By Marion Vendituoli (April 2020 Print Edition)

The Patagonia District School Board has hired Kenny Hayes as the Superintendent and Principal of the Patagonia High School and Patagonia Elementary School, replacing Rachell Hochheim who did not renew her contract. Hayes has been at the Patagonia Schools for the past seven years, most recently serving as Interim Superintendent during Hochheim’s maternity leave. 

Photo by Marion Vendituoli

The School Board selected Hayes after meeting with students and faculty members who urged the board to not conduct an outside search for candidates. Many of the speakers at the Feb. 24 meeting asked the Board to consider Hayes for the position.

Hayes grew up in Valier, MT, a small town near the Canadian border. He met his wife, Journee, when he moved to Payson, AZ, where he taught and coached football for five years. He then went on to Dakota State University where he served as defensive coach for the football team for four years, as well as teaching history, before moving to Patagonia. The couple have two children, Espen and Holland. 

Hayes plans to keep the electives program at the school. “I want to continue our partnership with the Patagonia Creative Arts Association,” he said. “I think they do a super awesome job. It’s what electives should be.” He credits his leadership team of Michael young and Ann Gortarez for the success of the PUHS curriculum, saying they “have been instrumental in the process. They’re both knowledgeable and skilled administrators. We’re lucky to have them.” 

He would like to find certified PE and music teachers. He believes that the CTED program (which includes the FFA program), as well as dual credit courses are also very important to the success of the students. He stressed that all four of the teachers who teach the dual credit courses, which can earn students college credit, are taught at the college level. “I can tell you I teach those classes exactly like I taught the college kids,” he said. Currently, PUHS offers eight dual credit classes in history, english, early childhood development and introduction to social work. “It would be nice if we could get our kids out of here with an associate’s degree,” he said.

Hayes sees one of the biggest challenges in education to be “too much apathy about education by students.” “I think if we can get them to believe in themselves, the sky’s the limit,” he said. He thinks the “small town vibe’ of eastern Santa Cruz County is a plus. “There’s plenty of community organizations that support the kids,” he said. “We like the town. It reminds me of Montana without the winters. We plan on staying here awhile.”

“I never planned on becoming an administrator,” he said. “I wanted to be a coach and a teacher. But my competitive nature wants me to be the best at what I do. I think I can help teachers become great teachers.” He was appreciative of the support for his appointment he received from the students but cautioned that “the new car smell will rub off pretty soon. Hopefully they supported me because all my decisions are based on what’s best for them.” 

The closing of schools in response to the covid19 pandemic has brought new challenges to the school, as teachers have had to prepare online classes. “The teachers have done a great job,” Hayes said. “They got right to work on providing education for the students. 

Judging from what other states have done, I don’t see schools opening up again but you never know. This is a trying time for everybody if we all stick together we can all provide a safe environment for the kids. The parents don’t have to be teachers they just to need to support their kids.” 

The maintenance crew at the school has fully disinfected the campus and the food service staff has prepared meals that are available at the Sonoita Fairgrounds and at the town gazebo.