Payson School District Aiming Higher

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Laboring under a new state funding formula that's put money for new classrooms out of reach for a few years, Payson school officials developed a clever way last year to free up classroom space.

School officials expanded the Payson Unified School District's modest business office on Wade Lane and moved district business employees who were working across campus at Payson High School into the new offices.

That freed up several much-needed classrooms at the high school, which is nearly at student capacity.

Aiming higher

School officials also worked to boost the quality of education that's being taught in Payson classrooms.

"This is the first year we've had curriculum guides in place," Payson School Superintendent Herb Weissenfels said. "Any school district needs a scope and sequence curriculum guide. Ours was aligned with the state's standards, put together by Bill Lawson and several teachers.

"A great amount of work has been done to examine our entire curriculum in response to the challenge of the AIMS test."

AIMS, Arizona's Instrument to Measure Standards, is a new series of elementary, middle school and high school learning standards. Students are now required to pass a high school AIMS test to graduate from high school.

The state is considering a number of proposals that would provide students with opportunities to pass the state's new standards, Weissenfels said.

A sample test given to high school sophomores last spring showed that students across the state were unprepared to meet the standards the State Board of Education has set for reading, writing and math.

This year's sophomores will take the test this spring as the first group of students who must pass the test to earn a high school diploma. They will have yearly opportunities to retake any section of the test they fail.

"One proposal the state has is to provide Saturday opportunities for students to develop skills that will enable them to pass the AIMS test," Weissenfels said. "I'm reasonably sure it's going to be approved.

"Another thing they're going to do this spring is give all eighth-graders and freshmen the opportunity to write an essay and have it graded just like it will be on the AIMS."

Weissenfels said the pretest will give teachers the opportunity to help students bolster their weakest subjects.

"Depending on what they need," he said, "they'll have to take extra reading, writing or math until they're able to pass the AIMS test."

The district will guarantee every student the chance to master all of the subjects on the AIMS test, Weissenfels said.

"That is our objective for making all these curriculum changes," he said. "That's our part. Students will have to do their part, and parents will have to accept responsibility for their student's achievement.

"It's not just the responsibility of the school. It's the whole team."

But the district already has a good start, the superintendent said. Every school in the district rated average or above average last year on the Stanford 9 Academic Achievement test, which measures student academic growth.

Field of dreams

Outside the classroom, district officials plan to spend $175,000 to renovate the high school's football stadium.

The district raised the money through the state's Credit for Kids program, which allows tax payers to donate up to $200 of their tax liability to public schools. Tax payers have donated nearly $262,000 to Payson schools since the program went into effect two years ago.

A committee is exploring stadium improvement options, such as adding cement bleachers, expanding the concession stand and on-site restrooms, and installing an all-weather track.

"We're really excited about the possibility of moving this ahead," Weissenfels said. "It's been in the works at least eight years. The big difference is, thanks to Credit for Kids, we finally have some money to work with."

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