A new principal greeted Beaver Creek School students on the first day of the academic year, Aug. 8. At 32, Katrina Sacco is the Verde Valley’s youngest principal.
Prior to taking on the role, she had devoted a substantial amount of time to the K-8 Beaver Creek: After relocating to the area from Flagstaff a decade ago, she started volunteering at the school, proceeded to do her practicum student teaching at the school and finally taught as a full-time teacher for three years.
Last year, Sacco took on the role of curriculum, instruction and assessment coordinator, as well as principal intern under then-principal and superintendent Karin Ward. When Ward transitioned out of the principal role, Sacco became her replacement.
According to Sacco, the move from teaching to administration came somewhat organically after her previous experience in restaurant management. That background, as well as embracing her role as an educator relatively late in life, “definitely was a part of [the decision to pursue an administrative role], being interested in management and organizational growth,” Sacco said. “So far, I think things are going really well. I feel like I have worked to organize things a little more efficiently than last year, and our staff here is amazing.”
Sacco said that, as a single-school district, the structure of Beaver Creek School District allows her and Ward — who now acts as BCSD’s superintendent, business manager and special education director — to work closely together toward common goals, “creating a really supportive pathway.”
According to Sacco, Beaver Creek’s students tend to be challenged by socioeconomic circumstances similar to, but often more acute, than those present among other student populations in the Verde Valley. In addition to over 90 percent of students qualifying for free and reduced lunch, reflecting area families’ low-earning status, many families stay in the area for a short time or face long commutes.
As a result, Sacco said, staff and administrators at Beaver Creek experience “a little bit of a struggle connecting with our families in a meaningful way .... We don’t spend as much time with parents as I like. That can lead our parents to not have everything they need to support their students.”
Among her goals, Sacco lists increasing family involvement near the top: She hopes to promote engagement through special events, parent-teacher conferences, increased Parent-Teacher Association access and volunteer opportunities — “just letting parents know we’re trying to form stronger partnerships with them.”
The wages of socioeconomic factors and lower-than-hoped-for parent involvement can be seen in the academic struggles Beaver Creek’s students often face. Based on the 2013-14 Arizona Department of Education’s report card, which is the most recent one, Beaver Creek is the only C-rated public school district in the Verde ValleySedona area.
Camp Verde Unified School District, Clarkdale-Jerome School District, Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District, Mingus Union High School District and Sedona-Oak Creek School District are all B-rated districts.
“We end up dealing with a bit lower achievement, sometimes, with different challenges [including] challenges at home,” Sacco said. “We are aware that sometimes our scores are lower than we want them to be [but] children are more than test scores .... We really try to focus on whole-child support, identifying needs and meeting them .... I think it’s really important for our staff and students to realize we’re on the right path.
“Beaver Creek is a beautiful place. It’s my home and I’m committed to making our community as strong as it can be, as educated as possible,” she continued. “I’m very focused on growing [the school] academically. That is the challenge right now.”
Sacco is a doctoral student at Northern Arizona University, focusing on curriculum and instruction. She possesses a master’s degree in educational leadership.