If you start talking about the Fountain Hills Unified School District with Superintendent Dr. Cain Jagodzinski, you’ll quickly pick up on his passion for education and his love for the students. FHUSD has had some challenging years, but Dr. J, as he’s affectionately called, has embraced the challenges and introduced some exciting changes.
After years of shrinking enrollment, Dr. J says that they recently saw their numbers go up and anticipate for them to grow again this fall. Even so, the school district saw many benefits in making significant changes for the new school year.
“I’ve felt the alignment of the schools has always been a problem,” said Dr. J, whose children have also grown up in this school district. “We’ve grouped them as K-3, 4-8, and 9-12 until now. I think putting Fourth Graders into Middle School pushed a lot of families out. They didn’t feel comfortable sending their Fourth Grader to Middle School.
“I also felt that Fourth and Fifth Graders were losing two years of nurturing time in Elementary School by aligning the grades this way. I’m a big fan of letting kids be kids. So, when the opportunity to change presented itself, I was pleased to do that.”
The new school alignments will turn the current McDowell Mountain Elementary School into Little Fountains Preschool while hibernating the rest of the building for potential use in the future. The current Middle School will be the new McDowell Mountain Elementary School for K-5 students. The Middle School will now comprise Sixth through Eighth Graders who will relocate to the unused buildings on the High School campus, but separated from the older students, and the High School will remain in its usual space.
“Another benefit of this change,” said Dr. J, “is that we’ll have six years with the Elementary School students before the parents have to make a decision for what they want to do next, instead of doing it after Third Grade. This new alignment also changes our busing so we no longer have Eighth Graders riding with Kindergarteners.”
TRIMESTERS FOR HIGH SCHOOLERS
Dr. J also brings a new, innovative approach to the High School this year. Rather than the usual 90-day semesters, the school year will divide into 60-day trimesters.
“Students have been taking six classes per semester, and the trimester plan will change that to give classes per trimester,” Dr. J explains. “So, now the students have new academic opportunities. They’ll get more credits each year and more flexibility in building their classes. There’s the opportunity to add more electives, which students enjoy. It also helps if a student were to, say, take the first term of Algebra 1 and fail, she can retake it the very next term and still take Algebra 2 in the third term without having to wait until the next school year to get all caught up.
“Or if students loved math, they could finish Algebra 1 across the first two terms and start Algebra 2 in the third term. The next school year, they could finish Algebra 2 in the first term and all of Geometry in the next two terms and finish three years of math in just two years.”
The High School is also adding new sports classes for the first time, allowing students to earn an advanced PE credit while having time to work on their athletic skills during school hours.
The new model is also beneficial for teachers. Instead of teaching five classes a day, they only teach four classes a day. They’ll have more prep time and fewer students, which is attractive for teachers in a competitive field.
“The extra time also gives teachers a unique opportunity,” says Dr. J. “Say that I’m a History teacher, and I want to teach a World War II class for a term. There is now time for students and teachers to have this opportunity.”
Students will now graduate from Fountain Hills High School with 27.5 credits instead of 22 credits, which is more than what the State of Arizona requires. Globe High School is the only other school in the state that runs on a trimester and it’s been successful.
Middle School students will have a hybrid of semester-long and trimester-long terms. Their core classes, like Math and English, will continue to run for two semesters per year. Electives will be offered in trimesters.
Another exciting opportunity is now for seniors. All seniors will complete a 60-day internship during one of their three terms in a partnership program with the Fountain Hills Chamber of Commerce.
“The idea is that students will attend a Job Fair at the Learning Center in July where local participating businesses will present their internship opportunities. Students can meet the business owners, ask questions, and decide how to spend their internship.
“In our pilot year, we’ll see how it goes with a 40-hour work time requirement with a company. At the end of the internship, they will write a paper and present it to the faculty. It’s a great way for students to try something out to see if it’s a good fit for their future. We were happy that 90% of students and parents agreed with this program when we surveyed them.”
A FEW MORE EXCITING CHANGES
The Boys & Girls Club will discontinue its early morning care program for students. Beginning this fall, McDowell Mountain Elementary will offer free before-school care so parents can drop off students as early as 7:00 AM.
As for sports, the school is excited about getting a new football field.
“Our community rallied together and raised about $400,000 for this field,” said Dr. J. “So, before the work started, we decided now was the time to update the logo so we wouldn’t have to change the field any time soon. So, we have an updated Falcons logo this fall.”
For more information about Fountain Hills Unified School District, visit https://www.fountainhillsschools.org.