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Mon, Feb. 17

Manzanita makes A-Plus grade

Administrators and faculty at Manzanita Elementary School have gained their reward from the Arizona Education Foundation for enduring time and paperwork demands in applying for A-Plus School recognition.

Manzanita was one of six elementary schools in the state to gain the award, which is presented to schools that are exemplary in student focus and support, active in teaching and learning, and have strong community and parental support and leadership.

Notification to the winners was made April 20.

"We had 15 elementary schools apply and did site visits to six," said Bobbie O'Boyle, executive director of the foundation.

"We have a real careful screening process we go through and by the time we get to the site visit, unless something controversial is going on, that school will get the award."

Mary Ann Smith, assistant principal at Manzanita, said the application process began in January 2000.

She, office manager Rhonda Laulo, and teachers Julie Beyer, Nancy Diaz, Jeri Wolsey, Karen Sutherland, Lynn Touchette, Nancy Best and Theresa Altman met daily from mid-August through mid-February to complete the elaborate application.

A copy of scoring guidelines was supplied by the AEF to applicants.

Its definition of "exemplary" is: "A pervasive focus on the success of all students is supported by a comprehensive system of needs based on the school's vision, goals and data that drive the setting of priorities, establishment of objectives and programs.

Explanations and/or specific examples illustrate how programs have been implemented to ensure that the needs of diverse students are being met."

"You must prove that everything in the applications is factual," Smith said.

"They wanted to see textbooks and every program we offer so we filled up our conference room with specific programs, lesson plans, bell schedules and more."

School officials had two weeks to prepare for the site visit of March 17-18.

The AEF sent Martha Braly, principal of Montebello Elementary School in Phoenix which is a previous A-Plus School winner, and Kristi Hall, community relations manager with the Arizona Republic, which co-sponsors the elementary program.

Braly and Hall met with the entire Manzanita staff, visited every classroom, met with parents of current and former students, and selected students at random to answer questions, Smith said.

"One judge told us that the opinion in the valley is that rural schools cannot compete with urban ones," Smith said.

"We don't have innovative, worthwhile programs, just put in time and don't go above and beyond.

"She said we could stand head and shoulders with any school."

The five other winning elementary schools are all in the Phoenix metropolitan area.

A-Plus School designation remains in place for three years, Smith said.

It also qualifies Manzanita to compete for national recognition in the Blue Ribbon schools program, sponsored by the United States Department of Education, she said.

The application process for the national competition begins in the fall.

"Manzanita will be eligible for it in 2002," O'Boyle said.

"The national competition alternates between secondary awards one year and elementary the next and it's the secondary awards turn this year."

O'Boyle will visit Manzanita on Monday to present a banner recognizing it as an A-Plus School, she said.

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