Desert Canyon Elementary School Named AEF® A+ School of Excellence®

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. (February 16, 2024) – The Arizona Educational Foundation® has named Scottsdale Unified School District’s Desert Canyon Elementary School as one of its 2024 A+ Schools of Excellence®.

The starting point of Scottsdale Unified’s optional Mandarin Dual Language Immersion (DLI) program, Desert Canyon is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year.

Principal Kim Mills says the school is all about community.  “We are proud of our inclusive, close-knit family and the robust support and engagement we receive from our community,” she says.  “We foster a sense of community and inclusivity as students from diverse linguistic backgrounds come together to learn, grow and become proficient in a second language.”

“It is heartwarming to witness the friendships and mutual respect that develop among them as they navigate the challenging, yet rewarding, Mandarin language acquisition journey,” Mills adds.  “Now, they are gaining an appreciation of the Chinese culture and language, but in our increasingly globalized world, they are also building skills that may benefit them later.”

Desert Canyon, located at 10203 E. McDowell Mountain Ranch Rd., Scottsdale, is home to nearly 500 preschool through fifth grade students.  The school prides itself on offering both a Mandarin path of study, as well as general instruction in English.  DLI students spend half of their school day studying subjects in Mandarin and the other half learning in English.  The DLI program continues across campus at Desert Canyon Middle School.  The schools’ feeder high school, Desert Mountain, offers standard, Honors and Advanced Placement courses of study in Mandarin, should students wish to pursue an Arizona Department of Education Seal of Biliteracy upon graduation.

Undertaking the process of becoming an A+ School of Excellence® is daunting and requires the close collaboration of teachers, parents and even students.  Schools put their practices and culture under a microscope to evaluate what’s working and where there is room for improvement.  The journey is illuminating and serves as a framework for improvement, regardless of whether A+ recognition is achieved.

A team of AEF judges toured Desert Canyon Elementary’s classrooms and campus last month, meeting with staff, parents and students.  They were impressed, with one judge writing, “Each group of stakeholders ‒ parents, students, and teachers ‒ ALL stated that Desert Canyon is a family.”

“Students are now teachers, parents are embraced and part of the Desert Canyon community, and the students appreciate the support of their teachers and the opportunity to learn the culture and language through the Mandarin Immersion program” the judge continued. “Desert Canyon prides itself on including all students and meeting each student where they are at.”

The judge concluded, “When we asked students to describe the school with one word, here are a few of the words we heard: family, unique, challenging, caring, respect, amazing, responsible, outstanding, engaging, loving, and dedicated.”

“We are immensely proud of our Desert Canyon Elementary School and all of the people who contribute to its success every day,” said Dr. Scott Menzel, Scottsdale Unified’s superintendent.  “To receive this distinction from the Arizona Educational Foundation is a testament to Mrs. Mills, her staff and DCES families.”

The A+ School of Excellence® designation is good for four years.  Schools must reapply to continue their A+ status.

A community celebration of Desert Canyon’s award is planned for the spring.  Scottsdale Unified’s Cherokee Elementary and Pueblo Elementary schools are also AEF® A+ Schools of Excellence®.

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About the Scottsdale Unified School District
With more than 21,000 students in 30 schools, the Scottsdale Unified School District (SUSD) has been a premier choice for pre-kindergarten through grade 12 public education for 127 years. Located northeast of metropolitan Phoenix, the District serves the educational needs of students and families in Phoenix, Paradise Valley, Fountain Hills, Tempe and Scottsdale. A highly experienced, professionally certified teaching staff fosters a diverse and rigorous educational environment that engages all students in world-class, future-focused learning. Offering gifted learning, special education, career and technical education, and a variety of athletics, arts and enrichment programs and clubs, SUSD provides the rich environment today’s students need to explore their interests, develop important social skills and grow into tomorrow’s leaders. For more information, visit and follow along on social media: Facebook: @ScottsdaleUSD, Twitter: @ScottsdaleUSD, Instagram: @ScottsdaleUnifiedSD, LinkedIn and YouTube.