AJUSD Works to Improve Curriculum/Course Offerings

Incoming freshmen and families will explore elective options/learning pathways on January 23

By Dana Trumbull

Board members at the December 11 Apache Junction Unified School District Governing Board meeting addressed the topic of updating and diversifying course curriculum throughout the district. The presentation documented efforts to improve the quality of education available to Apache Junction/Gold Canyon area students.

Director of Educational Services Heather Wallace explained the timeline developed to reboot the curriculum adoption process, with course material for core subjects being reviewed approximately every seven years. The guideline staggers subjects and grade levels, allowing teachers to understand and become proficient with new curriculum for one subject before new material is introduced for a different subject.

“We don’t want to overwhelm our teachers with too many adoptions in one year,” clarified Superintendent Dr. Krista Anderson. “Math and reading are the biggies. For grade 7-12 teachers who only teach ELA or social studies or math… that doesn’t overwhelm. But when you start looking at elementary school [where teachers cover all topics], if you adopt new math curriculum one year, then ELA the next, then social studies… they’re not getting good at any of the materials before adding more.”

Each curriculum cycle will begin with review and research by a district team of teachers pulled in from the grade levels being discussed. They will assess information from the state about standards and requirements and current grade level testing to determine what is needed in the curricular adoption. The team will also reach out to neighboring districts for input on the curriculum they are using.

During the 2nd year of the review cycle, the team will narrow the potential selection, review presentations by vendors and seek board approval for adoption. The new curriculum is then implemented in the 3rd year of the cycle.

Board President Jodi Ehrlich commented, “It’s important for people to understand – especially English Language Arts (ELA), math, science, social studies: [new curriculum adoption] hasn’t happened for a really long time. We can’t improve the quality of education that our students are getting if our curriculum is not improving.”

New AJHS Course Catalog

The new course catalog approved for Apache Junction High School reflects yet another effort to raise educational options and pathways offered through AJUSD. The variety of courses offered focus on accreditation, relevancy and options that create pathways to success for every student. New honors courses and science classes have been added, and the AVID program, piloted this year at  Cactus Canyon Junior High, will be extended to the high school. EVIT and STEM opportunities are also expanding.

“We’re taking the first steps to offer a STEM pathway for students who might be interested in STEM careers, or for kids who don’t know that they’re interested in STEM careers,” said Assistant Superintendent Dr. Jennifer Cruz. “We think that we have lots of students who would make phenomenal engineers. You can just see it in the creativity and the thinking of our kiddos, so we’re really excited to give them some opportunities.” Cruz explained that AJHS Principal Dr. Chomokos has been working with CAC and the ASU College of Engineering to bring some of their course material to the high school.

On Jan. 23, 8th graders will be brought to the high school to for “Prospector Rush.” Dr. Chomokos described plans for the event. “During the day, the kids will be assigned to an upper classman, and they will be going around to the elective classes and doing mini-lessons so that they can really get a feel for what we have to offer.

“Then, after lunch, high school counselors will walk them through all of the courses that are offered for freshmen and all of the things they can be involved in.” Students will be able to take the course description book home and then come back that night with their parents, so their families will also have the opportunity to learn about the options available.

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