By Diana Nelson
Kyrene Middle School is gaining momentum on its turn-around mission—to improve its scholastic ranking and also its reputation in the community—under the leadership of newly appointed principal Julio Martinez.
Speaking with Wrangler News for a 2018-19 school-year forecast, Martinez stressed that the effort to guide KMS forward revolves around teamwork, which includes other district administrators, teachers and students, as well as input from parents, regarding changes that may be needed.
With new class options and the Kyrene district’s International Baccalaureate program in place for all students, the school definitely seems to resemble a locomotive on track and gaining steam.
The IB mission, as it is known, aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect.
One example of how that took shape at the school was a “Pennies for Peace” project last winter when students launched a campaign to help less fortunate students overseas.
As the school year gets underway, KMS is adopting IB’s Middle Years Programme, in which IB curriculum offers students a rigorous academic framework that encourages them to make practical connections between their studies and the real world.
Currently, in the Tempe Union High School District, only Tempe High School offers an IB program. Other schools, such as Corona and Marcos, continue to offer Advanced Placement and community college, dual-enrollment courses.
Kyrene students began learning through IB methodologies starting with the 2017-18 school year. With the program now in its second year, the school expects its application to be fully authorized by 2019-20.
Within the new IB structure, Martinez said, KMS continues to offer a College Preparatory Program that includes advanced curriculum in math and language arts, along with accelerated, in-depth learning in social studies and science.
Additionally, the school’s dual-language program supports students who have been part of a similar program in elementary school, explained Martinez.
Social studies, science and Spanish that are taught in Spanish formed the foundation for a 60-40 model of immersion instruction. As students matriculate to the 8th grade, they will participate in a community project and have an opportunity for travel to a Spanish-speaking country.
With more academic choices, Martinez said, KMS plans to prepare its students to be ready for advanced educational choices and career readiness. Just a few years ago, the school’s academic ranking dipped to a C grade, which caused concern among the community.
KMS is one of six middle schools in the Kyrene district to educate 6th, 7th and 8th graders. Of the other five in Kyrene’s combined Tempe-West Chandler-Ahwatukee area, three earned an “A”— Akimel A-al, Altadeña and Pueblo. The remaining two—Aprende and Centennial—earned a “B.”
Most educators agree that school rankings are just a point-in-time snapshot of students’ performance on standardized tests, measuring mainly math and language arts. “We certainly have the potential to be on the A-list,” said Martinez—“and that is what we aim to accomplish.”
Added the new principal with apparently customary optimism:
“In my opinion, we have many positives at KMS. Our dual-language program is growing; now we have classes in the Mandarin Chinese language in addition to sign language,” said Martinez.
KMS offers students more than just academic choices, too: it provides a range of choices in clubs, sports, theatre and other extracurricular activities, all designed to provide a well-rounded educational experience for all, says Martinez.
“We are even growing our mariachi music program. Last year there were about 30 students; this year, we have 80 students signed up,” he said.
According to Martinez, this also is reflective of some of the cultural changes in enrollment at the school, which includes a racially diverse student body.
“We are proud of our diversity at KMS and consider it a strength,” said Martinez, who began his 24-year career in education as a teacher; during the last six of those years, he served as a principal.
Prior to coming to the Kyrene district, he was an elementary-school principal in the Scottsdale Unified School District. He was attracted to KMS, he said, because it offered career growth, as he has been a principal and teacher in elementary and high school.
Originally from Tucson, Martinez eventually relocated to New Mexico, ultimately returning to Arizona to be closer to family. He earned two masters degrees along the way—one in educational administration, the other in bilingual/multicultural education, which will serve him well at KMS.
He is also certain that KMS’s students and teachers are heading in the right direction to improve scores in the next testing cycle. In addition to targeted interventions in reading, math and English Language Learners, KMS students are building computer and writing skills, according to Martinez.
Enrollment numbers are steady from last year, but he says he expects an increase in the next few years due to more students currently enrolled in the fifth grade in feeder schools in the district.