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Thu, Sept. 24

Ash Fork school district ranked one of top 10 districts in state
District moves from school improvement category to 'A' ranking over course of three years

Ash Fork Joint Unified School District is one of the top 10 performing school districts in the state based on its Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards (AIMS) test scores, according to an Arizona Department of Education (ADE) ranking.

Ash Fork tied for ninth place, along with Glendale Union High School District and Tanque Verde Unified District.

Highlights from Ash Fork's AIMS results include:

• Third graders: 100 percent passed the math portion, and all but one student passed the reading portion.

• Sixth graders: 50 percent exceeded on the math portion, and all but one student passed the reading portion.

• Eighth graders: three students exceeded in all AIMS subject areas, all but one student passed the reading portion, and 89 percent passed the science portion.

• Sophomores: 81 percent passed the reading portion of the test, 71 percent passed the writing portion, and 67 percent passed the math portion, which is double the percentage from last year.

"We know how hard we've been working and it's just kind of nice to see some fruits of our labors and get recognition," said Ash Fork Superintendent Seth Staples. "And AIMS is important. But it really started to be kind of just a byproduct of what we were really trying to achieve for our students, which is really to just be their best and to have long term goals and to establish those goals."

One hundred percent of Ash Fork students are eligible for the free and reduced lunch program. Ash Fork is also a school wide Title I district, which means that it receives money from the state "to upgrade the entire educational program," since at least 40 percent of the students are from low-income families, according to the ADE.

In 2010, Staples said the state labeled Ash Fork in the school improvement category, "which means that the state was kind of watching us and saying that we need to start getting our act together or they're going to move in and start working on the school."

In 2011 the state gave the district a C rating, in 2012 the school earned a B rating, and this year Ash Fork is an A district.

Staples credits the district's success to several factors. First, Ash Fork has started doing annual needs assessment evaluations.

"We look at our data and we look at what's the problem, what's going wrong, what are we doing right, what is working," Staples said.

The district has also focused more on professional development to emphasize student engagement.

"We sent many of our teachers to successful school districts in the state for them to evaluate other teachers in their field and then to come back and discuss what made them great and how can we use that in our classrooms," Staples said.

Another reason for Ash Fork's improvement is the district's emphasis on career and technical education. Two years ago the district purchased a bus to take high school students to Yavapai College in Prescott, where they can take courses such as nursing, pre-engineering and automotive classes.

"We found that once students had a long-term goal, their behaviors changed, their motivation changed in the classroom, and it really just became different people altogether once they had that long-term goal to go after," Staples said.

The district also started a program called Capturing Kids Hearts, which ensures students are happy about coming to school through their relationships with others.

"It really just kind of breaks down looking at yourself as a person and how we interact with other people, and it's really just been a huge part of our success," Staples said.

Finally, the district upgraded its technology through federal and state grants to better prepare students for college or careers. All classrooms from kindergarten through high school now have smart boards, document cameras and six computers per classroom. All kindergarten through eighth grade students this year will have iPads, and all high school students will soon have laptops.

Staples emphasized that the dedication of district staff has been the most important factor in student success.

"Programs and technology are great, but it is hard working people that are tenacious about student achievement that make schools great, and we have great hard working people here at our schools in Ash Fork," Staples said.

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