Payson High School (PHS) Principal Brian Mabb has two goals for the high school and its students:
1) Inspire students to stay in Payson to work, live and raise families.
2) Create a school the community can proudly support.
Mabb hopes to use community alliances, support programs, scheduling changes, parent help, flipped classrooms, project-based learning and community service projects to reach those goals.
“We have to ask, ‘What is the end goal for our students projecting five to 10 years out (from graduation)?’” said Mabb.
The number of classes the school can fit into the day imposes limits on students.
Those limitations have gotten more serious with the state Legislature’s requirement that all students finish four years of English, math and science, three years of social studies, a year of physical education and a year of fine art. That’s increasingly difficult to fit into a six-period day.
The Arizona Department of Education payments largely determine the length of the high school day and classes offered.
Two years ago, the Payson Unified School District (PUSD) had to return $210,000 to the Department of Education because it had some classes that lasted less than 60 minutes to allow time for reading enrichment and a “catch up on homework” class. (see: http:// www.paysonroundup.com/news/2012/jun/27/schools-out-210000/).
In response, PUSD made sure all classes at the middle and high school lasted at least an hour, which limited the number of class periods in a day.
Instead of the seven class periods the schools used to have, they now have six, which has started to crowd out many of the Career-Technical Education and extracurricular courses from the schedule.
Students in culinary vocational classes and band, must choose between the two by the time they reach their junior year. The six-period day therefore sharply limits electives.
However, colleges and universities look for diverse backgrounds — and vocational classes can offer non-college-bound students career options.
Mabb said, “Scheduling is an issue. A six-hour traditional day may not be servicing all our students.”
His prior high school in Paradise Valley used a modified block schedule. For instance, a student can take up to eight classes with longer sessions every other day. The first week, four classes would meet on Monday, Wednesday and Friday and four others would meet on Tuesday and Thursday. The next week, the schedule would flip.
Mabb said the four-class day gives students more time to participate in each class, which would last 90 minutes instead of an hour. It also gives teachers more time to prepare.
“They would teach three classes in a day and have an hour-and-a-half prep during the day,” said Mabb.
Other block schedules limit classes to one semester instead of the full school year, which also allows for more electives.
“But the AP (Advanced Placement) courses offer a challenge since the AP exam is not given until the spring,” said Mabb.
The principal also said the school could plan classes for the hour before school, often called zero period.
Success with flipped classrooms and project-based learning
Mabb also wants to explore some of the new education techniques, such as flipped classrooms, because he knows PHS has to change to keep up with reforms.
“There has been a shift in education,” he said. “We’ve started asking, what are we educating for? It’s no longer for one specific job, it’s how to adapt to change and inspire a life of continuous learning.”
Flipped classrooms mix in-class lectures with video and Web-based lectures and lessons students can study at home or in the computer lab. That frees up class time for one-one-one help for students and more questions.
The concept for the flipped classroom started with two teachers from Colorado — Jonathan Bergman and Aaron Sams. The two recorded lectures on PowerPoint software for students who missed class.
The teachers found that students started sharing these recorded lectures with their friends who had not missed class. They decided to record their lectures so they could reserve class time for exercises, questions, and projects to reinforce the lectures.
The results have been astonishing, Mabb said.
At Clintondale High School near Detroit, before the school adopted flipped classrooms 50 percent of freshmen failed English and 44 percent failed math. After flipping, only 19 percent failed English and 13 percent failed math.
“How do we lift the bar?” said Mabb. “We continue professional development for teachers so they can grow and give them tools to do inquiry-based instruction and project-based education to encourage student engagement.”
Mabb applauds the district’s adoption of Beyond Textbooks, but also recognizes he has budgetary and time limits.
“My goal is to live within my means,” he said. “A flexible timeline, respecting students’ needs, teacher availability and finances will influence changes.”
Reinvesting in Payson
“I believe in Payson,” said Mabb. “I would like our graduates to come back and reinvest in Payson.”
Mabb envisions Payson graduates working in town government, running the water, sewer and road departments, working in the Forest Service or in the police or fire departments and helping community service organizations.
He has already started making connections.
Mabb met with town officials.
“I met with Mayor Evans and asked him to work on an advisory committee,” said Mabb.
He has met with Gila Community College Dean Pam Butterfield to create more dual enrollment and relevant classes for PHS students.
He also wants to add a community service component to the PHS students’ curriculum.
“I hope to develop a relationship with our community,” said Mabb. “Our students are noble and wanting to do community service, such as working with homebound individuals, Habitat for Humanity and Meals On Wheels.”
And he hopes to reach out to parents.
“I’m looking at putting together a special advisory council with teachers, students, administrators and parents,” said Mabb. “There are a lot of pieces and I don’t want to overwhelm.”
He said the group would help decide where the community would like the school to go and offer ideas on how to get there.
The long term
“When I was doing research on why we (PHS) do the things we do, it became clear that often they say, ‘That’s the way we do things,’” said Mabb. “There has been a lot of change and it’s got to be gradual and incremental ... It takes three years to implement changes and five years to see a difference.”
Mabb hopes he can stay for the long haul and see how great PHS can become.