Ember Conley

Promising Whole Child Practices in Arizona

Nestled between the Gila River and Ak-Chin Indian Communities 30 miles south of Phoenix, Ariz., the city of Maricopa had a population of 1,060 in 2000, according to U.S. Census Data. In 2010, the population was 43,482. This exponential growth of more than 4,000 percent created new challenges and opportunities, including transitioning a small one-campus school district into a successful medium-sized district. Today the district has nine school sites with state-of-the-art facilities, including top-rated athletic fields, a state-recognized performing arts center, and a community facility for large forums.

Using ASCD's Whole Child Initiative framework, the Maricopa Unified School District (MUSD) has reached a new level of success. The staff and community in Maricopa are focused on ensuring that each child in the district is healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged with a written, sustainable plan to continue the students' success.

Curriculum, Instruction, and Assessment

MUSD used Robert Marzano's approach to establish a common instructional language called Promising Practices. The approach was developed around Charlotte Danielson's Enhancing Professional Practice: A Framework for Teaching. This framework incorporates four domains of effective instruction—planning and preparation, the classroom environment, instruction, and professional responsibilities— into which MUSD embedded curriculum, instruction, and assessment for continuous student achievement and district improvement.

Using this framework,

  • The district began in 2011 to implement the Common Core State Standards, with complete integration expected by May 2013.
  • The district strategically aligned math, reading, and science through all K–12 grades through Grant Wiggins and Jay McTighe's Understanding By Design® methodology.
  • All certified employees received instruction on the Promising Practices framework, which defined the alignment between the teacher evaluation and student performance measures.
  • Teachers received the overview for accountability and the requirement of the teacher portfolio to show evidence of using the Promising Practices framework (effective instruction, aligned curriculum, continual assessment), with a complete portfolio due by May 2013.
  • Response to intervention coaches and teacher leaders continued their professional development to become site leads for their buildings and share the philosophy behind the UbD™ framework in September 2012.

By December 2012, all district-certified staff completed either an in-person or hybrid course studying Classroom Instruction That Works: Research-Based Strategies for Increasing Student Achievement. Consequently, the nine effective strategies were embedded throughout the year in professional development, supported with walk-through observations, and enhanced through online literature resources focusing on one strategy per month.

School Culture Focused on the Whole Child

Each school established a culture focused on the whole child, ensuring that students are healthy, safe, engaged, supported, and challenged. MUSD created a culture of safety, order, and learning as a result of clearly defined expectations, increased parent and community volunteerism, and proactive character and social skills education programs like Character Counts. The district also implemented a web-based curriculum called iSafe where teachers and students receive instruction in online safety and etiquette, cyber-bullying, and social networking.

The secondary schools offered free biannual physicals for student athletes, and the elementary schools offered free dental health services for uninsured students. Additionally, since 38 percent of our students have a documented health concern, the district secured a mobile health clinic that offers free medical care for all uninsured children from infancy to 18 years of age. Due to the success of this clinic, it will be offered through the summer and continue next year.

In March, the district added a monthly asthma clinic to provide services to students that have a physician-documented condition. The asthma rates, which are significantly higher in Maricopa than in other Arizona communities, prompted health officials and the school district health team to develop the air quality flag system. These flags are placed outside in a highly visible location to inform the parents, staff, and community members of the daily air quality condition. These flags range from green, yellow, orange, red, to purple. During the "non-green" days, asthmatic students limit outside activity. This flag system has decreased the number of 911 calls that had previously been reported for severe asthmatic conditions. Data supports the success of these health partnerships as shown in attendance rates improving from 93 to 95 percent in two school sites, directly increasing student achievement. One site has moved its school report card grade from low-performing to a B-rated school.

MUSD also monitors student achievement improvement progress through school and district data such as nurse office visits, discipline referrals, and parent meetings. The relationships within the school culture require and foster parental involvement and community support, as shown through a more than 10 percent increase in parent attendance at literacy and math nights from the previous years.

Community Partnerships

MUSD has built multiple community partnerships to ensure that students reach their potential. These student-community partnerships include Banner Mobile Health Clinic, Pinal County Department of Health and Justice, Central Arizona Campus Expansion, Career and Technical Education Programs, Ak-Chin Tribal Education Department Services, Emergency Response Teams with the City of Maricopa, and the Arizona Department of Education Pilot Evaluation Membership. MUSD pursues strong community partnerships and maximizes the success of these partnerships by staying focused on the five Whole Child Tenets and what is best for students.

The final tier of support is strong partnerships with businesses, governmental agencies, and community outreach programs, including secondary school resource officers, cultural diversity training, chemical abuse and alcohol counseling classes, and parent advisory nights. These partnerships have created a more cohesive, highly successful infrastructure for student success and increased academic achievement. In April of 2013, MUSD developed the first intergovernmental agreement in the State of Arizona to create a partnership between City of Maricopa Police and Fire Department and the district for the shared services of an Emergency Response Plan that provided a central location for any community emergency response using meeting, technology, and district facilities with the city providing personnel, communications, and power generators.

As the Whole Child Initiative framework is implemented with fidelity in a systematic approach developed with research-based methods, a direct correlation is seen between the strong community partnerships and positive student achievement. In a district that experienced exponential growth in the last seven years, our school district has developed an environment where students flourish in all aspects of growing into adulthood.

Ember Conley is the deputy superintendent for the Maricopa Unified School District in Maricopa, Ariz. As the recipient of the Arizona School Administrator's Outstanding Dissertation in 2010 for her research in the learning styles of American Indian students, she has presented her work at the National Indian Educators’ Conference and the Native American Grant Schools Association and continues to advocate for the educational emphasis to improve American Indian academic achievement. She served on the ASCD Nominations Committee and was selected as an ASCD Emerging Leader in 2012. Conley is an Arizona ASCD board member and shares the Whole Child Initiative framework with school districts throughout the United States and internationally.

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