November 7, 2023 / Modified nov 7, 2023 5:56 p.m.

Sierra Vista elementary school selected as finalist for National Title 1 Distinguished Award

Bella Vista Elementary School was one out of 14 schools in Arizona to be nominated for the award

Rebeckah Stephens Bella Vista Elementary School Title 1 Paraprofessional Rebekah Stephens works on phonics exercises with second grade students in the school's Title 1 program. November 6, 2023.
Summer Hom, AZPM News

Bella Vista Elementary School in Sierra Vista has been nominated as a finalist for the National Title 1 Distinguished Schools Award. The school has had an A-grade for the past four years, was one of 14 finalists statewide, and is the only finalist from southern Arizona.

Erica Archer, the Title 1 Teacher at Bella Vista Elementary, said the program offers individual support to students on math and language arts exercises like phonics.

“We do, like, a phonics screener on the students, and depending on how they do and where they’re, like, lacking in certain skills, is what we work on with them,” said Archer. "Depending on what the kids need, they come into the classroom ... And they do their math facts with partners or by themselves. And depending on what grade they are, they know which facts they should work on."

Bella Vista Elementary has just shy of 300 students, 80 of whom qualify for the Title 1 program which the school offers to students in the bottom 25% performance range on standardized testing.

The National Title 1 Distinguished Award (NTIDA) team from the Arizona Department of Education (ADE) came to interview school leadership, staff, parents, and students about the school’s Title 1 program on Monday.

Katie McAdams, who’s had two of her kids go through the Title 1 program at Bella Vista, said the teachers are key to their success.

"Ms. (Kimberly) Hill and Ms. (Sarah) Paulsen, I can say without a doubt changed my daughter’s life," said McAdams during an interview with the Arizona Department of Education's National Title 1 Distinguished Award team. "She’s a great kid, just high anxiety … They gave her the confidence, that just, nothing else could. She’s on the honor roll for her first quarter now in middle school.”

Schools are selected by ADE through two specific criteria — a school that's demonstrated "exceptional student performance and academic growth for two or more consecutive years," and a school that is "closing the achievement gap between student groups for two or more consecutive years."

Based on those criteria, the schools are then notified if they are eligible to apply for the National Title 1 Distinguished Award. From there, the State will choose two top Title 1 Schools out of the 75 schools that applied in Arizona. The winners are recognized at the national Title 1 conference. The top two schools will have school celebrations in the Spring of 2024.

AZPM reached out to the National Title 1 Distinguished Award team from the Arizona Department of Education for an interview, but they declined to comment on the record, as they said they are not allowed to talk to the media.

Dr. Mary Slaydon, the principal of Bella Vista Elementary, said she received an email before fall break from ADE announcing that the school was eligible to apply for the National Title 1 Distinguished Schools Program.

"We were asked by the Department of Education to apply," said Dr. Slaydon. "Everybody is a vital part of Bella Vista in helping us be where we are today."

"We are a family here," said Archer.

In order for a school to be eligible to apply, the school must have a poverty rate of 35%, it must receive funds from the Every Student Succeeds Act, it must meet or exceed state accountability criteria and the school must demonstrate high academic achievement.

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