Ensuring a world-class education for every Arizona student is Expect More Arizona’s mission.  By building engaged leadership and public commitment, we are working to ensure all Arizona students are prepared to thrive in college, career and life.

In last month’s edition of Raising Expectations, we introduced the Five Building Blocks of a World Class EducationWorld-Class Achievement, Excellence for All, Commitment to Innovation, Strategic Investment and Communities Working Together.

This month we are featuring Excellence for All.  While some of Arizona’s students are achieving at world-class levels, this is still not the norm for most.  In 2012, out of all Arizona schools that received a letter grade, 43% received a “C” grade or below.  The outcomes are unacceptable: only half of Arizona’s students graduate high school qualified to enroll in one of Arizona’s state universities.

One challenge we must take on is closing the achievement gap.  On average, students from low-income backgrounds are 2-3 grade levels behind their peers by the time they are 9 years old.  This is a significant issue for Arizona as nearly one-quarter (23%) of Arizona children live in poverty.  Ensuring that every student has the opportunity to attain an excellent education, regardless of zip code, ethnicity or special needs, must be Arizona’s top priority.  It will take a commitment to holding expectations high, outstanding teachers and schools and a strategic investment of new and existing resources.

There are many bright spots across the state, including examples of classrooms, schools and districts that are on the right track to Excellence for All.   Three examples we highlight below are from Puente De Hozho Elementary school, Phoenix Collegiate Academy and Mr. Metzger’s classroom at Agua Fria High School.

Puente De Hozho – Bilingual Magnet School

In the Flagstaff Unified School District, Puente De Hozho, offers a unique learning environment for 400 kindergarten through 5th graders.  All learning at Puente takes place in a tri-lingual environment – English, Spanish and Navajo.   The data shows that students who gain second language and transfer that knowledge actually score higher than many of their counterparts.  This is particularly true for the diverse population at Puente.  The school is 28% Native American Navajo, 34% white and 38% Hispanic.  In addition, half of the school population lives below the poverty level.

Dawn Trubakoff, principal of Puente De Hozho, believes that “all students should be able to learn regardless of their language, cultural beliefs, poverty level or any other factors that can be road blocks for learning success of a child.”   Puente levels the playing field for its students.  The expectations, learning opportunities and resources are the same for every child at Puente.  The goal for every student is to become bi-literate and share in each other’s culture and traditions and learn.  Everyone is honored and diversity is celebrated.  Different cultures and languages are assets that help them learn and be prepared for the future.

Puente is moving toward excellence as they went from a C to a B rating this past year and they have a 72% pass rate on AIMS.  In addition, Puente third graders scored higher than any other elementary school in their community.

“Puente is a wonderful educational opportunity for students and an environment for families to learn and embrace each other on a daily basis, “ said Principal Trubakoff.  “We are all in this together and each child’s success is the responsibility of all.”

Phoenix Collegiate Academy

Phoenix Collegiate Academy (PCA) is committed to ensuring that all students gain the knowledge and tools they need to be admitted to, and excel at top colleges and universities.  Located in south central Phoenix, they believe that demographics do not determine destiny and all children, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender or socio-economic status are capable of learning at high levels.

By the numbers and statistics alone, PCA students could have been a failing school, continuing in a cycle of poverty.  But, none of these things are true.  While PCA does have a 95% Title I population, and 95% minority population, 100% of students are moving at least one level on the AIMS test within two years.  The school’s eighth grade class, who all completed a high school level Algebra class, outscored state averages on the AIMS exam by 13% in math in 2012!

This is not accomplished overnight, and not without hard work from everyone- students, parents, teachers, staff.  Every family commits to a nine-hour school day, a strict discipline and uniform code, and multiple hours of homework each night.  None of these methods are unique or the solution in and of themselves, but coupled with a committed team of teachers and leaders, who all know every child can achieve college readiness, the mission of preparing every student to succeed in a university is becoming a reality.

Agua Fria High School

When Mike Metzger started teaching at Agua Fria High School as a Teach For America corps member, he saw that his students talked about going to college but had no realistic plan or pathway to get there.  In order to close the “opportunity gap” that he saw, he created or resurrected AP classes in science.  In addition, he encouraged all of his students to take the ACT resulting in 88% of the school’s junior class taking the exam, compared to just 8% the year before.

Mike Metzer challenged his students to excel and they rose to the occasion.  When he started with his students, they were behind academically and the opportunities before them were limited.   He started to dramatically increase the rigor for his students in math and science and encouraged them to take tougher courses that would prepare them for success in college.

Puente De Hozho, Phoenix Collegiate Academy and Mike Metzger all share the belief that every student is capable of excellence.  In partnership with others, they commit to challenging every student and ensuring each of them has the opportunity to succeed.  Creating a world-class education system in Arizona will require every one of us to make the same commitment.

Read more August newsletter articles:
Vote 4 Education: Learn About Education Initiatives
Expect More Arizona Expands Statewide Reach
Arizona’s Common Core Standards – Helping Arizona Students Innovate
Increased Math Requirement Equals Better Prepared Students