One of Principal Bruce Kipper’s favorite phrases is “the pie is unlimited,” and he uses it frequently to describe the future of Mountain Pointe High School.

As the 2014-2015 school year looms, Mountain Pointe and Kyrene Akimel A-al Middle School look to build on the success of their recent A+ rating.

The Arizona Educational Foundation named the two Ahwatukee Foothills schools A+ Schools of Excellence in April.

This was Akimel’s first time receiving the honor and Mountain Pointe’s second. It previously won at the end of the 2009-2010 school year. The designation lasts for three years, whereupon the school must reapply for the rating.

Akimel Principal Mike Deignan said that his school saw the award as a great way to “get the word out” about Akimel’s product. He attributed his first school’s A+ rating to a tightening of its operations and a unity of mind amongst school faculty.

“We, the Akimel staff, are more on the same page with the conversation of what we want to do with the school,” Deignan said. “We really had to go back to our roots about three years ago, and the roots were our school motto: ‘High Standards, High Achievement, High Expectations For All.’ ”

The faculty made strides in the 2013-2014 school year. Akimel science teacher Tara Dale was named one of four 2014 Ambassadors for Excellence by the Arizona Educational Foundation, and Deignan was named Administrator of the 2013-2014 school year by the Kyrene Foundation.

For Mountain Pointe, repeating its rating from 2010 wasn’t guaranteed.

“It’s not just a year of hard work. It’s the past four years,” Kipper said. “When we got the award in 2010, they gave us some areas they wanted us to look at. It’s not simply renewing your application. You have to show some improvement in some really significant areas.”

The most emphasized area of improvement for Mountain Pointe was in Arizona Instrument to Measure Success (AIMS). In 2010, Mountain Pointe students had shown an “average” improvement on their AIMS tests from year to year. According to Kipper, the school’s test scores increased from approximately the 50th percentile in 2010 to the middle 60s in 2014.

“So our kids are growing at a higher rate than the average kids in the state of Arizona,” he said.

In addition to its academic improvement, Mountain Pointe enjoyed extracurricular success. It won Division I state titles in badminton, individual boys golf and football in the past four years.

Akimel and Mountain Pointe join Kyrene de los Cerritos, Altadena Middle School and Desert Vista as Ahwatukee Foothills’ A+ rated schools.

PLANS FOR 2014-2015

Following a successful year, Akimel and Mountain Pointe have targeted specific areas of improvement.

Both are settling into the new state curriculum. Implementation of the Arizona Career and College Ready Standards, formerly known as Common Core, has taken three years, Kipper said.

The standards of the curriculum require that every teacher help teach literacy, Kipper said.

“In the past, that was just left to the English teachers. That’s the main focus, supporting our teachers that aren’t necessarily used to doing that,” Kipper said.

Deignan said the Kyrene School District offered professional development for teachers who hadn’t been trained to teach literacy.

“The transition period is really pretty much over, and it is full bore now into those standards in English, math and language arts,” he said. “So I think we’re as ready as any district in Arizona to faithfully implement those standards.”

Akimel has also identified a need for more “formal interventions for struggling students.” To address the need, the middle school is offering an academic lab and enrichment opportunities.

“We’re looking to offer something for everybody and making sure we’re personalizing education to the extent that we can,” Deignan said. “And I think we’re set up to do that better than we’ve ever had.”

Kipper said Mountain Pointe would loosen its technology policy give students more leeway to use electronic devices during lunch and free time.

The high school will continue to refine its balance of academics and extracurricular activities.

“As a public high school, we have to offer comprehensive services. We have to offer a very strong academic program. We have to offer a wide range of extracurricular activities, whether they’re the arts, service-oriented or athletics,” said Kipper, who added that academics take priority.

One of the strengths of Mountain Pointe, Kipper said, is the fact that almost 80 percent of its students participate in two or more extracurricular activities.

“Students that are involved in school do better in school, because they have belonging. They have a sense of ownership,” Kipper said.

Just like Deignan, Kipper is confident for the upcoming year.

“I think we’re going to have another great school year,” Kipper said. “Whether we win a football title or whether we do this or that, I don’t know. But I do know that our kids and our staff will give their best. Every day they come here, everyone will give 100% percent.”

• James Anderson is a junior at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University. He is interning this semester for the AFN.

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