Two days before the summer break started, Deer Valley High School seniors met with their counselors to check out before they took part in graduation rehearsal in the gym.
But a handful of seniors who needed to pass a class to walk across that stage on Friday were finishing up course work in every office and space available thanks to help from teachers and staff, said Kim Crooks, principal of the Title I school that serves 1,700 students in Glendale and is the smallest high school in the district.
“I think they go above and beyond what they need to, to ensure that kids are loved and that they’re successful,” Crooks said about the teachers and staff at the school recently honored as an A+ School of Excellence by the Arizona Educational Foundation.
Video by Brooke Razo/AZEdNews: Deer Valley High School – A+ School of Excellence
In the office, the school secretary greeted students warmly by their first name and helped them get where they needed to be. A Mom dropped off a lunch for her student with the secretary, saying it was the last time since she’d be graduating.
Crooks said she felt that family atmosphere the first time she walked on campus four years ago, and that it’s something parents have let her know they appreciate.
“We want to know your child’s name and what they do outside of school and how we can help support them that way,” Crooks said. “When you have that kind of feel and you love each other – even with your faults – that’s the way you can move a campus forward and do great things for kids.”
What students and staff say about the school
“Deer Valley High School principal Kim Crooks is one of these people who just has a way of establishing that type of culture and climate that people want to work for her,” said Bobbie O’Boyle, executive director of Arizona Educational Foundation.
“They want to be there. They want to be part of that winning team. The faculty is behind the kids. It’s all about establishing that one-on-one partnership with kids,” O’Boyle said.
Four years ago, Deer Valley High School teachers came together to look over student achievement data and talk about what was working to helping students master concepts and what wasn’t.
Their goal was to create a guaranteed and viable curriculum for all students no matter what American History or Algebra 1-2 class they take, Crooks said.
“We still have a long way to go with our professional learning communities, but we have a great start,” Crooks said.
AZEdNews Podcast by Brooke Razo: Hear how Deer Valley High School’s family feel focuses on what’s best for students
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Like most high schools, teachers come to school, shut their doors, see each other at lunchtime and assume their teaching strategies are similar, but they are not, Crooks said.
“We said, look, you have you have great things going on in silos in your classrooms, but imagine if you opened that door and worked together what you could do,” Crooks said.
Crooks noted they didn’t call them professional learning communities when they started this work.
Instead, Crooks said they asked “what do you do in your classroom? What are you using to drive your instruction? How can you help your neighbor with that? How comfortable can you be with data?”
“We have come so far in four years, and in four more it’s going to be amazing to see where we are at,” Crooks said.
At each school, the A+ School of Excellence judges met with randomly selected groups of students, parents, teachers, staff, administrators and community partners.
“At the student meeting, the kids made it a point to say that all students on this campus have at least one adult that we feel we can trust and go to talk with whether it’s about academics or something personal,” O’Boyle said. “That makes it a really special place for kids.”
As students came back from a field where they had been playing soccer, Crooks stopped to talk with a student who said she didn’t think she did well on a final. Crooks gave the student a hug.
Teaching with tech relevant to life after high school
Teachers and staff have also come together to incorporate technology into instruction and campus life in ways that are relevant to students’ lives after high school.
A key part of that was meeting teachers and staff where they were technology-wise four years ago and helping them move forward.
Some Deer Valley High School teachers and staff have worked at the school since it opened in 1980, and while some of them were comfortable with technology, others were not.
Teachers, staff, students and parents now use Canvas Learning Management System, which students need to be familiar with because they will use it when they attend community college and university, Crooks said.
“A teacher who had a flip phone that was taped together put herself through an Apple class because she’s just fell in love with it after getting a smartphone,” Crooks said. “Just last week, she was upset, because her Apple Classroom wasn’t working.”
Students need to get comfortable using relevant technology because that’s what they’re “going to use when they go into college or industry. They’ve got to get comfortable with technology and not just Snapchat and Instagram. They need to use it for banking and for their careers,” Crooks said.
“It’s been a huge learning curve for my staff, but they have taken it on and we just met them where they were at,” Crooks said. “Nobody was going to get in trouble if you didn’t use it right away. You were OK to play with it, fail and learn.”
During an art class, students used clickers to answer multiple-choice questions the teacher had in an interactive quiz.
“All right, let’s see if you can get the answers,” the teacher said.
“I play this all the time, and I know the answers,” said one student to Crooks when she asked if they were reviewing before the final.
A question flashed on the SmartBoard asking what you call a collection of student work showing mastery of concepts and incorporating different media and materials.
“I know that one,” another student said.
As the students answered, you could see a running tally of their responses.
“Everyone got that one right,” the teacher said.
“Good luck on your finals,” Crooks said.
“Thank you,” a student responded.
Focus: Dual enrollment & career and technical ed
Dual enrollment and career and technical education have kept Deer Valley High School afloat, Crooks said.
“The programs that we offer kids and continue to maintain to offer – even though we’re declining enrollment – that’s the reason why people come to us,” Crooks said.
Their dual enrollment program with the Maricopa Community College system is so strong that five students graduated with their associates degrees from Rio Salado Community College before they graduated from Deer Valley High School, Crooks said.
“Every year we’ve tried to build on that,” Crooks said. “They have to take one or two classes outside of Deer Valley High School to get that, but that’s it. We offer the rest of them on campus, so that’s a huge selling point.”
“Our teachers are willing to get dual certified and do that extra work, which goes back to the family atmosphere, because they want to do what’s right for kids,” Crooks said. “The dual enrollment programs in this state are just phenomenal. People really need to take advantage of them.”
The Certified Nursing Assistant program is popular at Deer Valley High School, and when Crooks stopped by that classroom the students were elsewhere taking their certification exams during the school day.
One of the nursing instructors said she had told her students that she’d be in her classroom until the last one of them came out from the exam and they could stop by.
When a student wasn’t sure about their performance on the exam, the teacher told the student “don’t doubt yourself. I’m proud of you.”
“I think they’re going to do great,” Crooks said.
“I’m pretty sure they will, too,” said the teacher.
Deer Valley is planning to expand their career and technical education programs to keep up with national trends so students can graduate with a certificate and go into their chosen industry, Crooks said.
“We realize that not every student is going to go to college, nor do they need to go to college, because they can go out and get good paying jobs and not be so in debt, especially in this technology field,” Crooks said.
To that end, the school has created new computer science programming, and next year will be the first year it offers cyber security courses on campus.
In a computer science classroom, the teacher encouraged a student connecting components inside a computer housing as part of a practical for the final exam.
“Ok, now just try it. There’s slots and screws. Now, put in this board,” the teacher said. “And now, the wires that come here.”
“You don’t do anything more after that? That’s it?” asked Paul Roskelley, assistant principal for curriculum for the school.
“No. Just this,” a student said.
The school competes with nearby charter schools by offering things they don’t – like an award-winning band, competitive athletics, and a strong arts program – and capitalizing on its smaller size and family feel, Crooks said.
Lining the administration building hallway are dozens of large canvases with student photos. One of them was of a group of students in the gym who set the world record for the most selfies taken in an hour about three years ago, Crooks said.
“Two people have tried to beat it and they haven’t,” Roskelley said, noting that one of those people was an Olympic gymnast as she was walking into the stadium before competition.
“They haven’t even come close,” Crooks said.
Crooks said they keep adding more photos of students to the hallways, and “we’re always saying that’s a canvas-worthy picture.”
“Deer Valley High School is just a special place,” Crooks said. “I believe that Deer Valley High School should have been an A+ School of Excellence years before I got here.”
Slideshow by Lisa Irish/AZEdNews: What makes Deer Valley High School an A+ School of Excellence