When it comes to the whole vision thing — we’re on the right track.

But maybe we could use a snappy motto.

That’s the gist of last week’s Payson School Board discussion of a survey of staff and graduates centered on the district’s strategic plan.

The district surveyed both recent graduates and current teachers and staff about whether each group thought the district was succeeding in preparing students for college and careers, turning them into strong communicators and critical thinkers and instilling other skills needed to succeed.

On most measures, 3 out of 5 students gave the district high ratings.

Teachers and staff generally ranked the district’s product more highly than the students.

The results align pretty well with the various outside measurements of how the students are doing — a least in a normal year not overshadowed by the chaos of a pandemic.

Generally, Payson schools have test scores above the state average — although the scores at the high school level are generally worse when compared to the state average than at the elementary school level.

That’s actually pretty good since Payson’s a rural school district with a higher-than-average percentage of low-income families. Both those characteristics normally go hand in hand with lower than average test scores.

More worrisome, Payson has a relatively low college attendance rate and a relatively high dropout rate, according to the last rating scorecard by the Arizona Auditor General’s office.

However, the survey suggests that Payson graduates are more or less satisfied with the education they’re getting — although they don’t rate the skills they’re leaving with as highly as their teachers do.

“We wanted to look at whether the strategic plan — mission, values and goals — are still relevant — or do we need to revamp them,” said Superintendent Linda Gibson, in presenting the survey results to the board.

“The consensus is that we don’t need to reinvent the wheel here. The strategic plan (adopted eight years ago) still has some great value — although we need to look at how to review and revise.”

Roughly 30% of the targeted graduates, faculty and staff filled out the survey. “We were pleased with that,” said Gibson.

Board members listened quietly to the results of the survey and agreed with the recommendation to make only minor changes in the strategic plan — along with the district’s vision and values statements.

The district’s current vision statement declares, “The Payson Unified School District Community will develop well-rounded learners inspired to excel.”

“Our vision statement is wordy. I hope there’s a way to simplify it so it’s catchy,” said Board member Jolynn Schinstock.

“You’re right, we’re talking about creating that motto,” said Gibson. “A lot of districts use a phrase — like with four words — that is part of our plan too, something that’s a little more catchy to the ear.”

The survey asked people to rate the district on various qualities on a scale from 1 to 5 — both on whether the district had succeeded and on whether those criteria were still important. Some findings as to how the district had done in preparing students in the following areas include.

Students (on a scale of 1-5):

College and career readiness: 3.2

Critical thinking skills:, 3.4;

Strong work ethic: 3.3

Knowledge of technology: 3.8

Physical and emotional health: 3.4

Exhibit global awareness: 2.7


Fun, safe atmosphere: 3.9

College/career ready: 3.5

Critical thinking skills: 3.7

Robust technology: 4

Highly qualified teachers: 3.6

Embrace family, community history: 3.9

Another set of questions for faculty resulted in more mixed results. For instance, 73% agreed that they “feel engaged to work to educate the students of PUSD.”

Their surveys yielded only a handful of negative comments, according to the presentation to the board.

Some areas respondents suggested needed work include

• District-wide training in Capture Kids Hearts

• Improving global awareness

• Better online instruction

• Consistent use of “Beyond Textbooks,” an online update to curriculum

• Improve the use of student testing data at the classroom and campus level.

• More high-tech instruction in science and technology

• More advanced placement classes, which have been largely replaced by Gila Community College dual enrollment classes.

• More technology-related skills like keyboarding, internet safety, evaluating websites and others.

Contact the writer at paleshire@payson.com

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