Schools Strangling On State’S Red Tape

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Our schools are kicking, twisting and slowly dying at the end of a hangman’s noose of red tape. Both the state and federal governments have cinched the noose tight, then admonished the strangled schools not to twitch so much — it’ll upset the children.

Maybe you think we’re overstating the case.

If so, perhaps you can explain the Arizona Department of Education’s absurd insistence that the Payson Unified School District return $210,000 for middle school kids who last year attended Achieve Hour — an innovative local attempt to help struggling students.

The case highlights the ridiculous restrictions and niggling rules the state imposes, in a mindless and pinched effort to make sure that students get enough “seat time,” never mind what they actually need to learn.

The Achieve Hour grew out of detention sessions designed to ensure sullen students go as punishment to complete their homework. But a funny thing happened: Many kids sought out the extra session because they want to succeed, but have no quiet place to work with access to the Internet — and an adult to answer their questions.

Please note, 71 percent of Payson’s students now qualify for free and reduced school lunches based on family income. That includes a daunting 25 percent of the district’s enrollment who qualify as “homeless” — which means they’re living with friends or relatives or sometimes on the street. Needless to say, many of those kids don’t have a quiet, well-ordered place to do their homework with an adult to keep them from getting lost.

The district has been bragging on the results of instituting the Achieve Hour for the past two years. The Roundup has done stories about the results.

Still, the Achieve Hour seems like just the sort of innovative, flexible, problem-solving approach schools need to take to respond to the challenges students face.

But the Department of Education’s auditors — most of them accountants with no experience in the classroom — went after the Achieve Hour like army ants devouring a wounded butterfly. The state initially wanted the district to return nearly $450,000. Mind you, the state has already crippled the district with persistent cuts — including reductions that forced the district to increase elementary classroom sizes by about 20 percent.

The district spent months pleading its case, before agreeing to a settlement — on the theory that it’s better to let the ants eat one wing than to devour you completely. So now the district will have to cut programs by another $200,000 to return money it spent educating the children the state has increasingly abandoned.

So if you happen to pass by the state department of education’s gibbets and notice the Payson Unified School District swaying in the wind with a loop of red tape around its stretched neck — be sure to drop a little note to Arizona Superintendent of Public Instruction John Huppenthal and thank him for the object lesson in bureaucracy. Contact him at (602) 542-5460; 1535 W. Jefferson St. Bin #2, Phoenix, AZ 85007; adeinbox@azed.gov.

Just the hero we need

“Even the smallest person can change

the course of the future.”

— J.R.R. Tolkien

We have such a great need of heroes — especially in troubled times. And we have a special need of Hobbit-sized heroes, who give even the smallest among us the hope that we might rise to the occasion after all.

So we must take a moment to thank Bradley Mitchell for giving us hope as a result of his extraordinary actions.

Last December, the vehicle carrying Bradley, his two younger siblings and his mother ran off the highway just north of Payson and wound up in a crumpled heap on its roof. Bradley’s mother was ejected from the car — but Bradley and the younger kids were miraculously unhurt.

So Bradley climbed out of the car helped his two younger siblings to safety. Then he climbed up to the road and flagged down a car to get help. Then he went searching for his mother. He found her in a tangle of barbed wire, not breathing. So he administered CPR and saved her life. The arriving firemen didn’t discover this last bit until later, since Bradley didn’t think to brag on his actions.

In fact, he just got on with his life — although he’s been plagued by nightmares about the accident.

So the firefighters, who know a hero when they see one, decided to give Bradley a medal — hoping to help him with the memories and the trauma.

We can’t think of a better reason for a medal — and can’t think of a better person to get one than Bradley Mitchell — who is 10 and already an inspiration to us all.

So thank you, Bradley. You saved your family — and that’s the main thing. But you also saved our tattered faith in the innate heroism of people — even the smallest of them.

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