BY SRIANTHI PERERAFive schools in the Gilbert Public Schools district and Eduprize School,
Gilbert received “A+ School of Excellence” titles from the Arizona Educational Foundation
The GPS schools are Superstition Springs Elementary, Oak Tree Elementary, Islands Elementary and Patterson Elementary and Gilbert High School. This brings the total number of A+ schools in the district to 12. Each received a $500 reward and a banner with the title, which is valid for 3 1/2 years.
“We put in five applications and we’re thrilled because all five were accepted for a visit and all five received A+ awards,” Dr. Christina M. Kishimoto, superintendent of GPS, said.
It was particularly noteworthy for Gilbert High School, which is celebrating its 100th graduating class this year. Principal Christopher Stroud said he was proud” “This is our first attempt to get the A+ and we earned it. It’s a difficult process. Some schools need multiple attempts to get it,” he said.
As for the significance this year, Stroud said that it “came up incidentally… I can’t say that that was entirely by design.”
Stroud added that the school prepared for the application process for a few years. “When we finally felt that the time was right, it happened to be when we’re celebrating the 100th graduating class at Gilbert High,” he said. “For the seniors who are going to be leaving us… I think, for them, this A+ designation is really a wonderful way for them to seal their legacy upon the school. I think that’s a wonderful parting gift.”
This year, the Arizona Educational Foundation awarded the title to 39 out of the 56 public schools that applied from across the state.
The program “calls attention to the positive stories and successes occurring in public schools,” states Executive Director Bobbie O’Boyle in the organization’s website. “The application and evaluation process for this program is comprehensive and rigorous. We applaud these schools for going above and beyond the norm to meet their students’ needs and for achieving overall success despite the many challenges that face the education community statewide.”
Schools that apply (from prekindergarten through 12th grade) are evaluated on student focus and support, school culture, active teaching and learning, curriculum, leadership, community and parent involvement and assessment data.
Once the lengthy written application is submitted, a rigorous site visit is conducted by a team of trained judges.
The team will “see whether what’s stated in the application is lived out in the school,” Kishimoto said.
For example, Patterson Elementary, which is a small, community-based school, highlighted its transition to a more STEM-based exploratory curriculum. The visitors wanted to see that firsthand, Kishimoto said.
Also, the application stated that many of the school’s parents and grandparents belong in the school community and are constantly assisting the school in its programming.
“They went to see that in fact that’s happening,” she said.
Patterson Elementary’s title was a renewal. The titles are valid for three-and- a-half years, after which a school has to reapply.
At Gilbert High, Stroud said that they strived to capture the school culture in the application.
“We wanted to make sure that our application was as true to real life and as true to the reality of each day at Gilbert High as we possibly can make it,” Stroud said. “I think a mistake that any school can make is where you try to say we do all these wonderful things and you don’t actually do those wonderful things.”
“We took a real long, hard look at ourselves and asked what do we do for kids that’s good and let’s focus solely on added.
Among them, the principal said, is “putting our students and our families first on all of the decisions that we make.” The application also highlighted the school’s various hands-on learning opportunities and its wealth of co-curricular opportunities that extended beyond the classroom.
Kishimoto said it was “huge” that 12 out of GPS’s 40 schools have A+ grading.
“It just shows that these are 12 very cohesive, high-engaging, vigorous learning communities,” she said.
“It will encourage the other schools also to go through this process. It’s pretty intense,” she said.
The superintendent does not suggest that the schools apply to the program. Instead, the principal, staff and parents have to make the decision.
“The principal, teachers and the parents have to be really cohesive because the visitors that come on to the campus, they check on these various groups to make sure that everyone has the same vision of success for their kids,” Kishimoto said.