One year after Mike Clark took the lead as superintendent-principal of the Pine Strawberry School District a lot has changed -- for the better.
Clark took the job in September 2005 after years as the district superintendent at Pinon.
The first day at his desk, he was faced with a wall of decisions. The first, he had to examine whether or not to keep a multi-age classroom.
For years, second- and third-grade classes had been combined under one teacher.
"It was not a wise thing to do to keep the grade level combined because of the Arizona State Content Standards for (each) grade are extremely comprehensive and there are a lot of them," Clark said. Clark's feelings about the combined classroom grew when school started, and by September class sizes had grown to over 20 students. Teachers were struggling to manage the numbers.
"If you had eight or nine kids per grade level, one teacher could handle it," Clark said.
So Clark and the school's business manager, Mary Jo Licavoli, took a hard look at the budget.
Clark split the combined room and hired Jan Clark to take over the third grade. Her class has 15 students and the second grade class now has a dozen.
Clark has no plans to have any multi-age classrooms in the future.
In that hard look at the budget, Clark said he was able to do some internal adjustments.
Added to that was a "small school adjustment" from the state because the average daily student count was under 125.
"When a school district goes below 125 then the state allows you to budget what is required to provide services to the students," he said. "We don't have to go after a bond election. There is no increase in taxes for our taxpayers."
Eight students have since enrolled at the school.
Adjustments were made in music and computers, too.
"We brought in a computer technician who has a bachelor's of science in computer and information systems technology to assist teachers and students during lab time, so the program is still going strong," he said. "(The teacher) happens to be very good at showing kids how to do things on the computer."
Fifth-grade teacher Art Hood is also a fully certified music teacher. At 2:15 p.m. Monday, Wednesday and Friday, Hood conducts the band program.
The junior high band marched at the Arizona State Fair, at half-time during the football game at Payson High School and in a Payson parade last fall.
"Our band is alive and well," Clark said. "Music is being taught in the classroom. I do not have a separate teacher and I probably won't."
Also, because of the small school adjustment, Clark was able to give all teachers and staff members a 10 percent pay raise beginning with the 2006-2007 school year.
"Additionally, those staff members who were employed during the three pay freezes (that happened in the years before Clark became superintendent/principal) were able to pick up their normal step increase," he said.
Stipends were offered to special education, math, science and reading teachers as well.
The Pine Strawberry School District was 24 percent behind Payson Unified School District in salaries. With the raises they are still 10 to 12 percent behind, Clark said.
"I hope to come to parity with Payson salaries, but it is going to take several years to do that," he said.
"Enrollment is a function of the economics." Expected enrollment for next year is near 130.
A fact-finding commission has been sent out by the Legislature to study combining nonunified school districts (like Pine-Strawberry) with unified districts (like Payson). An initiative could appear on the November 2008 ballot.