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State accountability labels aren't especially hard on most FUSD schools.

Only one -- a small alternative program for older, challenged students -- received a "D" grade or "underperforming" label, Arizona's two accountability brands. Overall, the district got a "C" when the state assigned grades for the first time last fall.

Kinsey Elementary School was in line with that, also earning a "C" and a "performing" label on the existing scale. It is not under any mandated corrective plan and never has been.

Still, Kinsey posted some of FUSD's lower pass rates last year on the AIMS test. Principal Carolyn Hardy hopes to improve those this year by taking a more elaborate focus with the data.

The school is ethnically diverse, with all races represented in its relatively small student body. Families have a range of incomes and speak a variety of native languages.

School officials don't think these social factors are the cause of the school's scores. Instead, they keep an eye on student mobility -- children often move in and out of Kinsey, coming and going, so the population is literally unstable. It could be that many are children of NAU students, or that the more affordable housing in Southside is a landing zone for families. Hardy says few stay there all the way from kindergarten to fifth grade.

There's also the idea that schools have to be ready for children, not the other way around. In other words, meet the children where they are and help them thrive.

The highest category a student can get on his AIMS test is "exceeds." This means they are past the standards the test examine. On reading, for example, on average between 10 percent and 12 percent of FUSD elementary students "exceed." It varies widely by school, and even within schools.

"I would hope that they could all exceed, but that's not realistic for all kids," anywhere, Hardy says.

But they can do their best, and that's what she wants.

"My teachers work hard, they love what they do, they love their kids," she says.

Assistant superintendent Dave Dirksen says the elementary principals are collaborative, and all of the schools are more alike than different. Curriculum and textbooks are uniform and the district has a collective focus on early childhood education, with the earlier kindergarten registration date one way to get the youngest children more intrigued by school. A collective commitment means improvement is for everybody, not just Kinsey or any other school.

Kinsey does have a few differences. It uses a reading program called Success For All, a nationwide intervention program that Hardy says has been good for her students. Kinsey is also one of two FUSD schools (Killip is the other) to have a "21st Century" grant to pay for after-school enrichment aside from the usual FACTS after-care program.

At Kinsey, about 110 students participate, more than one in four kids. Having a late bus helps. Whether they're getting academic intervention or enrichment, it all looks like enrichment. There's a robotics club, a chess team, and mini-sessions on other fun things like cooking or crafts. Teachers are tracking the relationship between participants and their learning outcomes.

Hillary Davis can be reached at hdavis@azdailysun.com or 556-2261.

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