Back to school means changes for AJUSD staff

Back to school often means changes for kids. But sometimes it means shifting roles for school district staff as well.
Three Apache Junction Unified School District employees have taken on new roles within the district.
These different duties were a result, in part, of reassignments due to budget cuts after a maintenance and operations override election failed last fall.
Heather Wallace, former principal at the now closed Superstition Mountain Elementary School, has moved over to the district office as the director of education services.
Ms. Wallace’s duties combine a few jobs that other people did last year.
“We are such a small district; we do so many things. Each one of us really just does a variety of jobs that were done by two other people condensed into one,” Ms. Wallace said during an interview. “I take care of curriculum and I also take care of all the federal grants.”
The latter are dispersed to the schools and the district by following federally set guidelines.

Heather Wallace (Courtesy of Apache Junction School District)

Heather Wallace (Courtesy of Apache Junction School District)

Ms. Wallace is looking forward to her return to district office. She said she worked at the district office for about four years before leaving in 2011 to become Superstition Mountain Elementary principal.
“The advantages I bring are that a lot of what I’m doing now, I had experience doing previously when I was at the district office,” Ms. Wallace said. “But then being given the chance to go out and lead a school, I was able to see in the real world what it’s like to be a principal.”
And now that she has that “real world” experience she will understand some of the trials principals deal with, Ms. Wallace said.
“So now as I come back to lead principals, I’ve had that experience out in the field,” Ms. Wallace said. “It makes me more empathetic and compassionate to what they are dealing with.”
One of her primary duties is to train teachers within the district.
“Helping to strengthen the teachers will overall create a better atmosphere in the classroom so students are more successful,” Ms. Wallace said.
Bethany Ligon, who was a science teacher at Cactus Canyon Junior High School, is now the technology integration specialist for the district.
Ms. Ligon has been visiting with principals throughout the district to evaluate some of the technological goals.

Bethany Ligon (Courtesy of Apache Junction School District)

Bethany Ligon (Courtesy of Apache Junction School District)

“(The principal’s’ goals are) to utilize technology so that students are more engaged in the lesson and to help improve the student achievement rate,” Ms. Ligon said.
And the way to achieve those goals is to use applications, according to Ms. Ligon.
One of the biggest technological apps Apache Junction schools will be using this year is Google Apps for Education.
“Last fall Google released Google Classroom which is a platform where teachers can assign students and then students can receive work all digitally so you reduce the paper usage,” Ms. Ligon said. “It makes learning more relevant to what happens in the real world with how people are communicating.”
Ms. Ligon said there would also be tools used that allow students to communicate with other students throughout the district, the state and even possibly the world.
“Maybe they’d use a Google hangout chat,” Ms. Ligon said. “It makes their learning more relevant.”
After being in the classroom for 18 years, Ms. Ligon said she is looking forward to working with the broad spectrum of ages.
“I’ll be able to go into classrooms where 5-year-olds are doing really neat things and I’ll be going into classrooms where students are preparing for graduation and they’re doing really neat things,” Ms. Ligon said. “I’ll be able to see the whole gamut of learning so I am really excited.”
Chad Cantrell is the district’s new athletic director, a job he will share while continuing his duties as the assistant principal at Cactus Canyon Junior High School.
Mr. Cantrell said that he has always wanted to be an athletic director and that is part of the reason he got into administration.
“It allows me to work with coaches as much as possible and work with the kids to encourage them to stay here,” Mr. Cantrell said. “And help to encourage them to do sports and try different things.”
Mr. Cantrell has a goal for all his coaches.

Chad Cantrell (Courtesy of Apache Junction School District)

Chad Cantrell (Courtesy of Apache Junction School District)

“My goal is that in the next four years, I’d like to see to see every team — at least once — make the state tournament,” Mr. Cantrell said. “And every sport that the AIA considers an individual sport, to send at least one kid a year to the state tournament.”
Mr. Cantrell said there were a lot of changes that happened within the district because of budgetary cuts and Arizona Interscholastic Association organization.
The district had to replace coaches and deal with the divisional changes from the AIA. In addition, ticket prices at games have been increased.
“One of the biggest things we did this year is good and bad; we changed the admission price to games by $2.” Mr. Cantrell said.
He said the good was that parents who live outside of the district will be helping to pay for the athletic costs rather than having athletes’ parents pay more in fees. Spectator fees are now $7 for adults and $5 for kids.
Mr. Cantrell is just excited for the season.
“At the beginning of the year, at the beginning of the season we are always undefeated, and so we are looking forward to what happens,” Mr. Cantrell said. “That’s kind of the most exciting piece to it.

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