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Why We Celebrate School Successes When Education Seems to Be Going to Hell

Mesquite Elementary School

Grades 3-5 | Tucson, AZ

David Markus

Former Editorial Director of Edutopia; dad of 4 (3 kids in public school)
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When the prospects for education seem bleak and when new waves of school budget cuts and finger pointing at teachers and their union reps seem to fill the airways, it feels odd -- even uncomfortable -- to be focused on what's succeeding in education. It's a little like hailing the miner who manages to claw his way out of the collapsed mine shaft while his coworkers remain trapped inside.

But we can't stop illuminating what's working, just as we can't stop fighting to get all schools at least the minimum they need for a shot at success. How we define success may vary -- building 21st-century learning skills, closing the achievement gap, reinventing the learning process. But the tonic effect of success on teachers does not change. Everywhere we go, we hear it: There is no greater reward than knowing you have enhanced a child's chances of succeeding in life. And it is nothing short of amazing what educators will do to propel their students forward. This month's Schools That Work installment features Mesquite Elementary School, in Tucson, Arizona, and offers an eloquent case in point.

Mesquite stands on the bottom rung of the budgetary ladder. It is located near the desert community of Vail, one of the lowest-resourced districts in southern Arizona, where statewide per pupil spending is the second lowest in the nation. And yet Vail, with Mesquite as its beacon, boasts the state's highest academic success and is the state's top performing district, according to Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal.

The reasons are many, but none is more impactful than the school's instructional strategy, called "Reteach and Enrich." Developed and perfected by a savvy band of teachers and administrators, Reteach and Enrich has ensured that every student receives differentiated instruction and the opportunity to learn every lesson at the pace he or she needs to master it.

The key to this method is creating the time for extra instruction. Every day at Mesquite, there is a half-hour set aside specifically to review or enhance the previous week's curricular objectives. (To learn more about how Reteach and Enrich works, watch our video and read the article.)

The effects have been transformative. The performance at all grade levels has increased. And fifth graders, who have been in the program the longest, have seen their scores on the state standards math test increase from 61 percent of students meeting or exceeding the standards to 94 percent.

With those kinds of results, it didn't take long for Vail District superintendent Calvin Baker to see to it that Reteach and Enrich was implemented district wide. District scores for middle school and high school students (measured in grades 8 and 10, respectively) have shot through the roof, increasing 300 percent.

See the Mesquite success story and key factors that made it happen. Comment on this video, download, and more

For all it has done to improve learning, Reteach and Enrich can't stop the destructive impact of the worsening economy and the rancor that has come with it. Mesquite has had to let four teachers go: an art specialist as well as a P.E., advanced math, and regular classroom teacher. In addition, class sizes have gone up, teacher prep time has been reduced, and Vail teachers and district staff have not received a raise since 2009. Educators at Mesquite have developed some pretty good tactics for softening some of the budgetary blows. But even a local ballot measure to sustain school funding in this, the highest-performing district in the state, failed last year when antitax advocates mobilized to oppose it. The measure is up for another hotly contested vote this November.

With all that said, the educators at Mesquite Elementary are feeling the wind at their backs and are going forward knowing they have achieved something no budget cutter can eliminate -- and no overheated politician can diminish or ignore. They have moved the needle for their children, making good on why they became teachers in the first place.

Is there something each of us can do to move the needle in our school or district, something we can craft with the collective skills and savvy in our immediate midst? I am guessing the answer is yes, and I'm guessing many of you are doing it already. And if not, perhaps now is the time.

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David Markus

Former Editorial Director of Edutopia; dad of 4 (3 kids in public school)

Comments (8) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

nicole's picture

I am pretty intrigued with the Reteach Enrich program that the Mequite Elementary school implemented into their school. I love how they still found a positive to bring into the school even though several teachers were let go and the economy is still plummetting. The video helped me see the collaboration that teachers are doing in order to make a difference in the students' achievements and to further each of their skills no matter what level the studen may be at. Teachers must work together and help one another strive on their strengths in order to have such a positive, encouraging outcome. As shown, test scores have gone up and the teachers are all on board at this school. It would help for more school systems to mirror this Arizona based one. Moving slower and that extra time allottment for review makes a huge difference when assessing students' knowledge and reinforcement with a particular concept will help them grow.

Tabitha's picture

I love the idea of Reteach and Enrich! I wonder how we could implement it in the the NYC school system that is struggling to stay afloat. We are losing so many teachers and they expect more from everyone at the same time. The other hard part is getting everyone on board and I love that your school has everyone working together for the greater good of your students.

Andre's picture
K-5 Science Teacher from NC

That sounds like a pretty good program. What does it consist of?

T. Walker's picture
T. Walker
3rd grade teacher

The Reteach Enrich program sounds similar to our Instructional Focus but with a lot more structure. Our goal is to identify traditionally weak standards and provide intervention prior to students falling behind. The issue is that we need proven intervention strategies and time set aside to implement them.

Heather H's picture
Heather H
Elementary Teacher in low-income school

Reteach & Enrich sounds like a wonderful program that encourages student learning. It is essential that we celebrate student success, even in times of school "failure", because if students are discouraged their education will continue to suffer. It's easier to work when you feel like you can do something than when you feel you can't. Reteach & Enrich seems like an extremely effective type of differentiated instruction, providing students the opportunities to learn and develop.
In my school, teachers shared responsibilities with a type of reteach and enrich...when teaching lessons, students that were falling behind and in need of reteaching were grouped with one teacher, students who were excelling and in need of enrichment with another. This provided the students an opportunity to learn and grow in an environment catered to them. Each time groups were moved, the "reteach" teacher and the "enrich" teacher would be different so that students never felt they were the "dumb ones" or the "smart ones". This concept makes differentiation and reteach/enrich type teaching more manageable.

Michelle's picture

I too am very interested in this program. From what I have read and watched via video so far it sounds very well put together! It just goes to show you that no matter how much or how little you have, if you work together great things can happen! Keep up the good work Mequite Elementary!

Shelby's picture
Science Teacher

This was great. I am going to show it to my principal in hopes we could find a way to implement this at my school.

Mariko Nobori's picture
Mariko Nobori
Former Managing Editor and Producer, Edutopia

Hi Andre - Thanks for your interest! You can learn more about how Mesquite implements their Reteach and Enrich program in our video ( and article ( If you have specific questions, feel free to post them and we'll find out the answers for you.

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