Dennis Pirch never expected to change his title from testing administrator to disinfectant specialist, but COVID-19 has turned everything on its head — including the Gila County student testing center in Payson.

While other testing centers in northern Arizona have closed until August, the Payson center has remained open so students can take the tests they need to get a certification for a job or complete their GED.

To keep Payson’s center open, Pirch must now walk around with a bottle of spray disinfectant and paper towels.

“I spray down everything anyone touches,” he said as he spritzed the chair a client just vacated. He next sprayed the pen they used to sign the intake paperwork.

Clients must make an appointment to test. Pirch and other staff follow social distancing.

“All testing is eight feet apart,” said Pirch.

He also hands each test taker paper towels drenched in disinfectant to wipe down what they touch. Some use masks, others don’t.

Pirch works with former Payson High School business teacher Joe Parone. The two keep the center open in Payson, sometimes six days a week, including evenings.

Addison Yacko from Flagstaff couldn’t start her job as a middle school special education teacher until she finished certification testing.

“(The Flagstaff testing center) told me I couldn’t test until August,” she said.

Yacko just finished her degree in education from the Northern Arizona University. Since school starts in August, she panicked when the Flagstaff testing center wasn’t available. A quick search online pointed her to the Payson testing center.

“I told my mom, ‘I’m taking the two-hour drive twice just to be done,’” she said.

Gila County School Superintendent Roy Sandoval decided to keep the testing center open early on.

“We are service providers and have an obligation to taxpayers to do everything we can to continue those services,” he said, “Adult education is extremely important economically, as is job certification testing.”

The county testing centers not only provide testing for professionals like Yacko, they provide GED testing for those who never finished high school.

Sandoval credits his “outstanding staff” in Payson, Globe and San Carlos “who are willing to find ways and make things happen” for each testing center's smooth operations.

Testing is by appointment only.

The center setup allows for isolation between each person taking a test and the proctor.

Pirch has a wall between the test center and his computer monitor to ensure no one cheats.

Only a water bottle may go into the test center with the client.

Pirch has an intake protocol that ensures test takers follow the rules.

Some tests, such as those for a principal, can take up to four hours.

Others, such as Yacko’s certification, take two visits.

The testing center has a restroom Pirch diligently disinfects.

Pearson offers so many certification tests that even Pirch has no idea what the complete list offers. So far, he’s helped with education, construction and computer certifications.

Pirch suggests if a client needs a certification test to visit the Pearson website for more information.

But make an appointment sooner rather than later, as Yacko learned.

She had scheduled to take her two tests on consecutive Wednesdays, but asked if she could switch the second to a Thursday.

“When I went online, it said there were no appointments,” she told Pirch.

“We book up that fast,” he replied.

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