With the appointment of Devin Wala to the Payson Unified School District (PUSD) board, Gila County Superintendent Linda O’Dell has completed the cast of characters that will lead the district for the next two years.
Wala had run for the board in the election this past fall, along with eight other candidates, but he had come in seventh.
“As a parent, (of currently enrolled students) I am the only one directly representing the customers of the school,” said Wala.
O’Dell said nine candidates applied. After an extensive application and interview process, she and Associate Superintendent Richard Vierling and Assistant Victoria Sanchez agreed on Wala.
“I’m grateful for all nine of these people going through the process,” she said. “It was not an easy decision.”
She and her staff created a rating system for the 12 questions the candidates all answered. O’Dell was surprised how in sync she and her staff were in their choices.
“Interestingly, we agreed on the top four candidates,” she said.
But Wala’s point of view and answers got him the casting call.
He rounds out the lineup of board members James Quinlan, Shirley Dye, Rory Huff and Barbara Underwood. Each has their own constituency and point of view.
The veteran board president Underwood represents Rim Country grandparents, is the parent of a teacher, and has put her children through the district. Currently, she has grandchildren at all of the schools in the district and volunteers in all of their classes. She generally insists on hearing all points of view, even if it means delaying a decision. She is currently starting her second term in office.
Huff is the unofficial historian, with a long memory for policy decisions. In the midst of his third tenure on the board, he has been on the board the longest. Often when contentious issues like the school calendar arise, he offers the perspective from past discussions. “Every year the school calendar question comes up, it’s a long discussion and no one ends up happy,” Huff said at a past board meeting, “so we might as well pass this.”
Dye has proclaimed herself a representative of the people paying taxes to the school.
“I’ve been hired to be a skeptic,” she said. She has served as the vice president of the Payson Tea Party and now sits on the Northern Gila County Sanitary District board as well as the PUSD board. When budget discussions come up, she asks the most questions.
Quinlan overtly represents the teachers. Although a retired public school teacher who teaches English at Gila Community College, his wife works as a science teacher for the middle school. His son also works at the middle school as a history teacher. Quinlan has spent over three decades in teaching. He used to head up the English department at Payson High School (PHS) and now heads up the community college English department.
When he worked for PUSD, he was a coach. During discussions regarding coaching, Quinlan often speaks up from the voice of experience. In the meetings Quinlan has attended, he has asked pointed questions that show his understanding of the issues behind the scenes. “I’d like to see a committee put together to find the good things about the CTP (Career Training Preparation) class,” he said to PHS Principal Anna Van Zile when she described the Tuesday class she started this year to satisfy new state graduation requirements. Teachers and students have had trouble understanding the purpose of the new class and have privately relayed their concerns to Quinlan.
Wala, as the parent of current students slips into the role left open by former school board member Matt Van Camp, who also has a child in the district.
Wala’s background is in technology. He worked at numerous software development companies before moving to Payson to start a mountain bike shop. When a lightning strike ended that venture, he moved into managing property and volunteering for the school.
Wala and his wife Laurel joined with a group of parents and teachers to create the Payson Association of Advanced Learners (PAAL) to bring enrichment activities to students.
Each year, the organization plans a weeklong trip to destinations from Washington, D.C. to study the country’s history, to San Diego for a marine biology trip.
This March, a group of parents, students and teachers will head off to New York to experience the culture and history of the East Coast.
PAAL also gives in-district grants to teachers such as Juli Davies who runs an after-school journalism class for Julia Randall Elementary children identified as GATE (gifted and talented). PAAL also pays for the testing materials to identify future GATE students.
Wala looks forward to giving feedback to the board on its goal of customer service.
“We’re (the Wala family) the ones getting direct phone calls and communication from the district,” he said. “So, I can address customer service directly. We have a lot of challenges, but I look forward to the opportunity to do a lot of good,” he said. “I think we have a wonderful cast of characters.”