Proposition 305: It’s all about your choice on what is best education ‘fit’ for your child
- Originally Published: October 27, 2018 2:31 p.m.
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.
VERDE VALLEY EDUCATOR OF THE WEEK: Rhonda Johnson
Preschool assistant director, Technology Teacher, Librarian Verde Christian Academy Cottonwood
- Originally Published: May 29, 2018 3:15 p.m.
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.”
DID YOU KNOW?
Johnson is a third-generation teacher. Her mother and grandmother were teachers.
Photo Credit: Jill Myers with Jill Kristine Photography
VERDE VALLEY EDUCATOR OF THE WEEK: Erin Leckington
Second-grade teacher, Verde Christian Academy, Cottonwood
- Originally Published: March 27, 2018 2:02 p.m.
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.”
DID YOU KNOW?
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.”
Verde Valley Educator of the Week: Alice Santamaria, Third-grade teacher, Verde Christian Academy, Cottonwood
Photo by Bill Helm.
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.”
DID YOU KNOW?
“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.
Verde Valley Educator of the Week: Peggy White
- Originally Published: December 12, 2017 12:17 p.m.
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.”
DID YOU KNOW?
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.
Verde Christian Academy in the Cottonwood Christmas Parade 2017
- Originally Published: December 4, 2017 1:05 p.m.
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.”
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!
Verde Valley Christian School now Verde Christian Academy
- Originally Published: September 5, 2017 1:35 p.m.
COTTONWOOD – Despite a reputation for both academics and faith, the folks at Verde Valley Christian School have spent the past few years considering a new name for their academic program.
With a new website, the renamed Verde Christian Academy continues its mission while increasing its focus on “providing a rigorous academic environment for children,” says Ben Russel, the school’s administrator.
According to Russel, Verde Christian Academy is a ministry of the Verde Community Church.
Besides the new website, the program has a new logo and what Russel calls a “whole bunch of new, fun VCA collectibles.” Verde Christian Academy is also in the process of developing new signage.
For close to four decades, Russel says the program “has come to mean dependable quality education infused with values and Christian worldview.
“This year represents fresh change,” he says. “Our desire is to communicate our focus on academics and spiritual formation with families in our community. This is the simplest way to let you know who we are and what makes us unique; same commitment to strong values and a renewed focus on reaching.”
Verde Christian Academy has also hired a part time Professional Learning Coordinator. A teacher at Grand Canyon University, where she is also studying to earn her Doctorate, Lisa Clemson is “passionate about student learning and is plugging in with us on Wednesdays to help us take the next steps of learning and growing,” Russel says.
The school’s academic direction, which Russel says has been implemented for the past five years, includes curriculum mapping and development, as well as classroom best practices.
Russel says that last year, the school focused on mapping its language curriculum.
“This means that we want to ensure that we have intentionally developed a plan for what and how students will learn in language from preschool through fifth grade,” he says. “Schools often simply teach from a textbook and rarely complete it by the end of the year. This can cause gaps in student learning.”
So Verde Christian Academy has been working hard to provide what Russel calls “engaging lessons that are differentiated for student strengths.”
“This means our students are receiving instruction closer to their ability levels,” Russel says. “They are also receiving many opportunities to process their learning with peers. Research shows that these techniques can vastly improve student learning.”
For more information, visit myvcacademy.com or call 928-634-8113. Verde Christian Academy is located at 102 S Willard St. in Cottonwood.
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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