San Tan Heights K – 8, formerly San Tan Heights Elementary School, is one of three schools that was included in a voter-approved consolidation, which resulted in the former Coolidge Unified School District school being absorbed by the Florence Unified School District, effective July 1, 2016.
One of the goals for new Principal Greg Bellemare was to make the transition for both students and staff as seamless as possible despite some expected challenges.
Bellamere, a 39-year veteran in education, hired nearly 30 new staff members, including some former CUSD employees, during the summer and counts about two-thirds of his 60-plus staffers as new to FUSD. Introducing the newcomers to different policies and procedures was necessary as well developing cohesiveness among all of the employees.
“The thing that I’m most proud about is the positivity of the staff, which has been (persistent),” he said. “As a result, the kids are moving along really well here and they’ve blended nicely, especially the upper level students, who have been bounced around.”
The eighth-graders at San Tan Heights K – 8 are attending a third different school in four years, including their second term at San Tan Heights.
The Class of 2017 attended the school as fifth graders, when it was San Tan Heights Elementary and a CUSD school. As sixth graders they attended Mountain Vista Middle School, then San Tan Foothills as seventh graders, and now they’re back at San Tan Heights K – 8 in its newest version.
In an effort to improve the moral and attitude of the eighth-grade class, Bellemare thought giving the students some ownership of the school was necessary. He allowed them to choose the school’s new mascot from four finalists he selected.
The one-time Mustangs, then Wolverines and Sabercats are now Hawks.
“The eighth-graders are pretty proud,” Bellemare told the STV Daily PRSS. “They chose the mascot and normally they don’t get to do that. The attitude I see is really becoming pretty good.”
With the first-quarter nearing completion, Bellemare is satisfied with the progress he’s witnessed since school started in both his staff and the students, but he knows there’s more to be done.
“We’re pushing connections with the kids and becoming a community,” he said. “We had our first student council and we’re hoping it becomes very active.”
San Tan Heights K-8 is offering new electives to students that were not previously offered at the school, including math and science-based S.T.E.M. classes, Spanish, Dance and Band. Most, if not all, of these electives have been available at other FUSD schools.
“We’ve got a bundle of kids in dance,” Bellemare said. “I want to say 80-something students are in dance and really loving it.”
“We’re building up our band program,” he continued. “So I think we’re giving some opportunities that seem like a given at most places and now we’re providing them.”
It does indeed appear that Bellemare, his staff and the San Tan Heights K – 8 students have successfully accomplished their first goal together.