The principal who built the Payson Center for Success into one of the most successful alternative schools in the state will take over the leadership reigns at Rim Country Middle School.
At the school board's regularly scheduled May 23, Monica Nitzsche was named the RCMS principal replacing Frank Larby who resigned May 2 after serving seven years as head of the school.
The morning following her appointment, Nitzsche and newly appointed district administrator Sue Myers met with the RCMS faculty to discuss the future of the school.
"I told them how excited I was to be going to the middle school," Nitzsche said. "And I let them know it was the school I really wanted to be at even though it's sad leaving PCS."
Her goal will be to pull together a faculty that has been known to be fragmented by dissension under the leadership of Larby.
"I want us to be the best team ever," Nitzsche said. "I truly believe by working together we can become the best."
Nitsche said another goal is also to improve the public image of the school that has suffered in recent years despite been named one of only two "highly performing" schools in Gila County.
Veteran teacher Michelle Gibbar was among those who were happy with Nitzsche's appointment.
"I believe we all think she is a good choice," Gibbar said. "It's an absolute blessing for us."
Nitzsche's tenure in the district dates to 1996 when she was hired by former superintendent Russ Kinzer and curriculum coordinator Roy Sandoval to serve as principal of the newly formed PCS.
"She has been a topnotch principal," Sandoval said. "She is the heart and soul of Payson Center for Success."
Sandoval remembers how difficult it was to lure Nitzsche out of her teaching position in Tucson to help lay the foundation for PCS.
"She was reluctant at first," he said. "She was concerned because the school had no history and we really didn't know what its future was."
Since taking over the charter school, however, Nitzsche has molded it into a viable alternative for students who don't fit into the high school mainstream.
Under Nitzsche, PCS has built a reputation for its commitment to introducing students to new technology. Students at PCS has their own computer and are taught how to use most of the software found in the workplace.
In January 1999, PCS was honored by the Arizona State Board for Charter Schools as one of the top 35 schools for "Quality Education" as reported in a parent satisfaction survey.
Since that first award, PCS has continued to be highly ranked in all parent satisfaction surveys.
Among the challenges Nitzsche will face at RCMS is overseeing a student body and faculty much larger than PCS.
At PCS, she had a staff of five teachers. The RCMS faculty includes more than 40 teachers and 10 classified employees. PCS enrollment is about 50 students. More than 620 students attend RCMS.
"That (larger faculty and student body) is one of the challenges I'm looking forward to taking on," Nitzsche said.
Nitzsche's selection caps whirlwind administrative changes in the district stirred by the May 5 resignation of superintendent Herb Weissenfels. Following his resignation, which is effective June 30, the board appointed high school principal Sue Myers district administrator. After June 30, Myers will serve one year as the district's superintendent.
Sandoval, the Payson Elementary School principal, was tapped to replace Myers at PHS.
Payson High special education teacher Will Dunman, who has no administrative experience and received his certification just last week, is the new PES principal.
According to Myers, Nitzsche's replacement at PCS has not yet been chosen.