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The Mingus Union High School District Governing Board hired Nancy Alexander as the interim superintendent, now that the current superintendent, Scott Dunsmore, has been placed on administrative leave.

Alexander served as superintendent for the Sedona-Oak Creek School District from its inception in 1991 through 2004. She will fill in two to three days a week at $425 a day for the remainder of the 2008-09 school year, according to the contract the board and Alexander signed.

Mingus business manager Kirk Waddle told the board that the amount was the going rate for an interim superintendent.

The announcement came at a special Mingus board meeting Friday, Oct. 3, at 7 a.m. in the school’s cafeteria after the board approved the contract with a three to zero vote. Council members Jim Ledbetter and Andy Groseta were out of town.

“These are very difficult times. I think Ms. Alexander is exactly the right person to come in until we get things cleared up,” board member Tom Parmartar said. “Whether the board is screwed up or the superintendent is screwed up, I want to ensure that education goes on as smooth as possible and we take a deep breath.”

On Sept. 29, in another special board meeting, board members said the school has experienced some communication problems among the administration, the board and staff.

At that meeting, the board performed an open-meeting evaluation of Dunsmore’s performance, at his request. At the end of that meeting, following a 30-minute executive session, the board voted five to one to place Dunsmore on administrative leave.

Alexander presented three goals for the interim position. They included the successful completion of the school year, a transition strategy for the new superintendent and to continue to promote a professional learning community throughout the school district.

She also listed several priorities that will be her focus, including to oversee the bond project, improve communications and provide support for the staff and community outreach.

Alexander began her duties Oct. 3 at 8 a.m. and will hold the interim position until June 30, 2009, when a new superintendent will be hired for the 2009-10 school year.

She said performing superintendent duties is something she enjoys doing.
“You take a set of skills you’ve honed over 30 years, come in and pull on those skills and problem solve. That’s a welcome challenge for me,” Alexander said.

While superintendent in Sedona, Alexander said she worked with Mingus on many projects, such as forming the Valley Academy of Career and Technology Education.

“I have a very high regard for this school,” she said.

Mingus Board President Bryan Detwiler said the board is pleased to have Alexander on board to help with the transition to a new superintendent.

“As a former superintendent of schools, she has an excellent working knowledge of the needs of our students, staff and parents. I am confident that Ms. Alexander can help the board and administration team put together a comprehensive transition plan for our district,” Detwiler said.

Lu Stitt can be reached at 634-8551 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

If upper Verde Valley voters decide yes on unification of the three separate school districts, it will create three new school districts.

What?

The idea of unification is to create fewer school districts in Arizona, according to information from the School District Redistricting Commission that decided smaller school districts should unify. The members mandated that the question should go to voters Tuesday, Nov. 4.
The voters will be asked if the Mingus Union High School District should be split in two based on Clarkdale-Jerome and Cottonwood-Oak Creek school district boundaries. Then, if Mingus and Cottonwood should unify, voters living within the Clarkdale-Jerome School District will have just one question: whether the Mingus Union High School District should be subdivided.

Voters in the Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District will have two questions: whether the Mingus Union High School District should be subdivided, and if so, whether Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District and one of the subdivided Mingus districts should unify.

“Effectively what a ‘yes’ vote will do, folks, is Mingus will cease to exist.

It will become two new high school districts with Cottonwood-Oak Creek becoming a K through 12 district and Clarkdale-Jerome will have two districts, with a high school that does not exist,” Yavapai County Superintendent of Schools Tim Carter said.

Carter visited Cottonwood on Thursday, Sept. 18, to give the facts on unification and answer some questions. About 35 people attended the meeting.

Another issue arises should Mingus become subdivided. What would happen to the district’s assets?

“The county attorney [Sheila Polk] and I agree there could be a lot of lawsuits,” Carter said.

Former COCSD Superintendent John Tavasci said splitting a high school district is like a divorce. “You not only have to deal with the assets, but the liability,” he said.

If the answer from voters is “no” on any part of the questions, nothing happens. The existing districts will not change.

The question of unification of the three school districts has come up before and voters turned it down. Now, the state legislature has mandated that 78 school districts across the state put the question to the voters.

The redistricting commission was signed into law by Gov. Janet Napolitano in 2005.

The commission considered several factors when looking at districts, including school size, district size, teacher salaries, travel time of students, district geographic boundaries, primary and secondary tax issues and aligning curriculum kindergarten through 12th grade.

“The districts here work together and they work together very, very well. I’m a conservative, local control guy. My political view is simple: The people of the Verde Valley should decide what is best for the districts of the Verde Valley,” Carter said.

COCSD Superintendent Barbara U’Ren told Carter that the three superintendents meet regularly to discuss curriculum. She said the districts already have the ability to align services and do not need to unify for that purpose. For example, COCSD provides food service for Mingus.

Carter also told the audience that voters always have had the ability to consolidate, unify or subdivide districts.

One person in the audience asked why CJSD was not part of the unification question. The commission decided to eliminate the district because with the voting history in Clarkdale-Jerome it would not pass, but it thought there was a significant chance it would pass in Cottonwood, he said.

Ron Agoglia asked Carter if the voters give their approval, where would the teens in Clarkdale go to high school?

“I don’t know. It would be up to the new board. They could find a place in Clarkdale, or could make a new unified district,” Carter said, while saying that it would only make sense for the current Mingus campus to serve as the high school.

Agoglia said, “Aren’t you creating more problems?”

Carter said with the subdivided, unified move, if approved, it would create some very complex questions that have to be answered.

On one issue, Mingus teachers have a higher salary schedule than do COCSD teachers — a difference of approximately $750,000, according to research.

“I doubt if the new district would adopt the lower pay schedule. How to make up the difference would be up to the new board,” Carter said.

Carter defined the difference between consolidation and unification.

Consolidation is putting two like districts together, such as two high school districts or two elementary districts. Unification involves bringing an elementary district and a high school district together to form a kindergarten through 12th grade single district.

Ballots will be mailed out Thursday, Oct. 2, and Carter said the anticipation is that 75 percent of voters will cast ballots early.

“We’re expecting less than 15 percent of voters will go to the polls,” he said.

Carter gave his telephone number for anyone who wants to call him with questions regarding unification, (928) 925-6560.

“If I don’t know the answer, I will get it,” he said.

Lu Stitt can be reached at 634-8551 or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

The Camp Verde Unified School District Board has approved an agreement with the Camp Verde Water Company to provide a new connection to school buildings.

The agreement must now be approved by the water company before it can be finalized.

The new two-mile water line became a pressing issue when the Environmental Protection Agency raised its standards on the acceptable levels of arsenic in drinking water.

The school buildings off Camp Lincoln Road were fed by a well that suddenly found itself in violation of federal arsenic rules, like many in the western U.S.

The school district had been operating on its current well under a special allowance from the EPA while the district tried to figure out who had to pay for the new line.

The Arizona Attorney General ruled that the school district was responsible for the bill. The school board plans to pay for the new line over the course of two fiscal years to help spread out expenses.

The water company had also agreed to shoulder some of the costs of hooking the school district up to the new line.

The Arizona School Facilities Board will still pay the more than $250,000 needed to prepare the school campuses for hooking on to the new line, said Superintendent Jeff Van Handel.

The district will also have control of a meter in the line near the Camp Verde library.

The school district will maintain its current well for irrigation and firefighting purposes.

In other business, Van Handel informed the board that the district was another step closer to opening three charter school programs. The district wants to possibly open three new programs: a language immersion program for elementary students; a college prep program at South Verde High School; and an International Baccalaureate-type school.

The Arizona State Board for Charter Schools approved the applications as being administratively complete. The merits of each application will now go on for further review with a decision expected around the beginning of November.

Mark Lineberger can be reached at 567-3341, or e-mail This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

Buses lined the streets, parents held back tears and crossing guards halted traffic as Cottonwood’s students headed back to the classroom.

Classes at Mingus Union High School, Cottonwood Elementary School and Cottonwood Middle School resumed Thursday, Aug. 7, and the children were excited.

“My mom said I get a couple of new teachers,” sixth-grader Christian Despian said. Despian’s mom said he’s a “teacher’s boy.”

Wednesday night, Despian went to bed early but his mom said he laid in bed for two hours before falling asleep.

Traci Bryan, a sixth grader, said she and her friend, Martha Winans, also in sixth grade, just moved to the middle school from the elementary school and didn’t know many people. “We’re kind of nervous,” Bryan said.

CMS principal Denise Kennedy said enrollment is up slightly this year from the close of last year. The middle school has approximately 760 students with more still enrolling. The school ended last year with 745 to 750 students.

“We’re just passionate for what we do here for the students and parents and community of Cottonwood,” Kennedy said.

According to Kennedy, CMS added enrichment instruction this year to introduce students to other cultures. One class consists of games from different countries and another teaches students Spanish.

“We’re just trying to enrich our students with some other choices beside core academics,” Kennedy said.

Students’ next day off is Labor Day, Monday, Sept. 1.

The two upper Verde Valley elementary school districts fared better than the state in the 2007 Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards scores in reading, writing and math.

However, the two districts were either equal to or slightly behind Yavapai
County’s scores.

“We almost always do better than the state and just a bit behind the county,” Barb U’Ren, Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District superintendent, said.

One reason she cited was that the AIMS looks at the percent of free and reduced lunches. The county is approximately 44 percent, but COCSD is 57 percent

“That’s not an excuse but we look to find a reason and see where we need to focus our efforts,” she said. “For the most part all of our students showed growth over last year.”

Clarkdale-Jerome Elementary School District’s superintendent Kathleen Fleenor almost echoed U’Ren’s sentiment.

“We did well on both AIMS and TerraNova. The majority of all our students scored in the meets or exceeds category. Overall looking at all grade levels and all areas we did better than last year,” Fleenor said.
TerraNova is another standardized test.

For example, in reading, Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District third-grade students scored 77 percent of students meeting or exceeding the AIMS, compared with 69 for the state and 73 for the county.
In writing, the state reported 81

percent, the county 85 percent and COCSD 79 percent. Math came in at 72 percent for COCSD third-grade students, which the state score was 76 percent and 76 percent in the county.

In Clarkdale, the same grade level had scores of 91, 95 and 100 for reading, math and writing, respectively.

In the eighth-grade classes, those students who are headed to high school in August, Clarkdale scored 75 percent in reading, 87 percent in writing and 89 percent in math, while COCSD scores were 64, 72 and 64 percent for reading, writing and math, respectively.

The state scores were 63 percent, 73 percent and 61 percent for reading, writing and math, respectively.

Yavapai County’s percentages for eighth-grade reading, writing and math were 70 percent, 76 percent and 67 percent, respectively.

“Teachers get together at each grade level to see what we can do to beef up areas that need attention. You really scramble to get these little guys reading writing and doing math,” Fleenor said.

U’Ren attributes some of the higher scores in reading to a program begun at the district about four years ago, Reading Mastery.

Cottonwood Middle School — teaching sixth, seventh and eighth grades — will begin a new program for writing.

“We’re instituting Step Up to Writing. It really focuses on the structure,” U’Ren said.

COCSD analyzed the scores a bit further by comparing the past four years and how the same group of students scored from one year to the next.

For example, this year’s fifth-grade students who were fourth-grade students in 2006 raised their reading score from 63 percent to 69 percent, but dropped in writing from 58 percent in 2006 to 52 percent in 2007.

Math scores also dropped slightly from 68 percent to 67 percent.

Eighth-grade students dropped in each of the three categories from 2006 as seventh-graders to 2007.

Reading was 64 percent compared to 68 percent, writing came in 72 percent compared with 81 percent and math dropped to 64 percent from 68 percent. The results showed a drop from one year to the next.

“We’re trying to analyze why that is. We have not done that traditionally. Usually they increase their scores. Different test, more mobile class? We’re going to look at that closely to find a reason and do what we need to to bring those scores back up,” U’Ren said. “Yet, on the TerraNova scores for that group grew 2 percent.”

Another measurement for elementary school through middle school is the TerraNova National, which gives a national comparison. For third through eighth grade, the TerraNova is imbedded within the AIMS, U’Ren said.
Second-grade students do not take the AIMS, but they do get tested in the TerraNova. The ideal is to have all students rank at above the 50th percentile.

Clarkdale’s second grade students scored 69.4 percent in reading, 76 percent in language and 66 percent in math. Cottonwood-Oak Creek had scores for second grade of 48 percent in reading, 46 percent in language and 51 percent in math.

When looking to the future and what professions will be needed, teaching joins others like nursing and computer professionals.

Mingus Union High School looked at the need and added a new course of study to its Career and Technology Education offerings — Education Professions — for 2008-09. The new course is the 11th offered through the school’s successful CTE program.

“We seek out programs with a baccalaureate aspect. One is our certified nursing assistant program. They can graduate with their CNA and work in a hospital or doctor’s office, and with the background they get they can enter a nursing program,” CTE director Ralph Fobair said.

It is like getting a foot in the door, he said.

According to information Fobair received, Arizona State University is graduating fewer teachers than need to be coming out of college.

“Then add in retirement and we’ll have a shortage of teachers. Even with the slowdown in the economy we’ll still need teachers,” Fobair said.

Education professions grew from a Future Teachers of America club in the Peoria Unified School District in the Phoenix area in 1999 to help address the growing need for teachers, and to provide service-learning experiences.

The essential element is school-based instruction reinforced by extensive field experience. The program will give students the opportunity to explore teaching as a career option. They gain a realistic understanding of education, the role of the teacher and develop leadership skills, Fobair said.

“Because this is a work-based experience with the option to be mentored by people working in the field, a light comes on for the students and they realize, ‘Hey, I can do this,’” he said. “A lot of our CTE students don’t always see college as an option.”

Approximately two-thirds of Mingus students in any given year take at least one CTE class.

With the help of Mingus Principal Marc Cooper and some other staff members, Fobair found out about the program. Along with the program is a Future Educators of American organization. Fobair hopes to establish a new chapter at Mingus.

“You want opportunities in high school, and that’s what this is. It shows them there’s a lot more out there. All of our programs do,” Fobair said.

In December, Mingus’ governing board approved the addition of the education professions program. The students will learn leadership and interpersonal skills, experience work-based learning and preparation for careers in education — to start on the path of becoming a teacher.

“We’ll expand our agreement with Dr. Daniel Bright [Elementary School] like we have with early childhood education. When they finish here, granted, they won’t be teachers, but they will have a step up to get into their degree path,” Fobair said.

Public school systems don’t typically operate a charter school program, but the numbers are increasing every year. Soon, the Camp Verde Unified School District may join that growing list.

The school board gave its approval last week to begin the process of applying for three separate charters. The requests would ultimately have to be approved by the Arizona Charter School Board, said Superintendent Jeff Van Handel, and board member Andrea Wrubel wanted assurances that the board could back out if it wanted to.

The idea is that smaller schools, like most of those in the district, could eventually receive a financial boost from the state, Van Handel said.

If the plan is approved and implemented as soon as possible, the district wouldn’t see a benefit until the 2010-11 school year, Van Handel said.

The three possibilities include two “schools within a school” options and the potential construction of a new charter school on 10 acres of land in the proposed Simonton Ranch development.

Owner Scott Simonton has been open to the idea of giving the school board first crack at the land if they are willing to actually build a school on the property, Van Handel said.

That school, which would start out small, possibly kindergarten to fourth grade, before eventually expanding up to eighth grade, is a candidate for the International Baccalaureate program, a special pre-university program taught by more than 2,000 schools worldwide.

Of course, whether or not a charter school of that nature is feasible in Camp Verde is speculation, Van Handel said. A marketing study would have to be done.

One of the other ideas is for a chartered college prep program at South Verde High School to be taught alongside the school’s technical education courses.

Finally, the board is considering a dual-language charter program for Camp Verde Elementary School.

The program would immerse young children in both Spanish and English, the idea being that it’s far easier to learn a second language when a person is young, Van Handel said.

Also, Van Handel said that studies have shown that native Spanish and English speakers become much more effective at peer tutoring when they understand each other’s language.

There are some disadvantages to charter schools. While there could be a financial gain, charter schools aren’t required to provide transportation like a public school and therefore don’t receive any funding for it.

The initial paperwork is due Wednesday, June 25, Van Handel said.

Mingus Union High School seniors have been excited since August for the end of the school year — certainly for the end of classes and graduation, but also the graduation party thrown in their honor.

Operation Graduation is a 22-year tradition at Mingus. It is the lock-down, all-night bash loaded with entertainment, food, games, food, music, more food and fun. The graduating seniors and their friends can cut loose in a safe, substance-free and chaperoned environment.

Everyone will start to drift in around 10 p.m. on Friday, May 23, after graduation ceremonies on the football field. Once inside the teens stay until the party is over around 5 a.m. on Saturday, May 24. No student can get in after 11 p.m., but students may leave the party. However, once gone no one gets back in.

Each year more than 85 percent of the graduates join the party at the Clark Memorial Clubhouse in Clarkdale. Many also bring along one or two guests. The average each year is around 500 teens who are not out on the roads to celebrate.

Operation Graduation Committee Chairman Chris Quasula wants to increase the percentage of graduates and wants all of the approximately 238 who receive diplomas to come to the party.

“There’s not a more fun place to be. We’re bringing back the kids favorites and adding a few new features to the party. We’ll have a live band, The Bratskis, who are all high-schoolers, and a DJ for music,” Quasula said.

Some of the other repeats are the inflatable games, movies, laser tag, rock climbing, video and board games, and a caricaturist. The pool will not be part of the party, though, because Quasula said not enough people wanted to swim when it was offered.

A little more than a dozen people put the party together over the last few months, arranging the entertainment, getting donations of food and prizes, and raising money to buy more prizes.

“We were all out last week buying gifts and hope to get enough cash donations by the time of the party to give the traditional grand prize to one graduate of $2,008,” Quasula said.

There always is a lot of food. Many of the parents and committee members bake cookies, brownies, cakes and pies, along with donations of goodies from local grocery stores. The big feature on the food tables, as one can guess, is pizza — lots of pizza — a staple in the teen diet.

Another part of Operation Graduation that began just a few years ago is a raffle for a quad with trailer at $10 a ticket. People wanting to enter the drawing still have a few days to buy a ticket. They can be purchased at Taylor Waste, A&B Motors, Reese and Sons, The Cowboy Shop, Verde Lea Market or at the Northern Arizona Boys and Girls Club in Cottonwood.

“We’ll draw the winner Saturday, May 24, before the party ends at 5 a.m.,” Quasula said.

Other prizes for seniors include stereo equipment, computers, televisions, trips, iPods, gift cards, personal services and dozens of other items known to be in demand by teens. Each senior in attendance is guaranteed at least one prize.

“Many of the area restaurants donated not only food, but food certificates, and not just the fast food places,” Quasula said.

Along with wanting more teens to come and enjoy the party, he said more donations and volunteers are welcome. A few more chaperones would help ease the load for the those who already volunteered.

“You don’t have to stay for the whole night — two, three or four hours — whatever people feel comfortable with. They can call Cheryl Kessel at 634-2428,” Quasula said.

To donate food, items can be taken to the clubhouse up until the morning of the party.

The party was in jeopardy this year because, as of January 15, no one had come forward to take the chairman position. After an article appeared in the Cottonwood Journal Extra, Quasula called Ooida Door, Mingus staff liaison for Operation Graduation, and volunteered. Other volunteers came to help and the committee started to work in mid-February.

“We got it together in three months. I’m amazed at the members of the committee and how hard they worked to do this for the graduates,” Quasula said.

Other schools in the Verde Valley have followed Mingus’ example and have an all-night party or an over night trip for the graduating seniors.

Sedona Red Rock High School is going to Disneyland. Several schools are going the same night, and the park’s officials are closing the park for them.
“It’s so great to know that our efforts and everyone who contributed helped these kids stay safe graduation night and provided them with a whole night of fun,” Quasula said.

For more information or to volunteer, call Quasula at 639-3057.

Lu Stitt can be reached at 634-8551 or e-mail to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

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