Best in Class: Snowflake Unified School District

The small-but-mighty Snowflake Unified School District is committed to maintaining academic excellence and encouraging teacher collaboration to continue preparing its students for the future.  

Snowflake Unified School District serves six schools in the communities of Snowflake and Taylor. It has two kindergarten through third grade schools, two fourth grade through sixth grade schools, and one school for junior high and high school students.  

The schools of Snowflake Unified that qualify for an A-F letter grade are ‘A’ schools. The kindergarten through third grade schools do not receive an A-F letter grade, but they are high-performing. 

Hollis Merrell, Snowflake Unified superintendent, explained that the kindergarten through third grade schools do not receive a grade because they do not qualify for growth points since they do not take the AzMERIT until third grade.  

“When we talk about those numbers and look at test scores, those numbers and scores represent students and obviously that’s the best part of the job is when we see students succeed,” Merrell said.

Merrell explained that the collaboration among teachers is the biggest contribution to the district’s success.  

“They plan, they share, they determine which students need to go to re-teach the next week. In my opinion, we wanted to create a system that was not dependent on individual people,” he said. 

The teachers meet weekly by grade level or department to discuss the curriculum, ensure they are all on the same page and learn from each other.

Merrell said, “Really, any organization’s best opportunity for success is working together.”

Teacher collaboration has led Snowflake Unified down a successful path, but it had to find time in teachers’ busy schedules to allow for them to meet.

For the elementary school teachers, “we implemented an early release every Friday, which allows our elementary teachers to hold their grade-level meeting and collaborate and work together,” Merrell said.  

For junior high and high school students, Snowflake Unified implemented a schedule referred to as “Modified Five.” 

Through Modified Five, the district reports a four-day week to the Arizona Department of Education and the students have a four-day school week. 

But, teachers are on-site Friday mornings to help students who are assigned to come in for extra help or who choose to come.  

“First of all, it motivates to do well Monday through Thursday, so they don’t have to come to school on Friday. And secondly, those that really need the help are here and can get the help they need,” Merrell said. 

Snowflake Unified works to prepare its students for success not only in elementary and secondary education, but in postsecondary attainment and career endeavors.  

“We want our students to be able to graduate from high school here with options. We don’t want them to be limited in the choices that they make because of the education they’ve received here,” Merrell said. 

Snowflake Unified is a host district of Northern Arizona Vocational Institute of Technology (NAVIT), which allows high school students to engage in career and technical education programs, earn high school credit and earn community college credit.  

“They partner with our local community college, so students have the opportunity to go off campus and receive skills and training in specific areas,” Merrell said. 

Snowflake Unified offers dual enrollment classes for high school students through Northland Pioneer College, a nearby community college.  

“Our students can receive over 30 college credits staying here on our campus,” Merrell said. “We feel like that gives them that push to go ahead and finish college when they graduate because they already have a lot of the basic courses out of the way.” 

The students also have access to career and technical education programs that prepare them for careers after high school. 

“If a student doesn’t want to go to college, they have other options there as well. I feel that’s the most important thing we can do is allow them to have a broad enough experience that they have options when they graduate,” Merrell said. 

Sierra Ciaramella

Graham Bosch

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