In May, Gila County Superintendent of Schools Linda O’Dell sadly closed the doors on the Payson Education Center (PEC), leaving around 50 students without a school.
PEC served high school students who could not or would not attend Payson High School (PHS).
Now the students, some from broken homes, others who made bad choices that got them kicked out of high school and some who may just need more one-on-one attention or a unique approach to learning, will face a review of their situation to see if they can fit into PHS.
“For students enrolled in PEC last year, we would have to review their situation to determine what options are available,” said Greg Wyman, the new Payson Unified School District (PUSD) superintendent. “We are looking for alternatives for the students that receive consequences that could result in their removal from school for more than 10 days. The two types of discipline consequences that might impact these students would be a long-term suspension (more than 10 days) or an expulsion (forever subject to an appeal).
Options have dwindled because PEC and Payson Virtual Academy (PVA), the online high school, closed due to budget constraints.
O’Dell’s website lists Payson Center for Success (PCS), New Vision Academy Star Valley School and the Payson Community Christian School as alternatives to PHS in Northern Gila County.
However PCS can’t take any of the PEC students since the state Legislature passed new laws on district-sponsored charter schools such as PCS. As a result, the school now has a cap of 65 students and a waiting list to get in.
Another option for students who do not fit into any of those schools, is statewide online schools such as Arizona Connections Academy, Primavera, Arizona Virtual Academy, Pinnacle Online Academy, or Mesa Distance Learning Academy.
All of these online charter schools are free, but students need a computer and Internet access.
Some students may not have the technology to attend these online schools, nor do they offer the one-on-one attention PEC alumni praised at their alumni night in late May.
“I never thought I would graduate ... I sat in that chair and worked on math for hours with Mr. Wade ... (he) would yell at me like I was his child,” said Amanda Petrie, a graduate of PEC.
Numerous other students present at the PEC alumni night agreed. Another thing the alumni agreed upon, they would not have graduated if they would have continued at PHS.
At the alumni night in May, O’Dell said she would work on a solution for those students left out in the cold because of the closing of PEC.
“We have prepared and mailed transcripts for all PEC students. We are processing withdrawals and requests for records as they come through. Students are taking a variety of paths to continue their education. I expect that Dr. Wyman and I will continue conversations about how to best meet the needs of students such as those who have attended PEC as we move ahead,” wrote O’Dell in an email.