Dr. Berry: Growth, opportunity at Queen Creek Unified School District

Two words have become synonymous with Queen Creek Unified School District. Those words are growth and opportunity.

Dr. Perry Berry

We started as a K-8 district housed at one site. We became a K-12 unified district in 1985 and in 1988, the first class graduated from Queen Creek High School.

Over the past 34 years we have worked extremely hard to become one of the top-performing school districts in Arizona. As one of the fastest growing districts in the state, we work diligently to embrace the history and heritage of our area while providing an innovative learning experience that prepares students for the lives they will lead outside of our school system.

As I look back over my four years as QCUSD’s superintendent, I am proud of what we have achieved in our classrooms, in our departments and on our stages and playing fields. I am amazed by the commitment of our staff, parents and community as they work together to ensure all students realize their full potential.

While much has changed from the past within our community, there is one constant within QCUSD. That is, we work to keep students at the forefront of all of our decisions and we work to excel in the following priority areas within our QCUSD Strategic Plan: student success, effective operations and systems, providing a safe and healthy environment, exceptional personnel, and effective partnerships. The following article is structured to address the above-mentioned priorities through the following headlines:

  • Student success: Our schools perform well on state assessments and, as reported by the Arizona Department of Education, we have five “A” rated and two “B” rated schools.
  • Effective operations and systems: In the last four years underneath this governing board, Queen Creek Unified has moved from below the state average to above the state average in monies spent in the classroom.
  • Safe and healthy environment: We provide social and emotional support for students through a robust counselor team and outreach programs that empower our students to be leaders on and off campus.
  • Exceptional personnel: Our teacher turnover rate has decreased to 9% over the last three years.
  • Effective partnerships: Meaningful relationships with the community play a critical role in the success of our students.

Student success

Within QCUSD, quality student outcomes are the result of our emphasis on high-quality instruction, adherence to a guaranteed and viable curriculum, career exploration and high expectations. QCUSD has a robust teacher support system that includes ongoing assistance through cognitive coaching, mentorships and year-long professional development through our New Teacher Induction Program. This program provides a systematic structure of support for beginning teachers.

At the heart of our guaranteed and viable curriculum is a Mastery Learning Model that ensures all students receive support to attain mastery of academic standards. Our schools perform well on State assessments and, as reported by the Arizona Department of Education, we have five “A” rated and two “B” rated schools. Our staff utilizes data to guide their instruction and to function in a continuous improvement cycle. In fact, the district proficiency rate for all levels of math has seen a 62% increase from 2015. In addition, district proficiency rates for all levels of English Language Arts has had a 44% increase from 2015 scores.

Advancement Via Individual Determination is a college and career readiness system aimed at preparing all students for the lives they will lead after school. AVID encompasses instructional best practices that are embedded into daily lesson plans that facilitate rigorous and engaging learning opportunities to build skills, habits, and behaviors in a safe, college and career-minded atmosphere.

All six QCUSD elementary schools implement AVID in a school-wide approach with teachers using AVID strategies to deliver curriculum throughout the day. Both middle schools and our high school implement AVID school-wide and offer the AVID Elective class to seventh through tenth grade students. The AVID Elective supports our rigorous curriculum while teaching students transferable skills that can be used in college and the workplace. Newell Barney Middle School was named an AVID National Demonstration School by exemplifying the implementation of AVID with fidelity and thereby joining an elite group of only three middle schools in Arizona to earn that title.

Education and Career Action Plan is an ongoing process that empowers students to create a meaningful and individualized plan toward post-secondary success. With support and guidance from their families, school personnel and other advisors, students undergo a process of self-exploration, career exploration and career planning and management. Counselors at the middle schools and high school complete one-on-one ECAP visits with all students in grades six through twelve. Students have the opportunity to identify interests, skills, and strengths and then apply that knowledge to create their own ECAP, thus allowing them to transition more seamlessly into post-secondary and workplace environments.

We offer 13 career and technical education classes at our high school where students have the opportunity to earn industry certificates and participate in internships and/or job shadowing. These programs allow our students to experience hands-on, real-world opportunities in the career field of their choice.

Students are also provided the option of enrolling in Advanced Placement and Dual Enrollment classes. AP courses are rigorous, college-level classes offered in a variety of subject areas. These classes provide students with an opportunity to gain the skills and experience colleges recognize. Dual Enrollment classes are college-level courses that often translate into college credit hours upon completion. Not only do these courses show rigor, but they also help with the overall credit hour requirements. Queen Creek has 31 honors, AP and Dual enrollment offerings at the high school level. We also offer honors courses for all core content areas at the middle schools; and, students may take Spanish I and Algebra I in eighth grade for HS credit.

In QCUSD, we believe that distribution of leadership is crucial. Due to these beliefs, we have a variety of shared leadership opportunities at the school and district level. At our schools, there are Instructional Leadership Teams and Faculty Advisory Councils. The leadership teams, which are comprised of teachers, staff, parents, and administration, are the driving force behind change and a necessary component in ensuring each school’s success. Our schools also maintain Parent -Teacher Organizations and Site Councils. At the district level, our staff and community members participate in a variety of committees including: school finance, curriculum, employee benefits/salaries, and strategic planning, just to name a few. A Superintendent’s Advisory Council is also in place where teachers and staff representatives from every school meet monthly to discuss important district happenings and provide input to district administration. In addition, Queen Creek Leadership Academy offers our aspiring leaders training and opportunities to network with leaders throughout the district.

When it comes to our students, developing leadership skills is a top priority. We offer a variety of opportunities to develop leadership skills, including our annual Lead Out Loud conference where over 350 third-eighth graders participate in leadership training at Queen Creek High. This school year (2018-19), we initiated a Student/Superintendent Advisory Council where students share with me input on how we can grow and improve our schools. In QCUSD, we acknowledge that skills develop from practice. Opportunities for organization officer roles, internships, and student mentors are ways we improve leadership skills through experience.

Effective operations and systems

Maximizing financial resources through effective operations and systems has a direct influence on student success. Within QCUSD, we are pleased to share that the four-year trend in dollars in the classroom has moved from 50.3 cents of every dollar to 54.7 cents of every dollar. Of course, this does not include items that we typically would view as classroom expenditures like counselors, librarians and paraprofessional support. When these positions are included, 67.2 cents of every dollar are spent in the classroom. No matter how you slice the classroom expenditures data from the auditor general, in the last four years underneath this governing board, Queen Creek Unified has moved from below the state average to above the state average in monies spent in the classroom. Our effort in the future will be to continue to emphasize keeping our student-to-teacher ratio amongst the lowest in the east Valley, which will ensure that our classroom expenditures remain above the state average.

With the rise in classroom dollars over the last four years, one might ask where the district has found efficiencies during this administration’s leadership. We have found small efficiencies in our Transportation Department and Operations Department. With the fixed need to ensure quality transportation and the rising energy costs throughout the state of Arizona, we celebrate these gains. Our largest efficiencies were found in two places. We implemented a more productive business model in our Child Nutrition Department; and, we continue to ensure that any increase in staffing for our administrative teams are well justified and scrutinized prior to moving forward. As a result, our food service costs are now comparable to our peer districts. Additionally, we are pleased with the fact that our administrative spending per pupil has remained constant and is below our peer and state averages. Our district will continue to manage our budget in a fashion where students are the first factor in every decision. The long range findings of the auditor general’s annual report provides credence to this method of budget management.

One area of continuous improvement is in energy management. By implementing practices that include new LED lighting kits, centrally controlled energy solutions and water management techniques for high use applications, we have been able to reduce our proportional budgetary expenditures in operations. In the last auditor general’s report, 11.9 cents of every budgetary dollar went into plant operations; and, this was the lowest it has been in four years. This decrease was accomplished with continued maintenance on aging infrastructure and energy efficiencies found in behavior management of buildings. But, as you are aware, we are up against rising energy and water costs and this is going to be a never ending battle in continuous improvement. Operation systems that create maximum efficiencies are technology driven. As a result, in order to keep operation costs mitigated we will need to view everything through a holistic lens in the age of IOT (Internet of Things). A high function technology infrastructure will benefit both the students educationally and our operation team as they implement cost saving solutions that will allow us to put more money into the classroom. Further, our building infrastructure, from lighting kits to HVAC units, will need to be updated so that the system as a whole can communicate and be controlled centrally. As the governor restores capital funding over the next four years, we will look to combine those funds with local support from tax payers in order to ensure we are at the forefront of this never ending battle of rising energy costs.

Every business decision we make is focused on ensuring the highest quality of education for the students of Queen Creek Unified School District. Our efforts in mitigating the rising energy costs; our intentional vetting of any added administrative positions; our focus on keeping student-teacher ratios amongst the lowest in the east Valley; and, keeping our classroom expenditures above the state average are managed through the lens of our strategic plan being centered on promoting student success in a safe and healthy environment.

Safe and healthy environment

A safe and healthy environment is paramount to school culture and student success. Each of our elementary schools employ full-time counselors and our middle and high schools have multiple counselors to help meet the social and emotional needs of our students. There are various ways in which we provide social and emotional support for students through personal and social support systems that include the ALICE framework, WEB and LINK Crew outreach, as well as district-wide Positive Behavior Interventions and Support.

PBIS is our way of providing a safe and positive learning environment at schools in our district. PBIS has been shown to increase academic achievement and student performance, decrease classroom disruptions and office discipline referrals, as well as improve school climate and safety. In QCUSD, the expectations for behavior are: “Be kind,” “Be respectful” and “Show integrity.”

Queen Creek Unified also has middle schools and high schools where students look out for one another so that everyone feels that they are a part of something and have a sense of belonging. Where Everybody Belongs is a middle school orientation and transition program that welcomes sixth and seventh graders and makes them feel comfortable throughout the first year of their middle school experience. In addition, Link Crew is a high school transition program that welcomes freshmen and makes them feel comfortable throughout the first year of their high school experience by partnering with upperclassmen and building relationships of trust.

Not only do we want students to feel safe emotionally, but we want students to feel safe physically as well. That is why we have adopted the ALICE protocol. As students and their families have come to question their safety in school settings across the nation, QCUSD has taken a proactive approach in helping students feel safe and empowered. Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter, Evacuate provides preparation and a plan for students on how to proactively handle the threat of an aggressive intruder or active shooter. ALICE-based tactics have become the accepted response, versus the traditional “lockdown only” approach, which empowers students in the face of a school safety incident.

Exceptional personnel

High quality employees are critical to all district operations and, ultimately, student success. QCUSD is dedicated to recruiting, hiring, and retaining highly skilled employees. We are committed to providing impeccable customer service, fostering a progressive and innovative environment, and offering the best employment experience possible.

Our governing board and administration place a top priority on retaining our employees by compensating them well. The board has approved generous raises year after year for all employee subgroups. Additionally, QCUSD has continually increased the base teacher pay to be one of the highest in the East Valley and the average teacher salary is $49,451, which is above our peer and state averages (fiscal year 2017-18). In addition, high quality veteran teachers are recruited by compensating them for all of their years of service and their advanced education. All certified employees also receive performance pay based on school/district academic performance, individual employee performance, and attaining strategic plan goals. We believe this commitment to our employees is one of the reasons our teacher turnover rate has decreased to 9% over the last three years.

To ensure we have exceptional personnel in every position, professional development is another priority in our Strategic Plan. Our goal is to maximize purposeful professional learning opportunities to empower personnel. We offer continual professional development for our staff during each of our early release days throughout the school year. We strive to provide each employee with the training they need to perform their job effectively. In addition, we are fortunate to have a professional development coordinator who is dedicated to enhancing the professional development opportunities for certified and classified staff throughout their careers.

QCUSD continually encourages new and innovative ideas that foster collaboration, efficiency, and growth within the work environment. We value and support all personnel who in turn are committed to the success of our students.

Effective partnerships

In Queen Creek, we value community partnerships and work very hard to ensure that these partnerships benefit student success. For the past three years, we have hosted quarterly breakfasts for our business partners. During these meetings, there is a student performance, a district program is highlighted, and attendees leave with information on how to get involved at our schools. From these breakfasts grew an event called Community and Family Engagement, where twice during the school year we bring our business partners together with parents, non-profits, and faith-based organizations. During the CAFE, each QCUSD school plans out a list of projects with which they need help and share that information with the attendees. In turn, it is a win-win for the District, our schools, and the community.

Meaningful relationships with our business partners and community members make a difference in our classrooms, especially when it comes to college and career readiness. Many of our partners are industry professionals who regularly volunteer their time to help with mock job interviews at our Mock It Then Rock It event. Additionally, for the past two years Queen Creek High School, juniors have taken part in a Queen Creek Chamber of Commerce event called Elevate for Tomorrow (E4T) where students hear from local entrepreneurs and learn many career-related skills including how to write a strong resume.

Effective partnerships also contribute to the social and emotional learning of our students. In QCUSD, middle school and high school students have the opportunity to attend the Speak Up, Stand Up, Save a Life conference hosted at Grand Canyon University. At this conference, our students learn ways to help their schools increase each student’s ability to speak out when they see behavior that could be harmful to another student. They also interact with many of our partners, such as law enforcement and government leaders, who play a vital role in keeping our youth safe.

It is clear QCUSD has a strong academic tradition and we are on the path to becoming an innovative national leader in education. I am impressed with the high-quality staff that work toward common goals in all areas of our district. Together, we are able to provide a well-rounded educational experience for our students with the support of our community and high-quality staff in all areas. The governing board-superintendent team is proud to serve so many employees and families committed to living the QCUSD mission which is to empower each student to achieve excellence in all pursuits and lead with integrity. Thank you for choosing Queen Creek Unified School District.

Dr. Perry Berry
Queen Creek Unified School District

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