Principals Tackle School Crowding

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Principals Rob Varner, Will Dunman and Asa Hall met with many parents in the past month to hammer out ways to relieve overcrowding at Payson Elementary School.

They will present some recommendations on Monday, Dec. 9 at 5:30 p.m at the school board meeting.

Rob Varner, principal of Rim Country Middle School (RCMS), hosted a meeting for about 50 parents on Wednesday, Dec. 4, to present the ideas his scheduling and facilities committees prepared. Dunman met with parents on Thursday.

“All I did was the big picture thing,” said Varner. “What we really need is a long-term plan.”

The Payson School Board first balked at Superintendent Ron Hitchcock’s recommendation that the district spend nearly $1 million to add four classrooms to PES. Then it balked at another recommendation to free up space at Payson Elementary School by shifting the district’s third-graders from PES to Julia Randall Elementary. To make room, the district would then shift the fifth-graders from JRE to Rim Country Middle School.

However, some parents of fifth-graders objected to the shift and the board directed the district’s principals to hold a series of meetings and come up with a plan.

A facilities committee made up of parents and staff, decided the library wing of the middle school could house both fifth and sixth grades, effectively creating a school within a school.

Varner’s scheduling committee confirmed with transportation and middle school staff that the two grades could have separate start and end times that coincide with Julia Randall Elementary schedule.

The fifth- and sixth-graders could also have a separate lunch period, thus minimizing contact with the older students.

“The parents don’t want their fifth grade students mingling with eighth grade students,” he said.

Varner said these separate schedules are possible because the state requires fifth and sixth grade students to have 880 hours of seat time every year, while seventh and eighth grade students need to have 1,000 hours.

The facilities plan calls for minor modifications at RCMS.

Varner said he told the parents he has just as many worries as they do.

“I told them I have a fourth-grader too,” he said. “My agenda is making my school the best for my daughter.”

Superintendent Ron Hitchcock said the four school buildings in the district have plenty of capacity for students overall, even if a surge in the number of kindergartners and first-graders has caused serious overcrowding at PES. Students and resources just need to be allocated more efficiently. The high school and middle school in particular have empty classrooms.

Varner said that parents would support the district if whatever plan is adopted has long-term benefits, but he wants to do more research and carefully discuss all the options to clearly understand the district’s future needs.

The district has been bedeviled by this year’s unexpected overcrowding at PES thanks to its decision last year to sell Frontier Elementary School for $1.2 million to the Payson Christian School.

That resulted in shifting from a system with three K-5 elementary schools to a system put K-2 at PES, grades 3-5 at JRE, grades 6-8 at RCMS and grades 9-12 at the high school. It also resulted in a sharp increase in elementary school class sizes.

The struggle to cope with the influx of students into PES was complicated by the unexpected resignation of Superintendent Hitchcock, in part due to the breakdown in his relationship with the board the increasing number of split and postponed votes.

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