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Mayor says Florence's safest city award is deserved
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FLORENCE — Mayor Tara Walter defended the town’s latest award as Arizona’s safest city despite qualifying on the strength of a prison population that is unable to call the police.

The town provides services to those who live in its boundaries, including the incarcerated, the mayor said at Monday’s Town Council meeting.

“That means whenever there’s a violent attack — an assault, a rape, something happens — our police respond. Our medical teams respond through the Fire Department. So that’s why they count within our numbers,” Walter said.

“So they have all of those different diverse types of populations living in Florence, Arizona. Some of the most violent offenders are housed there. And they still count towards our numbers.

“Yet we’re the number-one safest community,” Walter continued. “We have a community that looks out for one another; we have a community that supports one another; and we pull together. And I just felt that was really important to highlight because as I read through the news article, I thought I really wanted to reach out and talk to somebody here this evening.”

The Florence Reminder & Blade-Tribune reported April 15 that SafeWise.com had once again judged Florence to be Arizona’s safest city.

Also at Monday’s meeting:

  • The council approved seven Returning Stronger grants, designed to assist local small businesses, nonprofits and food banks in their recovery from the economic downturn caused by the pandemic. This fifth and final batch of grants totals $47,597.65.

Grants of various amounts went to the Caliente Del Sol Property Owners Association Social Club, Main St. Fabric Company, Kari Bradley & Associates, Eugene and Kim’s Place, Mosaic Church of the Nazarene, Wonderland Playhouse and Florence Fudge Company. The town has awarded a total of $366,545.77 to a total of 41 recipients through this grant program.

  • Town Manager Brent Billingsley reported the town Fitness Center reopened Monday and the Dorothy Nolan Senior Center reopened for congregate meals.
  • Walter recognized Ty Schraufnagel for drawing attention to local businesses and attractions with “Pinal County March Madness” contests last year and this year, and this year’s winner, Mt. Athos Restaurant and owner Peter Koulouris.
  • The council accepted Doug Stinson’s resignation from the Community Services Advisory Board and appointed Carolyn Davis and Kellie Mendoza to the board. Kathleen Leaman was appointed as an alternate. Phillip West was appointed an alternate to the Historic District Advisory Commission.

All seats are now filled on the town’s boards and commissions, Deputy Town Manager/Town Clerk Lisa Garcia reported.

Third Friday photos
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FUSD out to learn from Great Minds
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FLORENCE — San Tan Heights K-8 and Florence Unified School District are partnering with the nonprofit Great Minds to further the district’s goal of high-quality curriculum and instruction for the entire district.

Steven Shadel with Great Minds told the school board April 13 it will be “like a lab for other schools to learn from and bring to life the (FUSD) strategic plan as fast as possible.”

Assistant Superintendent Adam Leckie agreed, “we really felt like this was a great match with our current strategic plan.

“… These materials and curriculum resources were things that we had already employed in our district. So this is enhancing our plan, this is not supplanting or replacing things that we had identified as strategic initiatives for us,” Leckie told the board. “But we are leveraging this unique partnership to build additional resources and support, not only for San Tan Heights but for the rest of our school district.”

The program includes short- and long-term curriculum guides, professional development plans and ongoing instructional coaching, Shadel said. Events will promote Great Minds programming and provide opportunities for parental involvement.

“We’re honored to become a Great Minds national showcase school,” San Tan Heights Principal Henry Saylor-Scheetz told the board. “Teachers are excited about the resources.” Teachers will go through extensive training in June and have other professional development opportunities throughout the year. The school will also integrate Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) into all curricular areas, the principal said.

Leckie said, “While what you’re hearing tonight is a lot of investment in San Tan Heights, the ultimate goal is to use that school in a partnership to then prove how we can improve student achievement at other schools.”

Board member Steve Johnson commented, “I think it sounds wonderful. This is definitely district by design, not by chance, and I’m looking forward to this program.”

Shadel said he used to be a high school and middle school math teacher. When his district had a vision of where it wanted to go, it went from 20% of students meeting or exceeding expectations in math to more than 70%. “The only way that’s done is through complete buy-in towards that vision,” he said.

“We have a solid vision for teaching and learning. All the resources you need to implement that plan are in place. And we’re here to support you as we go down that path,” Shadel said.

According to greatminds.org:

“It’s all about building knowledge — not just skills. Building deep, lasting understanding rather than just memorizing. … Knowledge in the context of the real world, rather than hypothetical scenarios. Knowledge through consistent core skill development, rather than reinventing the wheel with each lesson. And knowledge that builds upon itself for stronger connections throughout the learning process. Every child has unlimited potential and is capable of greatness.”

Great Minds’ mission statement says: “We know every child is capable of greatness. We are here to improve Pre-K through 12 grade education by supporting teachers with best-in-class curriculum materials and implementation products and services in math, English, science, history and other subjects.

“Best-in-class curriculum is knowledge-driven, coherent, (and) uses research-based instructional methods that are proven to work for all learners, including but not limited to striving readers, students with dyslexia and English language learners.”