School district closes Tonalea Elementary; passes on changing high school bell schedule


Interim Superintendent Dr. Denise Birdwell presents the district's senior requirements recommendation to the governing board during a June 30 study session. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

Interim Superintendent Dr. Denise Birdwell presents the district’s senior requirements recommendation to the governing board during a June 30 study session. (photo by Melissa Fittro)

As students enjoy their summer-break, Scottsdale Unified School District administration and governing board members have been making changes in order to better serve a portion of its students — high school seniors and students attending Tonalea Elementary.

On June 30, the district’s elected leaders held two back-to-back meetings at Coronado High School to discuss the requirement for high school seniors to be enrolled in a total of 720 hours; the closure of Tonalea Elementary School; and the re-naming of the new kindergarten-through-eighth-grade school to be established at the current Tonalea Elementary campus.

Other consent agenda items included renaming the original Tonalea Elementary School site as the 68th Street Campus; and renaming the current Tonalea Elementary School site as the Oak Street Campus.

On June 30, the governing board voted 5-0 to close the elementary school at 7501 E. Oak St. District officials have been eying the merger for a couple of months, stating the current 320 students have outgrown the Tonalea Elementary campus, in addition to having below-average test scores.

Following a June 20 public hearing about the school merger, Dr. Birdwell presented a list of goals the district hopes to achieve over the next year. They are:

  • Consistency in professional development;
  • Academic accountability K-12;
  • Continuity between grade level and standards;
  • All day preschool in Coronado Complex;
  • Pilot 8th grade transition program at Oak;
  • Parent-based programs for academic success;
  • K-12 first generation college education.

The school, named Tonalea K-8, is to open in August for the new school year.

Senior requirements

Following an internal audit of the district, findings included senior students attending four or fewer courses were deemed deficient in the required number of annual instructional hours.

During a June 20 regular board meeting, Dr. Karen Benson, executive director of instructional services, presented the board with district leadership’s recommended option of adding 20-minutes to high schoolers’ day.

After a number of parent calls and e-mails to the district, Dr. Birdwell presented the board with a new proposal on June 30.

While the district didn’t mean to upset district parents with the proposal of a lengthened bell schedule, the district can see this topic “certainly has a lot steam behind it,” said Dr. Birdwell.

“We really believe the answer to the issue we’re facing is to enroll all seniors in a fifth hour class or a zero-hour class,” said Dr. Birdwell at the meeting.

The Arizona Department of Education requires that high school students attend four or more courses counting toward graduation; the course must be at least 123 hours of instruction; all four subjects combine must meet 720 hours; and students must be in attendance for 180 days each school year.

Dr. Birdwell said their audit findings were given to them toward the end of the school year, when they were being told they needed to add additional instructional time.

Based on the presentation Dr. Birdwell gave to the governing board, during semester one of the 2015-16 school year, 784 students were taking four or fewer periods; semester two increased to 809 seniors.

The additional class is recommended, says Dr. Birdwell, because by simply adjusting the bell schedule eliminates the opportunity to have school assemblies and other “high school culture” activities. Such activities as professional development early release days, finals and AzMERIT assessment days do not count as instructional hours.

Additionally, the fifth block will be beneficial to students heading to college, and many students already voluntarily enroll in the optional hour, said Dr. Birdwell.

Students are being recommended to take electives such as public speaking, personal finance, world language, an arts class or a math class. The district plans to appeal to the state that a Career Awareness Program — an internship class — would be beneficial to students and should count as “seat time.” Currently, 235 students are enrolled in the class.

“We believe that if we do the fifth block, we will have exceptions, and basically there are three exceptions,” said Dr. Birdwell.

Exceptions include proving the student is already enrolled in college courses, students working because of financial hardships, and a medical hardship case.

“I don’t like policies that don’t have exceptions, because life is not that clean,” said Dr. Birdwell.

“We are going to be providing the principals with a form, an opportunity, that if the board says, ‘yes to move forward with that fifth block,’ we want to be able to make some exceptions. We realize we won’t be funded for those students — and that’s fine — if they’re on track to graduate. That’s the priority.”

The proposed bell schedule died for a lack of motion. The board did not propose any additional motions in the study session.

Northeast Valley News Editor Melissa Rosequist can be e-mailed at or can be followed on Twitter at

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