• State of the District 2022Dr. Curtis Finch at his desk

    Arizona is best known for its continuous sunshine, the largest number of sunny days of any state in the country. The end of 2021 saw massive rainstorms pummeling the Deer Valley area, uncharacteristic of Maricopa County weather. Monsoons are for the fall, not the winter! The good news is that sunshine is usually just around the corner. The weather in 2021 mirrored the daily life of the Deer Valley Unified School District (DVSUD) in 2021, some intermittent storms, sunny breaks, a massive storm at the end, and then sunshine in the forecast. DVUSD is thankful for the teamwork it took to weather the 2021 storms, and the 2022 forecast looks even sunnier for DVUSD.

    In concert with the state and national addresses, the DVUSD State of the District is designed to review, inform, teach, and forecast the path into 2022 of one of the most successful and growing suburban school districts in the state of Arizona. Our outstanding staff and community have worked together in one of the most difficult times in recent history to focus on the DVUSD Mission of “#extraordinary educational opportunities to every learner.” If DVSUD’s Vision is to “graduate lifelong learners who will compete, lead, and positively impact the world,” we must commit together to R.A.I.S.E. the bar of excellence, every day. All past indicators point to a successful path of excellence forward as we work together for our community.

    Respect, Accountability, Integrity, Student-Driven, and Excellence (R.A.I.S.E.) are the core values of our Strategic Plan (2018-2023) which will undergo a review starting next year as we prepare for the next five-year version of the plan. Since every employee’s goals are now aligned to the DVUSD Strategic Plan’s four priorities in some way and DVSUD continues to close in on the top academic spot in the state, veering too far from what has made us successful is not in the best interest of the district. Are there areas of improvement? Yes! The next round of community, staff, and student input on the future five-year plan will honor the accolades of the past and forge a continuation of a successful path forward. The collection of data will start at the end of the 2021-2022 school year and continue at the beginning of the 2022-2023 school year before decisions begin influencing the next version of our Strategic Plan.

    The State of the District 2022 will focus on some of the internal and external systems, programs, and initiatives that have, and will continue to have, an impact on DVUSD’s success or failure. For us, success equals student academic, emotional, and social growth; failure is not an option. If there are obstacles outside of our control, we will improvise, innovate, and adapt to a new path around the problems. Large systems are not typically nimble, but the past 18 months of COVID-19 challenges has proven DVUSD’s ability to quickly adapt, and successfully overcome, whatever challenge. The topics for this document are external variables, training, achievements, improvements, interventions, community-centered schools, and a future forecast.

    External and Internal Variables

    Several national studies have confirmed the results that occurred during the first two years of the pandemic: 1) in-person schools did better academically than students online; 2) learning loss was immediate with online learning; 3) the sooner the interventions for learning loss, the faster students responded; and 4) public school enrollment was impacted greatly.  Deer Valley Unified experienced these variables affecting our learning community. The good news is that DVUSD rebounded quickly with Kindergarten enrollment jumping 10.8% and overall student enrollment came back 2% after a 5% drop in 2019, one year earlier than expected!

    School attendance and academic interventions produced significant overall academic growth on the state assessment. On average, K-6, K-8, and middle schools improved from 84% to 88% of the possible accountability points and earned 94% of the possible growth points. High schools earned 94% of the possible growth points and 90% of the accountability points. U.S. News and World Report just published similar Arizona data highlighting all five DVUSD high schools in the top 25% of Arizona’s high schools, with three in the top 7%. The same data revealed 13 DVUSD K-6 schools in the top 20% with seven in the top 10%. The K-8 and 7-8 programs also showed similar positive data with 14 in the top 20% and 5 in the top 10%. These awards are based upon state math and reading proficiency, college readiness, graduation rates, and underserved student population performance. These two sources of recent data reiterates that DVUSD is still on the correct academic trail. When compared to our peers, DVSUD, once again, was near, or at the top, of most educational categories. One piece of data does not tell the whole story, but multiple data points make a clearer picture.

    DVUSD spent tremendous amounts of time, money, and effort to design a complete intervention system for students who experienced learning loss and anxiety during the pandemic. Teachers worked in Professional Learning Communities (PLC) on Fridays throughout the year to support struggling students. The staff identified student needs and designed internal interventions to catch them up. Instead of a single teacher being responsible for ensuring all student learning, the collaborative teams and the school shared responsibility. The goal over the past three years has been a shift from “These students are mine,” to “Our teams are going to use our collective strengths to ensure that all students learn at high levels.” The shared-responsibility focus has been most important in 2021.

    Campus administrators and central office personnel also built learning camps, purchased software programs, and monitored the success of interventions during the year, holiday breaks, and summertime opportunities. JumpStart programs for K-9 students, growth mindset classes for middle school math students, writing workshops to build language skills for English Language Learners, and strong secondary online summer programs were key supports for students. Working closely with Community Education and business partners helped DVUSD provide enrichment opportunities for whole child learning through various camps like the ever-popular Science Rocks camp. National financial support from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funds (ESSR) I, II, and III helped support all of these learning loss interventions. The biggest academic variable was being one of the first Arizona school districts to return to in-person learning; the classroom experience helped increase our academic success and limited the exponential growth of learning loss caused by the pandemic.


    Training

    Deer Valley Unified School District is noted for quality professional development training for staff; our 2021 efforts were aligned to the direction of the district Strategic Plan helping our professional development have meaning and purpose. Many administrators continued to receive the McREL Balanced Leadership training and several interested staff filled the available seats at the DVUSD Aspiring Administrator Academy. Staff also received specialized training for their discipline or area of expertise with time to collaborate in a PLC, a special education Community of Practice, or organized group training. Teachers continue to work through the educational truths found in the book called, Teacher Clarity. This text focuses on what, why, and how to teach each state standard and what success looks like from students, ultimately passing the ownership of the learning to the student.

     

    Achievements

    The long list of DVUSD staff and student achievements may be found on DVUSD's #Extraordinary Achievements page, but some deserve extra recognition.  As a school district, DVUSD became an international leader, endorsed as one of eleven large-school PLC districts in the world as a model PLC school district. Mountain Shadows became a model PLC school in 2021 as well. DVUSD has trained over 60 model PLC teacher-leaders to help align our academic systems towards collaboration for student learning. Because of Deer Valley’s academic successes, DVUSD was asked to present at the national LearningForward Conference and to compose a written summary of DVUSD’s journey in the national PLC magazine for Solution Tree. Professional Learning Communities are the rocket-fuel for our recent rise in academic excellence; collaboration is the key to team success. As said once before, “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

    While several DVUSD schools were awarded an A+ School of Excellence designation, more will be announced in the spring of 2022 adding to DVUSD’s peer-leading 22 schools. The DVUSD Communications Department received two awards of excellence from the National School Public Relations Association and the Fiscal and Business Services Department received the Certificate of Excellence in Financial Reporting from the Association of School Business Officials for the 33rd year in a row highlighting DVUSD’s continued commitment to financial transparency and accountability.

    Deer Valley Unified School District teaching staff picked up five new National Board Certified Teacher approvals bringing the district total to 24, with 27 more in the NBCT pipeline. DVUSD also has a direct tie to the Governor’s office though Project Momentum, using our PLC teacher-collaborative model to receive professional development dollars. Two DVSUD staff members won the Arizona Career and Technical Education (CTE) Administrator of the Year and CTE Teacher of the Year to go along with three Silver Apple Awards, one Changemaker Award from School Connect, and the Music Educators O.M. Hartsell Excellence in Teaching Award.

    DVUSD students fared well again this past year in the awards department. Two students won the District One Phoenix City Council Man & Woman of the Year, six state team or individual championships, four runner-ups, 45 CTE State Champions, a U.S. Presidential Scholar, and over $73 million in scholarships were some of the highlighted awards. Again, for a complete list of hundreds of awards and accomplishments completed by DVUSD students and staff, see the #extraordinary webpage.

    The voter-approved bond dollars continue to positively affect DVSUD, improving, updating, and upgrading the excellent educational facilities for staff, students, and the community. New turf installations at the high schools allow for more use and savings on Arizona’s most precious commodity, water. DVUSD broke ground on Elementary #32, began planning improvements to the high school media centers, initiated the updates to the fine arts equipment and facilities, and planned the improvements to athletic equipment. A new home recycled from an old DVUSD bus garage is nearing completion for the newly formed Aspire K-12 Online School. This program will compete against the state and national online offerings, with a real DVSUD diploma at the finish line, a feat one can be proud of at the end of an educational journey. Over 1,000 students took advantage of Aspire’s learning platform this past year.


    Interventions

    Interventions for student academic, health and safety, and mental awareness issues was a high priority of DVUSD in 2021. With the learning loss, and mental strain accumulated during the past two years, the district’s schools worked hard on interventions to catch students back up to their grade level with multiple options. Each DVUSD school was assigned a campus intervention specialist to assist teachers on ways to assist students fill educational gaps. The Panorama Student Success software is a district data-collection tool that monitors each student’s academic and social emotional needs and concerns, allowing staff members to intervene at a quicker pace and address the needs of children. DVUSD’s Transportation, Technology, Printing, and Food & Nutrition Departments all adjusted their staff and work schedules to go above and beyond in supporting the intervention plans of the district for the betterment of student learning, health, and mental wellness. DVUSD will be looking at options in the future for adjusting the school calendar to further aid student learning and increase opportunities for more academic interventions.


    Community-centered Schools

    DVSUD continues to be a state leader in pushing back against the depletion of resources to Arizona’s public schools; to read more about this problem go to our charter school report page. After 20 years of underfunding Arizona’s public schools, Arizona continues to hang on to its 49th ranking for educational funding in the United States. Yet, Arizona’s schools perform academically ten to fifteen spots over its national funding ranking. Imagine if the Arizona Legislature and Governor would fund AZ public schools to the 25th ranking, AZ would be near the top-ten educational states in the nation! The state leaders will not respond to the low public school funding until it affects their power. Even though 2021 Arizona public polling showed education as the top priority of its citizens, the message has not made it to a legislative priority list yet, proven by AZ’s 49th national funding ranking.

    DVUSD continues to tie itself to the local communities by holding school events for parents and community members to view and experience our 40 schools. Athletics, plays, shows, carnivals, movie nights, musical performances, art festivals, competitions, and Homecoming parades are some of the activities designed to demonstrate student abilities and achievements for the community to witness. Local charter schools may be defunct twenty years from now, but DVUSD schools will be established in north Phoenix for the next century, your local pubic community schools.

    Future Forecast

    The year 2021 has been a challenging one as a school district, but the forecast for 2022 in DVUSD is looking good – no, actually, #extraordinary! The biggest news is the development of our community into a regional technology hub. Since the physical growth of DVUSD can be seen by the district boundaries from Bell Road to New River, it is obvious that something significant is happening; DVUSD has been chosen to be the future of Phoenix. According to Christine MacKay, the Director of Phoenix’s Community and Economic development, currently there are more financial service employees in the Norterra Canyon area than located at Wall Street! The progress of commercial, financial, and real estate developments on both sides of I-17 during 2021 are only the tip of the iceberg.

    As the Taiwan Semi-Conductor Manufacturing Company (TSMC) begins to develop their project on the west side of I-17, the impact to the surrounding region will be in the neighborhood of $36 billion. Thirteen additional companies are scheduled to arrive, all with the aim of supporting the manufacturing of technological microchips. This specific development will be the equivalent of another “Anthem” overnight, building out in half the time, right in the center of DVUSD. The in-fills on the east side of the freeway are also accelerating, flooding DVUSD’s offices with paperwork and land development meetings with the city and state.

    What does all of this development mean for DVUSD? First, although the state of Arizona and Maricopa County continue to be one of the fastest growing states and counties in the nation, the number of K-12 students are beginning to decline statewide; families are not as large in number and those who move into Arizona are statistically older. Nevertheless, the sheer quantity of population growth in our area will exponentially impact our district over time. The explosive population growth will continue to push DVSUD’ enrollment upward for the next ten years. More schools will have to be built to handle the northern influx over the next decade before the enrollment levels off after the development. Second, the infusion of several technology industries will give DVUSD more opportunities to adapt to the changes with more programing for gifted and accelerated students, specialized academic programming, language expansion, and more Career and Technology Education (CTE) offerings to meet the industry demand. The third largest impact will be the continued improvement of the tax base, lowering the taxation impact to build more schools to meet the growth needs. The better the public schools, the lower the crime rates and better the life-style of its surrounding communities. Good schools keep property values intact and these developments will have a long-lasting positive impact on DVUSD and its communities for years to come.

    The calendar year 2021 was another successful undertaking for the Deer Valley Unified School District. Despite the storms, our staff, students, parents, and community members worked together to weather the difficulties. The academic growth, financial stability, and ability to adapt to each situation, assisted our students to reach their potential. DVUSD will continue to work hard to stay on top of the educational mountain, but it will not be possible without continued support and assistance. The exponential growth of the Deer Valley area will bring more challenges for 2022, but the forecast in 2022 is very bright, which is exciting to be a part of the fun. Storms will come and go, but grab your sunglasses; it is going to be an even sunnier year in DVUSD in 2022!

    Curt Finch, PhD

    Superintendent
    Deer Valley Unified School District