2022 school letter grades show improvement at Flagstaff charter schools – Arizona Daily Sun

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Luca, a kindergartener at the Mountain School in Flagstaff, works on a math skills partner game Monday morning.
Diane Wagemaker, a second grade teacher at the Mountain School in Flagstaff, takes her class through a lesson on reading skills Monday morning.
Sue Wagner, a fourth grade teacher at the Mountain School in Flagstaff, takes her class through math problems Monday morning.
A large mural looks down on the playground at the Mountain School in Flagstaff Monday morning.
Rowan, a first grader at the Mountain School in Flagstaff, reads a book during classroom reading time Monday morning.
Aislin, a first grader at the Mountain School in Flagstaff, reads a chapter book during classroom reading time Monday morning.
The Arizona State Board of Education (AZSBE) recently published a report of school letter grades for the first time since 2019. In Flagstaff, most schools saw improvement to their scores, with a few charter schools increasing by multiple letters.
Most charter schools in Flagstaff saw similar scores to those they received in 2019, with two schools seeing significant increases. Flagstaff Unified School District (FUSD) saw overall improvement to its schools’ grades, though two of its schools fell a letter grade.
AZSBE usually reports school letter grades annually, but the pandemic meant that it did not report new grades for the 2019-2020 and 2020-2021 school years.
Factors such as proficiency, growth and language proficiency of English learners determine each school’s final score, with each being weighted differently based on grade level.
For elementary and middle schools (kindergarten through eighth grade), growth accounts for half of the final score followed by proficiency on the Arizona Academic Standards Assessment (AASA, 30%). Acceleration/high school readiness and English language proficiency and growth (using the AZELLA) both make up 10% of a school’s total.
Proficiency on the ACT is the largest factor for high schools (grades nine through 12) at 30%. Growth, English proficiency and two high school-specific categories — graduation rate and college and career readiness (CCRI) — each make up 20% of the final score.
Scores at Flagstaff’s three hybrid schools (meaning they serve students in both K-8 and 9-12) all fell from 2019 totals, though only one school dropped a letter grade.
Flagstaff Arts and Leadership Academy (FALA) remained at a C score, falling 1.73 points (from 71.75 to 70.02), while BASIS fell 2.47 points (from 95.92 to 93.45), remaining at an A score. Northland Preparatory Academy (NPA) had the biggest drop, falling 9.19 points from an A to a B (92.8 in 2019 to 83.61).
The city’s elementary and middle school charters all increased their scores, with two raising their letter grades to receive an A score. Flagstaff Junior Academy’s (FJA) score rose 2.96 points to remain at a B (from 80.00 to 82.96).
Here is how a few Flagstaff charters have been supporting their students in the time between the two scores:
Haven Montessori’s score rose slightly from its 2019 total of 98.21, staying at an A grade. According to executive director Cristy Zeller, its 2022 score of 99.97 is the highest in Arizona for a traditional K-8 school.
“The great thing about the Montessori method is that the teachers are already working to meet each child exactly where they are,” she said. “…When we foster this love of learning and help them pursue what they’re most interested in, they gain problem-solving skills and they’re really able to persevere under most circumstances.”
She added: “I’m extremely proud of our teachers and our staff; they truly get all the credit for the successes of the school. …It’s been hard on everybody, and I feel like everyone here has really come together as a community and that’s one of the things that makes us special.”
While Zeller has seen changes to student learning in recent years, she said at Haven they are seen as a potential positive.
“We like to look at it as a learning opportunity, so that’s the attitude we’ve taken here and pass onto our parents and staff that this is how we want to talk about getting kids learning the best they can,” she said. “We definitely saw some kids coming in with setbacks in reading that they’re going to need a little more extra practice, and spent a lot of time last year re-giving lessons that they hadn’t had in a while.”
As with other schools, she said Haven has been keeping up its educational efforts through the pandemic. The Montessori method already has a focus on social emotional learning, which she said has only become more of an emphasis for the school. In addition to the small lessons and techniques woven throughout the typical school day, Haven now also does weekly lessons led by two staff members — an “extra layer of direct instruction.”
“Obviously, it’s a very stressful time overall…and having that holistic approach to education has helped them be very successful academically — giving them the space to work out problems and then they’re able to focus more on reading or math,” Zeller said.
An example is “big deal, little deal,” which asks students to put their problems into perspective by naming and comparing examples of really big and small problems.
Haven has also been implementing some intervention work over the past few years. The school evaluates students three times a year, giving one-on-one time with a specialist to those that “need a little extra help.” The school’s interventionist, Laura Nie (“the reading whisperer,” according to Zeller), also does small group pull out lessons for four to six weeks, using the DIBELS (Dynamic Indicators of Basic Early Literacy Skills) assessment to measure growth.
“Where we’ve seen the most impact is that individualized attention from that specialist in reading instruction has really helped move them forward,” Zeller said. “…Lots of focus on assessing, identifying these and then finding the tools to help them get to grade level or, mostly, feeling good about themselves. A lot of them came in not feeling really confident about what they could do and that’s where the social-emotional comes in. We’ve been really working with them on their self-confidence and their being able to work independently.”
Going forward, she said the school plans to continue doing what it has been.
“We want to teach these children to love school, to love learning, to be independent, to care for the earth and other people,” she said. “The academics, they just fall into line and kids love to go to school. We’re very focused on keeping people healthy and we always want our school to be a literal haven for kids.”
Mountain School had the largest increase of the Flagstaff charters, 31.56 points, which raised the school’s score to an A (99.14, from a C score of 67.58 in 2019).
Principal Gina Andress attributed this growth to collaboration between teachers, school staff and families.
“The growth was really important, and I’m super proud of it, and I’m proud of our teachers especially through the last couple years we’ve gone through,” she said. “I think they work so diligently. …We have a lot of support staff as well–teachers, assistants, we have a really strong specialist team. They collaborate with teachers also, and I feel like that helps to build academics and learning at our school too.”
The school’s 2019 score was much lower than usual, she said, as it had often received As in the past. This meant that, even before the pandemic began, school staff had been meeting to pinpoint the issue and think of ways to improve, which they continued over the next few years.
“That was something that happened where it was unexpected, but it really helped us look at some of our curriculum, some of our protocols, some of the formats of our grade levels and things,” Andress said of the 2019 scores. “…We did change some things, but we didn’t change everything because all along, we’d been doing quite well. We were really trying to pinpoint what needed to be developed or perhaps looking at what are we doing that we don’t need to do, that type of thing. I did feel like the growth was going to be there.”
One of the things she said Mountain School has been focused on lately is finding ways for the students to take ownership of their learning. Andress described the school’s approach as “student-centered,” meaning that it focuses on the ways students are learning and how to help them get to the next stage.
“We try to promote a love of learning and give the children some ownership of their learning,” she said. “…It’s not just about providing curriculum, it’s not just about giving them assignments, it’s about helping them understand why this learning is important and the purpose behind the lessons and involving them in where their growth needs to happen and it really has been a positive thing. We’ve always done that — it’s part of our mission — but we’ve been focused on that in the last year.”
While the teachers are still leading the lessons, this can come from things like asking students how they’ll know if they met the goals for an assignment or, for older students, participating in a peer review.
“Our goal is throughout the whole time that they’re at Mountain School that they will by fifth grade really be able to look at what needs to be done for their learning goals and make adjustments,” Andress said.
She also mentioned that the school had adopted a new math curriculum shortly before the pandemic and, while it can take a few years to see the results of a new program, the school is now seeing more confidence and critical thinking in its students’ math.
“We’re in our fourth year of this and now we’re really seeing where there’s deeper thinking with the students in math who have been with us all along,” she said.
Andress said Mountain School is currently focused on continuing growth in areas such as community, academic excellence and student empowerment in learning.
“The thing we’re trying to do is focus on what we’re doing really well, giving that some time to grow and being really thoughtful about what we add,” she said. “Education can be something where there’s always something new, there’s something that looks like it would be a great addition and it’s true, most things are, but they also take time to really develop, and we’re trying to give ourselves that time. We are seeing good results from that.”
Pine Forest School (PFS) increased 22.30 points from its 2019 score, moving from a C to an A (to 89.78 from 67.48 in 2019). Director of operations Cindy Roe said this was in part due to its focus on continuity during the pandemic.
“It was not easy for any school and it wasn’t easy for families and it wasn’t easy for children, particularly,” she said. “I think our special skill was helping them to have a real continuance of their everyday experience — even though they were at home, the teachers were with them on a daily basis, four to five hours Zooming in and teaching.”
Waldorf education focuses on creativity and art, something Roe said did not pause when the pandemic meant PFS had to move to remote learning.
The school, which does not use screens in its in-person classes, had its teachers set up Zoom in its classrooms during remote learning. This, alongside a focus on group rather than self-directed learning, allowed the students to feel connected to school even when learning from home, Roe said.
“Even when the students went to home-based learning, we still continued to do all of these specialties as well as the academic workshops,” she said. “I think that gave the students some connectivity; they still felt connected to their school because they weren’t just off in some online land.”
Kelly Jecmen, Pine Forest’s director of education, also highlighted parent engagement and “patience and grace” during online learning.
The school sent home materials for handwork and even held a concert over Zoom, for example and the school’s special education teacher did home visits. It also provided four on-campus “safe space learning environments,” which teachers would check in on.
Roe said the school had focused on “supporting [students] being able to connect with each other, because it wasn’t just about last year. It wasn’t just about fiscal year 2022, it was about fiscal year 2019. During the pandemic, we didn’t stop supporting their inner development, their growth and how they had opportunities to talk about how they were feeling, what was happening in their lives.”
She and Jecmen both noted that part of PFS’s increase to its score was due to high participation in the AASA. The school administered the test to 100% of its students, allowing for documentation of the entire school’s academic growth.
For the rest of this school year, Roe said, the plan is to continue the extra support, with an emphasis on social well-roundedness.
Pine Forest has been holding morning and afternoon tutoring sessions for its students in addition to targeted weekly lessons during the school day and Jecmen said the school was able to provide intervention support to all grade levels.
In 2022, she said, the school hired two teachers to lead after-school academic support for students with disabilities (three times a week, using a Targeted Support and Improvement, or TSI, grant), a part-time teacher for in-school intervention for the lowest 25% in benchmark assessments (16 hours a week, using Title 1 funds), two PFS teachers for after-school math support (three days a week) and a part-time teacher to support middle school math.
“All the teachers worked well together during the pandemic to best serve the PFS students for their physical health and mental health,” Jecmen said. “When we returned, we focused on the social emotional health of the students, providing counseling if students were struggling.
“It was a tough couple years, but we had dedicated teachers who taught the students with their hearts and understanding, so students were able to make academic gains in those two years.”
More about school letter grades can be found at azsbe.az.gov/f-school-letter-grades.

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Luca, a kindergartener at the Mountain School in Flagstaff, works on a math skills partner game Monday morning.
Diane Wagemaker, a second grade teacher at the Mountain School in Flagstaff, takes her class through a lesson on reading skills Monday morning.
Sue Wagner, a fourth grade teacher at the Mountain School in Flagstaff, takes her class through math problems Monday morning.
A large mural looks down on the playground at the Mountain School in Flagstaff Monday morning.
Rowan, a first grader at the Mountain School in Flagstaff, reads a book during classroom reading time Monday morning.
Aislin, a first grader at the Mountain School in Flagstaff, reads a chapter book during classroom reading time Monday morning.
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