Lots and lots of experience.
Because we’ve got lots of problems.
That’s the gist of what 525 Payson parents, students and school employees said they seek in the district’s new superintendent.
The Payson School Board acted in harmony with that advice when it hired former Jefferson Davis County Schools Superintendent Stan Rentz to take over from departing Superintendent Greg Wyman.
The people who filled out surveys during the superintendent search were staff (46 percent), parents (54 percent) and students (33 percent). The numbers add up to more than 100 percent, because some people fell into multiple categories. Strikingly, only about 5 percent of the people filling out the surveys were community members without children in the schools.
The thousands of responses to the searching questions revealed the immense challenges facing Rentz when he takes over in July. He recently retired from his 25-year career in his Georgia school district, which has 3,300 students, compared to Payson’s 2,300. He has accepted a $115,000 annual, two-year contract to run the district.
The answers on the questionnaire stressed a deep desire for someone with broad experience and an ability to inspire staff, engage parents, involve the community — as well as boost student achievement and motivation.
The answers also revealed a certain bewildering inconsistency. Many people described the district as a place with deep community support and great teachers who love kids supported by an administration working to make the most of limited resources. Others described a district struggling to cope with the problems of poor families, indifferent parents, unmotivated students, burned out teachers and indifferent administrators.
So here’s an attempt to summarize and make sense of the blizzard of responses from students, faculty and parents during the search for a new superintendent. The top two responses are given for each.
Desired leadership qualities
• 53 percent said experience in motivating staff and improving morale.
• 30 percent wanted a leader who will pitch in at any level.
• 41 percent wanted a leader with direct experience in boosting scores.
• 37 percent wanted experience in planning “continuous improvement.”
Board and superintendent relations:
• 47 percent wanted honest, transparent communications.
• 38 percent want Rentz to be the face of the schools in the community.
• 56 percent want experience in recruiting and retaining top staff.
• 37 percent want demonstrated skill in supervising employees.
• 53 percent want Rentz to include staff, community members and students.
• 43 percent want a strong management team to involve other administrators.
Support services and facilities:
• 63 percent: Experience in planning and managing budgets
• 53 percent: Experience maintaining budget stability in a troubled district.
The most interesting responses came to a question asking to list both the district’s strengths and weaknesses.
The questions were open-ended, unlike the first part of the survey. This means the responses were all over the place and much harder to summarize, unlike the two-issue format of the first part of the survey.
Great teachers, community support, career classes and use of technology were some of the most common things mentioned when asked about the district’s strengths.
Teacher and administrator turnover, low morale, large class sizes, nepotism, resistance to change, lack of resources, indifference to children’s specialize needs and uninvolved or hostile parents proved recurrent themes when listing the district’s weaknesses.
So here are some of the responses to those two key questions, selected here mostly because they either reflected a frequently mentioned theme or raised a specific point in an articulate way.
To see a copy of the full questionnaire, go to the Roundup’s website, find this story and click on the attached PDF.
What are the district’s key strengths?
“Using technology in the classroom. Offering college classes at the high school.”
“We have amazing staff in every department.”
“Honestly I don’t think we have any strengths besides the teachers.”
“We live in a great community, which does support us most of the time.”
“CTE classes and class diversity.”
“The employees are very good when it comes to ‘finding a way’ to get things done whether there is a shortfall in budget, or we are short on personnel. Many teachers have an excellent attitude, and you can tell they are really into what they do for the kids. Many are local, and I believe there is a certain level of loyalty to the ‘home town,’ and giving their best for the local kids.”
“Excellent teachers, technology use in the classroom, caring and supportive staff.”
“Great teachers, great leadership.”
“The current superintendent has done an excellent job in light of the depressed financial culture of schools in Arizona. He has saved jobs and can prepare for future shortfalls. Academic scores have increased.”
“I did appreciate the efficiency, professionalism and kindness everyone took with getting our son enrolled and his IEP processed through so he could start receiving services needed. We’ve been so impressed with all the staff and faculty we’ve worked with from the pre-school teachers, the psychologist, the aides, the bus drivers, the bus aides, the special services coordinator, the office staff, etc. We’ve never felt like we were a nuisance or not being cared for.”
“I also think our district has put a big emphasis on making kids feel ‘seen’ and cared for. I think loneliness is an epidemic in this generation and we have yet to see the effects of such a dangerous and devastating state of mind. Lastly, my children have wonderful teachers who care and make every effort to engage children and ensure they are getting a good education.”
What are the greatest challenges
facing the district?
“Tracking donations that are turned into the schools then transferred to the district. These are often deposited into wrong accounts, money gets ‘lost,’ parents have to track it down on behalf of coaches, etc. It seems there could be a more efficient way to do this.”
“Many students are significantly behind academically and socially. There are tons of high schoolers who are writing and reading at a middle school level. Middle school students aren’t reading on level. There is a general lack of knowledge when it comes to equality; students frequently use discriminatory language and don’t seem to even be aware that this is unacceptable. Most students do not seem motivated.”
“We have a high turnaround of teachers, principals, and superintendents.”
“Morale is very low at some campuses/departments. There are few resources in the town of Payson. One example of how this impacts the district is that it is hard to get help for students struggling with emotional issues.”
“Competitive pay. Nepotism (good-ol’ boy club in lieu of quality staff). Extracurricular activities to give students an out instead of stuck at home with druggy parents.”
“Challenges for our school is unfairly distributing funding to sports and not artistic or extracurricular/CTE programs.”
“Students are passed on to the next grade level even if they fail or are passed even though they do not know the information. Lack of communication on all levels.”
“Lack of support for problem students/ strong discipline program. The unrealistic expectation from parents — Being rude to teachers, posting things on Facebook that are not true.”
“Budget — staff shouldn’t have to bring in their own supplies. Salaries — pay more to recruit and retain quality employees.”
“1. Attracting and retaining quality teachers with the low wages we pay. 2. Balancing the low pay of our teachers with the very high pay of the superintendent.”
“1. Too much emphasis on “slow learners,” the removal of many AP classes, the gifted program, and general lack of engagement for gifted or advanced students. 2. Bias, small-mindedness, and too much of a desire to ‘maintain the status-quo.’ 3. Stagnation: Teachers and administrators feel secure in their positions and have grown too big for their britches, believing that the bare minimum is all that is required and no parent or student can speak against them.”
“All I can say is that the school is doing an awesome job.”
“We don’t have great teachers for certain kids that have different thinking processes. We don’t have enough teachers and classes that students like, so when we come to school it is like we are the ‘Walking Dead.’”
“Morale is low in the district, staff in the schools don’t always feel administrators are supportive.”
“K-2 school is often overlooked, the building is neglected and there is only one administrative staff member to deal with every issue. High need for special education services.”
“Students are not motivated. Yes, there are students involved in sports and clubs, and when we have a motivational speaker come in, students are motivated for that week. However, students are not motivated to be at school and to succeed in their work. I feel this school needs to make things a little more interesting rather than just a constant serious mood.”
“Large class sizes, not enough support staff.”
“1. Lack of writing curriculum 2. Lack of services for student coming from trauma 3. Professional development is not focused on teaching teachers how to be better teachers ... it is just a staff meeting. People complaining about everything in life.”
“The board has a severe inability to take the staff into account — a T-shirt and breakfast every year, while nice, doesn’t keep staff. The board also is not transparent — holding a public board meeting every month is not the same as keeping staff appraised.”“Lack of discipline in the classroom and school. My daughter says students smoke e-cigarettes in the classroom! Lack of contemporary and engaging courses and curricula. Complete lack of counseling, both in academics and personal student issues. The counselors are just schedulers. There seems to be a big divide in graduating students--one echelon goes on to ASU, the other gets stuck here in Payson working fast food. Thank goodness I am able to provide both academic tutoring and emotional/psych/career support for my kids, as well as intervening countless times on behalf of my kids to get the system to work with/for them. What about the parents who can’t?”
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