Classes, books and learning on tap for Kingman students

SPARKY KNOWLTON/Miner

SPARKY KNOWLTON/Miner

KINGMAN - When the school bells ring on the first day of classes Aug. 7 throughout Kingman Unified School District, all but three of the district's 11 campuses will start and end at different times from last year.

Jeri Wolsey, curriculum director for KUSD said she believes parents will appreciate the changes, especially at the high school level. Students who work after school or participate in academic or sports activities will have more time now.

New bell times are the only major changes this year in a district that saw an influx of new programs over the past two years.

District officials believe KUSD is heading in the right academic direction, but they have heard repeatedly that teachers need some time to adjust to and implement the changes - and that parents and students need a chance to absorb them.

"I'm feeling very confident that parents will find a warm, inviting, educationally sound place at all our campuses," said KUSD Supt. Roger Jacks. "We are maintaining our philosophy of educating the whole child, and even though financing has been difficult, we still put a premium on academics, the arts, athletics and activities."

What's new?

The district has been overhauling its curriculum and recently implemented Beyond Textbooks, Re-teach and Enrich and Daily Math Skills, specialized programs to help students learn. The district also began Cambridge Academy, an academic program that prepares students for college, and Gear Up, an initiative for middle-schoolers.

Teachers and administrators are now undergoing the training they need, said Wolsey, noting teachers report Aug. 4 to their buildings.

A new principal, Don Burton, is moving from Indianapolis to take over the reins at Kingman Middle School. He will be joined by Cynthia Vasquez, a new assistant principal at KMS from Wisconsin, who will replace Shelley Oeastman, new principal at Black Mountain School.

Hard to hire

The district now has 400 employees in all categories, said Jacks, and is still looking to hire 20 teachers before the start of school. Jacks said the states in the Midwest have been a good source of teachers in the past, but many are deciding to take jobs closer to home this year because of the low pay in Arizona.

"We are experiencing what a lot of Arizona school districts are facing," said Jacks. "We're having a difficult time hiring teachers. There's so much competition for teachers between the other states that two weeks after the teachers accept our offer, they call and say they're not coming.

"We've had a lot of teacher turnover this past year and we just have to work harder to get them to buy in and stay here."

The biggest need for teachers this fall is in the math and science departments at Kingman High School and in special education throughout the district, said Jacks. The district recently had about 80 vacancies in all areas, from cafeteria workers to librarians, but Jacks said that number has decreased substantially because of a focus on filling positions.

Filling desks

And district officials are hoping to see an increase in attendance this year, although they'll be happy to just maintain the current level.

Last year, 6,856 students enrolled on the first day of school, up from 6,586 registered at that time in 2012. Student population has decreased by about 800 students since 2006 because of the unavailability or loss of area jobs.

"Every year, we face attendance challenges," said Wolsey. "A lot of people here are transient by nature, but their children can't learn if they're not in school. We've moved students around at the schools and we're not expecting any big attendance issues this year.

"Each school has its own initiatives for getting their students to attend, and we hope the time changes are helpful with that problem."

Getting ready

The district's custodians have been busy cleaning up the schools for opening day, said Wolsey, and 11 technology employees have been updating each school's computers and Internet equipment. Also, the district has been installing cameras in various schools. New and additional cameras were added at Kingman and Lee Williams high schools and White Cliffs Middle School, and work at Kingman Middle School will be complete soon.

Kingman Academy

At the Kingman Academy of Learning schools, the first day of classes will be Aug. 11. The KAOL district, which has 140 staff members (including 72 teachers) is now gearing up for a total of 1,465 students who will be attending school this fall.

That number is slightly up from last year's 1,450 student population.

"We are really excited about this year because it's our 20th year, and it's good to be here and be thriving and providing an education to children living in the community," said Susan Chan, district administrator for KAOL. "We want to help them enjoy school and most importantly, prepare for the future. The world is changing and these kids need to have a fighting chance in it."