Arizona's superintendent of public instruction visited Kingman Unified School District school administrators, teachers and students Wednesday.
After arriving at the district office, Jaime Molera was greeted with music from the Kingman Junior High School saxophone ensemble before adjourning to the district boardroom for a meeting with administrators, board members, teachers and other school officials.
Molera touched on several issues during the meeting, fielding questions from audience participants during the one and a half hour forum.
He spoke briefly about the Arizona State Board of Education's approval Monday of his recommendations regarding policies to ensure that students continue to meet rigorous academic standards.
Those recommendations include: linking AIMS results to course or grade requirements, linking AIMS to awards and recognition, posting AIMS results on student transcripts and making AIMS part of a local district graduation requirement.
Under the recommendations endorsed by the board, local school districts have a variety of options they can adopt to ensure continued focus on Arizona's Academic Standards at the high school level.
Pat Carlin, president of the Kingman Unified School District board, asked Molera what the board can do to make sure students meet the standards.
"School boards have an active role to play," Molera said.
"Ask 'How can we make AIMS testing relevant? How can we make kids accountable?' The school board can take action, make recommendations and set requirements for graduation."
Molera particularly stressed the importance of more stringent assessments for students in kindergarten through the third grade.
"If a child cannot read efficiently by the third grade, there is a high degree of probability he will not succeed in school," Molera said.
"We must give them the skills they need, the scientifically based strategies that work.
If kids can meet the standard, they will be successful."
He added that $25 million will be distributed to school districts statewide to help provide resources for AIMS testing and to help with costs.
However, he added, the testing is not without flaws.
"There are so many gaps in the testing system," he said.
"How can we hold the students and the school responsible, when the scores are held back and test scores were wrong?"
Solutions to the problem include getting rid of the assessment company as well as putting in place a system of checks and balances to make sure of the accuracy, he said.
Molera said he wants to see higher standards set for charter schools and consequences for not meeting those requirements.
"Accountability for charter schools should be just as stringent (as public school)," he said.
"We can also ask ourselves, 'Are there certain freedoms that charter schools have that public schools can utilize?' "
Molera also talked about alternative schools: "Arizona has alternative schools we can be proud of.
… The state board of education is looking at how to deal with alternative schools."
Other issues addressed at the forum included how to attract quality teachers to the area and how to keep them here once they have a year or two of teaching experience.
Molera answered a question about a delay in money from Proposition 301 for teachers' salaries.
"It will get out tomorrow.
… We are playing politics with our kids and teachers," he said.
"We will get through it.
I have had assurance that it will get done."
He said money coming in for education will include $1 billion generated by state land trusts from 2002 to 2009 and $85 million from Arizona gaming.
After the discussion, Molera visited Kingman High School North, were he was served a western barbecue lunch by chef Michael Gaul and given highlights of recent KUSD awards and other school information.
He also visited students and teachers in several north campus classrooms.
In the afternoon, Molera toured La Senita School, where he visited classrooms, spoke with several teachers and visited with students.
"He is definitely a man of the people," said KUSD Assistant Superintendent Betsy Parker, after Molera left Kingman.
"He went to the kindergarten classroom and sat in the chairs next to them.
You can tell he really likes the kids."