Tucson school bounces back from the bottom - Tucson News Now

Tucson school bounces back from the bottom

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TUCSON, AZ (Tucson News Now) -

Palo Verde High Magnet School underwent a dramatic makeover after poor performance.

Three years ago, the east side school replaced its principal and a large part of its staff as part of a process called "turnaround."

That meant everyone was let go, from the principal to the teachers to the custodians.

That was two years ago.

Until the huge shift, even good students found it difficult.

"There was a lot more bullying back then. There was a lot more problems that would happen," says Palo Verde senior, Karah Jorgensen.

"I didn't like how not involved the teachers were. It seemed like they were almost distant from the students," says Morgan Olson, also a senior.

Palo Verde Principal Janna Acevedo says, "There was really no clear focus on learning or focus on what education is about."

Then the school started over from scratch.

That's when Acevedo was made principal.

"You develop a vision, a mission and you have collective commitments with your faculty and then you focus on what works for kids. Then you have everyone buy into what works," Acevedo says.

To help turn things around Acevedo decided to use a federal School Improvement Grant on people rather than programs.

She says, "We have invested a lot in opportunities for students to learn, which is like tutoring. So we have weekend tutoring. We have credit recovery for kids that are behind in credits and they need to graduate."

"Programs come and go in education. We can't hang our hat on a program, but I can hang my hat on teaching my teachers how to teach very well and use effective strategy and what works for our students," Acevedo says.

She says effective teaching includes creating positive relationships with students.

Acevedo says it takes two great things to move a school.

"Those two great things--a strong leadership that leads a school, and effective teaching in the classroom. In the classroom is where the action is," Acevedo says.

And that means for all students.

"If they're bottom 25% or top 25% or in the middle, it's all students.  100% is our number around here," Acevedo says.

It has had an effect.

Palo Verde is now a high "B" rated school with a 92% graduation rate.

"All students can learn. All teachers can teach. And so it's a process that we follow and we go through to bring all students up to our high expectations," says Palo Verde engineering and chemistry teacher, Annmarie Condes.

"It's a lot different because the teachers are a lot more focused. They care a lot more. You can tell that everything's a lot more serious," says Karah Jorgensen.

Her classmate, Morgan Olson, agrees.  "They actually seemed like they wanted to be there and help you."

However, Palo Verde is not resting on its achievements.

Everyone expects even more.

"Yeah. We're going to go for it. We're going for all of it," Acevedo says.

She says she fully expects Palo Verde will be an "A" rated school in academic achievement by the end of this school year.

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