School Chief’S Laid-Off Spouse Hired Back

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Just one person applied for the new, grant-funded Spanish teacher position at Payson High School — laid-off teacher Priscilla O’Brien.

Priscilla O’Brien applied three weeks after the district posted the opening, according to Superintendent Casey O’Brien. The two are married.

The new Spanish section, to start this week, allows freshmen to take foreign language in addition to the other grades.

Cutbacks had squeezed the youngest students out of Spanish.

However, this year’s freshman class has a Gear Up grant following them until they graduate. The money aims to increase the number of students who attend college, and four-year colleges require two years of foreign language.

“A big part of the Gear Up program is making sure that we are offering academically challenging curricula to prepare students for college entrance,” said Gear Up coordinator Kristi Ford. The grant, which also pays Ford’s salary, began when this year’s freshmen were seventh-graders.

The class will take place during so-called Zero Hour, at 7:30 a.m. before normal school starts.

The high school has struggled to maintain its class offerings this year despite fewer staff members and fewer class periods. The school day switched to six, 60-minute class periods from eight shorter periods to satisfy Northern Arizona Vocational Institute of Technology (NAVIT) requirements.

District officials have said the longer class periods allow for more teaching time, but the change has complicated scheduling since many teachers were laid off in April. With fewer staff, the high school can’t offer as many electives as leaders would like.

Since freshman will again have access to foreign language classes, they won’t have to choose between Spanish or a vocational class like culinary arts during their senior and junior years, Ford said.

Casey O’Brien said Priscilla’s salary dropped once re-hired because she is teaching fewer classes. She will make about $2,700 for this school year.

The Gear Up grant is administered through Eastern Arizona College, and Payson will receive $180,000 over six years. The money has also helped pay for academic programs during school breaks.

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