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Local schools receive national recognition

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Posted: Wednesday, December 26, 2012 4:00 am

Earlier this month, two schools within the Marana Unified School District and one within the Amphitheater School District were recognized by the National Center for Educational Achievement (NCEA) as 2012 NCEA Arizona higher Performing Schools.

The two Marana schools, Coyote Trail Elementary School and Twin Peaks Elementary School, and Amphi’s Harelson Elementary School received the recognition for their commitment to raising student achievements and putting more students on a path to college and career readiness, without a regard for socioeconomic barriers or any other obstacles that might otherwise impede success.

Coyote Trail was recognized in the area of writing. Harelson and Twin Peaks were recognized for their science acheivements.

“All of our schools are dedicated to excellence and working very hard to ensure that students are provided the best education possible,” said Marana Unified School District’s Superintendent Doug Wilson. “Therefore, it is always an honor when our schools can be recognized for the exceptional work they are doing.”

During an awards ceremony in Phoenix, Dondi Luce, the principal at Twin Peaks, Dan Johnson, the principal at Coyote Trail, and Andy Heinemann, the principal at Harelson, accepted the awards for their respective schools.

The three schools were chosen by the NCEA as Higher Performing Schools based on consistent improvement in student achievement from previous years and an above-predicted percentage of continuously enrolled students scoring at the Exceeds level on Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS) test.

“We are very excited,” Luce said. “I think it is an honor for the students, the staff, and the community. Twin Peaks has had a long history of high achievement on the AIMS test. So it is a real honor to receive this recognition for our students and for our staff.”

Johnson said the award really congratulates the staff and parents for going the extra mile and doing a little extra work along the way and attributes it all to “the group effort to really pin-point needs and match up interventions to those needs.”

The school’s model of Response To Intervention provides instruction, looks for needs, builds interventions based on those needs, and then measures those interventions.

“That, and not being satisfied with saying ‘well, I hope next year your teacher does a better job of covering this,’” Johnson said. “It really is honing in those resources right now so that the student doesn’t spend a month, or a quarter, or a year still struggling with that skill.”

For Heinemann, this is the second year in a row his school has received the recognition from NCEA.

“It’s attributed to the professional expertise of my teachers,” he said. “It’s a combination of factors, in my opinion. Not only the effective teaching strategies that are taking place in the classroom, but they are the type of teachers that make science come alive.”

Schools cannot apply for an NCEA recognition. The organization seeks out, compares schools that have a well-established educational growth trend, and makes an independent decision from data it collects.

“We have a good solid curriculum and we provide enrichment for children who need that,” Luce said. “We provide intervention for children who are struggling learners. We have a target system of assessment to see where kids are, what their needs are, and make sure we are meeting those.

“We also have a ton of parent-support in our community that really send their kids to school ready to learn, work with them at home, and make sure their homework is done. They make sure they are studying and providing that extra support that kids need.”

NCEA began indentifying Higher Performing Schools in 1998, and recognizes schools in Arizona annually.

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