By Barbara Grijalva - email
It was a big day for local students in three school districts, as the first day of classes got underway Thursday.
Children in Sunnyside, Flowing Wells and Altar Valley are back in school.
In the smallest of the three, Altar Valley, 20 miles west of Tucson, they are making giant strides. No other district in Arizona has accomplished what Altar Valley has.
Altar Valley was in danger of becoming, what's considered in Arizona, to be a failing school district, but not any more.
To say everyone is proud of their schools' accomplishments is an understatement.
Linsey Carns is in 4th grade.
"We studied hard and we just tried to get a good grade," Linsey says.
And they did get good grades.
A little background: Altar Valley is a rural school district with some significant hurdles to overcome. Many students are from low-income families. The district says that about 89% of its students receive free and reduced lunch.
A third of the students enter or leave district schools during every school year.
Based on test scores, the federal No Child Left Behind program had put the district's two schools, an elementary and a middle school, on its needs improvement list.
Parent Dorothy Vialpando says, "So we had to get in there. We had to say, this is what we want. This is what we need to do, but the other part in that is we had to put in our work and our efforts into that."
So, everyone...teachers, parents, students, administrators...everyone became dedicated to get off that list.
Altar Valley is now the only school district of some 70 in Arizona to bring up test scores enough to make it off the needs improvement list.
How did they do it?
Teachers get coaching, professional development. But the real focus is on each of the nearly 720 students.
Mary C. Miller is an Altar Valley School District Administrator.
She says, "All during the year, weekly they give assessments and kids that aren't getting the information, they pull them out in small groups and work with them. So, it's really personalized what's going on, to help the individual kid not to fall through the gaps."
"Another thing is believing it can happen. You know, I called the state and they said, 'You did? I can't believe it.' It's almost like people don't expect you to get out," Miller says.
The students are meeting the challenge, and getting the rewards.
Parent Stacey Delisle says "their faces just light up" when they find out what they've accomplished.
"Not only are they hearing it from their teachers and their peers around them, but they're hearing it at home as well," Delisle says.
But Altar Valley isn't finished.
Miller says, "To be known as one of the best school districts in the state, you know, that's what we'd really like to happen. So this is foundational for that."
The highest rating a school can get in Arizona is excelling.
Miller says the Altar Valley School District has set its sights on its schools reaching that goal.
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