Initial data from the spring shows Higley USD students continued to achieve or surpass proficiency marks on state standardized tests taken last spring at a higher rate than the state average, district officials told the governing board July 21.

The data was presented at the district’s initial board meeting for fiscal year 2021-22, the first meeting under which Dawn Foley is the district’s permanent superintendent.

The data showed that in English language arts, or ELA, and math, students at the different Higley campuses virtually all had more students pass than the state average.

“Higley is on target,” said Susan Borzych, the district’s interim executive director for elementary education. “Through our [Professional Learning Community] structure, we have processes in place to identify our gaps, determine root cause, to identify students in a wider range of learning for this year and to adjust our instruction accordingly this year so we are meeting the needs of all learners.”

Before the start of this fiscal year, Borzych was the district’s director of assessment and student information but was elevated to the new post when Sherry Richards was promoted to associate superintendent, replacing Foley.

Every campus at every grade level had a higher number of student passing than the state average in ELA, and all but one—fifth-graders at Gateway Pointe Elementary School—did so in math. In that case, 27% of the fifth-grade students were at least proficient while the state average was 31%. Borzych did not specifically address that situation.

“We have unique situations at each one of our schools, as you can imagine,” she said.

The state averages and Higley’s scores generally were slightly down from what was reported in 2019, but Borzych cautioned that the scores could not be used for trend-over-time analysis because students are taking a different test now than in 2019. The AzMerit test from 2019 testing was replaced with what the state calls AzM2. Tests were not administered in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Board members praised the district for its work.

“We can look at numbers, but all these numbers are tied to little human beings, and last year was rough on them as well,” board member Amy Kaylor said. “I’m grateful that we did so well. I will go back to saying I supported opening our schools and staying open, and I think that played a huge part in how well the year did go, so hats off to everyone who made this happen.”

Core values identified

Foley presented to the board an overview of what happened at a three-day administrative retreat earlier in July and the district’s progress in putting together an administrative handbook.

The retreat, with anyone who leads a team in the district included, focused on the governing board’s strategic initiatives for the year and identifying what the district’s core values are, she said.

The values identified were integrity, connections, learning-centered and accountability.

Foley said the district defined what is meant by each and stated actions to be taken to put those core values in place.

Foley said they do not want the values to “sit on walls, but walk the halls.”

Other items

  • A report from Special Education Director Shauna Miller to the board showed that during the 2020-21 school year the district spent $1.92 million to provide private day school support to 48 special education students. The board had approved a budget of up to $2.5 million last August for that support. Special education day-school assignments are considered for children with highly specialized needs that cannot reasonably be provided by the district.

  • The district spent more than $761,000 to pay for substitute teachers, phased retirement teachers and rescue substitutes during the 2020-21 school year, Human Resources Executive Director Mum Martens said. The board authorized more than $1.26 million for the purpose last August.

  • Chief Financial Officer Tyler Moore outlined prohibited and allowable activities that district officials should abide by during the bond election cycle. HUSD has a $95 million bond issue before voters in November.

  • The board approved the August payment of longevity pay for the 2020-21 school year in the amounts defined according to years of service. The cost to the district totals $15,750. The payments, which started in the 2016-17 school year, are made twice each school year, in December and August, for employees who meet their years of service during the applicable term.

  • The board approved the memorandum of understanding for fiscal year 2021-22 between the district and the Higley Education Association, the district’s teachers union. The memorandum largely was the same as the previous year’s memorandum and covers areas including the hiring formula, benefits, performance pay, recertification hours, salary advancement and general leave policy.