Marana Unified School District is among the top six districts in Arizona when it comes to sending experts to assist schools that the state has labeled "underperforming," said Dale Parcel, state deputy superintendent of instruction.

Six educators from the district

have been selected to serve on Solutions Teams, which will meet with administrators at the schools to critique their

plans for improvement, and offer


One educator from Amphitheater Public Schools has also been selected.

The "underperforming" category is one of four possible school labels within the Arizona LEARNS accountability system. Arizona LEARNS is the state's method for quantifying progress as required by the national No Child Left Behind legislation, which was designed to close the achievement gap in America.

The process of selecting Solutions Team members began in October.

Teams are composed of three people - a master teacher, and a curriculum and assessment expert and fiscal analyst - both of which are generally principals or other administrators, Parcel said.

Members are chosen from the ranks of Arizona teachers, district superintendents, principals and university faculty. They receive one and a half days of training and spend three to six days at their assigned schools - observing classrooms, conducting focus groups discussions, and meeting with site principals.

The team members will not only offer assistance to the host schools, they also will bring something back to their own, said Ron Rickel, assistant superintendent at MUSD, who is serving on a team.

"Anytime you have a dialogue with an outside organization, you have the opportunity to see things differently - to see things you hadn't thought of," he said.

Arizona has 136 underperforming schools, according to a November state Board of Education report. The Marana and Amphitheater school districts have none.

Under state law, underperforming schools must develop improvement plans with assistance from Solutions Teams.

If the schools don't show adequate improvement, they are subject to complete takeover by the state or a private organization.

Solutions Teams answer three questions based on the Standards and Rubrics for School Improvement:

€ Does the school's Arizona School Improvement Plan appear to be a sound plan for improving student performance?

€ Do conditions appear to be in place for the successful implementation of the school's plan?

€ What recommendations can be provided that will assist the school in carrying out the plan?

So far, the state has received 340 Solutions Team applications, and 174 members have been trained, Parcel said. Applications are being taken on an ongoing basis.

Parcel said Marana falls within the top six school districts in Arizona, in terms of the number of Solutions Team members it has produced. The others are in Maricopa County.

"Marana is right up there," he said. "I'm just delighted. They're really highly qualified people."

So far, Solutions Team members from Marana include Dawn Corso, a teacher at Desert Winds Elementary School; Kristine Erb, a teacher at Marana High School; Allison Murphy, an assistant principal at Mountain View High School; Ron Rickel, assistant superintendent of instruction; Rocco Sugameli, a principal at Butterfield Elementary School; and Jan Truitt, a principal at Marana High School.

From Amphitheater, Elizabeth Minno has been selected. She teaches at Painted Sky Elementary School.

Sugameli, who will serve on a team in March, has been recognized nationally for his skills as a principal and was the 2000 Arizona elementary principal of the year. His school is a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence.

Sugameli said that as someone who has spent much of his life as an educator, he feels some responsibility for helping Arizona solve its education problems.

"I've always kind of looked at the whole school ranking thing with a certain amount of trepidation about it," he said. "Any of us could be in that position at any time."

He said the training he has received in evaluating school improvement plans should be helpful at his school.

"I've shared a good part of it with our staff here, and I would see it as a good model for reviewing your own school program," he said.

Minno, also serving on a team in March, said her background in teacher evaluation makes Solutions Team membership a natural extension of her work.

Now a reading teacher at Nash Elementary School, Minno previously worked with the district's Career Ladder program, observing teachers and giving them feedback on their teaching.

Using an analogy from Nash's principal, Rusty Farley, she said teachers are often expected to "build the plane and fly it at the same time."

They're supposed to figure out what needs to be done to achieve academic results and at the same time they're constantly teaching.

"So they're out there building and flying at the same time, and it's hard to get perspective," Minno said.

She added that her training will also be applicable at her school.

"Anytime you understand what the expectation is and know what to do for the next level, you know how to improve," she said. "It's not a mystery anymore."

Parcel said the state is still looking for team members, especially teachers from elementary and middle schools.

"We attracted many national board certified teachers, but most are from high schools," he said. "If you look at the breakdown, the majority of the underperforming schools are elementary."

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