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The Verde Independent | Cottonwood, Arizona

home : latest news : latest news November 25, 2015

12/26/2012 11:43:00 AM
U'Ren takes year-end look back and ahead
Barb U'Ren
Barb U'Ren

Philip Wright
Staff Reporter

COTTONWOOD - Two stories have run throughout most of 2012 for the Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District, and those stories also point to the future for the district.

COCSD has been involved all year long with Mingus Union High School District in looking into ways of sharing services and reducing costs. Those discussions have covered just about everything from transportation to administrative services.

Both districts are still looking at the feasibility of sharing services, including administrative positions. But one position is already being shared. Both districts now share a Director of Special Education. That idea was picked up and pursued by COCSD Superintendent Barbara U'Ren and MUHS Superintendent Tim Foist.

The district is also sharing a P.E. and Youth Coordinator with the City of Cottonwood Recreation Center. And the district offers online tutoring for its students in third through eighth grades in partnership with Paradise Valley Unified School District's National Honor Society students.

A very positive story that has been going on all school year for COCSD has to do with its International Baccalaureate Candidate School, Mountain View Preparatory - now located in Tavasci School.

The district opened MVP in the summer of 2011 at Dr. Daniel Bright School. It outgrew the available space on that campus almost immediately. For this school year, the governing board moved MVP to the Tavasci campus, which had been closed due to state budget cuts

On Aug. 8 MVP opened its new school year in Tavasci School already at the school's capacity with a waiting list for more students. It started the new school year with 363 students in K through seventh grades.

Late in the summer, the COCSD School Board made the decision to make MVP a district sponsored charter school beginning in July. The move will significantly increase the district's maintenance and operation budget, and will keep all staff and teachers as district employees.

U'Ren agreed to look back at some of the high points of the year now past, and also to look ahead to the new year.

"During the 2012 school-year, we were committed to providing a wide range of learning opportunities for our families in safe environments with excellent facilities," U'Ren said. "This is an accomplishment given that our budgets have declined by about 20 percent over the last few years."

She went over a list of high points. In addition to expanding the MVP IB academy, the district opened another opportunity for families with the Bright Bears Preschool Academy at Dr. Daniel Bright Primary School.

"Now, 30 of our youngest learners attend preschool with a certified teacher and high quality para-pros," U'Ren said. "The program also offers affordable safe, child-care until 5:30, five days a week."

U'Ren pointed out that enrollment at Oak Creek School in Cornville has increased.

"The district offers a designated centralized stop that will transport Cottonwood students to OC for families in the Cottonwood community who choose to attend Oak Creek School," U'Ren said.

COCSD offers K-12 online courses that have high school courses that are rigorous and transferable to high schools throughout the state.

U'Ren wants to establish a more rigorous and engaging curriculum.

"While the new Common Core (CC) standards are not yet required by the state, COCSD has embraced these standards as a means to better engage students in rigorous curriculum," U'Ren said. "The district created teacher task force teams in both English language arts and mathematics to create CC units."

She pointed out that the district has designated instructional coaches and teacher leaders to train teachers to create CC standards and the instructional practices necessary as teachers assist students in acquiring the required skills, while engaging them in more complex thinking.

U'Ren explained that during the summer, the board established a policy that actually encourages students to bring their own technology devices.

"The district installed wireless Internet at Cottonwood Middle School so that students can access the Internet to enhance their learning," U'Ren said.

The completion of the solar covered parking structure at CMS is the culmination of a two-year partnership with APS that has added a solar electric generation station at four of the five COCSD schools.

U'Ren is looking forward to 2013.

The district will determine long-term growth for Mountain View Preparatory middle year and high school programs.

"It is our hope that we will be able to establish strong partnerships that will benefit the level of academic rigor expected in the high school program," U'Ren said.

She also pointed out that the district's preschools are preparing for a partnership with First Things First and Quality First programs.

Quality First is funded through First Things First and will open additional slots for student participation and provide a greater spectrum of quality services and transition for preschool to kindergarten and first grade.

"All indications point to another financially challenging budget year," U'Ren said. "While state revenues show a slight increase, we anticipate that the previous year reductions to our unrestricted capital and soft capital will remain."

She explained that the biggest challenge will be to find innovative ways to continue moving forward with technology in our classrooms without the funds to upgrade our computers and devices.

"We will continue existing partnerships and create new partnerships and shared opportunities for the benefit of students," U'Ren said.

She said that will include increased collaboration with MUHS for curricular alignment.

Taylor Waste

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Reader Comments

Posted: Tuesday, November 5, 2013
Article comment by: itsy bitsy Spider

Here's exhibit A, Mr. Smith: A rundown from Superintendent U'Ren on what she and the Board of Governors considered C-OCSD's major achievements. Now, you can argue that creating two new schools while C-OCSD's existing and historic Oak Creek School was slipping from an A-rated to a B and then a C...while many students who were highly performing at Tavasci were being bused to schools their parents didn't want them attending and at which their performance suffered...while programs and services were being cut back throughout the district...while excellent teachers were being lost or demoted or docked and star students were being pulled out of the district...was a brilliant move benefiting all C-OCSD's students during savage funding cutbacks. However, I call it administrative excess (a term of art for damn foolish, at best), and it's up to you to prove otherwise because the above is well-documented, but I can't find any evidence that supports any of your claims regarding the 2009 C-OCSD override extension. If you or someone at C-OCSD can't, I rest my case.

On the fallacy of tying $$$ to quality of education (VI 10/17/13):

You're right about MVP chartering in 2012, Ms. Hartman. But then C-OCSD would have "blown"
some $362,000 - $371,000 in district additional assistance for the 2012-2013 school year.

If, however, C-OCSD had actually opened MVP at DDB as a charter in 2011 (as reported in the VI article "2011 year of change for Mingus, C-OC" 12/29/2011), then C-OCSD would only have lost around $359,000--for the students that would have been eligible if Tavasci had been chartered in 2010. Ain't state funding wonderful?

However, I think the only monetary question is whether we want C-OCSD gambling with funds needed in the classroom.

Posted: Thursday, December 27, 2012
Article comment by: @ A Shameful Story

Are you still tooting that same old horn? By now, everyone can recognize your same wrong points. You clearly have it in YOUR best interest to see the superintendent of COCSD go as if you have personally been hurt beyond repair. You fail to see the good that this district has done at all the campuses. You fail to see the forest for the trees. Open your eyes! It is there in plain view. And a word of advice, try to play a different tune in 2013.

Posted: Tuesday, December 25, 2012
Article comment by: A shameful story

Unfortunately this article glosses over some of more shameful aspects of Barb Urens disastrous tenure at the helm of the COCSD.

For instance, Barbs decision to shutter Tavasci Elementary purportedly due to budget cuts. Yet she re-opened the school 2 years later with less enrollment it previously had.

And she reopened it not as a neighborhood school, which is what it was intended to be, but only open to a select few in the IB school, her latest educational fad.

Everyone knows the numbers just do not add up. Everyone knows she coveted Tavasci school for her latest fad, and the kids of Verde Village had to pay the price. That is shameful.

But the public is kept in the dark because the district keeps its books opaque.

This is no success story. Instead of using our own curriculum experts and keeping our educational money local, she outsources this to a foreign country.

Barb also closed the dedicated special ed facilities in Tavasci, and in doing so pushed those needy kids into regular classrooms in other schools. Besides the IB school of course. This can only be called a disaster.

A judge found the district failed to provide adequate special ed and then lied about it to parents. The judge fined the district heavily. Thats what it finally took for Barb to share a special ed person with the high school.

Then there was the shameful attempted closure of the venerable Oak Creek school. When she failed at that, she stripped out funding for a principal and for sports in what could only be called spite.

It is becoming increasingly obvious that Barb Uren has lost the confidence of teachers, staff, parents, and many others in this community.

It is also becoming more obvious that passing another override does not stand a snowballs chance with Barb in charge.

And more people are beginning to realize the best way to increase enrollment is not with more of Barbs educational fads, but with better leadership. Competent new leadership.

With a new school board coming on, it is only a matter of time before Barb Uren is replaced. For the sake of our kids, the sooner the better.

Now is the perfect time for the COCSD to finally put the Uren era behind us and move forward in a positive way. The best solution is for the COCSD to share a new superintendent with MUHS.

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