The Kyrene and Tempe Union High School districts were the only two school districts in the state to receive the Math Excellence Award, presented by Arizona State Superintendent John Huppenthal and the Arizona Department of Education.

The two districts were honored at the Leading Change Conference in Tucson at the end of June.

Dr. David Schauer, superintendent of the Kyrene School District, said he believed his district was selected because of a gradual shift done in recent years from repetition and memorization-heavy instruction to a more conceptual-based learning experience.

"A lot of the efforts we have undertaken, for close to a decade, has been to teach math in a different way," Schauer said. "The idea is to teach math conceptually and develop a deeper understanding."

In math classrooms across Kyrene, teachers will often present a problem to their students and encourage them to reason through a problem, work with others to develop the best strategy to solve it while the teacher's role, as he has seen it, has been one of "facilitating rather than dominating."

"It is a very active engagement with lots of conversations going on," Schauer said. "It is pretty exciting to see it come alive."

He believes the award was given partially due to the results of his district's AIMS scores in conjunction with the changes that were made to the math portion of the test starting in 2010. Scores across the state dropped when the test was changed, including Kyrene, but their test score changes were not as significant.

"We saw a little dip but we felt we were well-positioned because of the transition that had been occurring in math instruction," Schauer said. "Basically, what they are testing for is a deep conceptual understanding so our kids were positioned to do well on the AIMS test when it changed."

In total, 18 schools from across Arizona were recognized at the conference in categories such as reading and academic excellence. The schools and districts that were honored did not have to apply for the award, which came as a surprise when it was announced to Kyrene employees.

"It was surprising to us because we didn't know we were in the running for it ... it is truly an honor to receive this award," Schauer said.

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