Higley Elementary and Middle School is undergoing a transition to a back-to-basics style of instruction in 2013-14 - the inaugural school year as “The Higley Traditional Academy.”
The academy is the first of its kind to open in Higley Unified School District.
District leaders and the school principal, Kat Hughes, carefully investigated the idea last year, visiting traditional schools that are now a popular choice for parents in several East Valley communities. The governing board approved the plan a few months ago.
The elementary school’s conversion to a traditional academy for students in kindergarten to sixth grades involves some significant changes for students and teachers, including the arrangement of desks, which will now face forward, to more rigorous curriculum.
Students also will wear uniforms – a policy which is explained in detail in the frequently-asked questions below. The school will use Spalding reading and writing – a phonics-based curriculum for learning reading, writing, and spelling – as well as Saxon math, which requires students to routinely review basic math concepts while they also learn more complex concepts.
In addition, math will be accelerated by one year. This means kindergarteners will learn what is currently considered first-grade math, while first graders will learn second-grade math, and so on.
Students will learn cursive and practice penmanship.
Principal Kat Hughes recently answered a series of FAQs to address questions she has received about the campus’ transition to a traditional academy.
Question: What makes a traditional school unique?
Hughes: Teachers conduct most lessons through “direct instruction,” teaching the entire class with minimal use of small group instruction. Traditional academies minimize class-time interruptions to increase students’ focus on reading, writing and math. For example, we will hold class birthday celebrations during lunch and we will hold fewer school assemblies.
Q: How is the school preparing for the transition to a traditional academy?
Hughes: Over the past five years, our teachers have implemented direct instruction in reading, writing, and math which has greatly impacted our student achievement and Arizona School label. We have excelled from a “performing plus” school to a “highly performing” school to an “A”-rated school for the past two years. We are proud of the work we have done and we know that our transition to a traditional school will increase opportunities and resources for students, thus having an even greater impact on student achievement.
Q: Will you still have recess?
Hughes: Yes. We believe physical activity is good for the body and for the brain.
Q: Will students learn music, art or social studies?
Hughes: Science and social studies are an integral part of a student’s education in a traditional setting. Students in a traditional school also participate in specials such as art, music, library and physical education. Band is open to students in fifth and sixth grades.
Q: What is the parent’s role in a child’s traditional school experience?
Hughes: A traditional school has a very strong school-to-home connection, and we ask parents to be actively involved in their child’s education. Parents will each dedicate five hours a year to the school. They can accomplish this through a variety of ways, such as by attending school events, volunteering in classrooms, or helping with parent-teacher organization functions.
Q: What is the academy’s dress code?
Hughes: Students Monday through Thursday will wear a solid red, white, black or yellow collared shirt or a school-logo collared shirt. The shirt must be tucked in with any of these bottoms: khaki or navy blue pants, capris; jumpers, skirts or shorts at fingertip length or longer.
Students also may wear medium- to dark-blue jeans, skirts or shorts which, like the khakis and navy skirts, should be at least a fingertip from the knee in length or longer. We ask that our students avoid wearing ripped jeans or jeans with holes in them.
Students who are wearing sweatshirts, hoodies or sweaters in class must wear red, white, black or yellow ones, or wear those that have a school logo.
For shoes, we have determined our students should wear closed-toe or sandals with straps.
On Fridays, students may wear a school T-shirt, or a solid red, black, white or yellow T-shirt.
One more thing: We ask that students who color their hair keep it a naturally-occurring color.
Q: Will students have more homework at the traditional academy?
Hughes: Students will be assigned homework Monday through Thursday each week except before a holiday. Every student will have a homework slip during the school week that their parents will sign each night. Teachers may assign Friday homework so students can finish long-term assignments.
We estimate our students in kindergarten to second grade will have about 15 to 30 minutes of homework each night; third and fourth graders about 25 to 40 minutes’ worth; and fifth and sixth graders may spend about 40 minutes to an hour each night on their homework.
In addition their regular homework, academy students will read at least 20 to 30 minutes per night.
Q: What won’t change at your campus?
Hughes: Teachers who currently work in our elementary school have the opportunity to stay. We will continue to teach the Arizona state standards for grades K-12 and the new Common Core standards. Students will still take the state assessment for their grade.
Families may learn more about “The Higley Traditional Academy” by visiting www.husd.org/hta or by contacting Principal Kat Hughes and Assistant Principal Robyn Sturgeon at (480) 279-6800, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
Enrollment information is also online, www.husd.org/enrollment. The school, located at 3391 E. Vest Ave., in Gilbert, is open 7:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. weekdays.