Hohokam community addresses Scottsdale school board

The room where the Scottsdale Schools governing board meets was full at its Tuesday, Feb. 14 meeting with a number of parents and students dressed in Kelly Green t-shirts eager to hear further discussions on schools within the district’s southern boundaries. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

 

A total of 11 people made public comment at the start of the Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board regular meeting, held at Coronado High School, 7501 E. Virginia Ave., addressing rumors they had heard about potential changes to Hohokam Traditional School.

The school board and district officials have been discussing a number of options to be considered within an area coined the Granite Reef Corridor — made up of Hohokam Traditional School, Pima Elementary, Yavapai Elementary and Tonalea K-8.

The conversations stem from the passing of a $229 million bond in the November election. Hopi Elementary School was unanimously approved as the first school to be rebuilt with bond money at a Dec. 13 meeting. Additionally, Hohokam Traditional School was outlined as a possible second project.

Leading up to the decision of rebuild projects No. 2 and No. 3, has been talks about:

  • Hohokam’s model;
  • The school choice offered for middle school students;
  • And the need for a traditional school in the district’s south.

The Hohokam community has been surveyed — before and after a Feb. 9 study session presenting pros and cons on both a middle school model and a K-8 model — to gauge the level of interest in expanding into a K-8 school.

“We wanted to make sure parents clearly understood the advantages and both disadvantages of K-8, not blindly make a decision based on ‘I want to stay here,’” Hohokam Principal Chuck Rantala explained to the governing board.

According to Mr. Rantala, there are 54 fifth graders who have verbally committed to staying at Hohokam if they offer sixth grade next year.

If Hohokam doesn’t begin offering middle school classes, the students would be attending Tonalea K-8 for sixth grade. The southern part of the district no longer has a regular middle school, after Supai Middle School was turned into Tonalea K-8 last year.

Some parents stated during public comment that they had heard Hohokam was rumored to be closing — which Superintendent Dr. Denise Birdwell says is not true, and has never been apart of the conversation.

“To the young people sitting here, let me say this to you: no one is closing your school,” Dr. Birdwell said.

“Be proud to wear those green shirts, your school is staying open. We’re proud of Hohokam. And I don’t want young people going to school stressing because someone out there is telling them that their school is closing.”

Parents weigh-in

Hohokam parent and school robotics coach, Mike Peabody, says he has been fighting for Hohokam for years.

He says some of the frustration felt by the parents is that Hohokam continues to be overlooked.

“Parents of Hohokam were given an opportunity to express their wants and desires,” said Mr. Peabody in a Feb. 15 phone interview of the K-8 surveys. “I’ve been pushing to go K-8 for 10 years now. Eighty-five percent of the returned surveys want K-8 to continue their education here.”

Parents at the governing board meeting addressed a number of concerns such as its poor operating condition including no hot water and poorly working air conditioning; their students desire to stay at the school; and the schools special programs and high rating.

One concern Mr. Peabody has — in addition to some of the parents who spoke during pubic comment — is the 7-12 grade model Dr. Birdwell discussed at the Feb. 9 study session. This model, says Dr. Birdwell, would provide excelling seventh and eighth grade students an opportunity to progress into high school classes; whereas smaller K-8 or middle schools can’t always provide that same type of opportunity.

The parents feel seventh and eighth graders are too young to be intertwining with students many years older than them.

“Why is it that we are spending all this time and saying this is what the community wants, this is what the parents want, this is what the kids want, why are we being overlooked?” Mr. Peabody asked.

He also is concerned Tonalea K-8 will be crowded, and says his son’s friends who have come from some of the other schools in question are not at the level they should be.

“So that’s what we don’t want for our kids and we’re trying to make that better, and maybe alleviate some stress from Tonalea,” he said.

The domino effect

During the Feb. 14 meeting, Dr. Birdwell presented information about school matriculation, school population, and pros and cons of K-8s and middle schools.

One change that has happened this month is a stricter teacher certification guideline by the Arizona Department of Education beginning next August, where a teacher who teachers sixth, seventh or eighth must be certified in that area.

Denise Birdwell

“So you heard Ms. Hughes say ‘I’m going to have a sixth grade teacher with English and Social Studies,’ that’s because the teacher must be certified in both areas,” Dr. Birdwell said.

“That’s a recent change. That was not part of the discussion last fall. This just came up this month and it just came out of the Department of Education so that’s that part about being nimble, when the state puts forward pieces.”

She also presented special elective classes offered at a small K-8 versus a middle school.

At Arcadia Neighborhood Learning Center, sixth grade students get: band, strings, art, music and P.E.

At Ingleside Middle School students are offered: Spanish and French Exploration, music exploration, computer basics and personal health and fitness. The options grow in seventh and eighth grade.

“I believe in my heart that we need some type of advanced level choice for parents and we ought to discuss that,” said Dr. Birdwell.

“Let’s have some conversations with some of our other schools and decide what that advanced level will look like.”

Each school change creates a domino effect, and the district needs to know what that is going to look like, Dr. Birdwell explained.

“Making a decision about one school impacts six schools — it’s not just one decision,” she said.

Governing board member Kim Hartmann pointed out at the board meeting that Tonalea was only intended to be a K-8 for up to five years, to address vertical articulation and academic gaps.

“So how do — as a community — if we don’t think a middle school is the right option long term, how do we plan that and take that into consideration in the bond and the build-outs as we go forward?” Ms. Hartmann asked.

Dr. Birdwell’s response included considering the 68th Street campus as a solution — if there was money available after all of the other bond projects. The old buildings currently on the campus are slated to be demolished and removed as a bond project.

Next meeting

Dr. Birdwell wants the governing board to identify bond projects No. 2 and No. 3 at a meeting sometime next week. A date was not publicized at the time of publication.

The governing board members do agree that the conversations this past month have been a long time coming.

“Is this a long time coming? Yes. Have many of us in our communities been having this throughout? Of course,” said Governing Board President Barbara Perhleberg, who says she is a resident of south Scottsdale as well.

“The conversations and questions that we need to answer first before making these decisions I think that is one of the biggest concerns of this board. Because this was such a long time coming and because we don’t want the status quo we can not here in Coronado, Saguaro and all of our complexes just continue down the exact same path where we were.”

The way the board works prevents the members from being able to sit and talk about issues all night long, the board members explained.

“These two very difficult conversations that we’ve needed to have, we had to do it publicly,” said Governing Board Vice President Pam Kirby.

“I don’t know what Board member Beckham is thinking until we get into this type of room. And I don’t know the answer to some of my questions or some of Board member Kravetz’s questions because I can’t talk to her privately.”

Ms. Kirby asked the audience to not “read between the lines” when the board is exploring all options for the students.

“We’re just asking questions that we need to ask to make a very difficult decision on two different topics: K-8 versus middle school and the Granite Reef Corridor.”

Northeast Valley News Services Editor Melissa Fittro can be e-mailed at mfittro@newszap.com or can be followed on Twitter at twitter.com/melissafittro.

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