January 8, 2019

Trailblazer Awards Highlight School Leader Excellence

Arizona is fortunate to have innovative and tenacious school leaders who are achieving results for students in unexpected places around the state. Their passion for and commitment to student success is a game changer in communities from rural to urban, north to south, and east to west. It’s changing the lives of individual kids and transforming families and communities along the way. What these school leaders have led their students to achieve is difficult and only accomplished with commitment and an unwavering belief that all kids can learn.

At its Gala event in August, A for Arizona proudly recognized two such examples of outstanding leadership, awarding them the inaugural “Trailblazer Awards.”


Trailblazer in School Leadership: Amy Cislak, Principal University High School in Tucson

Amy Cislak is a dynamic principal with a passion for upending the status quo. Since she took the helm of University High School in Tucson, the magnet school has become the most diverse public exam high school in the country. Nearly 60 percent of her students qualify for free or reduced priced lunch, but that hasn’t stopped them from graduating more National Hispanic Scholars than any other high school in the nation and earning more than $34 million in scholarships. Her students show success is possible for all and UHS is definitely a model to learn from. You can find out more about this partnership in this Chamber Business News article.

We checked in with Amy to find out what’s new at University High School and what challenges and opportunities she sees for the year ahead:

“To better serve students, UHS has started offering admission test prep options for prospective students. We are also allowing students to retake the test if they did not get a qualifying score. While we need to make sure students are prepared for the rigorous courses we offer, we also do not want to put up barriers that will prevent students from achieving their goal to attend UHS. This fall, over 100 students took advantage of our test prep sessions or retest option, resulting in over 106 students who earned a qualifying score. This approach in admissions is offering an additional opportunity to students to be a part of University High School.

To further support diversity of education, UHS has created a Culturally Relevant Advanced Placement course, the first in Arizona that all Juniors will take in school year 2019. This course will focus on the American journey through a multicultural lens in a format that invites rich discussion and promotes scholarly writing.  We are ecstatic that we will be offering a class that supports rich discussion and research about a true diversity of Americans.”

Trailblazers in District-Charter Collaboration
: Nogales Unified School District & Mexicayotl Academy

The leaders in Nogales Unified School District and Mexicayotl Academy serve the same students and the same community. Together they have formed a partnership defying convention. These ‘A’-rated school systems collaborate on professional development for teachers, co-enroll AP Spanish students and ensure a strong transition for Mexicayotl eighth-graders into Nogales High School. They jointly celebrate these successful scholars as they matriculate to the likes of Stanford, Harvard, Notre Dame, all three Arizona universities and countless other colleges across the country. They have raised the expectations for all students in Nogales and their collaborative district-charter relationship is one to be replicated. You can find out more about this partnership in this Chamber Business News article.

 We checked in with Nogales Unified School District assistant superintendent Angel Canto to learn the latest on the partnership with Mexicayotl and what they have planned for the New Year.

“NUSD and Mexicayotl have jointly applied for grant funding through A for Arizona’s Expansion funds. We are seeking ways to significantly expand our collaboration in a number of ways. For example, we want to begin to have the charter students participate in the district’s elementary gifted program and to begin to jointly offer after-school activities, with Mexicayotl students participating in those offered by NUSD schools and district students participating in those unique to Mexicayotl charter school. Additionally, we want to find ways to offer a robust STEM program for our students to attend together during the school year and in summer camps. We also want to provide STEM professional development opportunities for our teachers. These are just a few of the ideas which we are actively exploring and working together to fund so that we can move our partnership to the next level, benefitting our students and community and providing a model for others who might also be open partnering together to improve their systems and expose a greater number of students to ‘A’ schools.”

These leaders recognized as the inaugural “Trailblazers” reflect the best of Arizona. They are why A for Arizona is committed to helping similarly driven leaders – each with their own unique school models – grow to serve more students in Arizona. We want to expand the great work of principals and school directors like those at University High and in Nogales, who are tapping the potential of kids many would consider unreachable. Focusing on how we can help these leaders expand, replicate, and teach others is what fuels our work to accelerate high quality classroom options for Arizona students.


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