Vaping referrals decline, but Higley USD looks to combat habit

Higley USD
The Higley USD governing board heard Feb. 12 about the district's efforts to combat vaping. (Courtesy Higley USD)

The Higley USD governing board heard Feb. 12 about the district's efforts to combat vaping. (Courtesy Higley USD)

Preventive efforts in Higley USD’s high schools and middle schools have resulted in a decline in disciplinary referrals for alcohol and drug violations this school year, district officials told the governing board Feb. 12.

However, the officials admitted they must always be working to stay ahead of students’ creative efforts to avoid getting caught vaping.

“It’s always going to be a game of cat-and-mouse,” said Steve Tannenbaum, Williams Field High School principal, to the board after board members Kristina Reese and Greg Wojtovich wondered if some of the decline was due to students’ finding ways to avoid detection.

Statistics presented by Tannenbaum, Higley High School Principal Alan Fields and Student Services Director Jennifer Corry showed that the district has had 59 tobacco and drug violation referrals through Jan. 15 at the two high schools. Last year, the district had 165 violations at the schools. Repeat violations have fallen from seven to two.

At the district’s two middle schools, Sossaman and Cooley, referrals have fallen from 29 last school year to four thus far this year.

Interventions have included different anonymous ways to report violations and offer of six free counseling sessions with Town of Gilbert Youth and Adult Resources.

Repeat violators get a police citation but can be entered into a diversion program from the town.

In the future, Higley High may have more controls on bathroom access, as Williams Field has, and both schools could have cameras installed outside bathrooms. Punishments could include three days out-of-school suspensions, in-school suspensions or Saturday school for first-time violators.

Tannenbaum stressed that “99 percent” of students make good choices and do not want to see vaping on campus.

Testing incentives

A committee led by Dawn Foley, K-12 Educational Services assistant superintendent, presented a student incentive program for teachers to include AzM2 assessment test scores in grading.

AzM2, formerly known as AzMERIT, is the state’s student assessment instrument taken each spring.

Under the program, second semester grades would come 80% from coursework, 10% from the second semester final exam and 10% from AzM2 test scores. If AzM2 scores are not posted in time for grades, then the final exam would make up 20% of the grade.

If a student performs unusually poorly on the assessment testing, teachers would still have the right to assign a grade reflecting a “preponderance of evidence” on the student’s overall performance from the semester, Foley said.

Teacher contracts

Board member Scott Glover successfully pushed through a reduction in the penalties teachers pay when they resign without prior district approval.

Glover, who has been advocating for such a reduction for four years, said he wants employees who want to be in the district, rather than ones who are “hostages.”

Under a motion to amend the contracts’ language, teachers will pay a fee of $500 if they vacate the contract between March 28 and April 30; $750 between May 1 and June 30; and $1,000 after July 1. The original fee schedule was for penalties climbing from $750 to $1,500 to $2,000 in those time frames.

The fees sometimes are waived by the board on the district’s recommendation, board members said. The new fee schedule is similar to the one used in Gilbert Public Schools, though with different calendar dates on when the fees would apply.

The new fee schedule passed on a 4-1 vote with Wojtovich voting in dissent. The contracts’ language for the next school year then passed 5-0.


During the public comment period, three parents spoke about problems with rampant bullying at Cooley Middle School. Board President Amy Kaylor said the problems would be addressed.
By Tom Blodgett

Editor, Gilbert

Raised in Arizona, Tom Blodgett has spent more than 30 years in journalism in Arizona and joined Community Impact Newspaper in July 2018 to launch the Gilbert edition. He is a graduate of Arizona State University, where he served as an instructional professional in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication from 2005-19 and remains editorial adviser to The State Press, the university's independent student media outlet.


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