Things have gone smoothly as Payson schools move toward a four-day class week when school resumes on Aug. 2, said Superintendent Linda Gibson.
However, the district’s trying to help Payson Community Kids enroll more volunteers or rustle up $57,000 in support to expand its current after-school program to include an all-day Friday session.
Gibson said so far the district’s family surveys have identified only about 15 students whose families say they face a problem in finding child care on Fridays.
“I was surprised,” said Gibson, considering some of the comments made as the board pondered the shift to a four-day week. I would have expected more, but a need has not identified itself.”
Payson Community Kids is working to expand its program, which had to limit the number of kids it takes in during the pandemic when its group of often-retired volunteers dwindled.
Meanwhile, the district’s also trying to get the word out to parents that they can still get school breakfasts and lunches — not just on Fridays, but Saturday and Sunday as well. The federal government has offered extra support for the school lunch program for families who qualify based on income to include the weekend.
Parents can either come by the school on Fridays to pick up the five or six bagged lunches and breakfasts or meet the school bus at one of 30 scheduled stops between 9 a.m. and 11 a.m. on Fridays.
Gibson said the district figures 100 or 200 students will sign up for the weekend meals, based on what happened when the district started the expanded program after the onset of the pandemic.
Still, an array of uncertainties has made the start of a new school year more complicated than usual. So far, parents, students, faculty and staff have accepted the big changes with a schedule that increases the school day on Monday through Thursday, but offers no classes on Fridays, said Gibson.
Gibson and other administrators called the roughly 50 parents who raised questions about the new schedule.
“We’re not really seeing any new wrinkles because of the four-day week,” she said. “I haven’t received one email or phone call after the decision was made — for it or against it. There were three of us working on calling those who had a concern” in questionnaires sent to all parents. “Most people were thankful for the call — maybe surprised that we called at all. I would say 100% of those calls ended on a positive note.”
The new longer school day includes a half-hour period for students to go to an enrichment session or “reteach” session, if they’re struggling to master core skills.
The district will open the campus on Friday to extracurricular activities, like sports, drama, band and clubs. Individual teachers can also seek funding to offer re-teach or enrichment sessions on Friday through each school principal, said Gibson.
The biggest unknown remains how many of the 400 students who vanished during the pandemic will return in August. A rush of new students could complicate schedules, overfill classes and tax teachers. Many of those students might have shifted to home school, but others may have enrolled in private schools or moved out of Payson. If those students never return, the district will eventually face a multi-million-dollar budget crisis.
The district still has about five teacher vacancies, reflecting a statewide teacher shortage. Gibson said five or six teachers turned down job offers.
“The biggest deterrent in the Payson area is the housing market,” said Gibson. The average Payson teacher makes about $50,000, but starting salaries are about $40,000. Lenders normally figure that someone making $50,000 can afford the mortgage on a house worth about $180,000 — a price point now rare in the Payson market.
“The housing market has deterred more people than ever before,” said Gibson.
Gibson met with Payson Community Kids, the Town of Payson, the Church of the Nazarene and others to talk about developing after-school programs on Fridays.
PCK hopes to enlist an additional 22 volunteers to open an all-day Friday program for 108 children from 7:30 to 5:30 on Fridays — besides the after-school program running Monday through Thursday. The nonprofit organization either needs a new infusion of volunteers or $57,000 in grant funding to expand the program.
Justin Hewitt, with the Town of Payson, is investigating the cost of coming up with a Friday program that could serve perhaps 70 children, on a sliding fee schedule based on family income. The program would require four or five staffers.
One volunteer for Payson Community Kids said he’s eager to get back to mentoring the students he’s missed during the pandemic.
“I quickly learned there was immediate satisfaction in helping the kids. It’s not like giving a check to a large charity and never really seeing what your money does; at PCK when you put a Band-Aid on a cut and you get a little smile or hug, it makes it all worthwhile. When you buy a basketball and get to watch the kids play with it, it gives some nice satisfaction,” he said.