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Fri, May 20

Cottonwood Schools turn to community to stay open

Fifth-grade teacher Paige Livengood teaches her class at the Cottonwood Community School on Tuesday, Jan 18, 2022, as the district scrambles to deal with the day-to-day challenges of the pandemic. (Verde Independent/Vyto Starinskas)

Fifth-grade teacher Paige Livengood teaches her class at the Cottonwood Community School on Tuesday, Jan 18, 2022, as the district scrambles to deal with the day-to-day challenges of the pandemic. (Verde Independent/Vyto Starinskas)

COTTONWOOD – Cottonwood-Oak Creek School District Superintendent Steve King is looking for help from the community as teachers and staffs are stretched thin during this new upsurge in the pandemic.

“Once again I also call upon people of good will to be a substitute teacher, paraprofessional, or bus driver to help our community keep schools open,” King explained in a letter to the community. “If you would like to help be part of the solution.”

King said the Verde Valley community and nation have seen an increase in the spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

“This is impacting our District’s ability on a daily basis to staff our classrooms, buses and cafeterias.”

“We’re not planning on closing,” King told the Verde Independent on Monday, Jan 18. “We’re doing everything we can to stay open. That’s our strategy.”

The COCSD consists of the Cottonwood Community School, Oak Creek School, Mountain View Preparatory and Dr. Daniel Bright School.

“In my mind, I think they are heroes,” King said of his teachers, staff and administrator who come in and work with students during the pandemic.

Many have children of their own that they are concerned about.

“It’s truly amazing what I see every day,” he said.

King said he wanted the community to understand the Cottonwood schools have been open for in-person learning while other schools across the country have not.

“I work at COCSD, and I have never witnessed a group of people more dedicated to keeping our district schools open,” Tara Trezise wrote on the Verde Independent’s social media. “Our principals and vice principals are in the classrooms, subbing. Our PE teacher was teaching double classes. Every single available staff member who could sub was in a class, subbing. There is not a single person I have talked to who wants to close our schools down.”

If a school lost too many teachers or staff to be able to function, King said. The district is guided by the Yavapai County Health Department.

“If I don’t have any staff, what can I do?” he said

If the county health department tells the school to close, they would have to close, he pointed out. They would have resources available, such as online, but they would have to work it out with the state first, he said. They are getting little guidance from the state, King pointed out.

“We haven’t closed any classes down yet and we don’t want to,” he said.

It’s day-to-day depending on who calls in sick.

King said administrators and principals are all filling in and teaching classes, and four parents have stepped up and come in to be substitutes.

People are scrambling, shifting staff around, filling in, in the lunchroom, teaching classes, he said. No matter how people feel about the pandemic, “the staffing issues are real.”

There have been teachers and students out sick with COVID, but King said their surveys indicate the COVID spread among the COCSD students is lower than in the general Yavapai County population.

He said the rate of spread is about the same for staff and teachers. Mingus Union High School last week reported their teaching staff was in good shape, while they were having trouble with keeping their other staff positions filled because of COVID.

King anticipates the next two or three weeks to be tough with a spike with the new variant.

“I’m looking for long-term help,” he said, referring to substitute teachers, bus drivers and other staff.

King said if people want to help be part of the solution and work or volunteer at the school, please contact Becky Wilson, HR Manager at (928) 634-2288 Ext. 1117 or email bwilson@cocsd.k12.az.us

What people can do to help: If they are sick, stay home, King said.

Especially, for the next two or three weeks, parents must make sure they don’t send their kids to school if they are sick, King said. “Do the right thing.”

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