Archive for the ‘In the News’ Category

FW principal emphasizes positive roles

January 22nd, 2012

Alexis Huicochea
Arizona Daily Star

On any given day, you can find Jim Brunenkant picking up trash during lunch hour on the Flowing Wells High School campus.

For the 50-year-old principal, it’s one of his favorite parts of the day – stopping to talk to students as he goes from table to table.

He is in charge of 1,700 students – most of whom he knows by name. Brunenkant prides himself on building personal connections with his students and his staff.

It’s those connections that have propelled the high-poverty school into a high-achieving campus, and that have landed Brunenkant the honor of being named a 2012 Rodel Exemplary Principal.

The Rodel award comes with a cash prize of $5,000 and the opportunity to mentor Rodel Aspiring Principals.

Flowing Wells Superintendent Nic Clement nominated Brunenkant for the honor, calling him a “students’ principal.”

“Jim lives at that school, and he takes everything that happens there very personally,” Clement said.

Brunenkant has been in the education arena for 19 years – all at Flowing Wells High School where he also student-taught.

Though he had been told that he would be a great administrator, Brunenkant admits that he left his teaching post kicking and screaming.

“I didn’t want to leave the classroom,” Brunenkant said. “I had 130 kids I loved. I made an impact on them, and they inspired me.”

The principal at the time persuaded him to take the leap into leadership when she told him he could do the same for 2,000 students. And that is exactly what Brunenkant has done.

He emphasizes to his staff the importance of having positive relationships with students.

The outcome has been not only students wanting to be at school, but also wanting to work to please their teachers. “You can tell my staff really cares – that they really love the students, and that is the key to increasing student achievement,” Brunen- kant said.

Proof of that success can be seen in the number of students taking Advanced Placement courses, Brunen- kant said.

When Brunenkant started, fewer than 100 students were taking AP tests. So he decided to break down barriers and allow students who previously couldn’t take an AP course to test it out.

Fast forward seven years and more than 350 students now take AP tests, and do well, Brunenkant said.

“That’s something I’m really proud of – increasing the rigor of our curriculum,” he said. “Some say that these kids who have difficult childhoods cannot be academically successful. You come visit my school, and I’ll show you how academically successful they can be.”

Kofa High principal one of 10 honorees

January 22nd, 2012

BY Sarah Womer
Yuma Daily Sun

After months of examination and research, representatives from the Rodel Foundation of Arizona announced today that Kofa High School principal Gina Thompson is one of 10 Exemplary Principals across the state.

As part of the 2012 Rodel Exemplary Principal Initiative, Thompson was one of 22 semifinalists who were narrowed down to 17 finalists and now 10 Exemplary Principals.

The other nine are six in Maricopa County, two in Tucson and one in Pinal County.

“The Rodel Exemplary Principals are selected for their demonstrated ability to lead high-need schools to success by inspiring their staffs to develop a campus that is high achieving, safe, orderly and welcoming. After learning from the best, Rodel Aspiring Principals are better prepared to lead their own high-need schools,” stated the foundation.

Yuma County School Superintendent Tom Tyree said Thompson will receive a $10,000 stipend to mentor other aspiring principals in Yuma for the next two years as part of the program.

“It’s an opportunity to grow our own and it develops people to be on the leadership track in the Yuma area,” Tyree said.

He explained that the position was funded through both the Yuma Community Foundation and the Yuma County superintendent’s office.

In her nomination for Thompson, Toni Badone, Yuma Union High School District superintendent, wrote: “Ms. Thompson has earned the respect of students, peers, staff, parents and the community by being trustworthy, keeping her promises, being fair and giving straight answers. She is the epitome of an Exemplary Principal who sets the bar highest for herself.”

Thompson said what she is most proud of at Kofa is the culture on the campus.

“The teaching staff values and demonstrates collaboration across cohorts and disciplines in solving problems such as how to embed technology into classroom experience each day,” she said. “Kofa High School demonstrates the art as well as science of teaching and learning.”

She said she was inspired by various educational leaders who encouraged her to become a teacher-leader during her very first year of teaching back in 1989.

“Those initial relationships and the value I felt in being included in campus leadership prompted me to pursue a master’s in educational leadership. That inspiration continued as our district leadership nurtured and encouraged learning and risk-taking. The influence of positive relationships has been my constant inspiration.”

Thompson has 22 years of experience in education, with seven years as a high school English teacher, seven years as an assistant principal and then as a high school principal.

She received her bachelor’s degree in English education/physical education from Eastern Washington University and her master’s in educational leadership from Northern Arizona University-Yuma.

For more information about the Exemplary Principal initiative, visit

West Valley educators do us proud with achievements

January 21st, 2012

Our View: The Arizona Republic editorial board, West Valley


Talented West Valley educators continue to earn statewide recognition for their achievements at area schools.

In November, Amanda McAdams, a 10th-grade English teacher at Apollo High School in Glendale, was named 2011 Teacher of the Year by the Arizona Educational Foundation. And this week, seven principals with West Valley ties were among 14 educators named finalists for the 2011 Rodel Exemplary Principal award. Seven winners will be announced in Sunday’s Arizona Republic by the Rodel Charitable Foundation of Arizona.

The finalists from high-need schools were recognized for their ability to inspire their staffs to contribute to the success and development of a safe, high-achieving campus.

We’re proud to have these selfless educators working to make our schools better in the West Valley:

* Kathy Davis, principal of Sevilla West in Phoenix, in the Alhambra Elementary School District. She lives in Goodyear.

* Christine Hollingsworth, principal of Acacia Elementary in Phoenix, in the Washington Elementary School District. She lives in Peoria.

* Diane Pesch, principal of Discovery in Glendale,  in the Glendale Elementary School District. She lives in Glendale.

* Carrie Prielipp, principal of Sunset Ridge Elementary in Glendale, in the Pendergast Elementary School District. She lives in Litchfield Park.

* Lisa Sandomir, principal of M.C. Cash Elementary in Phoenix, in the Laveen Elementary School District. She lives in Phoenix.

* Randy Watkins, principal of Michael Anderson in Avondale, in the Avondale Elementary School District. He lives in Surprise.

* Michael Winters, principal of Cheatham Elementary in Laveen, in the Laveen Elementary School District. He lives in Sun City.

3 Tucson-area principals finalists for Rodel award

January 21st, 2012

Alexis Huicochea
Arizona Daily Star

The leaders of three Tucson-area schools have been named finalists for the Rodel Exemplary Principal award.

The principals, who represent the Flowing Wells, Sunnyside and Tucson unified school districts, are being recognized for their ability to inspire high academic achievement in high-needs schools.

Two will be named winners, receiving $5,000 in cash and going on to mentor aspiring principals over the next two years. The winners will be revealed in the Arizona Daily Star on Sunday.

The Rodel Exemplary Principal initiative is intended to recognize the state’s most exceptional principals and to populate a pipeline of highly skilled school leaders.

“A great principal is the heart of a successful school,” said Jackie Norton, president and CEO of the Rodel Foundation of Arizona. “The leadership these outstanding principals exhibit is the key to success for their staff and students.”

The three principals were nominated by their district superintendents. As part of the review process, school data was examined, campus visits were conducted and interviews were held with the candidates, their teachers and staff.

Jim Brunenkant

• Age: 50

• School: Flowing Wells High School, Flowing Wells Unified School District

• AZ Learns label/Grade: highly performing/A

• Years as a principal: 7

• Favorite part of being a principal: “Seeing these kids walking around, laughing, getting to class on time and wanting to be in school despite their struggles at home. It’s inspiring to me.”

• Best advice for new principals: “Never forget what it is like to be a teacher; never forget what it is like to be a student.”

• Tidbits: He’s a self-proclaimed reality-show addict. His favorites include “Hell’s Kitchen,” “Top Chef” and “The Bachelorette.”

• Vouch: “Jim is a visionary in the sense that he doesn’t just maintain,” said Flowing Wells Superintendent Nic Clement. “He is always looking to the future and how he can open up opportunities for the kids.”

John Robertson

• Age: 62

• School: Craycroft Elementary School, Sunnyside Unified School District

• AZ Learns label/Grade: performing-plus/B

• Years as a principal: 22 at various schools, 6 1/2 at Craycroft

• Favorite part of being a principal: “Getting the chance to work with really outstanding students and with some of the best teachers in Tucson on a daily basis.”

• Best advice for new principals: “Every decision you make is based on what’s in the best interest of your kids. That’s the only thing you have to think about.”

• Tidbits: He golfs over the summer to rejuvenate himself for the new school year.

• Vouch: “Mr. Robertson’s leadership is extremely important in a high poverty area which has greater demands in leadership,” said Sunnyside Superintendent Manuel L. Isquierdo. “Craycroft continues to be a highly performing school which helps be a model for other Sunnyside schools.”

Stephen Trejo

• Age: 52

• School: C.E. Rose K-8 School, Tucson Unified School District

• AZ Learns label/Grade: performing-plus/A

• Years as a principal: 9

• Favorite part of being a principal: “Seeing students do things and surprising themselves with what they can achieve.”

• Best advice for new principals: “Model hard work and walk your talk because it builds high trust.”

• Tidbits: He got his first teaching break mid-school year when another teacher quit because the students were “so bad.” Trejo says it was rough for a couple of weeks, but called it a great experience.

• Vouch: “He really is a leader that understands the important nature of advocacy for students and achievement as a bottom line,” TUSD Superintendent John Pedicone said of Trejo. “He is relentless in getting what he needs in order for his school to succeed.”

7 Maricopa, Pinal educators named Rodel Exemplary Principal

January 21st, 2012

Arizona Republic

Seven principals in Maricopa and Pinal counties and 10 statewide were named Rodel Exemplary Principal.

The Scottsdale-based Rodel Foundation of Arizona annually selects outstanding principals from around Arizona to mentor those aspiring to become principals.

Each winning principal receives $2,500 and agrees to mentor three aspiring principals over two years.

The Rodel Foundation provided insights from each of the Valley’s winning principals.


Rodel Foundation of Arizona honors inspiring principals

January 21st, 2012

Amy Wang
Arizona Republic


It is barely 9 a.m. on a Thursday, and already Christine Hollingsworth, the principal of Acacia Elementary School in Phoenix, has seemingly exuded more energy than her 600 or so students combined.

Rodel Exemplary Principals Q&A

“Nickelback? Are the lyrics OK?” she asks a group of sixth-graders as they select music to run with the televised morning announcements.

“Yee-haw, way to read!” she says, minutes later, high-fiving a fifth-grader as she hands her a prize for reading.

“Hey, can I get a smile?” she asks a sleepy-looking first-grader. He obliges her.

Later, Hollingsworth pops into the classrooms, often stopping to accept hugs in the hallway. She knows which vocabulary words the second-graders are learning; that the kindergartners have made lions out of paper plates and yarn; and that an English-language learner has just made a major breakthrough that week.

“She’s just so positive,” said Audra Bailey, interim program coach at the school.

Today, Hollingsworth and nine others statewide are being named Exemplary Principals by the Rodel Foundation of Arizona. Seven others were named finalists, part of a program that officials say honors principals who are “the total package.”

“It’s just not all data,” said Jim Rice, the foundation’s program administrator, on how Exemplary Principals are chosen. “How do they connect with their community? How do they set their staff up for collaboration?”

And, more than ever, the group looks to see how principals partner with local businesses and organizations as well. Steep budget cuts to education in recent years have meant that it is increasingly important for schools to reach outside for help.

“A lot of times business partners provide extracurriculars not available in the budget,” Rice said.

At Acacia, the Accelerated Reader program, which rewards students for reaching certain reading goals, is funded entirely by outside companies. Three pairs of donated brand-new bicycles — the ultimate reading prizes — flank the school’s library. Throughout the day, parent volunteers can be seen checking in and out of the office, waving hello to the staff. A church group is scheduled to come in over the weekend to paint some classrooms.

“She pulls in the community really well,” said John Treacy, a father of two Acacia students who has volunteered regularly at the school since 2006. “It’s always going to be about the kids first.”

Hollingsworth credits her success to this community, as well as to her staff and the Washington Elementary School District.

To be nominated, principals must be from schools that receive federal Title I funds, which support programs for low-income students. Many are from schools like Acacia, where nearly 80 percent of the students qualify for free or reduced-price lunch and where the halls are filled with native speakers of Spanish, Vietnamese, Bosnian and Arabic.

Hollingsworth, a native of Green Bay, Wis., startled her family by announcing that she was moving to Yuma to teach right after college. She recalls that none of the students in her kindergarten class spoke English, but she persevered out of a love for kids and because of several mentors who guided her. Before long, she found herself recruited to become principal of her school.

Her experience is typical, the other winners say. Almost all joked that they never intended to become principals. However, all were already involved in their schools and had mentors who pushed them. And all love what they do now, they say.

The role of a principal has evolved since the days when he or she might have been thought of as simply the chief disciplinarian, said Jackie Norton, president and CEO of the Rodel Foundation.

“To me, the principal was always the person you avoided,” said Norton, who grew up in the Scottsdale Unified School District.

“All these years later, I had to learn that the principal is really … the lead teacher.”

A principal’s ability to inspire the rest of his or her team is what can make or break a school, Rice said.

“I’ve never seen an effective school without an effective principal,” said Rice said. “They just need to have that good leader in front.”

This is the fifth year of Rodel’s principals program.

Exemplary Principals receive $2,500 each and agree to mentor three aspiring principals for two years. The idea is that the lessons and qualities of good leadership can be passed along to other schools with high needs.

“We have a real sense of urgency right now in public education in Arizona,” Rice said. In the past, principals were often thrown into their roles with “not a lot of prep but a lot of encouragement.”

Now, they cannot afford to be as lax, he said.

“We have got to make certain that we are putting principals in our schools that have been trained already,” Rice said.

Valley winners of 2012 Exemplary Principal

Chad Caudle, Hohokam Traditional School, Scottsdale Unified School District

Becky Henderson, Harris Elementary School, Gilbert Unified School District

Christine Hollingsworth, Acacia Elementary School, Washington Elementary School District

Darlene J. Johnson, Holmes Elementary School, Mesa Public Schools

Jennifer Murrieta, Desert Willow Elementary School, Casa Grand Elementary School District

Carrie Prielipp, Sunset Ridge Elementary School, Pendergast Elementary School District

Alexis Wilson, Griffith Elementary School, Balsz Elementary School District

Two Yuma principals named state Rodel award finalists

January 13th, 2012

BY Sarah Womer
Yuma Daily Sun

Two Yuma principals that were previously selected as semifinalists in the statewide 2012 Rodel Exemplary Principal Initiative have now been named finalists.

Kofa High School Principal Gina Thompson and Alice Byrne Elementary School Principal Juli Peach were two of 17 principals selected by the Rodel Foundation of Arizona after an in-depth interview process. After the candidates were nominated by their district superintendent, researchers then reviewed the nominations, combed through school data, visited the campuses and interviewed the candidates as well as their teachers and staff.

“These finalists from high-need schools have been selected for their demonstrated ability to inspire their staffs to contribute to school-wide success and the development of a campus that is high achieving, safe, orderly and welcoming,” stated the foundation.

Thompson said that she was very honored to be named a finalist and said that she couldn’t have done it without her teachers, support faculty and students.

“The Yuma Union High School District and Kofa High School has always provided amazing opportunity that allowed me to develop professionally. I feel that I represent our entire district and all that has been invested in me by our district and community as a finalist,” she said.

“Again, the recognition at the state level is something that makes me feel extremely proud as I look back at all of the work that we have done as a team at Kofa High School… The recognition should be a source of pride throughout our district and entire community including partner schools, parents, students, board members, business community. It takes support and determination at all levels to do what is necessary and continue to improve.”

Peach said that she was also very honored to be named a finalist and noted that this recognition helps to reaffirm the students and staff that they are doing something right.

“Being recognized is a reward for all of the hard work and dedication that my teachers and staff put forth every day. They deserve any accolades that come their way and I am so excited for them to be part of this process,” she said.

“You can lead, but if you don’t have anyone following you there’s no point. Teachers can teach and they can be highly effective teachers but somehow they have to motivate all those kids to want to learn. I just can’t say enough about my teachers and students.”

From the list of 17 finalists, 10 in Maricopa county, three in Pima County, two in Pinal County and two in Yuma County, a total of 10 winners will be named Rodel Exemplary Principals on Jan 22.

“Rodel Exemplary Principals serve as excellent role models and will mentor three aspiring principals for the next two years,” said Jim Rice, Rodel Foundation of Arizona Program administrator. “These future principals will have the opportunity to learn from highly skilled principals who have demonstrated extraordinary success educating students.”

Visit for more information about the initiative.

Outstanding Prince Teacher Shares Her Love of Learning

November 26th, 2011

Alexis Huicochea

Arizona Daily Star


Kris Holt comes from a long line of educators – her mother was a teacher and so were her grandmother and great-grandmother.

As a child, she would line up her stuffed animals and teach them what she was learning.

“I’ve just always wanted to be a teacher, I guess it’s embedded in me,” Holt said.

Holt still spends her days teaching, but now she has students at Prince Elementary School who actually interact with her.

Not only do they interact, they are high achievers as a result of Holt’s teaching practices.

Holt, 40, is being recognized as one of three Rodel Exemplary Teachers in the Tucson area.

These teachers were selected for their outstanding student achievement in high-poverty schools.

“Kris is an amazing asset to our school,” said Tassi Call, principal of Prince Elementary School, 315 E. Prince Road. “Not only is she an outstanding educator, she is willing to share her expertise with fellow colleagues.

“With Kris, it is never ever about her; everything she does is for her students, her peers, and for the betterment of Prince Elementary School.”

Holt is driven by her commitment to learning and a calling to instill that in others.

“We cheer, we imagine going places, we take field trips outside of the classroom so the students can see what they’re learning about,” she said. “Whatever it takes for them to be excited.”

But the learning goes beyond that. Holt reviews data with her third-graders. They set goals – both personal and academic – together, and they work on self-esteem, kindness and building on the positive.

For Holt, consistency and accountability are the keys to keeping her classroom running smoothly and ensuring student success.

“From the beginning, I have high expectations,” she said. “I hold my kids accountable – I don’t let them turn in work that’s not acceptable. No one is allowed to slide by in my class.”

8 Maricopa County Educators Named Rodel Exemplary Teacher

November 26th, 2011

The Arizona Republic

Eight educators in Maricopa County and 13 statewide were named a Rodel Exemplary Teacher.

The Scottsdale-based Rodel Foundation of Arizona annually selects outstanding teachers from around Arizona to mentor new teachers.

The winning teachers receive $5,000 and agree to mentor about six student-teachers over the next three years.

The foundation partners with Arizona colleges of education and teacher preparation programs to pair Rodel Exemplary Teachers with promising student teachers. The idea is to provide soon-to-be teachers with role models who are succeeding in the classroom.

The Rodel Foundation provided insights from each of the Valley’s winning teachers.

Click here to meet the educators at

Pueblo Gardens teacher gets Rodel honor

November 25th, 2011

Alexis Huicochea

Arizona Daily Star

Having been in the classroom for more than a decade, Dora Saldamando knows that there is more to her job than teaching multiplication facts, social studies lessons and how to conduct science experiments.

The Pueblo Gardens fourth-grade teacher is creating leaders for the future, and she views each lesson as an opportunity to work toward that.

Her mission is important, especially since her students live in a challenging neighborhood, said Marco Ramirez, principal of Pueblo Gardens PreK-8 School, 2210 E. 33rd St.

“We live in an area with Bloods and Crips and shootings and kids who are trying to be recruited,” Ramirez said. “We’re the safety zone, and Dora has never lost sense that her service to our community and the kids is of paramount importance.”

Saldamando’s commitment has paid off – the student achievement data prove it – and the visits from her former students with college degrees in hand back it up.

Because of her efforts, Saldamando has been named one of three Rodel Exemplary Teachers in the Tucson area. They were selected for their outstanding student achievement in high-poverty schools. The secret to success, Saldamando said, is taking the time to get to know her students and assessing their emotional and academic needs.

She likes her classroom to be centered on the kids and often finds herself in the back of the room.

“My role as a teacher is to introduce the concept and the information – to guide them to the focus or the objective of the lesson,” Saldamando said. “But then I step back and I let them have conversations, and it’s so exciting to see them in action.”