I suppose it's possible that Mesa Public Schools have the finest civic engagement programs in the state, and that's why its schools make up 17 of the 31 schools recognized by the Arizona Department of Education for their "Dedication to High Quality Civic Engagement." Maybe Mesa schools are that good.
Or maybe their schools' most stellar achievement in civic engagement is engaging with the ADE by turning in applications to receive the honor.
(Two schools in southern Arizona were among those recognized, both in Tucson: TUSD's Safford K-8 School and the Paulo Freire Freedom School University charter school.)
Ex-Superintendent John Huppenthal instituted the program and handed out its first recognitions in 2013. That year 28 schools applied and 22 were recognized. In 2014, 31 schools applied and 27 were recognized. When Diane Douglas took over, she ended the tradition of including the number of schools that applied, so I don't know if she continued the tradition of accepting all but a handful of applicants.
Since 2014, Mesa schools captured at least half the awards each year.
The application isn't especially long or detailed. It asks schools to estimate the percentage of teachers who engage in civic education with their students in ten categories, then asks for a brief explanation of the nature of the engagement. A panel goes over the applications and decides if they make the cut. If so, they are designated Schools of Merit, Schools of Distinction or Schools of Excellence.
Civic engagement for students is important, and it's a nice idea to recognize standout schools, but this honor bestowed on schools by the ADE is meaningless. It gives schools the opportunity to hang a banner in the halls and brag in a newsletter, but that's pretty much it. Apply and you shall likely receive, the ADE signals schools, so long as you're generous in your estimation of the percentage of your teachers whose students are civically engaged.
This is Superintendent Kathy Hoffman's first year and the deadline for the civic engagement application ended before she took office, so she gets a pass on this one. I recommend she takes a look at the six year old program and either figure out a way to make it mean something or choose to opt out of the self parody her two predecessors indulged in.