official Tom Horne presented Payson Elementary School with an award Monday for earning the state’s “performing plus” label.
Horne, who is running for state attorney general, also ate lunch with local Republicans and spoke with the Roundup.
Students were decked out in pajamas because this week is the school’s spirit week.
“Why can’t we wear pajamas?” one teacher jokingly asked.
“We’ll talk about that later,” answered Principal Will Dunman with a large grin.
The short assembly preceded a treat for students — eating lunch outside.
“You guys are great kids,” Horne told the students. “One of the things I’ve learned is that great kids have great teachers and great principals.” He also told students they should return home and thank their parents for being so awesome.
The state’s various performance labels evaluate schools’ performances on the standardized Arizona Instrument to Measure Standards test, among several other factors.
Horne said he’s proud of Arizona students’ academic progress during his eight-year tenure. The statewide graduation rate has risen “significantly” to 70 percent — about the national average — although he said he couldn’t remember what it was upon entering office.
He credited the increase to the dropout prevention office he created, and the posting online of successful programs across the state for other schools to emulate.
Horne mourned the loss of all-day kindergarten, noting that every dollar spent in early childhood education is worth $7 or $8 spent in high school.
When kids are young, their minds are flexible,” he said. Arizona students excel despite one of the lowest per-student funding levels in the nation.
Horne said more funding for education could push the state’s educational attainment levels into the nation’s top.
The chief also said he approved of President Barack Obama’s plans for education, which include monetary rewards for success and gauging teacher success by student achievement.
Horne is term-limited out this year and is waging a campaign for attorney general. A lawyer by training and profession, he has been a longtime local school board member.
Horne said his three priorities if elected to attorney general include enforcing laws without concern for political retribution, enforcing immigration law and ensuring Arizona’s legal climate is conducive to attracting business.
He railed against the money Maricopa County Attorney Andrew Thomas, also running for attorney general, is spending on lawsuits against that county’s board of supervisors.
However, Horne said the day was not a campaign stop but merely a chance to visit the school.
Last year, Horne jumped rope at Julia Randall Elementary when it won a Healthy Body Healthy Mind Award.