After more than a month without a principal, as of Monday, March 17, Leonard Bustos assumed the position of interim site administrator at the Star Valley Charter School for grades 7-12 until a permanent replacement for the former principal can be found.
The 40-student school probably will not have a permanent principal until the beginning of the 2008-2009 school year.
Officials with New Visions Academy Inc. and the school said they are proceeding cautiously in their search for a new site administrator.
After the Feb. 11 arrest of then-site administrator Russell Koch on multiple drug charges, the school began looking for a replacement, but so far has not found one.
Koch was arrested after Payson Police received tips from concerned citizens about possible drug activity at the school.
He was arrested on school grounds, but out of the sight of classrooms and students and on Feb. 13, Gila County Attorney Daisy Flores filed charges against Koch for possession of dangerous drugs (methamphetamine), possession of marijuana, possession of drug paraphernalia, illegal drug offenses in a Drug-Free School Zone and failure to report illegal drug offenses in a Drug-Free School Zone.
As of Tuesday morning, March 18, Koch was still in the Globe jail.
New Visions Academy Inc. school governing board member Ann Shaw said it has been difficult to find the right person for the job due to the unique character of charter school students and the school itself.
Shaw looked over several resumes and next week, a prospective principal will come to Payson for an interview.
"I have spoken with several applicants in the last month, most of them already under contract at other districts, but we are taking our time and trying to find someone who has the qualifications to teach the four core subject areas and be successful given the special needs of the schools students," Shaw said.
She said New Visions is looking to create a system of checks and balances with future administrators to try and keep anything like what happened with Koch from recurring.
She said the staff at the Star Valley Charter School has collectively performed Koch's duties since his arrest and that because it is the last quarter of the 2007-2008 school year she is not too worried about immediately finding a replacement.
Shaw said the interim principal would begin helping staff and students get back to as normal a schedule as possible this week.
"The kids here have unique needs that students in traditional schools don't," said Shaw. "We need to find someone who can help motivate them to want to be successful so they can become productive, positive additions to the community."
Shaw said she is aware the school has a checkered reputation, but she said it is an essential need of the community and she wants it to stay open and succeed.
"I know some parents in the immediate community would be relieved to simply see us go away, but that would leave the kids at this type of school with few options for getting an education," she said.
She said that closing the school would be a mistake because the students, who are typically at-risk in relation to traditional schools, would likely have to go to charter schools in other districts or possibly drop out.
"We need to provide these in-need young people with an education that will allow them to go on to the next level and move on with the rest of their lives in a productive way," Shaw said.
She said the school is looking at possible schedule changes that would keep students on campus all day next year to accommodate resident concerns about students leaving campus for lunch and at unusual times.
"We want to work with the community to find a way to continue educating at-risk students," she said.
"We can't stop all the problems, but we can and do impose consequences."
As far as getting the school back to a semi-normal schedule, Shaw said it has been difficult.
"Payson Police confiscated all of the school's computers following Mr. Koch's arrest because they said they might contain information they needed," said Shaw.
She said police had to send the computers to Tucson to have the hard drives copied and it took three weeks to get them back.
The problem was that the computers had all of the school's attendance and grade records on them and without the data to submit to the state department of education, they almost didn't receive their normal monthly funding.
She said Payson Police went out of their way to get the computers back to the school as soon as possible and that with their help, she uploaded the data to the state office in time.
"I e-mailed them today (Monday) and they told me they received the data and we are back online," she said.