Rising to the Challenge

It was at this time a year ago that we, as a nation and as a community, were just beginning to come to grips with how a global pandemic would affect almost every aspect of our lives and, for us as a school district, the way we do what we do: educate. It has been an eye-opening experience, to be sure. All of us have been beset with a whole new world of worries, and determining the best path to navigate them has at times been all-consuming. In preparing for my career, it never occurred to me that I would oversee the development of not one, but three instructional learning models for 22,000 students, while at the same time implementing virus mitigation strategies to keep those students and 3,300 employees safe.

Yet in all of the COVID chaos, we have managed to find new ways of doing things to create innovative and engaging teaching and learning experiences across our district. Some practices and traditions have gone by the wayside; others have evolved and taken on a different form and structure. In all cases, we have worked to keep our students and their needs at the forefront of our decision-making. While the 2020–21 school year has been fraught with many previously unimaginable challenges, I am proud to say that Scottsdale Unified teachers, principals and staff have stepped up and delivered.

Time and time again, we can attest to the remarkable resilience and adaptability of our students to these changing circumstances. With teachers dedicated to helping them succeed, no matter what, students have brilliantly balanced a new world of online and virtual learning, compressed school days, social distancing and face mask requirements, postponed or cancelled events, and interrupted athletic seasons. We have provided them with new opportunities to continue to learn, grow and express themselves, and they rarely disappoint.

Our teachers, too, have reinvented themselves, mastering new technologies to bring students learning from home into their classrooms, virtually. They have collaborated more closely than ever to embrace instructional challenges and they, too, have succeeded.

School has looked and felt different this year, but SUSD has not been deterred from achieving noteworthy milestones:

  • Mountainside Middle School and Desert Mountain High School officially became International Baccalaureate Middle Years Programme World Schools in November 2020. This globally respected, rigorous academic program offered to sixth through 10th grade students in our Desert Mountain Learning Community complements the high school’s 20-plus years IB Diploma Programme.
  • Anasazi Elementary School P.E. teacher Kyle Bragg is national physical education association SHAPE America’s 2021 Elementary P.E. Teacher of the Year.
  • Graduating seniors are in contention for National Merit and U.S. Presidential Scholarships, Arizona seals for Biliteracy and Arts Proficiency, and U.S. military academy appointments.
  • Theatrical and visual arts students and student musicians and vocalists embraced new ways of showing their talent, performing and competing virtually and in outdoor spaces.
  • Two more educators became National Board Certified Teachers; five others renewed their certifications this school year. This voluntary, rigorous certification is the most respected professional development program available to classroom teachers in the U.S.
  • Chaparral High School won the 6A state football championship, as well as the Division 1 girls and boys state swim and dive titles. Desert Mountain High School won the girls Division 2 state swim and dive championship. Arcadia High School’s varsity Pom team received Division 2 top honors. Multiple graduating student athletes have signed letters of intent and received scholarships to pursue their sport of choice at the college level this fall.

As we close out this most demanding of school years, I am also happy to report that many traditional, celebratory hallmarks are set to resume, including high school proms and in-person graduation and promotion ceremonies. Thank you for your steadfast support through it all.


Learn more about Scottsdale Unified School District: susd.org.

Written By

Superintendent, Scottsdale Unified School District

To contact Dr. Menzel or to learn more about Scottsdale Unified School District and its award-winning academic, arts and athletic program, call 480.484.6100 or go to susd.org.

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