Jefferson Elementary in Mesa recently received the A+ School of Excellence award from the Arizona Education Foundation. It was one of 39 schools in Arizona to be recognized with that honor.
Jefferson Elementary, a Title I school, receives its first A+ School of Excellence honor
If you took a trip to Jefferson Elementary School in Mesa and walked through the classrooms, you might notice something a little unusual about the public school.
Some of the third- and fourth-grade classrooms are single-gender.
They’ve been that way since last school year, when two fourth-grade teachers decided to experiment with separating students by gender for part of the school day, while also offering a third classroom for students who still wanted a co-ed environment.
The model was so popular that this year, both third and fourth grades have single-gender classroom options.
It’s not a typical setup, but Jefferson Principal Genessee Montes says it’s paying off.
Montes said academic performance has increased and discipline problems have decreased in students who are in a single-gender classroom.
Jefferson was also just named an A+ School of Excellence award recipient by the Arizona Education Foundation for the first time.
Jefferson is one of 39 public schools in the state that the foundation recognized this year. Twenty-one of those schools are in the southeast Valley.
It’s a big deal for Jefferson, which has a high population of students living in poverty.
Montes said people have oftentimes underestimated the school and its students because of it.
“It just happened yesterday when I had a community member come and walk through the school,” Montes said. “He said, ‘You’re 92 percent free- and reduced-lunch? The school doesn’t look like it’s poor.’ “
Montes said it’s not uncommon to hear things like that about Jefferson.
“I was like, ‘Well, that’s good,’ ” Montes said. “I wouldn’t want my kids to feel like because they live in poverty that their school has to look impoverished.”
Montes said the school faces “a lot of obstacles” when it comes to addressing the achievement gap between minority and non-minority students.She said the Title I school has a 75 percent minority population and that 48 percent of students come from households where English is not the primary language.
Despite the school’s obstacles, award committee judges said they “found a dynamic and exciting campus where all school staff engaged with students and community.”
Judges also noted the school’s use of AVID strategies in its curriculum. AVID, which stands for Advancement Via Individual Determination, is a non-profit program for college and career readiness that’s been offered at Jefferson for the past four years.
Montes agreed it plays a large part in the school’s success.
“The foundation of AVID is to be able to change everyone to a growth mind-set,” Montes said. “No matter where you come from and no matter what, if you work hard and believe and change your attitude toward any situation, you can accomplish whatever.”
Even though the school is proud of its AVID program, Montes said it wasn’t the only reason why Jefferson got the award.
“It wasn’t one big solid thing other than we always do what’s best for kids,” Montes said.
Teachers have autonomy
Judges mirrored that sentiment, saying that teachers praised Montes for her willingness to give teachers the “autonomy to do what’s best for students.”
“You have to be supportive as an administrator,” Montes said. “You have to be supportive and open to trusting your experienced teachers in knowing what’s best for kids … that support goes a long way.”
One judge also noted the culture of kindness and helpfulness at the school, recalling a moment when they observed four kindergarten students kneeling during a PE class they were observing.
It didn’t take long for the judges to realize why the students were kneeling.
“Two of the kindergartners whose shoes had come untied were being assisted by two other kindergartners who knew how to tie shoes,” the judge said. “Patiently, they were leaned over their classmates, tying their shoes for them. When kindness is taught in kindergarten, it carries over to the whole school!”
Point of pride
Schools that receive the A+ School of Excellence award keep the title for three and a half years.
Montes said the designation brings pride to Jefferson and the surrounding community.
“We wanted our community, our parents and our kids to feel a sense of pride,” Montes said. “They can accomplish whatever. It doesn’t matter where you come from if you believe and work hard.”
A+ Schools of Excellence
- Benson High School, Benson Unified School District, Ben Rodriguez principal.
- Cherokee Elementary School, Scottsdale Unified School District, Walter Chantler.
- Clarendon School, Osborn School District, Theresa Nickolich
- Connolly Middle School, Tempe Elementary School District, Kathryn Mullery.
- Crismon Elementary School, Mesa Public Schools, Sandi Kuhn.
- Desert Vista High School, Tempe Union High School District, Christine Barela.
- Edu-Prize Schools, Edu-Prize Schools LLC, Robbie McCamman.
- Elvira Elementary School, Sunnyside School District, Andy Townsend.
- Flowing Wells High School, Flowing Wells Unified School District, James Brunenkant.
- Francis M. Pomeroy Elementary School, Mesa Public Schools, James Driscoll.
- Gilbert High School, Gilbert Public Schools, Christopher Stroud.
- Hartford Sylvia Encinas Elementary School, Chandler Unified School District, Healther Anguiano.
- Horizon High School, Paradise Valley Unified School District, Linda Ihnat.
- Islands Elementary School, Gilbert Public Schools, Chris Birgen.
- Jefferson Elementary School, Mesa Public Schools, Genessee Montes.
- John M. Andersen Elementary School, Chandler Unified School District, Shannon Hannon.
- Kyrene de la Estrella, Kyrene School District, Michael Lamp.
- Kyrene de los Cerritos, Kyrene School District, Darcy DiCosmo.
- Kyrene de los Lagos Dual Language Academy, Kyrene School District, Ana Gomez del Castillo.
- Mabel Padgett Elementary School, Litchfield Elementary School, Gina DeCoste.
- Marshall Ranch Elementary School, Peoria Unified School District, Marla Hobbs.
- Metro Tech High School, Phoenix Union High School District, Bryan Reynoso.
- Oak Tree Elementary School, Gilbert Public Schools, Dale Lunt.
- Osborn Middle School, Osborn School District, Marty Makar.
- Patterson Elementary School, Gilbert Public Schools, Lucas Blackburn.
- Perry High School, Chandler Unified School District, Dan Serrano.
- Rattlesnake Ridge Elementary School, Marana Unified School District, Cindy Lewis.
- Rio Rico High School, Santa Cruz Valley Unified School District, Shelly Vroegh.
- Santa Fe Elementary School, Peoria Unified School District, Robert Miller.
- Santan Elementary School, Chandler Unified School District, Amy O’Neal.
- Santan Junior High School, Chandler Unified School District, Barbara Kowalinski.
- Stapley Junior High School, Mesa Public Schools, Kenneth Erickson.
- Superstition Springs Elementary School, Gilbert Public Schools, Timothy Moses.
- Tavan Elementary School, Scottsdale Unified School District, Margaret Serna.
- Villago Middle School, Casa Grande Elementary School District, Jeff Lavender.
- Walden Grove High School, Sahuarita Unified School District, Teresa Hill.
- Walter Douglas Elementary School, Flowing Wells Unified School District, Tamara McAllister.
- West Wing School, Deer Valley Unified School District, Linda Price-Barry.
- Willie and Coy Payne Junior High School, Chandler Unified School District, Paul Bollard.
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