PHOENIX — Incoming teachers in the Phoenix-Talent School District will get orientation sessions for the first time in several years because of increased state funding that brought nine new hires rather than the one or two of recent years.
The orientation is among a number of changes for the district, which starts classes Sept. 4.
In addition to the teachers, there's a new superintendent and three new school board members. An updated website, a new agreement with Armadillo Charter School, new communication initiatives and a new labor contract are in place. New academic initiatives include after-school enrichment programs at Talent Middle School, a music program for third-graders and robotics activities at the middle and high schools.
Superintendent Teresa Sayre was the district's director of instructional services before she was selected by the school board to replace Ben Bergreen, who retired in June. Sayre has been with the district for 15 years.
"In the past few years, we just tried to figure out how we could get by," Sayre said about instructional staff hiring. "This year we looked at positions and where we could assign teachers where it would make sense. We were able to replace people who left by choice or retirement."
State funding for the district is up by 9.9 percent for the 2013-15 biennium to $42.5 million, an increase of $3.9 million. Rebuilding of staff is a priority to cut class sizes and reduce some of the extra duties people took on over the last few years, said Sayre.
A board policy calls for maintaining reserves equal to 8 percent of the budget, but reserves have gone as low as 3 percent in recent years with board approval, Sayre said.
"We really feel it's prudent to have that 8 percent reserve. It's not only our wish, but the audit firm recommends that, as well," said Rick Nagel, who was elected board chairman in July.
Nagel has been on the board since 1999. New members who started service in July after May elections are Debra McAlister, Ruth Staten and Dawn Watson. They succeed members with more than 28 years of combined service.
"We will have three new people with fresh ideas and hopefully fresh energy," said Nagel. "That will be a good blend."
New communications efforts have emerged from a committee that met for 18 months, led by Talent Middle School Principal Aaron Santi. Besides a new website, there are new athletic mascot logos, more emphasis on internal communication, updated brochures and more media outreach.
While departments and schools are adding content to the new site as they return, Santi said parents should be able to find information about upcoming events more easily.
"We heard that it was very difficult to find calendar events," said Santi. "It's easier to access things like student grades, bus schedules, lunch menus. It's one click rather than hunting."
Greater emphasis on using school Facebook pages also arose from the committee's work. Both students and parents say the Facebook connection is very helpful, Santi said.
A new district motto, "Excellence For Everyone," developed over a year ago, is now shown on the website and will be incorporated into more district communications.
Community members, board members, staff and students all contributed to the work of the committee, said Santi. Professional communicator Marilyn Hawkins of Ashland and graphics artist Ron Hodgdon of Talent donated time, expertise and services to the effort.
Teachers begin the year on Aug. 26. Students will start classes on Sept. 4, but there will be "soft openings" for new students at the high school, middle school and three elementary schools on Sept. 3. Enrollment is anticipated to be close to last year's 2,600 students. The district website is at www.phoenix.k12.or.us.
Tony Boom is a freelance writer living in Ashland. Reach him at email@example.com.