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Sun, Jan

Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District students and their families will soon receive notices informing them two schools, Tavasci Elementary School and Oak Creek School, are likely to be closed for the 2011-12 school year due to an anticipated $1.5 million budget shortfall.

Young demonstrators, from left, Hunter Cowgill, 5, Faye Richey, 10, and Ethan Cowgill, 5, protest against the potential closure of Oak Creek School before the start of a Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District work session and board meeting Jan. 11. The school board decided to send out 30-day  notifications to those directly affected by the possible closure of both OCS and Tavasci Elementary School as a way to close a $1.5 million budget gap.The COCSD Governing Board voted unanimously Jan. 11 to send out the notices in anticipation of a legal process that requires at least one public meeting 30 days before the board officially votes to close, Superintendent Barb U’Ren told the board.

The vote came after a standing-room-only work session just before the regular meeting where the impact of the closures was quantified by Financial Director David Snyder.

“We don’t want to solve the problem tonight,” Snyder said. “We want to identify some possible savings.”

Closing the schools would result in a total savings of roughly $734,000, which includes approximately $382,000 in administrative support staff cuts, $270,000 in plant maintenance cuts and $81,000 in utility cost savings, Snyder said.

Another $200,000 could be saved if the district decides against offering all-day kindergarten, which would mean four fewer teachers.

Even after the district consolidates both schools into Dr. Daniel Bright, Cottonwood Elementary and Cottonwood Middle schools, the expected budget shortfall will still be more than $700,000, Snyder said.

Consolidation would probably result in the loss of one teaching position, taking the district’s total number of teachers from 78 to 77. Other staff cuts are likely depending on how much more must be cut from the budget following consolidation, U’Ren said.

For example, closing the schools means the district would need fewer principals for a savings of $28,000. A reduction in the number of secretaries would save $80,000, Snyder said.

Board members expressed concern about the ability of the three remaining schools to accommodate the consolidation.

Cottonwood Elementary School would struggle the most to accommodate added students and would operate at 100 percent of capacity in the event consolidation is approved. Dr. Daniel Bright and Cottonwood Middle schools would weather consolidation in better shape with some room left over, U’Ren said.

Even so, the teacher-to-student ratio would be maintained in accordance with the board’s recommendations. In kindergarten through second grade, classroom size would not exceed 22 students. In grades three through five, classroom size would not exceed 25. Grades six through eight would have 26 students per class on average, Snyder said.

“I know how emotional and difficult this is for people in the audience to hear these conversations,” U’Ren said. “And I know how emotional and difficult it is for board members to have these conversations.”

Prior to the work session, about a dozen protesters held up handmade signs, chanted, “Save Oak Creek School,” and beeped car horns in front of district headquarters at the corner of Mingus Avenue and Willard Street shortly after 4 p.m.

“I have two children in Oak Creek School and they have excelled from day one,” protester Stephanie Richey said. “It’s the best school in the district.”

Richey said she would pull her children out of COCSD if Oak Creek School closed.

“I’m here making sure they know our kids won’t go to school in the district if they close Oak Creek down,” said protester Shawna Taylor, who has two children enrolled at the Cornville school.

Don and Faye Johnson experienced World War II like the vast majority of Americans, away from the battlefields but in support of the troops.

Cottonwood resident Don Johnson arrived at Guadalcanal as a member of the U.S. Army Air Corps after most Japanese on the island had been killed or captured. A welder and machinist, Johnson made certain aircraft transporting wounded to the Army Hospital in Hawaii were flight-ready, among many other assignments.

World War II ration books make up a small part of saved memorabilia from the war belonging to Cottonwood residents Don and Faye Johnson, who will speak in the gym at the Clemenceau School on Tuesday, Jan. 18, at 1 p.m. about their experiences servicing the war effort in civilian capacities.His wife, Faye, worked at an industrial plant in Los Angeles that manufactured aircraft parts, including top secret components of the B-25 “Mitchell” bomber.

The Johnsons will recall their wartime experiences during a presentation of World War II Tales hosted by Verde Historical Society at 1 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 18, in the gym of Clemenceau School at the corner of Mingus Avenue and Willard Street in Cottonwood. The talk follows a brief general meeting of the society.

For members of “The Greatest Generation,” many of the stories will sound familiar. For those wanting to meet people who helped win the world’s costliest conflict, the stories give insight into how average Americans rose to the challenges presented by World War II.

Don Johnson carried a weapon and hunted for Japanese stragglers who were stealing from the camp kitchen, but initially spent most of his time at Guadalcanal building an airbase from the ground up, improvising with materials left behind by the Army, which had moved on to other fronts.

“They left plenty of 55-gallon barrels,” Johnson said. “Everything we built, we built out of barrels. This is where my experience with welding came in handy.”

Don and Faye Johnson talk Friday, Jan. 7, about the strict conditions observed during electrical blackout periods after the bombing of Pearl Harbor in 1941. The Johnsons will give a public talk about their experiences servicing the war effort in civilian capacities at the Clemenceau School at 1 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 18.Faye Johnson worked eight to 12 hours a day, sometimes longer, on a swing shift that normally lasted from 4 p.m. to 12:30 a.m., often seven days a week. She drove home in pitch black because all the lights across the city were off in case of an air raid.

To make ends meet during times of shortage, both Johnsons took a turn as small-time black marketeers, trading in items more valuable than cash like silk stockings, dress yardage, cigarettes and beer.

“If you saw a line, you got in it, even if you didn’t know what they were selling,” Faye Johnson said of her time on the homefront.

Don Johnson often traded for cans of beer during his time at Guadacanal and kept a stockpile in his foot locker for trading purposes.

During a stopover, one Marine heard of the stockpile and stopped by Johnson’s tent to ask for a beer. Johnson offered to give him one for free in gratitude for his service, but the Marine insisted on paying. After the transaction, Johnson left his tent briefly, then returned to an unexpected sight.

“When I got back to my tent, there was a long line of Marines stretching way back into the jungle, all around the camp,” he laughed. “I didn’t have near enough beer for those guys.”

As a legacy for their two sons, the Johnsons compiled many of their memories into notebooks full of photographs and memorabilia, like ration cards, V-Mail and other items.

Faye Johnson keeps the tools she used in her work at the wartime factory in a wooden box in the living room of her log house in west Cottonwood.

With a little coaxing, she brought them out during an interview Friday, Jan. 7, demonstrating some of the work she did while sitting at a bench more than 60 years ago.

When record low temperatures ruptured pipes starting New Year’s Eve, some Cottonwood city staff members worked 48 hours straight to shut off the water to more than 100 homes and businesses, Development Services General Manager Dan Lueder said.

Cottonwood Development Services General Manager Dan LuederAccording to the National Weather Service, the temperature fell to negative 3 degrees early in the morning New Year’s Day.

As the sun rose, calls started coming in as home and business owners discovered water leaking from exposed pipes under mobile homes or on the sides of buildings, Lueder said.

Many of the problems resulted from pipes exposed to the air in the gap between the floor of a mobile home and the ground. Others came from uninsulated backflow devices.

At businesses, the pipes carrying water to fire sprinkler systems often froze even though the domestic water supply was not affected. In many cases, vacant homes where the heat was not turned on also experienced broken pipes.

The rupture is caused when water in the lines freezes, causing it to expand and break through the plastic or metal tubing that holds it.

The first wave of calls came when people woke up and were unable to shower or use their sinks. A second wave came shortly after 11 a.m. when people called to say, “Oh my god, there’s water flowing everywhere,” a function of water in pipes thawing as temperatures rose, Lueder said.

Despite press releases warning about the impact of winter weather on pipes, “We’ve had a lot of people move to the Verde Valley who refuse to accept that it gets cold here,” he said.

The city had at least 20 people in the field responding to calls as fast as possible throughout the weekend. Many spent the holiday working in the cold to stop the flow of water.

In addition to utilities workers, parks, police and fire officials responded to the leaks, including Lueder himself, who followed a stream of water on Jan. 2 to a local retail store and personally shut the water off.

Lueder joked he was torn between shutting the water off and letting it flow because every gallon means earnings for the city’s water works. Property owners are responsible to pay for all the water that flows through their meter, even if it empties onto the ground as a result of a broken pipe, he said.

Flowing at a rate of 30 gallons per minute under normal circumstances, water from leaks caused by the freeze could make for some very expensive water bills in February, Lueder said.

Only two ruptures were the city’s responsibility. One was under the Old Town Bridge, which was discovered by Cottonwood City Manager Doug Bartosh who was out for a walk on New Year’s Day. That was a relatively easy repair, Lueder said.

Another rupture in a water main on Rio Verde Drive took longer to repair because a 90-degree elbow burst and it was difficult to reach the location of the leak, he said.

Lueder urged property owners who file insurance claims to cover the cost of repairs to also ask for money to pay increases in water bills, a cost sometimes covered by homeowners insurance.

During the Jan. 4 City Council meeting, Bartosh praised city staff for their extra efforts over the holiday.

“It was a challenging week for staff, but we were prepared,” Bartosh told council.

“Crews here did just an incredible job. There were streets and parks people out there helping us handle these. We worked really well with the police and fire departments. It was kind of a total city effort. Most people realize we were working hard to help and they were just glad we were there,” Lueder said.

Following a hearing Dec. 28, a Yavapai County Superior Court judge disqualified a candidate for mayor of Cottonwood because John Ask failed to collect enough valid signatures on his nominating petition.

The decision means incumbent Mayor Diane Joens will run unopposed in the Tuesday, March 8, primary ballot election.

Mayor Diane Joens will run unopposed in the Tuesday, March 8, primary ballot election following a hearing Tuesday, Dec. 28, at which a Yavapai County Superior Court Judge Robert Brutinel disqualified John Ask because he failed to collect enough valid signatures on his nominating petition.

“It was a mistake of not having the right signatures,” Ask said after the decision. “I tried to do the best I could. All I wanted to do was help the people.”

Appearing at the hearing by telephone, Ask argued the challenged signatures should be allowed. He told Brutinel he did not want to hire a lawyer to represent him in court.

“I told the judge we are all dependent on each other,” Ask said. “Maybe they don’t live inside city limits but they still have a Cottonwood address. They are dependent on the city for water and pay for water services.”

Through their attorneys at The Ledbetter Law Firm, Doug and Carol Hulse argued the candidate did not submit 48 valid signatures on his nominating petition before the Dec. 8 filing deadline.

To qualify for the ballot, Ask was required to submit to the city clerk by 5 p.m. Dec. 8 at least 48 and no more than 95 signatures of “valid electors who reside within the cooperate limits of the City of Cottonwood,” according to the complaint.

Under state law, each of the signers was required to be registered to vote in Yavapai County.

Ask submitted petitions containing 68 names before the deadline. The court disqualified 32 of them, leaving Ask 12 valid signatures short of the required number.

The Hulses alleged several of the signers were disqualified because they were not registered to vote. Others might be disqualified due to felony convictions or for other reasons, according to the complaint filed Dec. 22.

Yavapai County Recorder Ana Wayman-Trujillo testified at the hearing that she reviewed all of the signatures on the nominating petition submitted by Ask to determine whether the signers were residents of the city and registered to vote.

According to Wayman-Trujillo, of the 24 signatures on one nominating petition, 23 were from people who did not live within city limits. Several of those were obviously not qualified to sign because they listed their addresses as being from Cornville or Rimrock.

On another petition containing 17 signatures, eight of the signers were not registered to vote in Yavapai County and five were registered, but did not reside within city limits.

On a third petition containing five signatures, four of the signers lived outside city limits and one was not registered to vote, Trujillo testified.

Town of Jerome records show owners of Jerome Grand Hotel “substantially complied” with orders by town officials to correct a variety of unsafe conditions but refused to pay the cost of new architectural drawings and were criminally charged as a result.

Exposed wiring at Jerome Grand Hotel was alleged to violate the town’s fire code.Town officials closed the Jerome Grand Hotel on Dec. 8 calling it “unsafe,” prompting owners Larry and Robert Altherr to sue in Yavapai County Superior Court on Dec. 14. They demanded an unspecified amount of damages and asked a judge to order the hotel reopened.

Fire code violations the town considered unsafe allegedly included exposed wiring, improper storage of chemicals and a lack of fire escape plans, but most of these conditions were remedied by Sept. 1, according to a report by Police Chief Alan Muma.

Questions about alleged building code violations, including a lack of up-to-date architectural drawings, appear to have triggered criminal citations against hotel owners, closure of the hotel, and ultimately, a lawsuit.

The Altherrs claim the town’s decision to close the hotel cost them $43,000 in reservations and a loss of income estimated at $2,551 per day, according to court records.

The town has not yet answered the Altherrs’ allegations in court and town officials like Town Manager Candace Gallagher and Fire Chief Rusty Blair decline to answer questions about the lawsuit or the incidents leading up to it.

Town records, however, show an exchange of verbal and written communication between town officials and hotel owners that started June 7, about a week after Jerome Fire Department responded to an emergency call at the hotel and discovered a turnaround area for emergency vehicles was blocked.

In a July 21 letter, Blair notified Robert Altherr of several violations including failure to change out holiday lighting after 90 days, failure to provide proper access for emergency vehicles and failure to allow fire officials to complete an inspection of the hotel July 12.

Altherr attempted to appeal the notices of violation in writing by letter hand-delivered to Blair July 29, but was notified his appeal was not in proper form. A subsequent appeal filed on Oct. 14 was “never received by Town of Jerome,” according to a hand-written notation on copies of records. A third appeal, which has not yet been heard, was filed by Altherr’s attorney Dec. 27.

Chemicals stored at Jerome Grand Hotel were alleged to violate the town’s fire code after an inspection conducted by Fire Chief Rusty Blair on Aug. 23.The Altherrs’ dispute with the town came to a head Aug. 23, when Robert Altherr refused to allow Blair and Police Chief Alan Muma to enter the hotel and conduct a follow-up inspection when they appeared at a prearranged time shortly after 11 a.m. By 1:15 p.m., a town magistrate issued a search warrant giving Muma authority to search the hotel for building and fire code violations.

According to Muma’s written report about the inspection, investigators found a large-diameter ductile iron sewer pipe open to a room, exposed electrical wiring, fire sprinkler heads covered with rags, numerous extension cords, unknown liquids next to machinery and no fire escape plans posted in any room.

“All of these items were present at the time of the inspection, and the building was in use, with restaurant customers as well as overnight hotel guests present in the building,” according to Muma’s report.

Altherr again denied Muma, Blair and a building inspector access to the building during a follow-up inspection Aug. 28, causing Muma to again obtain a search warrant.

During the Aug. 28 inspection, Muma alleges in a police report that he discovered “substantial new construction in several areas of the building” he believed were previously closed off by locked doors.

“There appeared to be new rooms being added to both ends of the second floor of the building. These areas contained new partition walls, electrical work, plumbing and mechanical work in various stages,” Muma wrote.

At this point, Altherr agreed to correct the items considered dangerous and “substantially completed” the required corrections by Sept. 1, according to Muma’s report.

Altherr said the construction Muma characterized as “new” was actually abandoned months previously and was not under way at the time of the inspection.

Parking at Jerome Grand Hotel prevent emergency vehicles access to the rear of the hotel, in violation of the town's fire code.On Sept. 2, David Stiever, the town’s chief building official, sent a letter directing Altherr to provide complete architectural renderings of the entire building and ground showing all electrical, mechanical, plumbing and natural gas systems, a task Altherr alleges would have cost the hotel $60,000. Stiever also asked for a site plan for the exterior of the building showing building setbacks and a new parking plan.

According to Altherr, the drawings are not required because the town already issued certificates of occupancy for the hotel based on drawings submitted to the town in 1996 and 1997, drawings the town could not immediately locate.

At an Oct. 4 meeting with Stiever, Altherr failed to provide the requested drawings and plans. Steiver notified Altherr he would be criminally charged for lack of compliance.

On Oct. 12, Muma cited Robert and Larry Altherr for three violations of the Jerome Town Code, including failure to obtain a building permit, failure to provide documents to building officials and maintaining an unsafe structure.

Attempts by Altherr’s attorney to resolve the dispute were unsuccessful after town officials ordered the hotel closed one week before a Dec. 15 meeting scheduled to seek a resolution, town records show.

The 49-foot-tall Mago statue located on Tao Fellowship property at the corner of State Route 89A and Bill Gray Road is dismantled and removed Feb. 23, bringing a temporary end to the zoning  controversy, which erupted in late 2009.

The past year was crowded with hundreds of news events that the Cottonwood Journal Extra informed readers about each week. Here are just a few of the biggest stories from 2010.

The nylon of a hot air balloon and a powered paraglider lie tangled on the ground after a the two were involved in a mid-air collision over the city of Cottonwood's Airfest on Oct. 15.

Mago

The historic Clark Mansion was destroyed in an early morning blaze on June 25. The cause of the fire is still undetermined and the building was razed in late October.

Verde Valley Humane Society board members Laura Fletcher, left, and Dawn Hunsberger, center, as well as VVHS Executive Director Cyndi Castillo answer questions about the costly loss of a contract with Yavapai County animal control services during a meeting open to the public on Sept. 17.In response to an order from the Cottonwood Planning and Zoning Commission, the Tao Fellowship, a religious organization that operates a visitors park at State Route 89A and Bill Gray Road, removed a 49-foot-tall statue of Mago, a Korean earth goddess, on Feb. 23, one day before a deadline imposed by the city.

The sentiments expressed on signs at a smattering of Cottonwood Tea Party rallies throughout the first part of the year correctly predicted the mood of November voters both nationally and locally.A spokeswoman for the organization said removal of the statue from the park cost Tao Fellowship about $25,000. Dozens of other statues, including a giant Kokopelli and figures of several historical and mythical figures, were also removed as a result of the commission’s order.

The Gin Blossoms perform at Cottonwood's Rhythm 'n' Ribs festival on Oct. 2. The event has become one of the most popular annual happenings in the Verde Valley.The commission found Tao Fellowship in violation of a temporary use permit at a hearing that saw hundreds of residents pack the Mingus Union High School auditorium to protest or support the statue.A street march against Senate Bill 1070 in Cottonwood on May 1 echoed similar demonstrations in other parts of the state. The  controversial immigration law stirred deep feelings on both sides of the issue for many Verde Valley residents.

Hot Air Balloon Crash

Investigators from the Federal Aviation Administration continue to review a midair collision between a hot air balloon and an ultralight aircraft known as a paraplane which occurred shortly before 8 a.m. Oct. 16 during Cottonwood Airfest 2010.

Witnesses said the paraplane appeared to be circling the hot air balloon when they collided. The paraplane became entangled with ropes attached to the balloon and both aircraft began spiraling down to the ground.

Ken Ritchie of Cornville was piloting the paraplane. He was strapped into the aircraft as it fell. Three balloon passengers clung to the inside of the wicker basket as it descended.

Ritchie was allegedly taking photographs when the collision took place.

Clark Mansion Fire

Arson was suspected in the early morning fire that destroyed the historic Clark Mansion on June 25.

The nearly 100-year-old residence, listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was fully engulfed when crews arrived shortly before 5 a.m.

Units from Cottonwood Fire Department and the Sedona, Camp Verde, Clarkdale and Verde Valley fire districts responded. In all, 21 firefighters and 12 units responded to the scene.

“It was a priceless, historical piece of the Verde Valley,” Clarkdale Fire District Fire Chief Joe Moore said. “It’s crushing to have lost it.”

November Elections

Proposition 203, the Arizona Medical Marijuana Act, passed by a slim margin Nov. 2, and marijuana use will soon be legal for people certified as medically eligible.

In response, local officials gathered in Cottonwood in December to discuss ways to make sure the new law is implemented properly without increasing access to the drug for abusers.

During the meeting, some officials argued that establishing a local marijuana dispensary would prevent home-grown marijuana outlets from springing up around the Verde Valley.

Because the act allows people to grow marijuana in their homes when the nearest licensed dispensary is more than 25 miles away, establishing a licensed dispensary locally would push home-grown marijuana operations to residences situated outside the Verde Valley.

Officials said a locally licensed dispensary would also centralize legal marijuana cultivation in a single location that could be monitored and routinely inspected by law enforcement, planning and zoning and health department officials, depending on how far Verde Valley cities and towns decide to go in regulating the industry.

Final rules on implementation of the act promulgated by the Arizona Department of Health are expected in March.

Jerome Grand Hotel

Owners of historic Jerome Grand Hotel Services served notice on Jerome town officials Dec. 15 of their intention to sue the town.

The hotel was closed Dec. 9 after fire and building officials declared it unsafe to occupy. The owners requested a Yavapai County Superior Court judge order the building reopened.

In a press release issued Dec. 8, the town stated the hotel “was deemed as unsafe by the town’s fire official and chief building code official, resulting in its closure following checkout of its guests.”

Owners stated the hotel was one of the safest buildings in Jerome and argued it had made nearly every accommodation demanded by the city.

Water

A surprise inspection of Cottonwood’s water treatment system by Arizona Department of Environmental Quality officials in September won Cottonwood high praise for its work to remove arsenic from city water supplies.

ADEQ officials dropped in Sept. 13 to check on progress at one well, but then announced they would stay to inspect the entire waterworks for compliance with Environmental Protection Agency rules, Public Services General Manager Dan Lueder said.

With the exception of one well, city water contains only trace amounts of arsenic.

“The EPA thought it was very impressive,” said Debbie Breitkreutz, Cottonwood wastewater superintendent. “We’ve only been in the water business for six years. For us to take on 28 wells and actually get remediation working and everything going in one year was quite a feat for a city as small as we are.”

The last well, which supplies water to Verde Village 6, is on track for arsenic remediation technology to be installed before the 2012 deadline imposed by the EPA, Breitkreutz said.

Cottonwood Police Chief Jody FanningA Cottonwood police sergeant will lose two days pay in the wake of the death of Dakota, the Cottonwood police department’s drug-sniffing K-9. New handling procedures may also be implemented.

Sgt. Brian Campbell did not return a telephone message requesting comment after Police Chief Jody Fanning imposed the two-day suspension without pay Dec. 20.

An internal affairs investigation concluded Campbell caused Dakota’s death through “neglect or carelessness,” was inattentive to his duty and engaged in conduct unbecoming a police officer, according to the Notice to Suspend issued to Campbell.

Campbell waived his right to challenge the discipline by declining a pre-disciplinary conference that would have sent the matter to City Manager Doug Bartosh for a final decision.

The internal affairs investigation found several aggravating factors associated with Campbell’s violation of police policy:

  • Campbell was a newly promoted sergeant and still on probationary status when the incident occurred.
  • During the course of the morning’s activities, Campbell did not leave the station.
  • The public was extremely upset after hearing details of the incident.
  • Dakota was a valuable asset to the department and the community.

Several factors also mitigated Campbell’s violations:

  • The weather was not unusually hot the day of the incident.
  • Campbell was “tasked with approving an extraordinary number of reports (approximately 58 in total)” on the day of the incident.
  • Campbell experienced no similar incidents during the two years he was assigned a K-9.

Through a spokeswoman, Fanning declined to comment on the investigation or the likelihood of changes to police policy regarding the handling of animals.

City Attorney Steve Horton said he expected police policies regarding the handling of animals would probably be changed to make sure future incidents do no take place.

In a memo to Fanning dated Nov. 22, Cmdr. Jody Makuch, who reviewed reports and an audio recording before the internal affairs investigation was complete, recommended the department institute regular testing of the Hotdog alarm system used to alert canine officers if the internal temperature of a vehicle where an animal is kept becomes unsafe.

The internal affairs investigation concluded the alarm in Campbell’s patrol vehicle was operating properly but was not turned on.
Makuch also recommended canine officers be required to keep an inspection log for the alarm and its components.

Campbell told the internal affairs investigation there were no other handlers employed by the department to show him how the alarm functioned.

In his memo to Fanning, Makuch stated Campbell had ample time to seek guidance and instruction to be able to use the alarm adequately. Going forward, he recommended police policy include instructions on how to use the alarm.

A recent study by Mingus Union High School administration showed Cottonwood Middle School students passed the science portion of the Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards test at a much higher rate than MUHS students.

A report by Mingus Union High School Principal Tamara Addis showed 61 percent of CMS eighth-grade students passed the science portion of the 2010 AIMS test compared to 39 percent of MUHS tenth-grade students.However, the comparison fails to paint a clear picture, according to Cade Densmore, head of the MUHS science department.

A report by MUHS Principal Tamara Addis showed 61 percent of CMS eighth-grade students passed the science portion of the 2010 AIMS test compared to 39 percent of MUHS tenth-grade students.

Densmore responded to Addis’ report at the district’s Dec. 9 board meeting with a report of his own, showing MUHS sophomores passed the science portion of the AIMS test at a rate 10 percent higher than the average rate of sophomores statewide.

“Over the past three years the data indicate the CMS students did pass at a higher rate compared to Mingus; however, they averaged only 0.67 percent higher than the same cohort across the state while Mingus students averaged 10 percent better than their peers statewide,” Densmore told the board.

In addition, the science test for sophomores is different than the test for eighth-grade students, he said.

“Fundamentally, the core content of each test is completely different,” Densmore said during an interview after the meeting.
Life science, which emphasizes chemistry, comprises 13 percent of the test for eighth-graders but 46 percent, nearly half the exam, for sophomores, he said.

Furthermore, science curriculum at CMS is 30 percent physical science, which emphasizes biology. Curriculum at MUHS, however, currently includes no physical science, Densmore said.

The drop-off in scores is not the result of varying curriculum between middle school and high school, however.

The biggest obstacle to better scores in science on the AIMS may be its lack of importance to test takers. In terms of graduating from high school, the science portion of the exam doesn’t count, he said.

“We can’t make it mandatory. We can’t make kids care,” Densmore said. “We’re trying to focus on the things we can do.”

In his first year as department head, Densmore said the department is making sure all science courses are aligned to state standards and creating a flowchart that students can follow to take science classes in the proper sequence.

“We have restructured lab science skills curriculum to be sure that more freshmen receive an introduction to the material tested on the AIMS high school science exam by adding some life science content,” Densmore told the board.

The department will also conduct benchmark tests and standardized assessment tests before and after midterms to help develop improved core curriculum, which is scheduled to be introduced in the 2011-12 school year.

“The science department is not happy with the AIMS test scores over the past three years,” Densmore told the board. “Our goal since receiving the initial AIMS scores has been to improve.”

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