Three years into Ready Now Yuma, Yuma Union High School District Superintendent Toni Badone said students are showing strong academic growth and realizing they have more opportunities than they previously thought.
The district’s partnership with Helios Education Foundation uses the challenging, rigorous Cambridge Curriculum to build on students’ abilities and emphasize collaborative and creative skills they will use to succeed in college and their careers, said Badone, superintendent for the past seven years.
“I think it is amazing how intelligent and resilient our students are and continue to be despite amazing odds,” Badone said. “Our students are not victims of poverty or isolation, but rather they are persistent learners who inspire me every day.”
When Badone began her 30-year-career with the district as a Kofa High School English and speech teacher in 1984, just 40,000 people called Yuma home.
While Yuma’s population has tripled since then and attracted big-city assets, it continues to be a small, charming community that is “fiercely proud of our children and our schools,” Badone said.
Q: What top three things should Arizona do to better prepare students for success after high school?
A: Number 1, 2, and 3: Invest in district public schools, where the great majority of our students’ parents choose to send their children, and prove that Arizona BELIEVES in every one of our students.
The catch is that in order to demonstrate belief in our students, Arizona must also believe in our students’ parents, that they are sending their best children to school; and believe in their teachers, who are miracle workers on a daily basis; and believe in their educational leaders, who are persistent in raising expectations despite reduced resources.
Without that investment demonstrating trust, Arizona will continue to fall behind the rest of the nation and the world. It’s really that simple.
Q: About half the 28 teachers nominated in Arizona for the National LifeChanger of the Year award are from Yuma County school districts, and eight teach in Yuma Union High School District. How does the district recruit, retain and reward such dedicated teachers?
A: I believe our teachers ARE LifeChangers! I wish they could all receive the award.
I would love to say that we have the best salary schedule in the state, but we don’t. At the same time, I think the district, through our governing board and leadership, has kept certain values at the heart of decision-making. First, of course, is the question of doing what’s best for students.
The community of Yuma is very collaborative, generous and fiercely proud of our children and our schools. It is a great place to work in education. That helps us with attracting and retaining teachers.
In terms of recruiting, our principals take the leadership in recruiting and hiring, but they work together, not in competition. We provide an amazing amount of professional development for our teachers, including but not limited to four days a year for every group of core subject area teachers to work together in a formal Professional Learning Community so they can challenge, support and prepare every one of our students for success in college and career.
We hope that the opportunity of being part of something really innovative and special, in terms of our Ready Now Yuma initiative, gives our teachers a sense of the difference they are making in our students’ lives and in our community, and that the achievements, individually and organizationally, help to retain them as part of our team.
Q: How has Ready Now Yuma helped students? Why is it so important to the community? What results have you seen so far?
A: The first and possibly most important thing that is helping our students is that every one of them is in the high expectations, rigorous curriculum of the Cambridge International General Certificate of Secondary Education (IGCSE). This is momentous in that it indicates our district and community’s belief in every one of them.
We have perception data from the University of Michigan’s four-state study of students in the IGCSE curriculum which indicates that our students not only have changed how they look at their own potential, but how they look at their fellow students’ potential.
They are gaining confidence in their abilities and they are learning collaborative and creative skills they would not have learned in our previous tracking system. They are also learning to track their own progress, and measure their learning on progress bars, instead of by non-informational “grades.” Every student is expected to make progress, regardless of where they are in their learning.
While every student is in the curriculum, the students self-select for the Cambridge Board Exams. Over 5,000 exams were given last spring and we have had students earn eligibility for the Grand Canyon Diploma.
We are in the third year of the implementation of the Cambridge IGCSE curriculum, so it is really too early to see the impact on lagging meta-data sets like AIMS and ACT.
Our teachers are currently working on two main parts to the initiative: 1) a comprehensive set of district-wide formative and summative internal assessments similar to the board exams, and 2) real-time student supports during the class, during the school day and at times that are convenient for students.
The Ready Now Yuma initiative is possible thanks to the Helios Education Foundation, our thought partner and investor. This initiative is significant to our community because our students are our community’s greatest asset.
We believe education is the best investment we can make toward an economically prosperous future for Yuma County. Our local leaders have shared data with us about what companies want from communities. A great education system is the #1 concern.
We appreciate Helios Education Foundation for believing in our community and our students, and for their investment of ideas and funds to help us change what education looks like in a positive way to meet the very personal learning needs of each and every one of our students.
Both YUHSD and Helios Education Foundation are committed to making sure that every one of our students is challenged, supported and prepared for success in college and career. Our aligned clear bottom line says it all.
(The interview was edited for length and clarity.)