Scottsdale superintendent recommends 7-12 campus model consideration

A view of one of the many Scottsdale Unified School District school sites. (File photo)

At a Feb. 9 study session, the Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board was presented with a unique idea to answer the question of what options are available to middle school students in south Scottsdale.

In a monthly late afternoon meeting held at the Mohave District Annex, 8500 E. Jackrabbit Road, the Scottsdale Unified School District Governing Board and top officials filed into a conference room to dive deeper into the next steps for Hohokam Traditional School and its surrounding sister schools.

The suggestion from Superintendent Dr. Denise Birdwell was to create a type of campus new to Scottsdale, but utilized in other parts of Arizona, that houses seventh through 12th grade students on the Coronado High School Campus, 7501 E. Virginia Ave.

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.

Options for parents and students in the Coronado Learning Complex are:

  • Hohokam Traditional School, currently a K-5 but asking to have at least sixth grade offered;
  • Pima Elementary, K-5;
  • Yavapai Elementary. K-5;
  • Tonalea K-8;
  • Coronado High School, a ninth-12th grade school

Fifty-four fifth graders have committed to staying at their school next year should the change be made, according to Hohokam Principal Chuck Rantala at the Feb. 2 governing board meeting.

Instead of creating a second K-8 school in South Scottsdale, Superintendent Dr. Denise Birdwell has asked the board to consider making Coronado a seventh through 12th grade school at some point in the future.

Coronado High School’s population in only about 1,100. The district is presently redesigning and revamping the school, and the superintendent says it makes sense to consider expanding grade levels now, rather than later.

“We’ve been saying we know what we’re doing in the elementary (schools), we know what we’re doing in the secondary but we’ve left the middle for the last discussion,” Dr. Birdwell said Feb. 9.

“Maybe it’s part of the secondary discussion that we say ‘a year from now that Coronado’s design goes into place, it goes into design with seventh and eighth grades housed on the same campus.’”

An even playing field

Assistant Superintendent of Education Services Dr. Steve Nance presented to the board comparisons of the advantages enjoyed by middle schools and K-8 schools, although neither one is better than the other, he said.

The conversation stems from a prior meeting where the board requested a presentation in preparation of a potential model change at Hohokam Traditional School, 8451 E. Oak St.

“This is not about any particular school, it’s not a particular K-8 school or middle school — this is just general research on both of them,” Dr. Nance explained to the board.

“First of all, it’s really important to know there really is no conclusive research that shows academically one model is better than the other.”

Advantages of a K-8 model include:

  • Smaller learning environment;
  • Continuation at the same campus, which provides stability and consistency;
  • Positive role models for younger students.

Advantages of the middle school include:

  • Wider variety of classes and teachers due to the fact there are more students in general;
  • More specialized counseling, curriculum and instruction in that age group;
  • More advantages to teachers by being in a larger department.

“The situations are so very different from one district to the next and how they’ve accommodated students in different situations,” said Dr. Nance.

Governing Board member Kim Hartmann raised the question about college and career readiness, and asked if one model would make students more successful than the other.

“I think what you’re talking about is more opportunities for kids, and that really does come with population,” said Dr. Nance.

The bigger the school, the more opportunities generally come along with that, he explained.

“You can find really small middle schools that cannot do what you’re saying because the number of students does not lend itself to the variety of opportunities, and I’d venture to say you could probably find a large K-8 school that could provide that.”

The possibilities at Coronado

When it comes to school choice, Dr. Birdwell suggested each learning community do what is best for its students and community.

Dr. Denise Birdwell

“What we have to determine as a school district is what models are getting us to where we want to be,” said Dr. Birdwell. “Those are the models that we need to provide so we serve our children well, so that we don’t hinder the opportunity for career and college readiness, the things you’re talking about.”

The newly proposed 7-12 grade route would provide students with more choices for classes, activities and programs, while offering parents a choice in what type of school their child attends.

“We recently have been looking at some schools in the state that are doing 7-12, and there are some that have specific 7th- and 8th-grade strands on high school campuses specifically to feed that bigger picture,” Dr. Birdwell explained. “All those models exist here in Arizona and in talking to colleagues, they’re all very successful.”

The opportunity given to the middle school students in southern Scottsdale would allow them to transition smoothly to high school, Dr. Birdwell said.

“From initial blush, it has greater advantages than the K-8,” she explained. “Academically 7-12 is very similar, it makes sense.”

The conversation could take place during Coronado’s re-design phase that kicked off in January, with no changes happening immediately, Dr. Birdwell said.

This solution would give parents a choice, said Dr. Birdwell, of their child going to a different type of school.

“I’m saying we look to the future. What an interesting opportunity it is to say ‘maybe Coronado’s complex ought to be 7-12,’” said Dr. Birdwell.

“I think we should be open to that conversation. In that particular setting in Coronado Complex there’s some real vitality of talking 7-12.”

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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