The Payson School Board on Jan. 27 agreed to temporarily relieve crowding by splitting second-grade classes between Payson Elementary School (PES) and Julia Randall Elementary School (JRE), settling a debate that has gone on for months.
All five board members accepted interim superintendent Johnny Ketchem’s proposal to divide the second grade, but all said this represented a temporary solution. A committee supervised by the new permanent superintendent will need to find a long-term solution said Ketchem, hired recently to get the district through to the end of this school year.
Highway 260 would form the dividing line to determine which school a given second-grader would attend.
“Next step, establish a committee ... to set goals and establish a date (for completion),” said Ketchem.
Although it seemed that Ketchem pulled the solution out of his magic hat a scant two weeks into his tenure, he gave credit to the principals of PES, JRE and Rim Country Middle School who met for weeks prior to him coming on board.
The board had earlier balked at then-superintendent Ron Hitchcock’s suggestion to spend most of the money gained from the sale of Frontier Elementary School to add four classrooms to PES to accommodate a surge in enrollment in kindergarten and first grade. The board also balked at a subsequent suggestion to move the second grade to JRE and the fifth grade to the middle school.
Ketchem said the principals and their committees of parents and teachers had three goals: What’s best for students? What’s least disruptive to parents and faculty? What is least costly?
The interim superintendent went through the progression of reasons used to reach the decision. Ketchem said the extremely unpopular suggestion to move the fifth grade students to the middle school was not something anyone had an interest in doing. Past board meetings had seen numerous parents making public comments against the move.
“Most of the parents did not want to have fifth-graders going to middle school,” he said, “(Besides) moving the fifth grade is a short-term solution. We would have moved all those kids and teachers ... and we didn’t think that was best for parents, students or teachers.”
Ketchem said once again eliminating half-day kindergarten would not serve the parents or students.
At a past school board meeting, a majority of the kindergarten teachers showed up to fight for all-day kindergarten, based on curriculum demands and state standards that require all students to read by the third grade.
Ketchem said the principals and their committees looked at moving one whole grade to JRE, but that school site simply did not have enough room.
He also said the committees and principals looked at bringing in modular buildings, but he does not believe in those types of buildings.
“Temporary buildings become permanent buildings,” he said.
Then Ketchem explained how the students would be divided. He said the committee looked at how many first grade students lived north of 260 and how many south. They discovered the split would be about equal.
“If we moved today we would have 100 at JRE and 100 at PES,” said Ketchem.
The committee still needs to fine tune the student populations with Gisela, Whispering Pines and Mesa del included, but Ketchem said all that would be done before the new school year.
Ketchem did say that because PUSD is an open enrollment school, parents might ask if their child may attend one school or another.
If a family has a third grade student at JRE and second grade student at PES because of the 260 north-south split, they may petition to have their children in the same school.
Board member Shirley Dye said “that would allow brothers and sisters going to the same school.”
Jim Quinlan appreciated the solution, but wanted to make sure the community knows PUSD has plenty of capacity for its students.
“What I want to emphasize is that we do have enough room with our facilities,” he said, “We have enough space for another 1,000 students.”