OPINION: Academic achievement a primary focus at Apache Junction schools

Dr. Krista Anderson

Last summer, I joined Apache Junction Unified School District with a lot of excitement and intentions to take it slow, learn about the district, build relationships and examine the different organizational systems. However, the best-laid plans rarely go as expected. Early in my stint as superintendent, it became clear that one of the issues that was going to be a hot topic in the district is the school calendar. In 2015-16, the district moved to a four-day school calendar due to financial and staffing concerns. The next year the governing board gave the blessing to keep the four-day schedule for a total of three years, with the expectation of revisiting the school calendar during the 2017-18 school year. As a new school superintendent, I learned there are times that I must tackle the hot topics when presented.

Over the past nine months, I wish I could say that every time I walked into a school, classroom or community event the conversation focused on students and their learning, but that would not be true. I frequently received questions about the district calendar. A variety of questions focused on whether or not the district would stay on the four-day school week in the future. My answer has consistently been that there is a committee of volunteer parents, staff and students who would bring a four-day and a five-day option to the governing board in the coming months. The committee’s charge was to present the two options, endorse one of the two, with the understanding the decision was ultimately going to be made by the governing board.

As part of their work, the committee members spent four months examining a variety of data (e.g., student achievement, enrollment, financial, surveys, etc.) to help craft the two calendar options. An example of one of the data sources the committee looked at to make their recommendation was a survey of our current parents. When parents of our 3,650 students were asked which student academic calendar would best prepare our students academically, 53.44 percent (497) answered four-day, and 46.56 percent (433) answered five-day. Survey results and other data sources are available on the website, www.ajusd.org. The Calendar Advisory Committee presented both calendar options in December, along with the recommendation to stay with the four-day school week. Following the presentation, the governing board demonstrated their due diligence by requesting additional information (e.g., transportation costs, EVIT, etc.) before making their decision on Feb. 13 to move to a five-day modified student academic calendar.

In conjunction with the work done by the Calendar Advisory Committee, the district has been gathering input from students, parents, staff and community to develop a multi-year strategic plan for the district. The plan will also include a new district mission, vision, core values and goals. Additionally, a group of certified, classified and administrators are working together to propose a formula to allocate monies to staff for salaries for the upcoming school year. The Salary Advisory Committee presented their recommendation to the governing board on Feb. 27.

A great deal of work and planning was done, and much work remains. The school calendar has been a complicated issue, and varying opinions and emotions could create an atmosphere that takes the focus away from our primary goal of educating our youth. I want to assure our community that the change will not impact the continuation of several stellar programs offered to our students, such as ROTC and EVIT. In fact, the change to a five-day calendar has resulted in several organizations reaching out to us to enhance programs offered to our students. The district will explore these options and more to provide our students diverse learning opportunities.

Now that a calendar decision was made by the AJUSD Governing Board, my hope is that we can begin to focus on our district’s future. A future where academic achievement and social development of our students is our primary focus. To create learning environments where all students can explore their interests, attain the knowledge needed to enter college and/or the workforce successfully, and acquire the skills necessary to navigate the challenges they will inevitably face in the future. In order to make this our reality, it will be essential that we pull together as a community. A community consisting of teachers, staff, students, parents and community members who are committed to creating a promising future for the youth in Apache Junction Unified School District.

Dr. Krista Anderson
Superintendent
Apache Junction Unified School District

 

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