While Payson Unified School Superintendent Herb Weissenfels is satisfied with the district's accomplishments, he remains focused on the future.
"We're very happy with the job we've done, but we think it can be better, and we'll continue to work to make it better," Weissenfels said.
The district enters the second year of operation under a modified calendar that shortens the summer recess by two weeks and adjusts some holiday breaks to allow two-week recesses after each nine-week quarter.
Weissenfels believes that new federal and state legislation will have a dramatic impact on education.
"The No Child Left Behind Act, Arizona Learns and Arizona Reads those three things are going to start producing significant changes in the educational system," he said.
The first piece of the federal No Child Left Behind legislation took effect Jan. 8, requiring all school aides to have either two years of college or an associate's degree.
"The changes will be good because they increase accountability, and they increase the demand to treat every child's needs as an individual," Weissenfels said. "They're not as worried about whether the school failed as whether the student succeeded. That's a 180 degree difference and I applaud it. Let's put the focus on succeeding with the kids."
Of course, getting sufficient funding from a state legislature that is notorious for putting education on the back burner is always a challenge. PUSD's budget, approved July 8, is up just slightly over last year to about $16.5 million, reflecting a 2-percent increase in state funds mandated by Proposition 301.
"As far as spending the extra money, we again tried to improve salaries and we had higher health insurance costs," he said. "That pretty much ate it up."
Modified calendar working
The modified calendar was, for the most part, well accepted in its first year of operation, but fine-tuning is still a possibility especially in one area.
"This has been the shortest summer we've had," Weissenfels said. "Even I feel it, and I work all summer. The teachers I've talked to haven't complained, but they have noticed. It remains to be seen what kind of an impact that will have on the teachers and kids.
"Other than that, about 92 percent of all the people we've surveyed liked (the modified calendar). Now that we've finished the pilot year, the modified calendar is considered the norm, but that doesn't mean it can't be tweaked."
14 new teachers hired
The district has added 14 new teachers for the 2002-03 school year, most of whom are replacing teachers who retired or moved away. PUSD has a total of 168 teachers.
The teacher shortage that began about five years ago continues, Weissenfels said, especially in the area of special education. The district has two special education openings it has so far been unable to fill.
Weissenfels expects the student count to be flat this year.
"It will be very close to last year," he said. "Our high school numbers are up, especially the ninth grade, but our middle school and elementaries will be down."
Individual school highlights
Individual highlights from PUSD schools include:
Frontier Elementary School
A new principal, Gail Gorry, at Frontier Elementary replacing Sue Myers who retired.
"She's got some big shoes to fill, but I think she'll do an excellent job down there," Weissenfels said.
Julia Randall Elementary School
A new image at Julia Randall Elementary where second year principal Ardyth Potter is expected to continue working on the perception held by some that JRE is the least attractive and least effective of the district's three elementary schools.
"She made some great gains down there last year in the areas of morale and public perception, and the rejuvenated parent teacher organization was a very positive addition," Weissenfels said.
Payson Elementary School
The introduction of phonics-based reading programs at Payson Elementary School and JRE. Spalding Phonics, the program being introduced at PES, is a systematic approach to reading originally developed back in the 1950s.
"These are pilot programs designed to make successful readers by the third grade," Weissenfels said. "If a child can't read when he gets to high school, chances are he's going to drop out, and that has to be addressed."
Rim Country Middle School
Turning Rim Country Middle School back into a school after it was used as an evacuation center for some 800 people fleeing the Rodeo-Chediski Fire.
"The Red Cross paid for a maintenance/cleaning crew to come in and totally redo the school," Weissenfels said. "They also had us calculate the costs to the district for food, utilities, wear and tear, and submit a bill. They, along with the Forest Service, are paying for it."
Tim Fruth, formerly a business teacher at PHS, has been appointed an assistant principal at RCMS. Former assistant principal Bill Bowling is moving over to PHS to teach Spanish.
Payson High School
Tougher attendance policies at Payson High School.
"We're mandating greater parent-administration discussion over a child's attendance," Weissenfels said. "It tightens down the amount of time kids can miss school. We hope this will make a dent in the dropout rate. You can't learn if you're not sitting there."
At the same time, PHS teachers are being challenged to provide sound educational experiences in their classrooms every day.
"It's a two-sided sword of responsibility to make sure the kids go home a little richer every day," Weissenfels said.
District-wide emphasis will also be placed on teacher modeling of the six pillars of character that comprise the Character Counts program. The pillars are trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring and citizenship.
"How can we model it for kids if we don't live it ourselves," Weissenfels said. "We are educators, and there's an image we should uphold."