About Sky Islands High School

Sky Islands was founded in 2008 as a unique academic program that emphasizes social, ecological, environmental, and place-based literacy. Students who enroll here join an academic community and are expected to take part in that community respectfully and apply themselves responsibly to academic work. Students should be prepared to be physically active in our field work projects and intellectually challenged in our classrooms. All Sky Islands’ students take a demanding sequence of core classes in math, science, social studies, and language arts. Our classes are aligned with Common Core and AZ State Standards, and integrated across the academic disciplines by grade level.

Expectations are high, but achievable, and students are held personally responsible for their levels of performance. Our students go on from here to a 4-year or 2-year college, into apprenticeships in the skilled trades, and directly into the workforce or military service. We encourage you to take part in a site visit and to realistically appraise your student’s needs and interests against Sky Islands’ practices and principles.

Meet Our Staff

Teacher resumes are available upon request.

J. Ron Hennings

head of school

Sky Islands is proud to have Ron Hennings as the new Head of School. Ron brings 44 years in public school administration, with 20 years as Superintendent of Schools in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Maryland, and Arizona. He has also served as Elementary Principal, High School Principal, Director of Curriculum and Instruction, and Assistant Superintendent, and is a licensed K-12 Principal and Superintendent.

Ron concurrently serves at Prescott College as the Coordinator of the M.Ed.-Principal Certification Program. Ron’s wife, Joy Graves, BSPH, BSN, MPH, is a Navajo Scholar and Indigenous Rights Advocate. Joy is the daughter of William McCabe, Original Marine Codetalker and Congressional Gold Medal recipient. Joy and Ron have raised sheep on the Colorado River Indian Reservation, and were a big part of securing sheep here on campus.

Karen Flores

office manager/registrar

Prior to joining joining Sky Islands, Karen Flores worked in the UA’s Department of Medicine finance office. Karen received her BSEd secondary education degree in history and social studies, summa cum laude, from NAU in 2006, and her MEd in Human Relations from NAU in 2012. She taught 7th grade social studies at TUSD’s Utterback Middle School, and was NAU’s Extended Campuses’ Program Coordinator for 8 years. In addition Karen provided administrative support at Christensen Elementary School in Flagstaff for 10 years, as well as admin support for the Greater Flagstaff Economic Council, the Coconino Engineering Company, and the City of Flagstaff.

In addition to Karen’s administrative background and secondary education certification, she is a 2008 graduate of the AGTS Supervisor’s Academy and the Intel Lean training program in 2014. Karen has also been a Literacy Volunteer tutor, and is trained in CPR, First Aid, and AED.

When not at Sky Islands, Karen’s life is filled with her three dogs and her family, including her grandchild in Flagstaff; with reading and gardening, cooking and listening to music as well as playing the flute.

Allie Silber

director of curriculum and instruction / science

Allie has been with Sky Islands since 2014, bringing a field studies component to our project-based science program as well as helping direct the restoration ecology projects. Allie has a BS from the University of Washington in Ecology and Evolutionary Biology, attended the Teton Science School in Wyoming, and has received her Master’s degree in Environmental Science from Prescott College. She has taught at the Academy of Math and Science in Tucson; Gann Academy in Massachusetts; and Aspen Community School in Santa Fe, where she created the school garden. In Seattle Allie helped coordinate the Dream Project among high school students and worked with the children’s garden— Seattle Tilth. Her experience extends to Israel, where she apprenticed at the Hava v’Adam Ecological Farm.

As a field science teacher, Allie provides a strong focus on site ecology, place-based and experiential coursework. She was responsible for coordinating the watershed project as part of the C2E grant award. Allie’s work in Santa Fe is presented in the book “It’s Our Garden: From Seeds to Harvest in a School Garden”. Allie is an avid hiker, rock climber, and camper and you could possibly run into her on a Tucson trail or, if lucky, backpacking across the United States!

Kortnee Schnell

business manager

Before coming to Sky Islands High School, Tucson native, Kortnee Schnell, most recently worked as program support/automated data processing applications coordinator for the Chief of Staff/Deputy Chief of Staff at the Southern Arizona VA Health Care System. Kortnee graduated from Northern AZ University in 2007 with a BSBA extended major in management. Outside of Sky Islands, Kortnee enjoys spending time outdoors with her husband, daughter (a graduate of Sky Islands and Valedictorian), and their four dogs.

Leighton Jeffy

language arts

Leighton Jeffy joined the Sky Islands’ staff in 2019. A native of Tulsa, Oklahoma, Leighton is a 2007 graduate of the University of Arizona, with a B.A. in English Literature and a B.A. in Creative Writing. In 2009 he received Secondary Education English Certification at Pima Community College. Most recently Leighton was the Language Arts teacher at The Rising School, where he taught composition and grammar, creative writing and literature, and literary and rhetorical analysis. He has also taught Language Arts at Satori Middle school and at BASIS Tucson, each for 4 years.

When not in the English classroom, Leighton travels – from age 17 on, he has spent over a decade living and traveling extensively in Egypt, India, South East Asia, and has spent time on a Kibbutz in Southern Israel. Those journeys make their way into his classroom and bring Language Arts alive with the peoples and stories of the world. Students can expect to take a creative part in a Poetry Potluck, a project-based approach to learning English, and a symbolic journey through literature.

Philip Dotts

social studies / language arts

Philip Dotts is a Tucson native and joined Sky Islands in 2022. He graduated from the University of Arizona in 2019 with a Bachelor of Science in Anthropology and a minor in Geoscience. Immediately after graduation he worked as an Archaeologist for a local firm before becoming an Educator for the Amphitheater Unified School District. He brings his experience with natural and cultural resources to his classroom as he emphasizes the human experience in his Social Studies and English classes. He also has experience in Theatre Arts and spent several years in his education working on a myriad of shows as a Technical Theater Technician.

As a history fan, Philip enjoys collecting mundane artifacts which give unique perspectives into the past, including an eclectic book collection and an assortment of antiques. When he is not in the classroom, he enjoys reading old science fiction novels, hiking on the gorgeous trails in the Tucson area, and searching second-hand stores for the next rare artifact for his collection.

david rollins

urban horticulture / watershed management

Sky Islands welcomed David Rollins in 2021 as the new urban horticulture teacher and watershed educator. He came to the Southwest to work as an AmeriCorps volunteer at the Tucson Village Farm, where he honed his understanding of dryland plants, community outreach, and water harvesting in the Sonoran desert. Pacific Northwest raised, David is a recent University of Oregon graduate. There he studied the intersections between anthropology, environmental sciences, and civic agriculture.

During his time in Eugene, he trained at the UO Urban Farm, led trail crews with the Northwest Youth Corps engaged in restoration management along along the Oregon Coast, co- taught gardening courses at the Laurel Valley Educational Farm. When not gardening, David is an avid cyclist, photographer, reader and forager of both the botanical and mycological realm.

Isabelle Hasman

culinary arts

Bio coming soon!

Elle Leon


Sky Islands welcomes Elle Leon to the team in 2022! A Southern Arizona native, Elle was born in Nogales, AZ, but moved to the Tucson downtown barrio to live with her great grandmother, where she learned to love the “Old Pueblito, cacti, creosote, and summer monsoons”!  Elle attended Cholla High School at the same time with UA Basketball great Sean Elliot, and then went on to receive her Bachelor’s in Fine Art at The University of Arizona, where she also won multiple awards in Studio Art + Visual Communication. She also has taken coursework towards a Master of Fine Arts at the Academy of Art University in San Francisco, as well as attended the prestigious FIDM (Fashion Institute of Design and Merchandising) school in Los Angeles, CA. She has her certification in Visual Communication from Pima Community College.

Elle has a long history of practicing her passions and crafts in Tucson as well. She opened La Fashionista- her own retro fashion and art gallery shop in downtown Tucson from 2013-2015, which was part of the first Tucson Fashion Week with Betsey Johnson at The Museum of Art. She also worked with students on three murals at the Quincie Douglas Library. She also practices graphic design and cosmetology in her ‘spare time’.

Rocio Xa Cervantes


Xa is a linguistic anthropologist with a deep interest in revitalization of native languages and early language acquisition. Xa received her Master of Anthropology degree from California State University, East Bay. She also holds a Bachelors in Psychology from the National Autonomous University of Mexico. Xa’s research focused on language acquisition in children, and the benefits of learning a second language, especially in migrant communities. She has identified how learning a second language has a positive impact on the cognitive development of teenagers and how the experience of speaking a second language supports the cognitive reserve. She also has worked with issues of identity and migration. In 2021, Xa published a trilingual children’s book (Spanish, English, and Nahuatl). 

our Vision for the future

The big picture for Rogers Commons is provided here, designed with the generous help of The Planning Center.

Local Partners

  • Tucson Cactus and Succulent Society
  • The Fairfax Companies
  • Desert Survivors Native Plant Nursery
  • Pivot Produce
  • Creative Slice
  • Living Streets Alliance
  • Tucson Clean and Beautiful
  • Live Theatre Workshop
  • Arizona Game and Fish Department
  • Tucson Audubon Society
  • Arizona Commission on the Arts
  • Ecogro
  • Internation Dark Sky Association
  • Tucson Disc Golf Association
  • Tucson Botanical Gardens
  • Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona
  • Rattlebox Farm
  • The Garden Kitchen
  • Sky Island Alliance
  • CEDO Intercultural


We know that your phones are important to you, but we also know that if you keep your phone you will talk/text on that and pay less attention to other people. Here we value your time with us and with other students, so we need you to turn your phones in when you arrive at school. They will be kept safe and you will get them back at the end of day. No one here will use your phone or touch it while it is in our safekeeping. And you will find that you can have real conversations with people at school and get to know each other.

The mall isn’t far, that’s true. But when you’re here it might as well be on another planet. We do not have an open campus but do provide good lunches here in the Blue Sky Café as part of our culinary – or Farm-to-Kitchen program. We need you in class and if you are not, we’ll come find you. Just give us 9am to 3pm. And we’ll give you a good education.

Our location is very central and on major SunTran bus routes that cross Broadway and Wilmot. Many of our students come by city bus, some walk, and others are driven or drive themselves. We are not able to provide school transportation but we will help you with the bus routes and we always have bus fare if you need it. 

Well that depends on what you want your education to be. A smaller school will mean that your classes are smaller and you will have a better chance to learn at your own pace. You will be able to do things here that bigger schools don’t offer–for example, field trips are a big part of the program here as are hands-on activities and projects. We build things and grow things and take care of chickens. And we listen to you and try to pay attention to what you are interested in. 

Yes! Our graduation rate is very high–nearly 100% every year. We encourage our graduates to enroll at Pima so that they continue to have smaller classes and good teachers and lower tuition. After two years you will either have an Associate’s degree, a trade certificate, or an opportunity to transfer to a 4-year college and be ready for courses in your college major. Before becoming the Founder of Sky Islands, Dr. Shari Popen taught at the college and university level for 20 years, and we have designed your education here not only to prepare you to enter college but to do well and succeed on the path you take.

Sky Islands is fully accredited by WASC (Western Association of Schools and Colleges), a national accreditation organization. While it is not a requirement to graduate from an accredited school in order to get into college, we believe that you have a right to assurance that our program is recognized by educators nationally and that we are constantly working to build on and improve teaching and learning successes. Courses emphasize problem-solving and critical thinking, as well as collaboration and design thinking–all core criteria for success at work and in college. Not every school or program will give you an education–choose your high school carefully.


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Sky Islands is amazing because the curriculum is unlike anywhere else. It is a community that is always changing, and everyone is friendly. The teachers here are the best teachers I have had in my entire student career. I now look at the world differently than others.
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I feel that the school’s messages they communicate to the students are really eye-opening, from the food we eat to the advertisements shaping us, and that we as a community can change this. I’m happy to know I’m graduating as an individual rather than a teenager clone, which would be the case at other schools.
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When I first came to Sky Islands, I felt it was kind of weird because I wasn’t used to the whole idea of a school being a community, but more and more I came to the realization that this is how school should be.
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Community is a huge part of Sky Islands. This school has amazing teachers, they are all fantastic, and they have taught me so much. I used to hate math more than anything because I never understood it. Now it is my favorite subject.
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Sky Islands is a great place to be! Everyone is welcoming and everybody knows each other at our school. Throughout the year, we work on projects in and outside the classroom. We also learn about so many interesting topics that you don't learn about at other public schools.
Sky Islands Parent
Sky Islands ParentParent
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My daughter graduated from Sky Islands in 2020. She studied there for 4 years of High School and it was the best decision we ever made. The curriculum there allowed her to broadened her mind and approach to more greenery and sciences. She started out very shy and and introvert and graduated more outgoing and she really bloomed at High School there. I would always refer my friends to have their students attend high school for the simple fact that they will get the education needed to go to college plus special treatment and care for each and every student.