Eagles in the News! EDUCATOR OF THE WEEK Debra Terrey

Q&A with VERDE VALLEY’S EDUCATOR OF THE WEEK Debra Terrey, first grade teacher, Verde Christian Academy

Longtime Verde Christian Academy teacher Deb Terrey says that teaching is the “most rewarding job I can imagine.” VVN/Bill Helm

Longtime Verde Christian Academy teacher Deb Terrey says that teaching is the “most rewarding job I can imagine.” VVN/Bill Helm

COTTONWOOD – Ben Russel recently sat behind Verde Christian Academy first grade teacher Deb Terrey during the school’s chapel time.

What the school’s lead administrator noticed was a “rather energetic” former student of Terrey’s wrap an arm around the teacher’s waist. They stood together, the student and Terrey, while they sang a song.

“It was evident that this was a relationship formed deeper than most,” Russel said. The school, and its students, are “blessed to have had Mrs. Terry working with, and loving on, our elementary students for these years.”

More than 30 years in education, the past 26 at Verde Christian Academy. Terrey was in high school when she first decided that she wanted to become a teacher.

In the classroom, Terrey said that she “really enjoy[s] seeing my students learn new concepts.”

“They are very enthusiastic about learning and it is so rewarding to see the light bulb come on when they make a new connection,” Terry said. “I also thoroughly enjoy teaching piano lessons and seeing the growth that my students are making on a weekly basis.”

Terrey has a “calm and quiet classroom” with “many opportunities to learn,” Russel said.

“She blends her teaching with myriad opportunities for students to gather together in pairs and in groups to process and work together on information that they have been learning,” Russel said. “Her students are often found engaged and having fun. They love her and strive to perform well for her.”

If Terrey was not a teacher, she “would like to be a guidance counselor to help high school students as they transition into college.”

VVN: Tell us about your teaching style.

Terrey: I am really enjoying using Cooperative Learning Strategies in my classroom. The students work in small groups and every student is accountable for participating in the assignment and answering questions about what another team member’s ideas were. This is a great way to keep all the kids on task and they also learn from each other.

VVN: Tell us something notable about your career.

Terrey: I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Elementary Education with an Endorsement in Music Education.

I finished my Master’s Degree in Elementary Education with a 3.95 GPA.

VVN: Do you have a favorite quote or saying?

Terrey: When students know that teachers care about their lives, they will strive to do their best work in class.

VVN: Tell us something most people don’t know about you.

In college, I wasn’t sure if this was the profession I was best suited for.

When I started my student teaching program, I found that I loved teaching and have ever since.

I thoroughly enjoy getting to know my students and their families and I love the different ways kids think.

It is the most rewarding job I can imagine and I keep an encouragement file with notes and letters the kids have written to me over the years.

Prop 305 Yes or No? Eagles in the NEWS 10-27-2018

Proposition 305: It’s all about your choice on what is best education ‘fit’ for your child

Ben Russel is the administrator of the Verde Christian Academy in Cottonwood.

Ben Russel is the administrator of the Verde Christian Academy in Cottonwood.

As a school administrator I’ve been asked numerous times about Prop 305. I am a strong supporter of school choice because I have seen its powerful effects in action. I am a supporter of school choice because it offers great benefit to all schools, including district schools. I am a supporter of school choice because of Robby.

Recently I watched young Robby stand proudly on stage. His face was filled with a shining smile. Robby was being recognized in front of our whole school. He is a great friend, always an encourager, and knows very clearly what he believes. The students clapped for him as he walked happily back to his seat.

Robby came to Verde Christian Academy very timid and shy. He had a hard time interacting with others. He wasn’t a sports guy and he wasn’t extremely academic. He had struggled to find the right fit at his previous school. His parents brought him to VCA based on the AZ tax credit program and it has made all the difference for him and his family. I have watched Robby change from a shy student to a confident and passionate one. It happened at a school that puts a lot of emphasis on helping students find their gifting and their passions.

Robby is not a perfect fit for every school. He is definitely a perfect fit at VCA. In most states, Robby’s family would not have been able to choose to send him to a private school. This is because Robby’s family struggles financially. In the past, only families with extra income could afford to pay school taxes as well as tuition for their children.

Poorer families were forced to go to their closest district school. Thanks to Arizona’s strong stance on school choice, many families like Robby’s have the ability to choose between a number of quality schools; district, charter, private, or home school.

More and more families are realizing what a powerful thing school choice is. Our school is increasingly serving families of diverse socioeconomic and ethnic backgrounds as a result of our unique mission and vision. Other schools are doing the same. Watching whole families flower under a school that fits their vision is unbelievably fulfilling for an administrator. This relatively young program in Arizona is having a great effect on our students.

Here are some facts about school choice based on the research of Edchoice.Org.

• Every fiscal study looking at school choice has found either positive or no effect on a state. This means most programs save the state money (effectively allowing more dollars per student to be invested in public ed).

• Nearly all academic studies of school choice programs have found that they drives academic improvement in district schools

• Arizona is the only state to improve on all 8 NAEP exams from 2009-2015

• Most studies on parent choice found that school choice programs increased students’ civic values including tolerance, volunteering, and voting.

School choice saves the state money, which can then be put back into public schools. School choice increases parents’ overall satisfaction with schooling. School choice also raises student performance in district schools. This is an important program for our district schools.

It is unfortunate that so much misinformation surrounds school choice in Arizona.

School choice is in no way about attacking our district schools. They are an extremely important part of our community. We have had the fortune to work closely with our local district schools here in the Verde Valley and they are passionate about students and their progress. District schools need our support and proper funding. This is about choice.

Why did you choose your bank? Your grocery store? Your cell phone? The pants you are wearing? Because someone worked hard to make them your BEST FIT!

Whether it is Prop 305 or other school choice initiatives, let’s come together as a community around the idea that we all support a family’s right to choose the best fit for their child.

Ben Russel is the administrator of the Verde Christian Academy in Cottonwood.

Eagles in the News! Rhonda Johnson EDUCATOR OF THE WEEK! 5-29-18


Preschool assistant director, Technology Teacher, Librarian Verde Christian Academy Cottonwood

In her eighth year at Verde Christian Academy, Rhonda Johnson is the school’s assistant preschool director, technology teacher and librarian. (Photo by Bill Helm)

In her eighth year at Verde Christian Academy, Rhonda Johnson is the school’s assistant preschool director, technology teacher and librarian. (Photo by Bill Helm)

COTTONWOOD – Jack of all trades, master of none. Nobody at Verde Christian Academy would say this about Rhonda Johnson.

As the school’s assistant preschool director, technology director and librarian, Johnson wears “a lot of hats and wears them all well,” said Ben Russell, the school’s lead administrator.

“Mrs. Johnson’s skills vary from teaching and loving on preschoolers, to teaching technology class and managing the library,” Russell said. “These myriad responsibilities necessitate a lot of skills and talents on her part.”

To handle a variety of tasks at the proverbial drop of a hat, it helps that Johnson is “always calm and has a positive outlook,” Russell said.

“She is a passionate gift-giver and often showers staff with blessings and gifts,” Russell said. “She brings a great spirit to our staff, spreading cheer like Arizona sunshine.”

In her fifth year at Verde Christian Academy, her eighth year as an educator, Johnson did not know until college that she wanted to teach.

“In high school I told everyone that I just wanted to be a good mom,” Johnson said. “When I went to college, I went into Elementary Education. Now part of my teaching is the littlest (preschool) and feel like I am now able to be a mama to my littles, as I call them.”

What Johnson likes most about her work is the “variety of subjects and students that I get to teach and reach.”


Johnson said that her teaching style is “inquiry based.”

“In preschool, I allow my students to do centers that are open to them using a variety of developmentally appropriate items and letting them discover how to use them,” Johnson said. “This open center time is over half of their time in preschool each day and also leads to differentiated instruction, play-based learning, and kinesthetic learning. These are all vital parts of a child’s learning and development.”


“In the area of education, this public award of educator of the week would be my first notable recognition.”


“We are not born with empathy. We have to be taught it.”


Johnson is a third-generation teacher. Her mother and grandmother were teachers.

Tax Credit Scholarship Program – The Facts

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May 1st, 2018

Tax Credit Scholarship Program – The Facts

First of all, we want to thank each of you for your commitment to Christian Education and the emphasis you place on your students first. We realize the sacrifices the administration, office staff, teacher aides, and teachers make to provide a strong academic learning environment that is centered on Truth and spreading the Good News.

Over the last several weeks, we have all seen what is happening in our public schools across the state. Overall, we agree that teachers are underpaid in this state, and we pray this will be rectified quickly. We also recognize that personnel at Christian schools in this state are further underpaid by at least 10-20% compared to the teacher in the public school system. Again, we thank you from the bottom of our hearts for pouring into your students’ lives and having an impact that has an eternal value!

Over the last week, ACSTO has seen the attacks in news publications and on social media that suggest scholarship tax credits somehow have contributed to issues relating to public education funding in Arizona. This is a false narrative that the opponents of school choice want people to believe.

The truth is that scholarship tax credits help public school funding. The average cost to taxpayers for district and charter public school students is about $9,500 per year from all sources (state general fund, federal funds, local property taxes).  This information comes from the 6/26/2017 Joint Legislative Budget Committee report, “Overview of K-12 Per Pupil Funding for School Districts and Charter Schools.

According to the most recent Arizona Department of Revenue (ADOR), School Tuition Organization Tax Credits in Arizona Summary of Activity: FY 2015/2016 report, the following information was derived:

  • 352 Private Schools receive tax credit scholarships
  • The Average Original Tax Credit Scholarship – $1,724.00
  • The Average Overflow Tax Credit Scholarship – $1,360.00
  • The Average Low-Income Tax Credit Scholarship – $2,165.00
  • The Average Disabled/Displaced Tax Credit Scholarship – $4,696.00

The average scholarship from individual and corporate scholarship tax credit sources is roughly $2,500 per student. Corporate source funded scholarships are slightly above the average and individual funded ones slightly below.

As you can see, the average scholarship ($2,500) is far less than what the public/charter schools receive ($9,500) on a per student basis in funding, this is savings to the tax payer at the expense of parents with children in private schools. If all of the students enrolled in Private schools were to enroll in the public school system it would cost the State of Arizona more than half a billion dollars to educate these children. There would not be enough schools, classrooms, teachers, or resources available. For each child enrolled in a private school, the state of Arizona and School Districts are saving money. There are at least 50,000 students enrolled in private schools, which is a very conservative estimate.

According to the ADOR FY 2015 and FY 2017 Annual Reports, the following information about tax payers and tax credits was obtained for FY 2015, which is the most recent information available:

  • 2015: 3,227,067 Individual Tax Filers
  • 92,554 contributed to the Individual Tax Credit program (3% of all tax payers)
  • Of the 92,554, 41,532 also contributed to the Overflow Tax Credit program (2% of all tax payers)
  • 168,752 contributed to the Public School Tax Credit Program (6% of all tax payers)

There is an erroneous belief by some that the STO program takes money from the general fund. The truth is that the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in ACSTO v Winn that the donations made to STOs are private funds, not state funds, which means that the money never belonged to the state in the first place.

The bottom line is that scholarship tax credits are a benefit to the state budget. They are part of the solution – not part of any funding problem.

Please let us know if you have questions and we will continue to provide you with as much information as possible that you can share with your supporters, staff, and families.


Eagles in the News! Mrs. Leckington 3/27/2018


Second-grade teacher, Verde Christian Academy, Cottonwood

After 18 years in the classroom, the last six at Verde Christian Academy, Leckington says that if she was not a teacher, she would be a school psychologist, high school guidance counselor, or marriage and family therapist. (Photo by Bill Helm)

After 18 years in the classroom, the last six at Verde Christian Academy, Leckington says that if she was not a teacher, she would be a school psychologist, high school guidance counselor, or marriage and family therapist. (Photo by Bill Helm)

COTTONWOOD – Erin Leckington is charged each day with shaping the destiny of her classroom at Cottonwood’s Verde Christian Academy.

The second grade teacher says she is “humbled” each day by the opportunity.

“I love fostering a love of truth and knowledge in my students, engaging in thoughtful discussions, collaborating with my co-workers [and] creating exciting lessons,” Leckington says. “But the most rewarding would be witnessing my students’ not only grow academically but spiritually as well.”

It was as a college student that Leckington, when she first worked part-time with preschoolers, “fell in love” with teaching.

After 18 years in the classroom, the last six at Verde Christian Academy, Leckington says that if she was not a teacher, she would be a school psychologist, high school guidance counselor, or marriage and family therapist.

“I just can’t get away from helping others,” she says.

For that sentiment, her supervisor is most happy.

Ben Russel, principal at Verde Christian Academy, has a “special blend” of “intangibles in teaching that differentiate[s] between good educators and great ones.”

“From the first day of school to the last, her students practice classroom procedures so that they always know what classroom expectations are and can feel confident and successful following them,” Russel says.

Says Russel, Leckington manages her classroom with “grace and kindness.”

“Her classroom feels organized and peaceful,” Russel says. “It’s remarkable to watch how well students perform in this environment.”


“Quite frankly, I use a variety of teaching styles to engage my students. I make sure I incorporate the elements of effective instruction into every lesson, creativity, and Cooperative Learning so that each student is actively engaged. Students who love coming to school and learn is what I aim for.”


Erin is a member of the Psi Chi Honor Society.

Founded in 1929, the function of the Psi Chi Honor Society is to encourage, stimulate and maintain excellence in scholarship, and advance the science of psychology.


Says Ben Russel, Leckington “makes a difference by blending high expectations with great management and care and concern.”

“This is a magical blend in teaching because when students know what the expectations are and are given the chance to stretch their brains in a loving environment, they thrive.”


Leckington also work with professional development company Branching Out as an instructor, helping teachers grow in their profession.”

“I love teaching because it not only shapes the character and the mind of an individual, but future destinies as well and I get the pleasure to take part in that.”


Eagles in the News! Mrs. Santamaria 2/7/2018

Verde Valley Educator of the Week: Alice Santamaria, Third-grade teacher, Verde Christian Academy, Cottonwood

Photo detail

Photo by Bill Helm.

A teacher for the past 30 years, Alice Santamaria grew up with a plan to be a missionary nurse.

COTTONWOOD – It’s been 30 years since Alice Santamaria began her teaching career.

At Verde Christian Academy the past 17 years, the third grade teacher knew right out of high school that she wanted to return to the classroom to help mold the minds of her community’s youth.

According to Ben Russel, principal at Verde Christian Academy, Santamaria displays “vast amounts of grace and patience in the classroom.”

“It’s evident from the first step into her room that she cares,” Russel says. “Her voice is always calm and patient, her words are chosen carefully to show love and concern, and her management style creates a calm and warm classroom environment.”

Santamaria says that she loves how children “relate to the world around us with such wonder and enthusiasm.”

Her favorite part about teaching is “when a child has been struggling academically and suddenly the lights go on. It’s a precious moment and I feel incredible to be there to witness it.”


If Alice Santamaria was not a teacher, she would “probably do something where I could express my creative side, but I think I would still work with kids somehow. I can’t imagine my life without being around them.”


“I am truly grateful for the privilege of teaching in Christian schools. While I enjoy being a part of helping children prepare academically to be successful adults, I love watching the growth that happens in a child’s heart.

“Seeing them put their trust in Christ, become even more loving and kind to those around them, and handling tough situations with faith and grace is truly rewarding far beyond the temporary moment. It’s life changing.”


“While I enjoy learning and implementing new ideas for making the classroom atmosphere more engaging, I would have to say that for me teaching is relational.

“It seems that the more I love on the kids, pray for them, treat them with respect and grace while letting them know that I am there to help them succeed, the higher progress I see in my students.

“Once the kids realize I really do believe in each one’s individual success, they too begin to believe it for themselves and from there … the sky is the limit.”


“I didn’t grow up dreaming of being a teacher. In fact, I had always planned to be a missionary nurse in Africa. Once I realized that nursing wasn’t for me, I had no idea what I was to do with my life.

“Through God’s guidance and the help of my parents, I realized I had a gift for teaching and that I had already been doing so in many related activities.

“From there, the call to teaching was very evident and I have never regretted my decision to pursue it and love it.

“Along with teaching in regular classrooms, it has also led me to many other adventures including teaching in Costa Rica for 13 years, teaching children Spanish and even English as a second language to adults here in the States. It’s been a great career.”

Originally Published: February 6, 2018 11:45 a.m.

Eagles in the News! 12/12/17 Mrs. Peggy White

Verde Valley Educator of the Week: Peggy White

When Peggy White isn’t teaching fourth graders at Verde Christian Academy, she can be found writing her blog called Word of the Day. (Photo by Bill Helm)

When Peggy White isn’t teaching fourth graders at Verde Christian Academy, she can be found writing her blog called Word of the Day. (Photo by Bill Helm)

COTTONWOOD – Peggy White says that if she weren’t an educator, she’d love to be a writer.

Truth is, the fourth grade teacher at Verde Christian Academy in Cottonwood also blogs each day.

Called Word of the Day, the purpose of White’s blog is to “encourage those who need encouragement.”

When not writing, White is prone to making a difference in the lives of her young students.

“We all remember the teachers who had a remarkable impact on our lives,” says Ben Russell, lead administrator at Verde Christian Academy. “They loved learning, had a grace-based approach, and made everyone feel loved and included.

“Mrs. White is that kind of teacher. Her passion for learning sparks students’ curiosity.”

Russell points to White’s love of Arizona history as a “highlight from her classroom.”

“Her class can be found on monthly treks across this beautiful state in search of clues from the past,” Russell says. “From gold panning, to museums, to hunting apples in Oak Creek Canyon, her students catch a lifelong desire to know and grow.”

White says that she came “from a family of teachers, including both my parents.”

“After high school it just seemed natural to go after my teaching degree,” she says. “I can’t imagine doing anything else.”


“I have always loved having the students work in groups doing hands-on projects. I feel it is crucial that they learn to work and learn together with others.

“In recent years, I have upped my group work based on classes I took in Essentials of Education, Differentiated Instruction, and Kagin Structures. These classes have enabled me engage the children’s attention as well as making my teaching more effective.”


Featured in ADDitude Magazine.

Also, her daughter Betsy is following in her footsteps and is now teaching in the classroom next door.


“I want my students to come to school with a smile on their faces anticipating the plans I have for them and I want them to go home each day with a smile having enjoyed their day.

“In between, I want them to learn all they need to know to be successful; and learn it in a way that meets their individual learning style.”


White’s entire teaching career has been in Christian education.

“I am happy to be a part of a move toward greater excellence in Christian schools,” she says.

Eagles in the News! Christmas Parade 2017

Verde Christian Academy in the Cottonwood Christmas Parade 2017

Parade organizer Colleen Gilboy said the 2017edition of the Cottonwood Christmas Parade was “the best parade ever.” VVN Halie Chavez

Grand Prize – Theme – Cottonwood Public Library – Teen Library Council

Judges Choice – Verde Valley Sanctuary

Magic Award – Verde Valley Rentals

Small Group – Coldwell Banker – Mabery Realty

Large Group – Verde Christian Academy ( Yay!!!! )


Parade organizer Colleen Gilboy said, “HUGE thank you to KVRD/TV 2 for their sound systems, TV coverage and announcers, to Scott Mabery, Tosca Henry, Rick Peterson, Amy Brown, Stephanie Gilboy, Rose and Scott Wilburn, Richard Shay, Rebecca Hernandez, Kristine Follett, Sean Winkler, Mike Gilboy; you are all behind the scenes making me look good and doing all the heavy lifting to make it all flow, I love you all very much!!!! To Verde News for their coverage of the parade, and posting the line-up and to all the participants thank you for making the 2017 parade the best parade ever.”

VCA Participates in Kids Against Hunger 10-21-17

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Kids Against Hunger was a lot of fun!! Over 800 Volunteers of all ages, from the Verde Valley area, came to help in the assembling lines. In two hours we helped to provide a hungry child with a life sustaining meal every day for an entire year. Isn’t that amazing! Thank you VCA families who came to join our teams!


Igniting Hearts. Unleashing Minds


We are a vibrant community who exist for the purpose of assisting families in their God-given call to educate their children. We partner with a variety of families including those who are looking for a strong Christian foundation as well as those who are passionate about finding a safe environment with high expectations and quality academics. Located on the campus of the Verde Community Church we are blessed to have bright spacious classrooms, a full-size gymnasium, and a large playground complete with a plethora of equipment More Info >>


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