New Visions Has A New Leader

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Andy Towle/Roundup - atowle@payson.com

Gary Hampsch

Three directors, one on-campus drug bust and falling graduation rates have made for a rough year at New Visions Academy, formerly Star Valley Charter School. But with a new principal at the helm, Gary Hampsch, things are looking up for students and the school.

Hampsch said despite the school’s recent problems, New Visions is changing its image in the community. “People see we are a positive contributor to society,” Hampsch said. “We are providing effective citizens to the community.”

The two-room, two-teacher schoolhouse, at the end of a cul-de-sac in the Knolls, is a little out of the way, but its remote location makes for the perfect place for at-risk students to learn and take the steps to complete high school.

Hampsch brings with him a world of knowledge — literally.

He spent eight years as a Russian translator in the Air Force, ran a company for nine years in Japan and visited more than 30 countries. Most recently, he worked at Paradise Valley Community College, HighTech Institute in Phoenix and the Payson Education Center.

“Working in different cultures and environments helps me deal with different needs,” Hampsch said.

And the 30 students at New Visions have needs, including learning disabilities, behavioral issues and pregnancies.

Hampsch admits dealing with so many issues poses a challenge.

“But I felt with my experience at Payson Education Center, as a manager, and my heart for these kids, I could be successful,” Hampsch said. “My goal is to provide a safe environment despite the problems these kids have.”

Teacher Jimmy Fitt said the school is often the last stop for failing students. If a student drops behind in regular high school, most schools cannot accommodate them. New Visions accepts all students, regardless of skill level or demographic.

“Each student has an individual plan to meet the graduation requirements,” Hampsch said. “They work at their own pace and we provide individual tutoring.”

Students easily follow the AGS student-paced curriculum, which allows for an accelerated program of study leading to graduation.

Students select a packet on a school subject from a filing cabinet and complete it.

When a packet is complete, they grab a new one and continue until they have completed all the packets needed to graduate.

The program works well for some students, whose progress is evident by a chart posted in the corner of the schoolhouse. Other students lag behind with only one or two packets completed.

Students meet four days a week, from 7:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m., with Friday being a catch-up day.

The center recently added four new computers, which Hampsch said students love.

The school, with its small population, has struggled to meet federal standards.

New Visions failed to meet federal standards set by No Child Left Behind. The benchmarks, known as Adequate Yearly Progress, are pass/fail measures that judge schools’ successes from Arizona’s Instrument to Measure Standards test, attendance and graduation rates.

Hampsch said at a small school like New Visions, it is easy to score poorly on the federal statistics if even one student falls behind.

“There are 60 ways to fail AYP,” he said. “If we have three seniors and one does not graduate, we fail. Just one can destroy our results.”

One failing student was the least of the school’s problems when in early February police arrested site administrator Russell Koch on multiple drug charges.

An individual in police custody said Koch was possibly using and possessing methamphetamine.

After a year-long investigation, police arrested Koch on school grounds, but out of the sight of classrooms and students 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.

Koch pleaded guilty to a single count of possession of a dangerous drug. He was sentenced to three years probation, 90 days in jail, with credit for 44 days already served, and 360 days of community service. Koch must also undergo substance abuse screening and treatment.

Shortly after Koch’s arrest, Leonard Bustos became interim site administrator in March until a permanent replacement could be found. Dr. Jim Houston stepped in as permanent site director and instructor, but resigned after only a few weeks.

“He resigned three weeks after starting because it was not a good fit,” Hampsch said. “I think he was expecting something different when he started and he was not prepared.”

Hampsch said despite recent controversies, the students have adapted well.

“I have been amazed with them, they bounced right back through it,” Hampsch said. “It was a distraction when Koch was arrested, but they’re on track now.”

The school has open enrollment. For information on the school, call (928) 468-1401 or e-mail NewVisionsAcad@aol.com.

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