Changes await returning students

By Jonathan Cooper

The grumbling students and packed office-supply stores can mean only one thing: the freedom and relaxation of summer are nearly over; the often-monotonous routine of homework and schoolwork is about to begin once again.

As they head back to school, Kyrene Corridor students will find a series of changes waiting for them, whether they’re bound for elementary, middle or high schools.

In the Kyrene School District, the coming year will be the first with controversial new middle school scheduling, under which students will attend five long periods each day instead of eight shorter ones.

It remains to be seen how the changes will work out, but many parents have expressed concern at the amount of time students will spend continuously in one class (68 minutes) as well as the diminished time in elective classes such as art, music and physical education.

The coming school year will be crucial to evaluating the schedule’s success. It could put to rest the criticism or strengthen an ongoing campaign to roll back the changes and even recall Governing Board President Rae Waters.

Despite the concern, Kyrene’s director of federal and community initiatives, Karin Crider, said the district hasn’t experienced a significant exodus of students or teachers due to the changes.

Still, Kyrene’s enrollment figures continue to decline as the age demographics of the district’s families climb upward. Fewer families with young children are moving into Kyrene’s boundaries, and the children who are already here are growing up. As a result, the district has had to get creative in order to curb the overall enrollment decline, and students heading back to school next week may find new faces in their classrooms—faces of students traveling long distances to reach their new schools of choice.

“We have a significant number of out-of-district students choosing Kyrene for their open enrollment,” Crider said.

Kyrene took advantage of an Arizona law allowing parents to choose to send their children to any school they desire, provided the chosen school has room and the parents can arrange for transportation. The district has aggressively courted out-of-district students and already has students attending its schools from as far away as El Mirage and Apache Junction.

In order to increase the number of students from outside the boundaries, thus qualifying for the state money that follows them, Kyrene has provided buses to communities in Maricopa and the so-called Baseline Corridor neighborhoods of south Phoenix, Crider said.

So far, the district has enrolled 2,200 students through the open enrollment policy. That’s approximately 530 more out-of-district students than Kyrene had enrolled in May of last year.

Crider attributed the spike in open enrollment to outstanding teachers, students and instruction found in Kyrene classrooms.

“Our test results show that we really have outstanding teachers who provide a high quality of education to our students,” she said. “We opened it up so parents have a choice. Many of the parents who are choosing Kyrene have students who have been very successful with our program.”

As the new school year approaches, staffing at the principal level remains largely consistent, with one exception. Brisas Elementary will be under the direction of a new principal, Christie Winkelmann, who was previously assigned to the district office as executive director of student services.

Students heading to high school next week shouldn’t find many significant changes either, according to Mark Duplissis, assistant principal at Corona del Sol.

The biggest policy shift at Corona, he said, will be an extra limitation to the school’s open campus policy during lunchtime. For the past several years, the campus was closed during lunch to all students except seniors, who were able to leave campus for lunch at their own discretion.

Starting this year, only seniors with notarized parent permission forms will be allowed to leave campus during lunch.

“In lieu of the Dobson situation last year (in which several students were killed while off campus for lunch), our Site Council and our administration decided we should probably make sure parents give permission,” Duplissis said.

He added that the school is making every attempt to ease the burden of the extra procedure, noting that most of the administrators and secretaries are notaries and have been able to sign the forms in that capacity.

Duplissis said the reception to the new policy has been generally good and that no parents had complained.

“I’ve had parents say they appreciate us doing it,” he said.

Also new this year at Corona is a program to provide backpacks and school supplies to students in need. The supplies were collected at the end of last school year by members of the National Honor Society.

Students attending Corona should expect to see the halls a bit more crowded. The school’s net enrollment jumped by about 120 students over last year.

New blood will also be injected into the faculty. Fifteen new teachers were hired over the summer in several departments, as was a new librarian.

While the faculty will be joined by those new faces, the administration is remaining consistent for the fourth consecutive year.

Principal Jim Denton and Assistant Principals Lydia Denne, Dan Nero and Duplissis are all continuing in their current roles.

“I really feel that one of our strengths here at Corona is our strong administration team,” Duplissis said, noting the large level of collective experience between the four administrators.

“That is key to our success.”