By Shay Moser
More than 32,000 youth returned to Deer Valley Unified School District (DVUSD) classrooms for the new school year—a year highlighted with a new elementary school, a new full continuum gifted program, and a new “home” campus for online students.
Nearly a year ago, dignitaries helped break ground for DVUSD’s Inspiration Mountain School in Stetson Valley, which opened its doors on Aug. 3 with the district. Las Brisas Elementary began a robust continuum of school-wide gifted services for all students. In addition, Deer Valley’s Online Learning Academy, Aspire, opened a collaborative community space to offer the next generation of extraordinary experiences to all DVUSD stakeholders.
To get the details on these new offerings, we asked these DVUSD school leaders.
Inspiration Mountain School Welcomes Students
Students in kindergarten to sixth grade entered the doors for the first time at Inspiration Mountain School at 5757 Inspiration Mountain Parkway, near 57th Avenue and Happy Valley Road.
Between the groundbreaking in September 2021 and the first day of school in August, district officials hired a principal, Dr. JoAnn Schwarting, who coordinated the selection process to determine the school’s name, colors, and mascot.
“I’m very community oriented. And so, we involved our community in every process of developing those initial components,” says Schwarting, who has served the Deer Valley Unified School District since 2005.
Inspiration Mountain became the newest DVUSD school name through community meetings and surveys. The community chose black and blue out of five color choices and got behind the Knights for the mascot.
“Many planned communities like to name their school after the topographical area, streets, mountains. The school is on Inspiration Mountain Parkway Loop, so that was a given,” explains Schwarting, who spent the past six years leading Desert Mountain School as principal.
Along with a new name, colors, and mascot, the 14-acre, 72,742 square-foot new school offers unique features, including an upgraded media center and makerspaces to allow for the STEAM curriculum focus (science, technology, engineering, arts, and math). In addition, shade structures, baseball and soccer fields, bus routing, and parking add to the outdoor area.
“We’re standing on the shoulders of giants, and you learn from each school you build. We’re fortunate at Inspiration Mountain to have outdoor learning spaces,” says Schwarting, who has also taught seventh-grade English language arts at Desert Mountain School and served as an assistant principal and instructional coach of Desert Sky Middle School throughout her time with the district.
Inspiration Mountain’s media center is “a beautiful, wide-open space,” Schwarting says, from classes for students to professional development for teachers and shelves of new books. Four shade sails extend learning spaces outdoors. “We’re nestled in this little valley amidst these beautiful foothills. So, the view is gorgeous from campus.”
While Inspiration Mountain currently serves kindergarten through sixth grade students, it has plans to expand to a kindergarten through eighth-grade campus. “The journey is just beginning,” says Schwarting. “We welcomed students a couple of weeks ago, and the energy—everybody is so excited.”
Inspiration Mountain students and parents will be able to show their enthusiasm at the school’s monthly community spirit assemblies, where they’ll honor professions that serve the community.
Introducing the Gifted Academy at Las Brisas Elementary
Las Brisas Gifted Academy also opened in August, and, regardless of gifted identification, gifted-trained teachers teach all students gifted instructional strategies daily. The gifted instructional strategies focus on choice and exploration and are highly differentiated based upon readiness, content, and learning outcome.
The gifted academy starts with Las Brisas Bright Beginnings Programs, servicing gifted identified students in grades preschool through second grade, giving the youngest students a solid and enriching beginning for their learning journey. Students are re-assessed at the end of second grade to see what gifted programming they qualify for in third grade and above.
Qualifying third through sixth-grade students attend the district’s new Renaissance Highly Gifted and Global Studies Program. This self-contained program offers an immersive project and problem-based environment focusing on global cultures and languages.
Las Brisas Gifted Academy is the only school in the Deer Valley Unified School District that provides the full continuum of services for gifted and talented students. And a range of services exists for all students, including math acceleration, pull-out enrichment, and gifted homeroom placement. All students also have access to STEAM, PE, music, and art through their special-areas rotation.
Aspire, DVUSD’s K-12 Online School Continues and Gets Campus
While back-to-school time has most DVUSD students heading to the bus stop, others are walking to the dining room table to attend Aspire, Deer Valley’s fully accredited online academy for kindergarten to 12th-grade students.
Launched at the beginning of the 2021-22 school year, the online school for kindergarten through 12th grade is continuing as an educational option for parents and students in the North Valley.
DVUSD has offered high school students online support since 2007. “Our younger students are now reaping the benefits,” says Juliet Amara, DVUSD’s director for online and virtual learning. “Many of our learners from last year stayed with us for this year because they see the need and value of it.”
Aspire has grown to offer full- and part-time high school students advanced placement courses, dual-enrollment, career and technical education internships, clubs, and eSports. It even provides guitar online.
“We’re opening up our profile of courses to ensure students have the opportunity for a wide breadth of educational experiences,” Amara says. “We want to help them engage in rigorous work and meet their personal needs.”
Certified teachers instruct Aspire’s 150 courses under Amara’s leadership. Students in kindergarten through sixth grade participate in virtual, real-time, teacher-led instruction. Seventh and eighth graders learn through a hybrid of teacher-led education and prepared resources, and ninth through 12th grade students learn through crafted resources, with open lab access to teachers during virtual and in-person office hours.
In addition to its traditional course offerings, the academy offers music, art, and physical education and technology at the elementary level and a variety of electives and exploratory classes to middle schoolers.
“Aspire is fortunate to have wonderful, experienced online teachers, and they are experts on all learning management systems,” says Amara. “They’ve helped craft online learning and how to teach online to meet students where they are.”
To meet students where they are offline, DVUSD created the Innovation Center, which also opened this fall. “With the pandemic, our online program grew exponentially, and the need for a dedicated space became extremely important,” Amara explains. The Annex, a warehouse built in 1982 to hold district supplies and resources for DVUSD schools, was reimagined and remodeled, thanks to community support.
Third Consecutive Year on Forbes’ List
The 2022-23 school year highlights wouldn’t be complete without recapping Forbes naming Deer Valley Unified School District one of America’s Best Midsize Employers in February. Previously, Forbes recognized DVUSD as one of the best places to work in Arizona for two years, which means it’s the highest ranked pre-kindergarten through 12th grade district in the country to receive this distinction.
This content sponsored by DVUSD.