School Board Now Hiring Teachers

Resignations prompt district to start hiring weeks after layoffs

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With the ink on the layoff notices barely dry, the Payson Unified School District has shifted into hiring mode.

The PUSD School Board at a special meeting this week approved the hiring of veteran teacher Donna Haught to serve as principal of Payson Elementary School next year. Her promotion will set off a shuffle that will result in hiring a new teacher at the elementary school level, said Superintendent Casey O’Brien.

In addition, just weeks after approving the layoff of seven teachers, the board also approved new contracts for science teacher Andrew Fiala and math teacher Alison Bonas Nordquist.

The district was trying to find an additional math teacher even before the April 12 decision to lay off 16 employees on top of nine resignations. Administrators worried they wouldn’t be able to find a qualified math teacher since every district in the state is struggling to deal with the math class recently added to graduation requirements statewide.

The district also wound up needing an additional science teacher after one of the existing high school science teachers decided to retire shortly after the board approved the most recent layoffs on April 12. Fiala had taught in the district for one year previously and last year taught a grant-funded portion of an innovative building trades class in which the students did special projects like building energy efficient doghouses and building a solar water heater system.

O’Brien noted that the recently laid off teachers can apply for any open jobs, including the elementary school teaching slot that will open up as a result of Haught’s promotion. However, they won’t necessarily have priority over other, outside applicants, he added.

The state Legislature last year gutted the tenure and seniority system for teachers, banning school districts from even considering seniority when resorting to layoffs. Teachers in Payson don’t have a union or a bargaining unit and had no input into the layoff process.

The April layoffs included Carmelita Locke, a second-grade teacher with 23 years service to the district, Debbie Mercer, an elementary school teacher with 19 years service, Susan Kerr-Mellott, a special education teacher at the middle school and Doug Freeman, a kindergarten teacher.

The district also laid off six classified staff members and three other employees whose positions had been funded by short-term grants.

Haught, who has taught in the district for 25 years, will take over Payson Elementary School in the midst of wrenching changes. The board in April voted to close Frontier Elementary School and convert Payson Elementary School to a K-2 school. Julia Randall will next year harbor all the third-, fourth- and fifth-graders.

As a result, most of the elementary school students and teachers will next year be going to a new school, as parents scramble to deal with new principals and in many cases cope with the impact of having different children in different schools depending on grade level.

Superintendent O’Brien proposed the change since it will allow each school to even out the number of students in each class and promote more collaboration between teachers at the same grade level.

Meanwhile, Payson Elementary School Principal Will Dunman shifted to the middle school, after then-principal Gary Witherspoon resigned.

Haught last year worked as in a grant-funded position as the Response to Intervention (RTI) coordinator for Payson Elementary School. That federally funded program tested children repeatedly to identify kids having trouble mastering basic skills. The RTI coordinators then worked with the struggling students to make sure they caught up. District officials credit the fledgling program with significantly increasing scores for the affected students.

Haught has a master’s degree and an administrative certificate and a strong interest in science education, said O’Brien. The selection committee screened 13 applications and interviewed four finalists before selecting Haught for the open position.

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