Laid-Off Principals Led Top Performing Schools

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In an ironic twist, the Payson Unified School District’s two top performing schools according to the state AZ Learns achievement labels are the same two schools whose principals the school board laid off last spring.

Payson High School and Frontier Elementary School each ranked “Highly Performing” in performance labels recently released by the state.

Benchmarks range from “underperforming” to “excelling.” Julia Randall Elementary and Payson Elementary schools, along with Rim Country Middle School, each ranked “performing plus.”

“I don’t want to say leadership doesn’t matter,” said Superintendent Casey O’Brien. But, “it’s the work of the teachers in the classroom,” that make a school excel.

Each of the schools’ rankings stayed the same from the year before, except for JRE, which dropped one level from “highly performing” to “performing plus.”

A new, tougher math portion of the state’s standardized test may have impacted the achievement level of schools statewide.

This year, the Payson Center for Success ranked “performing.”

PCS, however, failed the federal Adequate Yearly Progress benchmark because it fell short of the required 80 percent graduation rate.

“Our mission is to take kids who are way behind for whatever reason,” said O’Brien about the alternative high school that educates students unsuccessful in a traditional high school. PCS students tend to graduate in five years, but the rankings count four-year graduation rates, he said.

O’Brien hoped that new federal guidelines would account for the alternative school’s non-traditional mission and not penalize it for failing traditional benchmarks.

Although the required graduation rate increased this year from 71 percent to 80 percent, PCS flunked last year too.

Now, it enters a so-called School Improvement Year 1 plan, and must come up with a plan to meet the benchmark, also setting aside money for professional development.

O’Brien said the school could receive money to help it improve graduation rates.

Statewide, 71 percent of schools made AYP, down 3 percent from last year.

The federal pass/fail benchmark gauges students on state standardized test scores and graduation rates.

On the state level, 12 percent of schools ranked “highly performing,” and 36 percent ranked “performing plus.”

AZ Learns evaluates schools based on standardized test scores, graduation rates, overall academic progress, and the reclassification of English Language Learners as fluent in English.

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