Sun, Sept. 15

U'Ren takes year-end look back and ahead

Barb U'Ren

Barb U'Ren

COTTONWOOD - Two stories have run throughout most of 2012 for the Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District, and those stories also point to the future for the district.

COCSD has been involved all year long with Mingus Union High School District in looking into ways of sharing services and reducing costs. Those discussions have covered just about everything from transportation to administrative services.

Both districts are still looking at the feasibility of sharing services, including administrative positions. But one position is already being shared. Both districts now share a Director of Special Education. That idea was picked up and pursued by COCSD Superintendent Barbara U'Ren and MUHS Superintendent Tim Foist.

The district is also sharing a P.E. and Youth Coordinator with the City of Cottonwood Recreation Center. And the district offers online tutoring for its students in third through eighth grades in partnership with Paradise Valley Unified School District's National Honor Society students.

A very positive story that has been going on all school year for COCSD has to do with its International Baccalaureate Candidate School, Mountain View Preparatory - now located in Tavasci School.

The district opened MVP in the summer of 2011 at Dr. Daniel Bright School. It outgrew the available space on that campus almost immediately. For this school year, the governing board moved MVP to the Tavasci campus, which had been closed due to state budget cuts

On Aug. 8 MVP opened its new school year in Tavasci School already at the school's capacity with a waiting list for more students. It started the new school year with 363 students in K through seventh grades.

Late in the summer, the COCSD School Board made the decision to make MVP a district sponsored charter school beginning in July. The move will significantly increase the district's maintenance and operation budget, and will keep all staff and teachers as district employees.

U'Ren agreed to look back at some of the high points of the year now past, and also to look ahead to the new year.

"During the 2012 school-year, we were committed to providing a wide range of learning opportunities for our families in safe environments with excellent facilities," U'Ren said. "This is an accomplishment given that our budgets have declined by about 20 percent over the last few years."

She went over a list of high points. In addition to expanding the MVP IB academy, the district opened another opportunity for families with the Bright Bears Preschool Academy at Dr. Daniel Bright Primary School.

"Now, 30 of our youngest learners attend preschool with a certified teacher and high quality para-pros," U'Ren said. "The program also offers affordable safe, child-care until 5:30, five days a week."

U'Ren pointed out that enrollment at Oak Creek School in Cornville has increased.

"The district offers a designated centralized stop that will transport Cottonwood students to OC for families in the Cottonwood community who choose to attend Oak Creek School," U'Ren said.

COCSD offers K-12 online courses that have high school courses that are rigorous and transferable to high schools throughout the state.

U'Ren wants to establish a more rigorous and engaging curriculum.

"While the new Common Core (CC) standards are not yet required by the state, COCSD has embraced these standards as a means to better engage students in rigorous curriculum," U'Ren said. "The district created teacher task force teams in both English language arts and mathematics to create CC units."

She pointed out that the district has designated instructional coaches and teacher leaders to train teachers to create CC standards and the instructional practices necessary as teachers assist students in acquiring the required skills, while engaging them in more complex thinking.

U'Ren explained that during the summer, the board established a policy that actually encourages students to bring their own technology devices.

"The district installed wireless Internet at Cottonwood Middle School so that students can access the Internet to enhance their learning," U'Ren said.

The completion of the solar covered parking structure at CMS is the culmination of a two-year partnership with APS that has added a solar electric generation station at four of the five COCSD schools.

U'Ren is looking forward to 2013.

The district will determine long-term growth for Mountain View Preparatory middle year and high school programs.

"It is our hope that we will be able to establish strong partnerships that will benefit the level of academic rigor expected in the high school program," U'Ren said.

She also pointed out that the district's preschools are preparing for a partnership with First Things First and Quality First programs.

Quality First is funded through First Things First and will open additional slots for student participation and provide a greater spectrum of quality services and transition for preschool to kindergarten and first grade.

"All indications point to another financially challenging budget year," U'Ren said. "While state revenues show a slight increase, we anticipate that the previous year reductions to our unrestricted capital and soft capital will remain."

She explained that the biggest challenge will be to find innovative ways to continue moving forward with technology in our classrooms without the funds to upgrade our computers and devices.

"We will continue existing partnerships and create new partnerships and shared opportunities for the benefit of students," U'Ren said.

She said that will include increased collaboration with MUHS for curricular alignment.

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