Reality of need: Scottsdale Schools eye accelerated middle school option

Coronado High School, 7501 E. Virginia Ave. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

The Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board has given district leaders the proverbial head-nod to begin logistically planning for an accelerated middle school option in the southern part of Scottsdale.

During a Dec. 7 special meeting held at Mohave District Annex, 8500 E. Jackrabbit Road, SUSD’s elected leaders and top district officials held preliminary discussions on the possibility of creating a sixth through 12th grade program for high-achieving students. The program would be housed at Coronado High School, 7501 E. Virginia Ave., district leaders say.

Assistant Superintendent of Educational Leadership Dr. Cecilia Johnson presented the Governing Board with basic information about the program, noting that an accelerated option is a desire by parents.

The idea of a seventh through 12th grade school was presented last February when district officials looked at student options within the “Coronado learning complex.”

Within the 30 schools that make up SUSD there is a variety of models including K-5, K-8, traditional schools and middle schools. In the southern part of the district, there is no longer a middle school after Supai Middle School was revamped into Tonalea K-8 this year.

While SUSD is an open-enrollment district, options for parents and students in the Coronado Learning Complex are:

  • Hohokam Elementary K-6;
  • Pima Elementary, K-5;
  • Yavapai Elementary. K-5;
  • Tonalea K-8;
  • Coronado High School, a ninth-12th grade school.

Governing Board members Kim Hartmann and Pam Kirby said they have previously visited Chandler Unified School District’s Basha High School, where an accelerated program has been implemented for more than five years.

The program at Basha reportedly has a high-retention rate, Ms. Hartmann recalled, noting a 90 percent retention rate for students on the accelerated path.

Starting with sixth grade, qualifying students would be invited to test into the program. Basha’s program, which was used as the primary example in the Governing Board’s conversation, requires its students to take seven periods that includes a foreign language and music.

In addition, the younger students were housed in a separate part of the campus and had different bell schedules than the high school students.

The difference between this program and honors courses, or the Desert Mountain High School International Baccalaureate program, is that this is an all-around accelerated program.

“The students that are in the program in the Chandler school district qualify for that program, it’s not just anybody who wants to be in it,” Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services Dr. Steve Nance explained.

“They have to academically qualify first of all, to be invited to apply for the program, then they go through some additional assessments to see whether they qualify for the program. The No. 1 qualifying piece for that program is where are they with their math skills — no student moves from fifth grade into that sixth grade program without being at least at a pre-algebra level.”

The program would use the high school’s advanced teachers in the middle-school classrooms, Dr. Nance noted.

“You have your junior level AP English teacher coming and teaching one period of sixth grade everyday, you have your higher level teachers from the high school in each of the content areas — which are AP-trained teachers — teaching sixth graders. Which to me, was a real plus for what I saw,” he said.

Funding for this program would be available from the districts desegregation dollars, Dr. Johnson explained, noting that the money is focused on student equity.

“When we look at utilizing those dollars a program for accelerated middle school in the southern part of SUSD would certainly fulfill and be applicable for those D-seg dollars,” she said.

The proposed plan would start with about 30 sixth grade students and grow each year, district officials said.

“What population will this meet the need? Because we are a comprehensive school district there are a variety of choices, so some parents choose only one honors (course) because that’s the area their student is gifted,” Dr. Johnson said.

“This is totally all acceleration, all areas, so you couldn’t necessarily have remediation, for example. But if you go to a traditional K-8, for example, then you have the opportunity to take honors (courses) in some areas, but not necessarily in all areas. So this meets the needs of parents who truly want their students challenged and accelerated, and curriculum compacted in every single area to get an intense experience.”

District officials say the earliest this program could be up and running is fall 2019.

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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