Mon, Nov

Parents and teachers know the students at Mingus Union High School are hard-working students. Now, thanks to the Strive for .5 program, everyone knows.

More than 300 sophomores, juniors and seniors received recognition and reward for their academic achievement Feb. 18. Strive for .5, sponsored by the Cottonwood Journal Extra, honors those students who increase their grade point average by half a point from one semester to the next. It goes on to reward students who do it twice, or three times, which is a stupendous feat, according to Director of Student Services Diane Uidenich.
One student did, however, achieve Strive for .5 for the third time: Abriana Serna. She received $100 from the Cottonwood Kiwanis Club. The Harman Avera Art Award of $40 went to junior Arturo Munoz.

Also part of the program are students who attain and maintain a 3.5 or better GPA.

Each student recognized received congratulations from the staff, the board and the administration along with a specially designed T-shirt and loud applause from the audience and their fellow recipients.

Certified Nurse Assistant instructor Kay Cooper stood on the sidelines at the end of the bleachers during the program. She was there to support five of her nine students who achieved a Strive for .5 award.

Another senior who received a large round of applause was Brian Connolly. He was recognized as a first-time Strive for .5 recipient.

Connolly has cerebral palsy as a result of a diabetic coma he suffered as a young child. He will graduate this year.

“The kids in class all work with him along with his wonderful aide, Carol Wilt. He has to work for his grades just like everyone else. It’s a struggle, but he’s made it,” mother Maria Connolly said.

Tasili Epperson designed the portrait of Bob Marley on the bright yellow T-shirts with the quote “Man is a universe within himself.”

Guest speaker, Tamara Addis, followed on the same theme that one can be or do anything no matter what life throws out. She talked about her road to Mingus — the successes, the trials, the good and bad experiences. She came to Mingus to teach mathematics in 2000.

“I grew up in an alcoholic, dysfunctional household. At the age of 17, I ran away from home,” she said, while explaining how nervous she was to speak before such a large group.

She graduated from high school and received a letter from the college she wanted to go to, but her mother told her she couldn’t go, so she walked out.

Addis enrolled at Santa Monica College and walked onto their track and made a reputation for herself. After two years, California State at Northridge asked her to come run for them. She did.

“I ran, studied and worked,” Addis told the students at Strive for .5.

Then she took an education course and the course of her life changed. Her first teaching job was at the 66th Street school in Los Angeles, which was in a not-so-good neighborhood. Police helicopters often flew over the school looking for criminals who would seek refuge on the campus, knowing the police would not shoot at them because of the children.

“We even got combat pay. It was quite an experience,” she said.

After surviving a rollover accident during an earthquake, Addis came to West Sedona School and taught physical education, then to Sedona Red Rock High School to teach math.

“Believe me, my struggles made me who I am today, and I know there are students here who are having similar struggles,” Addis told the audience, citing that if she could survive what happened in her life, anyone can survive the trials of their life.

“My advice to you today is to get involved in school. You are the master of your own universe,” Addis 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.

With pending cutbacks, the Mingus Union High School Governing Board plans to eliminate a longtime negotiation tool used at the school.

The Interest Based Negotiation process uses an independent facilitator to help in negotiation between administration and staff on issues such as salary, benefits and general working conditions. The historic cost for the facilitator to come up from Phoenix is approximately $22,000 a year.

Board member Jim Ledbetter brought the subject up at the board’s Jan. 8 meeting when the IBN process came up for approval for 2008-09, saying that IBN was very costly.

“The price is half a teacher’s salary. I respectfully submit this is not a year to do IBN,” Ledbetter said.

He asked for a proposal on how to go forward with a Mingus-specific plan that would replace IBN. The board removed the item from the Jan. 8 agenda and decided to have it placed on the board’s Thursday, Feb. 12, meeting along with consideration of the IBN process.

Board president John Tavasci Jr. said he did not approve of IBN, but staff participation in the process should be maintained.

“This doesn’t need to be a subcommittee of the board but a plan directed by the superintendent,” Tavasci said.

Board member Andy Groseta said he did not want to wait too long to have a negotiation plan in place.

“I’m in favor of a well orchestrated, well organized process where everybody’s involved,” Groseta said.

What Groseta stated is the same thing the teachers are wanting. Laura Logsdon, president of the Mingus Union Education Association, will present an alternative plan at the Feb. 12 meeting.

“We, as an association of teachers, will present a plan of our own that incorporates some of the mechanisms that allow for a process-based decision-making model,” Logsdon said. “We’re interested in keeping a process in place whether we’re facing a shortfall year or one in which we have money to spend.”

Everyone is looking at plans that will not cost the district money, but will be fair and objective, and will help reestablish a relationship of trust, she said.

“I think we’re on our way toward something that is going to be very workable,” Logsdon said.

Another action the board took to save money for the district was to have the board hear disciplinary issues rather than independent hearing officers. They heard their first case Feb. 5.

Other items to be considered on Thursday’s agenda include:

  • To prioritize a list of reductions for the fiscal year’s 2009 budget
    Change orders for the bond and prioritize the remaining bond project
  • Horizontal lane movement for 13 teachers
  • Board designees to sign purchase order requests not to exceed $4,999
  • The Superintendent’s Advisory Team to gather information from staff in the budgeting process

A presentation by Interim Superintendent Nancy Alexander on a budget override for November 2009

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 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.


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.

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