Next bond projects outlined by Scottsdale school board

The first three schools outlined for a rebuild by the Scottsdale Unified School District are Hopi Elementary, Hohokam Traditional School and Pima Elementary School. (graphic by Melissa Fittro)

The Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board has given Hohokam Traditional School the green light to begin planning for a complete rebuild of its facility and offer sixth grade by the beginning of next year.

District leaders were expected during a Feb. 23 meeting to name the next two projects to be pursued with money from a $228 million bond approved last November by Scottsdale voters. The meeting was held at Coronado High School, 7501 E. Virginia Ave.

The work at Hohokam is the second school approved for renovation. The board in December agreed to make Hopi Elementary School, 5110 E. Lafayette Blvd. in Phoenix, its top priority because of its aging and crowded campus.

Pima Elementary School has been earmarked for project No. 3, but the board decided at the meeting to hold off on voting until changes about transitioning into a traditional school were discussed.

SUSD Superintendent Dr. Denise Birdwell said the board will need to make its decision on Pima by March 21 in order to complete the project by fall 2018.

The three schools are the first to be given a financial shot in the arm after outside consultants advised the board in spring 2016 that their elementary schools were in dire need of updates and repairs. Some of the schools are over 50 years old.

The bond passed by voters will provide funding to help the district address the aging facilities. District officials intend to devote the money to the following areas and in the following percentages:

  • Eight elementary schools need to be re-built; 56.6 percent;
  • 22 schools need lifecycle improvements; 21.5 percent;
  • Nine schools need learning environment remodels; 9.2 percent;
  • Transportation updates in all five learning communities; 2.6 percent;
  • Security upgrades at every school; 3.3 percent;
  • Physical education and athletics needs at all five high schools; 6.8 percent.

The governing board voted unanimously to name Hohokam Traditional School, 8451 E. Oak St., as the second project after multiple meetings included discussion about the school and its students.

“We believe Hohokam should be built as a K-6, honoring the community to keep the fifth grade level back knowing the sixth grade will be self-contained,” Dr. Birdwell said.

At earlier meetings, Hohokam Principal Chuck Rantala told the board that parents have verbally committed to staying at the school if they can.

“I look at this as one more step in this process that this administration and this district and our board have in drawing the future map of SUSD,” said Governing Board President Barbara Perleberg at the meeting.

“In that process I respect all the community members who find it frustrating and confusing and wish that map could be already drawn and clear. But I do want to highlight tonight, as we have in the past, this drawing of this map has been a long time coming.”

District officials contend these decisions are not easy. Changes to the schools create domino effects on students, families and neighboring schools.

(file photo)

Recent conversations conducted by the district have lead the way for other principals and schools to examine their middle school grades as well, said Dr. Birdwell.

“I think if I were a parent in your position — and I’m thinking about being able to go to sixth grade at Hohokam — (I would ask myself) am I comfortable with the Tonalea program?” asked governing board member Allyson Beckham.

“So I would want to ask that the administration take a good look at that seventh and eighth grade,” said Ms. Beckham. “What is being done so they understand what has improved and so they will understand what their kids are going into?”

Students who don’t want to stay at Hohokam for sixth grade can go to Mohave Middle School, the closest middle school option, Tonalea K-8, or open enrollment at another school in the district.

In addition to a campus rebuild, Hohokam and Pima will essentially be swapping its teaching models.

Hohokam, which is currently a K-5 traditional school, will be a K-6 regular elementary school when it opens under a new, undecided name for the 2018-19 school year.

“One of the most powerful arguments for me to move ahead with K-6 vs. a K-8 was in the first work study that we had, and I believe it was board member Hartmann that asked the question to administration and staff, ‘if we have college and career ready in mind as the goal, which is the better format?” Governing Board Vice President Pam Kirby recalled.

“That’s what gave rise to the conversation of ‘if you have the seventh and eighth graders you have more mass, more students, then you can offer those honors classes – electives, too.’ That was a big turning point for me so I just wanted to remind us of that conversation.”

Pima Elementary is looking to transition its model to traditional school when it reopens for the 2018-19 school year, says Dr. Birdwell.

According to Assistant Superintendent Dr. Steve Nance, a traditional school offers specific learning programs such as Phonics, has teachers arranging its classroom desks in rows and cuts back on assemblies and other events that would take away from classroom time.

While Hohokam holds the traditional school title, on the inside it really isn’t a traditional school, Dr. Nance explained at a Feb. 2 study session.

“Pima has been having wonderful dialogue within its community,” said Dr. Birdwell. “We are very excited of the conversations about traditional.”

Dr. Birdwell says Pima Elementary operated similar to a traditional school in past years, and that environment is still there. The superintendent believes both ends of the district should offer a traditional school. The district’s other traditional school is Cheyenne Traditional School, 13636 N. 100th St.

“We’ve been working with our staff, having conversations about these shifts — curricular, instructional — to the traditional model,” said Pima Principal Amy Uchacz.

“It’s not a huge shift on the campus; those practices have been embedded and stuck around throughout the time at Pima.

“The teachers are excited and really eager about the conversations we’re having about traditional.”

The change to traditional school would include an investment to refresh teachers on traditional practices. Dr. Birdwell says the district didn’t have the information associated with that cost or outline in time for the Feb. 23 meeting.

The board is expected to look at the framework for embedding the traditional school at a March meeting.

District officials hope to have the first three school rebuilds finished in time for the start of the 2018-19 school year.

“Mr. O’Brien and I have looked at dollars and time frame and we believe that in 2018, we would be opening Hopi, Hohokam and Pima and it would be all ready by the fall of 2018,” Dr. Birdwell said.

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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