In her first meeting with the Payson School Board, soon-to-be Payson High School (PHS) Principal Anna Van Zile on Monday faced a board skeptical of her proposal to shuffle duties to create a new position to showcase the importance of an athletic director.
Van Zile suggested the board not fill her vacated post as vice principal for a year. Instead, she wants to shift duties to hire a full-time athletic director who would share a portion of her workload.
Van Zile said she could for one year take on the lion’s share of the principal and vice principal duties if the proposed athletic director could handle some discipline and attendance responsibilities, even if lacking the administrative credential required of a vice principal.
The district could then add a vice principal next year, bringing the administrative team back to three full-time people — as it was before layoffs started nearly three years ago.
“I’m trying to show the community how really important that position (athletic director) is,” Van Zile said in an interview after the meeting.
During the meeting she said, “A strong athletic director with a permanent presence (on campus) can be a catalyst for the school.”
However, Van Zile told the board the district will need to hire an assistant principal the following year to deal with the rapidly rising state-mandated administrative duties.
The school board tabled her idea, but will take it up again at its May 29 meeting.
After her presentation, board members expressed reservations.
“I have been here 13 years,” said Rory Huff, school board member, “This is the fifth athletic director we’ve had. In my 13 years, we’ve had eight football coaches. We’re always patching things and not going solid. Consistency is what builds programs or schools and we’re not getting that. It’s basically a one-year position. We’re not looking to the future — we’re putting a patch on the whole program. We’re going to have to get a full-time assistant principal at some point.”
Van Zile did agreed the high school will need a vice principal, but said the delay could save some money and improve student services.
Board member Kim Pound rejected her suggestion outright. “I have some serious concerns. First of all we have a dual principal that doesn’t have any principal experience that’s taking on a very bold move and I have some problems eliminating that assistant principal position,” said Pound. “I can’t support it, I’m telling you right now.”
Van Zile reminded the board that during her first year as assistant principal, Kathe Ketchem operated as principal of both the high school and Payson’s Center for Success (PCS), an alternative charter school. That often left Van Zile as the only credentialed administrator on the high school campus.
“I’m grateful to (retiring Principal) Kathe (Ketchem) for working with me. Kathe trained and involved me in almost every aspect of the high school operation.”
Currently, the district has slated three positions for the high school — principal, assistant principal and athletic director/teacher.
However, Van Zile would like to remove the athletic director’s teaching responsibilities.
Van Zile said she believes the high school’s extracurricular activities play just as important a role as the academics.
“I really think that the athletic director has the impact to touch every aspect of school life and that’s the part we’ve lost touch with,” said Van Zile.
She said the athletic director’s position had been slighted. She feels the position has significantly more importance since the high school changed its eligibility.
The new eligibility policy states students must have passing grades each week in each subject to attend any off campus activity, including field trips, sports, music and drama.
Van Zile also feels the athletic director can market the school’s activities and “promote our programs through public relations with the community and the media and by using the Web site.”
This past school year, PHS athletic director and PCS lead teacher Gary Fishel split his time between the two campuses. In an interview after Monday’s meeting, he said administration had approached him to work at the high school as both the athletic director and a teacher, but now he will have to wait to see what the board will decide. “I’m leaving (PCS),” he said. “We talked about me going to Payson High School as athletic director and teaching a couple of courses.”
Fishel currently has not received a contract from the district. If the board decides to support Van Zile’s proposal, Fishel could suffer the same fate as middle school counselor and high school football coach Byron Quinlan, whose counselor position was eliminated. Quinlan decided to leave the district when offered a special education teacher slot instead.
The board had concerns over the quality of academics if the district focused on an athletic director position.
“Couple of concerns I have,” said Chairwoman Barbara Underwood, “I do agree it needs to be a position with a principal’s certification so that they could help in whatever you do and have an administrator on duty ... (while) I appreciate your efforts to save money ... I still think we need to focus more on the vice principal to be clear with academics.”
“The last thing I’m going to do is start focusing on athletics and drop everything else,” said Van Zile in reference to her commitment to academics.
Currently, the vice principal makes about $60,000 annually, plus about 30 percent overhead for benefits. In theory, Van Zile’s suggestion could save the district $80,000, depending on any extra money spent on a stipend for the athletic director or whether the district hired someone new to replace the person shifted into that position.
In an interview after the meeting, Van Zile said she envisioned paying the new athletic director/dean of students “a teacher’s salary and extend it out over 12 months.” However, the paperwork that came with the board agenda indicated the new position would be paid at the vice principal level.
Van Zile told the board she would not have moved forward with the idea of delaying the hiring of a vice principal if the high school staff had not supported her suggestion. She reported she polled the staff and gave the results to the board — 10 voted no, 27 voted yes, and five voted yes if the position combined the duties of athletic director and vice principal.
However, Van Zile insisted the shift would be temporary.
Van Zile warned heavy administrative responsibilities loom for PHS in school year 2014-15, which will require hiring another staff member with administrative certification. The challenges start with the Arizona Legislature’s bill HB 2832, which in the 2014-15 school year will require administrators to observe teachers in two different lessons then give feedback within 10 days.
The board agreed the high school needs another administrator, but they struggled with not hiring one for a year and agree the district will not be able to afford three full-time administrators.
“With budget cuts, I don’t see us going back to three full-time administrators at the high school in the near future,” said Underwood.