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ASU Prep Poly STEM Academy principal receives national charter school award

May 1, 2018

Claudia Mendoza, principal at ASU Preparatory Polytechnic STEM Academy, is beloved by her students, staff and teachers.

This is evidenced by the students who light up when she enters the room and by the teachers and staff who enthusiastically sing her praises.

In fact, this praise is the reason Mendoza was recently selected as the recipient of a 2017 Stories of Inspiration award by the Charter School Capital Group, a national organization that provides growth capital and facilities financing for charter schools.

The Stories of Inspiration competition gives “recognition and thanks to the teachers who inspire us to do, and be, our best.” Mendoza’s story detailed how she transformed the school from a happy elementary campus into a happy, innovative and rigorous STEM academy, while maintaining its family-oriented atmosphere.

ASU Prep Poly STEM Academy is located on Arizona State University's Polytechnic campus and is one of many ASU Preparatory Academy schools serving students in elementary, middle and high school grades. The school is embedded in the ASU community; collaborates with many ASU colleges, divisions and units; and fosters a college-going mindset and sense of Sun Devil pride in students — a mission that Mendoza’s leadership helps drive forward. Most recently, ASU Prep Poly STEM Academy was tied for the top spot in Arizona school ratings based on the final letter grades and scores released last week by the state Department of Education.

“Claudia is an exemplary model for how a leader can truly impact student success by setting a culture of excellence and cultivating an environment of collaborative teaching and learning,” said Beatriz Rendon, vice president of Educational Outreach and Student Services, and CEO of ASU Preparatory Academy. “ASU Prep is proud to have such an extraordinary professional on our team and thrilled to have her receive this well-deserved recognition.”

The award also includes a $1,000 donation to ASU Prep Poly STEM Academy, to be used at their discretion.

Originally from Las Cruces, New Mexico, Mendoza received her Bachelor of Science in education from New Mexico State University and her master’s in educational leadership from Arizona State University.

Throughout her career, she has served multiple roles in the education field, both in and out of the classroom. Before coming to ASU Prep, Mendoza served as executive coordinator for Access ASU and executive director of the Parent Institute for Quality Education.

Prior to that, she spent 10 years working in the Tempe Elementary School District as a kindergarten and first-grade teacher, and as a language acquisition coach and reading specialist. 

Mendoza says she is humbled and grateful to receive this honor.

“My hope is that my leadership will always inspire teachers, staff and students to be the best they can be,” she said.

We asked Mendoza a few questions about her career, the education field and the school where she works every day to motivate students and teachers to do and be their best. You can also learn more about ASU Preparatory Academy by viewing the Educational Outreach and Student Services digital annual report.

Question: What inspired you to choose a career in education?

Answer: My early years in elementary were difficult. I was learning to speak English as my second language while simultaneously attempting to learn the grade-specific content, including reading and writing. I persevered because I had amazing teachers, Mrs. Hawk and Mrs. Asbury, who believed in me and valued who I was and my culture.

As I explored my options during my first year of college, I knew I wanted to make a difference. As I reflected on my education and life up to that point, I realized how big an impact a good teacher could have on a young student. In my years in the classroom as a teacher, I hope I was able to touch the lives of my students the same way Mrs. Asbury and Mrs. Hawk touched mine all those years ago.

Now in my role as an instructional leader, my continued inspiration comes both from working alongside the same type of amazing teachers at ASU Prep Poly and my love of children. I also credit Dr. JoEtta Gonzales, my last principal, whom I consider a role model for instructional leadership.

Q: What do you think is the best thing about being an educator? The most challenging?

A: The best thing is seeing the potential in every student come to life each day. In my role as principal, I enjoy building relationships with students and watching them learn and grow from year to year. I look forward to coming to work each day, and as a lifelong learner, every day is a new adventure in learning for me. The most challenging part of being an educator is not having enough time to do all that we'd like to do for every student.  

Q: What do you think makes ASU Prep Poly STEM Academy a unique place to be an educator? What makes it an ideal place for students to learn?

A: Our affiliation with Arizona State University makes ASU Prep Poly STEM Academy a unique place to be an educator.  Not only are we located on the ASU Polytechnic campus, our objective is to ensure that every student sees themselves as college-going from the start. Students identify as Sun Devils as early as preschool and kindergarten. Their educational journey starts with us at ASU Preparatory Academy and ends when they graduate from college. 

Additionally, teachers are passionate, hard-working, collaborative, highly focused and dedicated to every student. Teachers enjoy what they do, and it is evident. It is an ideal place for students because of our approach to individualized learning, technology integration, higher-level thinking and problem-solving implemented through our rigorous curriculum. Additionally, students take part in interdisciplinary STEM experiences at every grade level, K-8.

Q: What guides you in your leadership of teachers/staff and students at ASU Prep Poly STEM Academy?

A: First and foremost, my priority is always to remain student-centered in everything that I do. Second, I base my leadership on relationships with teachers, staff, students and families.

When I make mistakes, I use them as opportunities to grow my leadership. I practice reflection and allow myself to learn from them to become a better leader. Collaboration, teamwork and delegation also guide me in my leadership. It takes the entire village! I work to create a culture of shared ownership and innovation. I whole-heartedly appreciate and value every teacher and staff member at our school. Every single one of them is important. Finally, it is all about positivity: my cup is always half-full!

Top photo: ASU Preparatory Polytechnic STEM Academy Principal Claudia Mendoza works with first-grade student Ady Podmanik on an assignment. Mendoza says she will often pop into classrooms to see what her students are doing and how she can help them succeed. Photo by Will Argeros/ASU

Copy writer and editor , Educational Outreach and Student Services


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ASU Prep Poly STEM Academy tied for top spot in Arizona school ratings

ASU Prep Poly STEM Academy in Mesa among top-scoring schools in Arizona.
May 1, 2018

The ASU Prep Poly STEM Academy in Mesa tied for the top spot in Arizona school ratings for 2017, based on the final letter grades and scores recently released by the state Department of Education.

The K-4 charter school, located on ASU’s Polytechnic campus, and Ocotillo Ridge Elementary School in Pinal County tied for the highest percentage in scoring based on a formula that weighs proficiency in the AzMERIT standardized tests, as well as improvement in scores of some subgroups of students, and other factors, such as absenteeism.

ASU Prep Poly STEM Academy earned a score of 92 out of a total of 90 eligible points.

“We are thrilled, and it’s great because it shows that what we’re doing is working,” said Principal Claudia Mendoza. “Our teachers work hard every single day, but now we can celebrate.”

She said the school received extra points because so many of the students are working above grade level.

RELATED: ASU Prep Poly STEM Academy principal receives national charter school award

“Our students continue to push and are excited to learn. We let them lead the way and they surprise us,” she said.

The scores were based on testing that happened in the spring of 2017, and Mendoza and the staff are already focused on next year.

“We’re going to continue business as usual because that’s what we do,” she said.

Across Arizona, 317 schools received an A ranking for 2017, 602 were graded B, 478 earned a C, 158 schools were given a D, 38 received an F and 128 were under review or not graded.

The scores became final last month after the preliminary scores were released last fall, before an appeal period. Mendoza said that when the initial scores came out, she expected her school would be in the top 10 but that she was surprised at getting the highest score.

“I was here late when I heard and we were just so happy,” she said.

The ASU Prep Poly STEM Academy campus includes both an elementary and middle school. The K-4 elementary school earned the top percentage and an A grade, while the sixth- through eighth-grade middle school earned a B.

The ASU Prep Poly STEM High School, also on the ASU Polytechnic campus, also earned an A. The schools are part of the ASU Prep network, which was launched in 2008 and educates 2,000 K-12 students at four locations: Mesa, downtown Phoenix, Tempe and Casa Grande. The network recently merged with an existing charter school and in fall 2018 will open ASU Prep South Phoenix - PCA. In 2017, ASU Prep Digital was launched to provide online education.

Mendoza attributed her students’ proficiency to the Cambridge curriculum, an internationally benchmarked set of lessons that focuses on developing critical thinking skills and applying knowledge to real life through collaboration. All of the ASU Prep schools use it.

“A big part of Cambridge is that they’re asking students for more than being able to answer the question. We’re not worried about memorizing the algorithm in math or the rules in reading just to memorize them. We ask them to apply them,” she said.

“With the Cambridge curriculum in kindergarten, first and second grade, it’s teaching them to think and not just settle for even the way the teacher is telling them to solve it.”

This year, more than 50 eighth-graders are taking accelerated math and earning high school credit, she said.

The school was recently certified as a STEM academy by AdvancED, undergoing a rigorous process showing how it incorporates science, technology, engineering and math into everyday instruction. For example, the school showed how kindergarteners created a supply chain to set up a lemonade stand.

Mendoza, who received a master’s degree from ASU, came to the school six years ago, when it only went to fourth grade and had 13 teachers and 230 students. Now, there are 730 students in K-8 with 37 teachers, plus eight student teachers from the Mary Lou Fulton Teachers College.

“Hopefully we can have some celebrations soon,” she said.

Top photo: Kindergarteners Ryan Parsons (right) and Jaxyn Geyer (left) place blocks on graph paper, as teammate Leila Wilhelmi watches at the ASU Prep Poly STEM Academy. Their project involved basic coding, as they set up a maze and then ran a bot motor through it. Photo by Charlie Leight/ASU Now

Mary Beth Faller

Reporter , ASU Now