CASA GRANDE — Underclassmen at Casa Grande Union and Vista Grande struggled with the transition to high school last year, according to a report by the schools’ principals.

Vista Grande Principal Glenda Cole and Casa Grande Union Principal Brian Mabb presented improvement plans during the latest Casa Grande Union High School District board meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 7. During the discussion, the two broke down grade distributions and demographic results from the previous school year as well as select state test scores.

The pattern that emerged was that even with remedial efforts, the grades and graduation rates at the two high schools were lower than where they should be.

Despite the disappointing numbers, Superintendent Anna Battle praised the principals and their work, both in the past and during the current school year, working on improvement plans and coordinating despite the continued specter of COVID-19.

“They hit the ground running this year under complex circumstances,” Battle said. “Every day gets more interesting, but they maneuver through it seamlessly. I enjoy working with both of them.”

The district currently partners with the company Edgenuity for various curriculum and program options to help students. However, the board suggested they may explore additional options, and possibly even a replacement, if they determine the learning recovery program isn’t satisfying intended goals.

Overall, 33% of students at CG Union and 42% of students at Vista Grande received overall grades of D and F last year. Even 10% of students in the district’s “Promise” program, designed to prevent drop-outs, failed to graduate.

On the English language arts test given to juniors, both schools had passing levels below the state average of 32%. The principals cited Native American students in particular as needing more support from the district to help pass proficiency exams; last year there were just over 50 seniors in that sub-group enrolled in district high schools.

While at least some of those numbers were due to the pandemic and disruption to the regular learning routine, principals cited the need for a more streamlined path between the high school and elementary districts. Cole also said they were looking at ways to create more family and community engagement with the schools.

“We need to support our students before they fail,” Mabb said, “as opposed to working on recovery after they fail.”

Battle did say she’d had good discussions with Casa Grande Elementary School District Superintendent JoEtta Gonzales. The districts held trainings and leadership activities together over the past year.

“Dr. Battle gets emails from families in Toltec or Stanfield (elementary districts),” Mabb said. “They are students that really need a lot of love, especially where technology is concerned.”

Battle agreed on the need for timely interventions but also was cautious in identifying tools or solutions that are research-based.

“We can’t blame anything on any particular program or intervention,” Battle said. “It really is how we respond to data and what we do with it.”

During the meeting, the board recognized Rotary and Career and Technical Education students of the month.

The Rotary students honored were Delaney Dickey and Angel Flores, while the CTE students were Martina Wells and Treston Cardita.

The next board meeting will take place at 5:30 p.m. Sept. 28.

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Aaron Dorman is the Casa Grande reporter at PinalCentral, covering government, schools, business and more. He can be reached at adorman@pinalcentral.com.