With Phoenix teetering in and out of the ranking for 5th largest U.S. city, it’s easy for everything in Arizona to feel very “Maricopa-centric.” One of our privileges at A for Arizona is traveling across the state to find the best schools where tenacious leaders are demanding – and getting – excellence in student achievement. As it turns out, Arizona’s highest performing schools can be found in some pretty surprising places. That’s because success or failure isn’t a foregone conclusion determined by location or student demographics.

After visiting with school leaders in Tucson this week, we were reminded of the dramatic gains and successes happening south of the Gila. Our ‘A’ leaders in southern Arizona are raising the bar and they deserve serious accolades!

While there’s been a lot of buzz around the first batch of AzMERIT scores, there were some real standouts from southern Arizona. It was there we saw a slew of schools that far and away exceeded the state pass rate averages in Math and English Language Arts for not only all students but also the predominant low-income student populations they serve.

For example, students at the Academy of Math & Science South in Tucson had pass rates in Math and ELA nearly double that of the state averages. Happily, this included their low-income population qualifying for free and reduced lunch. In Tucson Unified School District, Drachman Montessori Magnet – a National Blue Ribbon School – showed similar successes with 58 and 53 percent pass rates in Math and ELA for all students, with their free and reduced lunch student populations’ pass rates in Math and ELA more than doubling the state averages at 56 and 50 percent.

Other ‘A’ schools that exceeded the state pass rate averages in all of these categories included TUSD’s Annie Kellond Elementary School, TUSD’s Carrillo Intermediate Magnet, Flowing Wells’ J. Robert Hendricks ElementaryPresidio SchoolSonoran Science-Broadway, and Math & Science Success Academy.

It’s not just in state test results where we are seeing southern Arizona school success. TUSD made College Board’s AP Honor Roll for increasing AP course work while simultaneously increasing the percentage of students earning scores of 3 or higher on AP exams. And, for students enrolled in 2 or more CTE courses, they are seeing a 98 percent graduate rate, which is drastically above the state average.

These outcomes are not accidental. They are the result of driven, exceptional leadership paired with high expectations and an undeterred pursuit of excellence for every student. At A for Arizona, it’s our pleasure to toot the horn of Arizona’s ‘A’ schools. Today we’re tooting for Tucson – where high achieving schools are demonstrating why it’s a great place to get an education.