Following a year of in-person and virtual learning scenarios due to COVID-19, the Patagonia School District plans to open for on-campus classes on August 10th.
To keep students safe and learning in person, the Patagonia campus will strongly encourage the use of masks and social distancing. While the Centers for Disease Control have placed in-person instruction as a top priority, they strongly advise all unvaccinated people age 2 and older to wear masks indoors, especially where physical distancing is not easily maintained. The American Academy of Pediatrics recently released guidelines for schools, highlighting the importance of in-person learning, which included this statement:
“All students older than 2 years and all school staff should wear face masks at school (unless medical or developmental conditions prohibit use).”
Though the state of Arizona does not currently allow schools to mandate mask-wearing, the District will strongly encourage their use.
Patagonia Schools will offer a distance learning option at the start of the year for families who still desire it, and, if the area sees a large increase in COVID-19 cases, full virtual learning will be revisited. Leaders hope that can be avoided but are concerned about the recent increases in cases in Arizona due to the delta variant.
“The talented and caring staff and administrators in our district will work with the kids right away to find out where they are and take them forward from there, ” School Board President Nancy McCoy said, noting that this year should be about getting things back to normal.
Superintendent Kenny Hayes is encouraged by the preliminary results of the AZ Merit tests given last spring. While these incomplete results are only available to superintendents, not to teaching staff, the complete results will be sent to schools in September.
“From the numbers I have seen,” he said, “we did not experience the same levels of learning loss that national news stories have described in other areas.
“We are redoubling our emphasis on data-driven instruction this year. We will look to our end-of-year and beginning-of-year benchmarking tests, as well as ongoing formative tests throughout the year, to plan instruction based on the students’ achievement and needs. Teachers are undergoing additional training to make the most of assessment data.”
“Attendance at summer school was similar to 2019, the last summer it was held, and we extended the session from four to six weeks. We were very grateful for our collaboration with Patagonia Creative Arts Association. After the kids finished their summer school session, they spent the afternoon the Art Center,” Hayes said. He believes the kids got a good balance of academics, art and play in their day.
McCoy stated that the District budget did not suffer too greatly through the pandemic. “The Cares Act provided additional funding, so the budget is in pretty good shape. We had a strong budget going into last school year, so we were able to absorb any losses.”
According to Mr. Hayes, “We may have some budget issues moving forward, as Cares Act and other grants will go away, so we’ve been trying to use that money to make the school safer for the kids. And the District was careful not to overextend, in anticipation of the end of some emergency funding in the future. For example, we didn’t hire additional staff that we mightn’t be able to keep on long-term.“
“The one area in which we lost funding for the coming year is transportation,” he said. “Unfortunately, the State of Arizona determines each year’s transportation monies based on the mileage used the previous year. And with the hybrid and distance learning we undertook for parts of the year, our numbers were way down. We had to increase our tax rate a bit.”
The elementary tax rate is 4.3445, only slightly up from the prior year which was 4.0417. The high school tax rate is 2.5328. The elementary was affected because they receive Equalization Assistance from the state, funding tied to the transportation mileage, and the high school does not, according to Hayes.