All four regular schools in the Payson Unified School District will get a new principal in a massive administrative shuffle announced this week as part of new Superintendent Ron Hitchcock’s bid to boost student test scores.
The current principals at the middle school and Julia Randall Elementary School will trade jobs and the district will seek new principals at the high school and Payson Elementary School. The district will also fill the empty vice principal slot at the high school, but do without a vice principal at the middle school.
The school board has also cut principal’s salary ranges while increasing the ranges for central district administrators and approved a new salary schedule that could for the first time in years mean raises for teachers who earn additional degrees and certifications.
However, the full impact of the reorganization and change in the salary schedule remains unclear, since the Legislature has not yet adopted a budget and the district doesn’t know how much it will have to spend.
The new salary schedule sharply cuts the number of positions considered “administrative,” although the just-announced reorganization will increase the number of credentialed employees not assigned to the classroom.
Rim Country Middle School Principal Rob Varner and Julia Randall Elementary School Principal Will Dunman will switch schools. They met with their new staffs on Thursday, the day after the changes were announced in an e-mail to school staff.
However, the district will seek a new principal for Payson High School after shifting Anna Van Zile into a newly created job as Student Achievement Team Leader, charged with helping teachers boost student scores. Ultimately, Hitchcock wants an “Achievement Team Leader” at each school site.
The district will also look for a vice principal at the high school, a position left vacant for the past year. That added administrative position is balanced by the elimination of the vice principal’s slot at the middle school.
Van Zile declined comment on the shift, although she said she had been notified earlier of the coming changes.
In addition, the district will look for a new principal at Payson Elementary School after Hitchcock shifted Donna Haught back to the classroom.
Haught could not be reached for comment.
Meanwhile, Lisa Evans, the high school psychologist, will replace retiring Special Education Director Barbara Fitzgerald as the new director of special education at the district office.
In the final shift announced this week, Rim Country Middle School Vice Principal Yvette Harp will fill the newly created position of Education and Career Action Plan (ECAP) coordinator for both the high school and middle school. Varner will operate without a vice principal next year at the middle school.
The scope of the changes stunned many teachers and parents.
Hitchcock didn’t specify how the district will pay for the two additional non-classroom positions at the high school, which he has added on top of two non-classroom positions at the district office. Hitchcock said the school board will have to come up with the money by “prioritizing” its budget decisions in the coming months.
In an overall staffing plan presented to the board at a recent retreat, Hitchcock presented a long-term plan to reduce average class sizes significantly despite a decline in staffing. His plan calls for class sizes of 20 to 24, depending on the school. He also wants a student achievement coordinator at each campus to work with teachers on ways to boost test scores.
Hitchcock also wants a volunteer coordinator at each campus to increase community involvement, which wouldn’t necessarily be a full-time district employee.
His plan calls for 25 teachers at the PES, 22 teachers at JRE, 24 teachers at RCMS and 35 teachers at the high school — plus three teachers at the Payson Center for Success, the alternative high school.
The plan would increase the student to full-time staff ratio from one staff member for each 8.4 students at present to one for each 9.2 students when the plan is fully implemented — which could take several years. Overall, the number of district employees would fall from 288 to 258, but Hitchcock said the number of teachers might actually increase.
In his presentation to the board, he stressed that the adoption of the staffing plan doesn’t mean the district will cut 30 positions immediately or even need to do any layoffs before the coming school year.
The district will now post openings for a principal at PHS and PES and an assistant principal at the high school.
“Staff has been moved to place the best people at the best position for their skill set,” said Superintendent Ron Hitchcock.
Hitchcock’s sweeping reorganization came just weeks after he created a new position of director of student achievement and filled it with Brenda Case. She’s charged with boosting student scores in the shadow of state and federal mandates that will link school funding and teacher evaluations to student performance on standardized tests.
Based on AIMS test scores, the state’s ranking system has given Rim Country Middle School a “D” and the district a “C” overall. That ranking comes despite a state auditor general’s report showing the district’s AIMS scores remain significantly higher than other comparable rural school districts.
The board also voted on sweeping changes to the salary schedule for administrative, certified (teachers), and hourly staff at its last meeting on Monday, April 15, after Hitchcock promised the changes wouldn’t result in a pay cut for any current employees who remain in the same jobs.
The board also voted to accept job descriptions for principals and vice principals. Case wrote the new job descriptions and is essentially functioning as the assistant district superintendent.
Although Van Zile, Haught and Harpe all used to fall under the administrative salary schedule, their jobs are now listed on the salary schedule with teachers.
As a result, Hitchcock said that despite the increase in credentialed employees not assigned to the classroom, the district’s administrative positions won’t increase. In fact, the administrative salary schedule shortened the list of employees considered administrative from 25 positions to 12 — although by and large their jobs didn’t change.
The salary ranges for the superintendent, directors of business services, special education, technology, and facilities increased, sometimes by $10,000.
For example, the superintendent’s salary range increased from a range of $85,000 to $105,000 to a range of $95,000 to $110,000.
The director of business services went from a range of $63,000 to $78,000 up to $73,000 to $88,000.
And the director of student achievement was added at a range of $79,000 to $94,000.
However, the pay ranges for the principal’s job actually decreased.
The high school principal salary went from a range of $73,000 to $86,000 down to $67,000 to $82,000.
The middle school principal salary range went from $67,000 to $81,000 to $64,000 to $79,000.
While the middle school vice-principal position was eliminated, the high school assistant principal will earn between $58,000 and $73,000, down from a previous salary range of $61,000 to $73,000.
For the teachers, the points attached to degrees and certifications changed. This should allow salaries for teachers that earn extra degrees and certificates to increase for the first time in five years.
On the other hand, the board could decide to again suspend the increases in the salary schedule once it gets figures from the state.
District salaries have remained frozen for the past four years due to annual state budget cuts in education funding. The Legislature has imposed the deepest cuts in education in the country since the onset of the recession, which came on top of the impact of the district’s declining enrollment.
Board president Barbara Underwood said she trusts what Hitchcock has done.
“We set a goal and trust that he will execute it to achieve it,” she said.