Dr. Mark Tregaskes superintendent of Safford for 23 years

Mark Tregaskes

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Hope for the best.

Plan for the worst.

That’s the current motto for the Payson Unified School District, shut down until at least March 30 by state order.

District officials have no idea how long the closure will last, but administrators have been meeting this week to come up with a plan should the closure continue.

“I’ve been in education for 45 years,” said interim Superintendent Mark Tregaskes, “and I’ve never seen anything like this.”

PUSD will continue to bag up and distribute breakfasts and lunches from Julia Randall Elementary School at the end of Main Street, said Tregaskes.

“Everyone under the age of 18 is eligible for the food, but in order to help prevent the spread of the virus we’re having a drive-thru so people can drive up to where we’re giving out the food and we can hand it to them while they’re in their cars.”

The district will bag the breakfast and lunch together, so people need come by just once a day. “If the numbers warrant it, we’ll open up another site.”

But most of the other big questions about how the district will cope with the abrupt closure remain unanswered. The district will send a letter to every parent and guardian this week explaining the meals plan. “We’ll use email, cellphones and our webpage to tell parents what to look for. We’ll provide as much information as we can,” said Tregaskes.

The district will continue to receive funding during the closure, so it can continue to pay its staff. Tregaskes said he does not know how long the closure will continue or whether the state will waive current laws on the number of school days in the year. If not, the school year could extend into the summer — providing the spread of the virus has eased by then.

“Those are questions that we continue to ask, and we still have yet to get answers to them. They’re trying to make a determination at the state level. As soon as they know, we’re anxious to hear their response.”

However, the administrative staff has developed contingency plans — including discussion about whether the district could shift to a mostly online model for key classes.

Tregaskes was hired to serve as superintendent to get the district through the end of the year after the resignation of superintendent Stan Rentz in February. The school board has since hired Payson Center for Success Principal Linda Gibson to take over as superintendent in June.

As it turns out, Gibson has overseen the innovative hybrid online course approach at Payson Center for Success, with students working through classes on computers in a lab where they can get help from a teacher if they get stuck. Her experience in online classes could prove invaluable, said Tregaskes.

“Online learning is part of the planning we’re doing. Our goal is to continue to provide educational opportunities. Where we can use technology, we’ll do that. When that’s not possible, we’ll have other opportunities. The goal is to provide access to all students.”

The middle school and high school could probably offer many classes online. That’s harder in the elementary school. But in that case, the district will probably have packets with lessons and exercises to send home for students.

Unfortunately, not all students in the district have access to the internet and computers so they can take part in online classes. The district has enough Chromebooks for almost every kid in the 2,300-student district, but doesn’t want to send those Chromebooks home for fear some of them would come back eventually contaminated by the virus.

Teachers will not come to campus if they extend the closure beyond the end of spring break next week. “They’re still required to log their hours, prepare lessons, send them out and communicate with parents from their home sites. They’ll work, but they’ll work remotely. We can also use this time to provide training.”

The district will also close its preschool program, which focuses on younger children with special needs. The statewide school closure order did not apply to preschool and day care operations and many plan to remain open. However, all district facilities will remain closed pending a state determination on the next step, said Tregaskes.

“It certainly is going to present a challenge for our parents,” said Tregaskes — especially if the closure continues into April. “We’re on a two-week spring break, so our parents have already had to provide coverage for their kids while they’re at work. “Parents are wanting to know answers as well. We’re looking for answers, the parents have too. Once we have those answers, we’ll communicate them to parents.”

paleshire@payson.com

Contact the writer at paleshire@payson.com

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