Back to School: Connolly Middle School is determined to grow, improve - East Valley Tribune: East Valley Education News

Back to School: Connolly Middle School is determined to grow, improve

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Posted: Sunday, July 22, 2012 7:03 am | Updated: 3:11 pm, Mon Oct 7, 2013.

When asked to sum up Tempe’s Connolly Middle School in one word, principal Kathy Mullery pauses.

How do you boil down to one adjective a school that offers a full-range of music courses, a strong bullying prevention program, an academy for gifted children, and a nationally-recognized program that takes average kids and turns them into honors students? How do you describe a school where 96 percent of parents are satisfied with the quality of education?

“‘Determined’ comes to mind,” Mullery says. “This is a school that’s determined to constantly improve to meet the needs of all students. I’m determined to have a middle school that is so good that this is the place to be.”

Located at 2002 East Concorda Drive in west Tempe, Connolly is home to about 1,040 students in sixth through eighth grades, a staff of 125, and a principal who is as determined as the school she leads.

“I know we’re not a perfect school, but I’m determined to make this the best school it can be,” says Mullery, a former P.E. teacher who is beginning her eighth year as principal. “We’re creating a school culture of respect and determination.”

In fact, according to the Arizona Department of Education website, Connolly was given a “C” grade for academic performance. Not that such labels tell the whole story, but Mullery is pleased to note that when the grades come out in August, it will show that Connolly has improved.

The AVID program — Advancement Via Individual Determination — is one reason why. Connolly is one of 125 schools to be named an AVID National Demonstration School for 2011-2013.

The evaluators found that “Connolly Middle School has a clear vision of college readiness for all students. Teachers’ expectations are high, students respond to those expectations, and support structures are in place to ensure student success. The culture of college readiness is exemplified by student work in the classroom and hallways, campus corners in every classroom, and rigorous lesson plans across all content areas and grade levels,” according to a story on the Tempe Elementary School District website.

“We target the middle-of-the-road kids, the average students ... and we bump them up and put them in honors classes,” Mullery said. “At the end of the year, they are right up there with the honors kids — or bypassing them.”

And the discipline and organization required of AVID students tends to spill out all over the school because all Connolly teachers have been trained in using the AVID methods.

“We explicitly teach kids how to use the art of skilled questioning,” Mullery said.

In August, the Tempe district will open ASPIRE Academy at Connolly for gifted sixth-graders who test in the 94th percentile or above in verbal, quantitative, or spatial areas and in the 85th percentile or above in an additional area on a state board-approved test for gifted identification. Taught by gifted-endorsed teachers, the students will work at an accelerated pace on content in more depth and complexity.

In addition to AVID and ASPIRE, Connolly offers a stellar music program with everything from jazz band to symphony orchestra. The program is so strong that Arizona State University professors living within other school or district boundaries, enroll their kids in Connolly for the music.

“This community supports education. They always have,” Mullery said. “I feel very blessed to work in a community that supports the schools so much.”

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