The Transition Years: Theory of Change

If Helios facilitates the development of rigorous, high expectation academic environments

for all students within middle and high schools, then more Arizona and Florida graduates will be prepared for college and career, and pursue postsecondary education.

What We Know:

The transition between middle school to high school

Student transition from

middle school to high school

is a critical period along the education continuum.(1)

Arizona and Florida universities predict an annual shortfall of middle and high school teachers each year.

Research shows there is a widespread

shortage of qualified teachers,

especially in mathematics and science.(1)





require remediation

upon entry into college.(2)
65% of Florida fourth grade students are below proficient in reading.

of Arizona eighth graders

are below

proficient in math.(4)


of Florida eighth graders

are below

proficient in math and science.(5)

the challenge:

1. Lack of Student Preparedness

2. Poor performance in Core Content Areas

3. Inadequate teacher professional development

80% of jobs created in the next decade will require

math and science skills.(6)

The need for workers with technical expertise

will grow by 50% over the next 10 years.(7)

our focus:

1. Improve academic Rigor and Relevance

2. Create and sustain highly skilled teachers

3. Embed a College Going Culture

Our Perspective:

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Investing in STEM Leadership

Studies show that students who take Algebra II, Chemistry and Geometry are twice as likely to be prepared for postsecondary education success, and those who complete Physics are three times more prepared for that success.

Increasing STEM literacy - the understanding of scientific and mathematical concepts and processes - among all students also improves personal decision-making, cultivating higher order skills and knowledge and preparing students to think critically, problem-solve and innovate.

Yet in Arizona, 69 percent of eighth graders are below proficient in math and 77 percent are below proficient in science. Similarly, 72 percent of Florida eighth graders are below proficient in math and science.

Since 2007, Helios Education Foundation has invested in a robust pipeline of teachers and school administrators with strong leadership qualities and deep expertise in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM).

These investments, in Arizona and Florida, reflect the Foundation's commitment to developing rigorous academic environments in middle and high school, and its belief in the importance of taking a systematic approach to driving change.

STEM-rich environments, which use an interdisciplinary method to learning, remove traditional barriers and effectively integrate science, technology, engineering and math into real-world, relevant learning experiences for students. Implementing these rigorous academic environments requires the nurturing and support of highly skilled leaders.

Through its investments, Helios is working to deepen the expertise among education leaders and create a culture of STEM teaching and learning that will transcend the life of any single program, becoming part of a long-term educational process.

"While STEM is being emphasized more and more, it is still being taught in silos," said Dr. Stacy Carlson, Helios Education Foundation's Vice President and Program Director, Florida Transition Years. With a $471,000 investment in Project STEM over three years in partnership with the Council for Educational Change and Hillsborough County Public Schools, Carlson says that Helios "hopes to marry STEM content and deep leadership expertise to establish teams of school-based leaders in Hillsborough County that will serve as ambassadors for creating a new, school-wide approach to STEM instruction."

The initiative is helping build and support STEM leadership teams at 10 middle schools throughout Hillsborough County with plans to eventually touch all middle schools. The project began with a week-long summer leadership academy where school teams were immersed in leadership training, content knowledge training and planning for the program implementation at their schools. Over the course of the initiative, the school teams will participate together in Saturday professional development sessions, such as developing STEM leadership, effective STEM instructional practice, rigorous and relevant STEM curriculum and STEM pathways to postsecondary education and career.

In addition, school teams will be expected to develop individualized plans for their schools, including sharing best practices with other STEM teachers, increasing STEM curriculum rigor and relevance and strategies to increase parent and student STEM awareness.

As part of this effort, the school district has made a commitment to redesign their approach to teaching STEM by creating a STEM director position whose job it is to reengineer the often independent approach to teaching the STEM disciplines to a more interdisciplinary one.

"Just looking at STEM content knowledge or leadership skills alone will not change classroom instruction," Dr. Carlson added. "But helping teachers and school leaders build a strong knowledge base of skills in both areas through an integrated approach will lead to more significant, sustainable and effective changes more quickly."

In rural Pinal County, Arizona, just southeast of Phoenix, Helios is helping to develop STEM expertise among middle school math and science teachers through the Next Generation STEM Leaders program. This $846,000 initiative is helping teachers examine and understand how students learn science and math, by providing them relevant project based learning experiences. This initative is also supporting administrators, providing them with the skills and knowledge needed to become better prepared to support STEM teacher leaders.

Through these efforts, more teachers are becoming knowledgeable in inquiry-based teaching and learning and are able to demonstrate STEM content knowledge, pedagogy and problem solving skills.

Participants in this program are becoming change agents on their campuses, impacting education in multiple schools across Pinal County.

"Most often, if you ask someone about educational leadership, they think of school administrators," said Dr. Jo Anne Vasquez, Helios' Vice President and Program Director for Transition Years, Teacher and Curriculum Initiatives. "But the teacher leaders are the first line of any reform effort in schools. By coaching, mentoring and creating strong knowledgeable STEM teacher leaders we are ensuring that education reform becomes embedded in practice within the system."

Helios is also working to build a network of STEM education leaders in Arizona and Florida through its partnership with the National Science Education Leadership Association (NSELA). Through this initiative, 14 Arizona educators and 14 Florida educators participate each year in the NSELA Summer Leadership Institute where they are encouraged to take on key leadership roles in their schools in curriculum and teacher professional development. They are also receiving support, mentoring and coaching throughout the year from NSELA experts.

Through a series of focused investments in STEM education in Arizona and Florida, Helios is working to infuse education leaders with high-level skills helping build a system of educators that has the capacity to challenge students and more effectively prepare them for college and career success.

Our Perspective:

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Ready Now Yuma: A Demonstration of a Whole District Transformation

Helios Education Foundation and Yuma Union High School District (YUHSD) are in the first year of implementing a bold new initiative that is working to ensure every student in YUHSD graduates prepared to succeed in college and career. It's called Ready Now Yuma.

Under the strategic leadership of YUHSD Superintendent Toni Badone and her management team, the district is working to advance nearly 11,000 students across six high schools toward college and career readiness and success.

"Helios and YUHSD share a commitment to ensuring that every student regardless of past academic performance or post-high school aspirations is challenged, supported and prepared to succeed in college and career," says Superintendent Badone.

In some school settings, rigorous academic programs are offered only to the academically elite. But in Yuma, it's different.

Through Ready Now Yuma, every student in the district participates in the world-renowned Cambridge Curriculum, a rigorous, internationally-benchmarked program of study developed by the University of Cambridge and used by many of the world's highest academically performing countries. The Cambridge Curriculum is aligned with the Common Core State Standards and is designed to help students develop vital 21st Century skills.

Students graduating in Spring 2016 will be the first Ready Now Yuma class to have participated fully in this improved academic environment for their entire high school career. The initiative's goal is to have every student graduate and pursue postsecondary education without requiring remediation.

"In addition to ensuring every student participates in a highly rigorous academic environment," comments Paul J. Luna, President and CEO of Helios Education Foundation, "we are surrounding students with everything they need to not only succeed through high school, but to pursue, persist and achieve a postsecondary education, whether it be a license, degree or certificate."

Today, approximately 60 percent of Arizona's students require remediation upon entry into a two year college.(1) Recognizing this issue, Ready Now Yuma focuses on ensuring every student is academically challenged within core subjects such as math, science and language arts through the Cambridge program of study, Advanced Placement and accelerated coursework options. Students progress at their own pace in order to facilitate mastery of key content knowledge and critical thinking skills, and are supported in planning their path to postsecondary education success.

High bar assessments are integral to the teaching and learning processes used as part of the initiative. Students continue to take the state required AIMS test annually, but juniors also take the more rigorous ACT assessment and may opt to take curriculum-aligned board examinations.

Assessment data is then used by students, families and educators to identify appropriate student academic support, coursework and pathways. Currently, infrastructure and processes are being put in place within the district to make better use of the data, enabling administrators to identify pockets of success and areas in need of improvement.

According to James Sheldahl, Associate Superintendent for YUHSD, "Our goal is to use data as a tool to inform teaching and learning. We want to know exactly how our students are performing academically so that we can set stretch goals, further develop our teachers and counselors and align supports accordingly."

Many YUHSD teachers have participated in extensive professional development to assist them in implementing the Cambridge Curriculum and other academic supports. The Center for the Future of Arizona (CFA) is facilitating best practice sharing and coordinated teacher and counselor professional development through its Move On When Ready Learning Collaborative, of which YUHSD is a member.

CFA was also funded by Helios early in the partnership to work with YUHSD to develop the multi-year strategic action plan for Ready Now Yuma. The National Center on Education and the Economy, another partner of Helios and YUHSD, has provided additional professional development for YUHSD teachers this year.

"We are asking a lot from teachers as they transform the way they have been teaching for years," says Antonia Franco, Vice President and Program Director for Helios Education Foundation. "Through this initiative, teachers are focused on cultivating high demand skills in students such as problem-solving, critical thinking and creativity."

Ready Now Yuma Director Laura Campbell affirms that the initiative is challenging teachers by providing them with the opportunity to refine their craft, as well as creating new energy in YUHSD's high schools. Naturally, counselors are also integral to the success of Ready Now Yuma in preparing and supporting students for success.

As part of this effort, counselors really get to know students and their life ambitions, ensuring that students are meeting their academic goals and are on a path to college and career success. Some campuses also offer tutoring and afterschool labs to support struggling students and further challenge high performers.

Change Takes Persistence and Patience
Transforming an entire high school district takes time. Learning curves are high and putting theory into practice with teachers, counselors and students at all levels of readiness is difficult.

"Students are entering YUHSD at such varying degrees of academic preparedness for such a rigorous, high expectations program of study," shares Superintendent Badone. "It requires teachers to guide student learning and structure classroom time so that every student is challenged and progressing."

Studies estimate that two-thirds of future jobs will require some form of postsecondary education.(2) Currently, 67 percent of Yuma students matriculate to college, but less than 15 percent(3) earn a degree within six years compared to nearly 58 percent statewide.(4) Similar to their statewide peers, YUHSD students have a significant opportunity to improve their academic achievement.

In Arizona, the majority of students are performing below proficient in math, science and language arts. The same holds true in Yuma. Currently, only five percent of YUHSD graduates meet all four benchmarks (English, reading, mathematics and science) on the ACT exam, a widely accepted predictor of college and career readiness traditionally taken by high school seniors.(5)

Although alarmingly low, raising student academic performance is of statewide and national concern with only 20 percent of Arizona and 25 percent of U.S. students meeting all four benchmarks.(6) Helios and YUHSD would like to see these numbers improve significantly over time.

"In light of what we have learned so far, Helios and YUHSD are even more committed to seeing Ready Now Yuma through to full implementation and ultimately ensuring every student graduates prepared to succeed in college and career," says Barbara Ryan Thompson, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer at Helios. "The dedication of everyone working on this initiative is extremely inspiring and its success has the potential to be transformative for not only YUHSD's students, but also the Yuma community and our state."

Helios Education Foundation invested more than $4.5 million in the planning and implementation of Ready Now Yuma over five years and recognizes that there is significant work ahead. Through commitment and partnership, Ready Now Yuma is engaging students, teachers, counselors, administrators, parents, business leaders, nonprofit organizations and the entire Yuma community.

Ready Now Yuma's comprehensive approach is about preparing students to be college and career ready and ensuring they are prepared to compete and succeed in the globalized economy of the future.


  1. Complete College America (2011). Retrieved from //www.completecollege.org/docs/Arizona.pdf
  2. Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce (2012).
  3. Provided by Yuma Union High School District based on six years of graduate data.
  4. Complete College America (2011). Retrieved from //www.completecollege.org/docs/Arizona.pdf
  5. Provided by Yuma Union High School District based on 2012 graduate data.
  6. The Condition of College & Career Readiness (2012), ACT, Inc. Retrieved from //www.act.org/newsroom/2012/states/pdf/Arizona.pdf

Our Investments:

The Transition Years

In 2012, Helios invested over $11.255 million to improve academic rigor and relevance with an emphasis on STEM in Arizona and Florida.

Partner / Program Name

ACT / ACT-District Choice State Test
Continued funding of the ACT District Choice State Test in Arizona to provide school districts with data and tools to support the development of college- and career- ready students. Visit Website

$ 275,000

Arizona Community Foundation / Rodel Foundation, MacRo Program
Uses research-based components to raise math achievement of Arizona students in high-need and/or rural communities. Aligns all of its components to the Common Core State Standards for Mathematics. Visit Website

$ 415,000

Arizona State University / ASU - Spirit of Service Scholars
Encourages high school students to play an active role in creating a college-going culture within their schools and advances community leadership and public service opportunities for young students. Visit Website

$ 120,000

Center for the Future of Arizona / Education Innovation Collaborative
Establishes a sustainable structure where diverse schools learn about systemic educational change through shared experiences and ideas. Visit Website

$ 525,000

Council for Educational Change / Project STEM: Strong and Steady...Building Capacity for Student STEM Success through Excellence in Instructional Leadership
Creates and implements a Middle School Professional Development model for STEM instructional leaders. This grant will help participant school teams develop and practice successful STEM instructional leadership. Visit Website

$ 471,000

Gila County Education Service Agency / Arizona Rural Tri-County Education Initiative
Creation of an organizational model and implementation plan for effective professional development in rural counties by building capacity to use interactive technology-based applications. Visit Website

$ 1,274,000

Science Foundation Arizona / Developing the Arizona STEM Network and Implementing the Helios STEM School Pilot Project
Implementation of the Arizona STEM Network, including Knowledge Management, Helios STEM Schools Pilot and a suite of web-based tools for teachers and administrators. Visit Website

$ 4,050,000

University of South Florida Foundation / Robert Noyce Master Teacher Fellowship Program
Provides stipends to mathematics and science teachers to attend teacher development programs. These teachers will become Master Teacher Fellows and will be prepared to assume leadership roles within their schools or other high-needs district schools. Visit Website

$ 225,000

Yuma Union High School District / Ready Now Yuma
District-wide implementation of a high expectations, performance-based education model designed to graduate knowledgeable, highly skilled students academically prepared for success beyond high school. Visit Website

$ 3,900,000


Transition Years Statistical Reference Page

  1. Ingersoll, Richard M. and Perda, David, The Mathematics and Science Teacher Shortage: Fact or Myth, (March 2009), University of Pennsylvania,
  2. Remediation: Higher Education's Bridge to Nowhere, (2012), Complete College America,
    //www.completecollege.org/docs/CCA-Remediation-final.pdf and //www.completecollege.org/docs/CCA-Remediation-profiles.pdf
  3. The Nation's Report Card: 2011 State Snapshot, Florida: 4th Grade Reading, National Center for Education Statistics,

  4. The Nation's Report Card: 2011 State Snapshot, Arizona: 8th Grade Mathematics, National Center for Education Statistics (NCES),

  5. The Nation's Report Card: 2011 State Snapshot, Florida: 8th Grade Mathematics, National Center for Education Statistics (NCES),

  6. National Science Foundation, (2012),
    //www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind12/figures.htm and //www.naaweb.org/default.asp?contentID=643

  7. Occupational Outlook Handbook, (2010), U.S. Department of Labor, Bureau of Labor Statistics,
    //www.bls.gov/ooh/about/projections-overview.htm#educationandtraining and //www.bls.gov/ooh/About/Projections-Overview.htm

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Move on to Postsecondary Success
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