School To Consider Closed Campus

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The PUSD school board has directed Payson High School principal Phil Gille to develop a plan to close that campus for the board's consideration.

Various board members favor the move to combat several problems related to or exacerbated by an open campus.

"As I stated that evening, I have three major areas of concern," board president Viki Holmes said. "That was the absent and tardy rates that were occurring (following the lunch hour), the substance abuse that's going on like smoking, and the people coming onto campus who don't belong."

Gille, who is opposed to the idea in principle, presented the pros and cons of such a move at the January board meeting held last week.

The PHS principal, who supervised the closing of the Arcadia High School campus in the Valley, said the key is to close the campus in a positive rather than a negative environment.

"At Arcadia, it was a very negative experience," Gille said. "I actually had a mini-van assigned to me, and I would go out at lunch and pick up kids who had snuck out."

Gille said another negative would be the cost of installing a fence around the perimeter of the sprawling campus and of hiring security guards.

"To do it effectively, there's probably no way around the fence and the guards," Gille said. "But the positive side of that is that as an administrator, it gives you a lot more control."

Another negative aspect, Gille said, is that the school's dropout rate will probably increase when the campus is closed -- at least initially.

"It's the bottom 10 percent of students who can't follow rules and we find them crawling over or under fences, getting in and out all different ways," he said. "They get suspended more, and more of them tend to drop out."

Gille also said that a closed campus would put more of a burden on teachers and staff who would draw extra duty checking bathrooms and other places where students who can't leave campus might be smoking.

He also noted the common complaint from local merchants, especially fast food proprietors, that they need the business from students to stay open.

"Some of the local people say they struggle to keep their doors open, especially in the winter," he said.

Another related concern is the lack of a cafeteria adequate to feed 800-plus students.

"I realize that we don't have a large enough cafeteria, even with the one that we're currently building," Holmes said. "I think it's just something they need to research to see if they can do it better than to have all 800 students leaving the place at the same time."

She suggested a staggered lunch hour as a possible alternative.

One board member suggested, as an option, looking into ways to bring fast food fare onto campus during the lunch hour.

But Gille said his primary concern is that a closed campus would punish the good students who make responsible decisions. Part of a high school's responsibility, he believes, is to give young people the opportunities they need to grow and mature.

"The biggest negative is that a lot of young men and women are making really good decisions, and they're (going to be) put into a negative environment. They're going to feel like school is more of a prison."

That was exactly the word that freshman Shawn Christensen used to express his reaction to closing the campus.

"If they put gates around, it will feel like a prison," he said.

Other PHS students were also opposed to the idea.

"I think closing the campus for everyone is extreme," senior Sarah Clifton said. "Sometimes kids who work use their lunch time to run errands."

"Nothing extreme has happened at our high school to warrant closing campus," senior Katie Christensen said. "Even if you do close campus, students are going to find a way to ditch and do the thing you are trying to prevent."

Junior Shea Hatch focused on the cost, and agreed with Gille that most students -- especially seniors -- are responsible enough not to abuse the privilege.

"Instead of spending the money to enforce (a closed campus), I feel they should invest the money in our classrooms," she said. "I would be irate if they closed campus my senior year. I believe that seniors are old enough and responsible enough to leave campus and make adult decisions."

Gille pledged to work with assistant principal Dan Maher to develop a program that rewards students who exhibit good behavior and who have good attendance and tardy records by allowing them to leave campus at lunch.

He recalled a policy in place when he came to PHS 14 years ago whereby students with perfect attendance were excused from taking final exams.

"We had nearly perfect attendance at PHS, and we haven't been able to find an incentive as effective since," Gille said. "But if we do this right, getting off campus might just be one."

Holmes agreed.

"I don't want it to turn this into a Gestapo, or anything like that," she said. "That's not what I'm looking for, and that's why I want them to really research it and do it together as a site."

Gille said he'd report back to the board at either the Feb. 10 or March 3 board meeting.

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