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Coolidge Unified to provide students with multiple options for fall

COOLIDGE — Beginning in the fall, the Coolidge Unified School District will offer three educational alternatives for enrolled students during the 2020-21 school year.

Students attending CUSD schools will have the option to attend school in person, following social distancing and health guidelines recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; to participate in an in-person and virtual hybrid educational model, where students would attend school two days a week and learn remotely the remainder of the week; or to enroll in an online-only option, through a virtual academy that would be part of CUSD.

Like many other districts, CUSD will offer the multiple educational models for students as it prepares to reopen in the fall amid the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Superintendent Charie Wallace informed members of the Governing Board during the virtual school board meeting last Wednesday that students who select enrollment in the virtual academy will still have the ability to participate in CUSD athletics and certain extracurricular activities if they choose.

Students wanting to enroll in certain electives, she said, can take four classes online and a fifth class — such as band or agriculture — in person. Those seeking to participate in athletics will be allowed to take five classes online and still partake in sports like football or volleyball in person.

The district anticipates that it will roll out registration, with all three options available for students and parents to chose from, near the end of June.

However, Wallace cautioned that even for students who elect to continue their education through the traditional model, things will be far from “normal.”

“We’re not going to have volunteers, we’re not going to be able to have visitors,” she said. “It’s going to be a new normal.”

Though the district will revamp how it operates busing, drop-offs, recess and other elements to adhere to health and wellness mandates, Wallace noted that CUSD hopes to maintain parts of the in-person educational experience like meals in the cafeteria and electives.

Board members were also provided with an update on the procedures the school district would follow in event of another mandated school closure, with Wallace noting that CUSD would move to remote learning as it did this past year.

But remote learning in the case of a school closure in the upcoming school year would be significantly improved, she said.

The decision to offer the different learning options comes on the heels of surveys that were sent out to parents and staff regarding the reopening of district campuses after months of school closures.

Thus far, the parent survey has collected over 760 responses across all CUSD school, which accounts for about 36% of the district’s total enrollment.

In the survey, parents were asked to select an ideal learning model for their child in the upcoming school year. They were presented with the three learning options the district has since decided to adopt.

According to Director of Human Resources Dawn Dee Hodge, 43% of parents said they were interested in sending their children back to school full-time. Another 34% indicated that they preferred the combined online and in-person program, while 23% selected the online-only model as their primary preference.

“I’ve definitely heard from quite a few parents who really love that we’re doing this and offering this to them,” Board President Mikey Flores II said. “Some families are comfortable with (students) coming full time, some are not. So what we’re doing is basically meeting the families where they are comfortable at during this pandemic.”

Parents were also surveyed on what protocols they wanted the district to implement upon reopening. Hodge noted that 60% of respondents wanted both teachers and students to wear masks while on campus and 7% said they wanted only CUSD staff members to wear masks.

By contrast, 33% of respondents specified that they did not want students or teachers to wear masks.

When it came to daily temperature checks, however, the results were dramatically different. 83% of survey respondents indicated that they were in favor of both CUSD staff and students having their temperature checked at the beginning of each day. Another 16% said that they preferred that no temperature checks be conducted.

The survey also asked parents to consider whether or not the district should adopt a later start day for students, which would allow CUSD staff additional time for training.

The results were split 50%-50%, Hodge said.

Though the Governing Board has already approved a school calendar that lists the first day of school as July 27, the district may move all of its Professional Development days — typically done on Fridays — to the beginning of the year.

Front-loading professional development, Wallace said, provides all teachers with an opportunity to become well versed in the technology and applications the district uses for remote learning, as well as social distancing guidelines, at the beginning of the year.

If the school district decides to move its training to beginning of the year, students would not begin school until Aug. 10.

But though Wallace noted that district administration is “leaning toward” the idea, the change would have to brought before the governing board at a later date for approval.

CUSD teachers were also asked to participate in a survey on their preferences as schools prepare to reopen in the fall.

Just over 100 teachers responded to the survey, Hodge said. Of that figure, 40% said they wanted to return to school sites full-time in the fall, while 28% indicated they preferred a modified, or hybrid, program.

But 23% of the teachers — the same percentage identified through the parent survey — said they preferred to teach in a fully virtual program.

When asked about masks, 49% of the surveyed teachers wanted to see both students and staff wearing masks on campus.

Comparable to the percentage of parents, 87% of teachers indicated that they would prefer temperature checks to be conducted on both staff and students daily. In addition, the vast majority of survey respondents, 70%, said they would support a delayed start for students and professional development days at the beginning of the school year for staff.

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Construction on main runway at Coolidge airport complete

COOLIDGE — Air travel to and from Coolidge Municipal Airport became a whole lot smoother following the completion of construction on the airport’s main runway.

Runway 5-23 reopened for use by private and commercial aircraft on June 5 after months of closure as it underwent reconstruction.

Airport Manager James Myers says pilots will find the trip down the runway much smoother and more user-friendly.

“It’s just a whole different feel than what it was,” he said. “You’re not coming in and seeing a runway that is full of cracks and little pellets of rocks everywhere. You could really see that (before).”

The main runway is now somewhat wider and a little bit longer, spanning almost 6,000 feet. The effect is thanks to the addition of a few blast pads along the runway.

Because the blast pads are only designed for take-off, however, Myers noted that the airport’s main runway will still be advertised at 5,500 feet.

The changes give the airport a modern facelift as well, with features like paved shoulders, new lighting and even distance marker signage — all designed to make the facility more convenient for pilots.

New installments like the distance markers keep pilots informed about how much runway they have left as they prepare to take off or land.

“When you see the ‘4,’ that means you have 4,000 feet. Once you pass '4,' you’ll see the '3,' so that means you have 3,000 feet of runway remaining whether you’re taking off or landing,” Myers said. “They’re just visual markers to show you how many thousands of feet you have left.”

New lighting opens up the facility to be used more often by various types of aircraft at night. Myers noted that the previous lights set up along 5-23 were unreliable given their age.

The reconstruction project was the result of a $9.5 million grant that was awarded to the city last year by the Federal Aviation Administration. The grant was just a small portion of $779 million in infrastructure improvement funding awarded to airports in rural communities throughout the United States.

But rebuilding the runway cost the city just above $8 million, meaning that the leftover funding will be returned to the federal government. The FFA, Myers said, will likely use the funds to award another grant to a different airport.

The project cost the city a small portion of funding from its own coffers, about $60,000 in matching funds for the development of the airport’s design. In addition, the work generated about $100,000 in construction sales tax revenue.

According to Myers, among the reasons why the grant was initially awarded to the Coolidge airport was because of the condition of the airport’s main runway. Since the Coolidge airport was established in the 1940s, Myers said that the 5-23 had never undergone reconstruction and likely never saw any major improvements.

The brand new runway may just be the start of what city officials hope will be a bright future for the rural airport.

“This is a step in the right direction to attract more activity at the airport,” City Manager Rick Miller said. “Not just your standard aviation activity, but companies that might want to come out here (too).”

Bordered by state land, the Coolidge airport is in a strong position to not only capitalize on commercial and non-commercial aviation in the region but also, potentially, within the aerospace industry.

Based in a centralized location between two major metropolitan areas — Phoenix and Tucson — the Coolidge airport could slowly make the conversion into a spaceport, something city officials have previously discussed implementing as part of the airport’s master plan.

With many updates needed in order for the facility to meet the needs of the aerospace industry, such as a longer runway, the idea likely wouldn’t come to fruition until sometime down the line, Miller said.

“As we plan for these things and market this airport as an ideal airspace (and) an ideal climate in an ideal state to do this kind of activity, we could see more research and development companies coming here,” he said. “That’s our long-range plan. We really want this to be an economic engine for this region.”

In the meantime, the newly reconstructed runway could help attract more everyday users to the Coolidge airport.

Pilots interested in landing at the airport will occasionally drive along the runway to test out the surface. In the past, Myers noted, some have made the call to fly out to Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport instead of landing in Coolidge due to the runway’s condition.

“Now there’ll be no excuse,” he said. “It’s a perfectly clean surface, there’s no fog (and) no cracks.”

Drivers headed to the airport will also find the road leading into the facility much smoother. Near the conclusion of the reconstruction effort, the city teamed up with Pinal County to mill and overlay the main entrance leading into the airport, starting at Cactus Forest Road.

But though it may be as good as new, Miller said that work done on the runway is expected to be maintained through the grants agreement with the FAA, which will likely translate to future city budgets.

“We want to do what we can in our budget to maintain the facility out there so we don’t let it degrade again,” he said. “That requires crack-sealing, seal-coating and some other things, which is going to be an added cost to our budget.”

Increased maintenance and upkeep will likely require the airport to begin generating revenue to offset costs. The possibility is one Miller and Myers are currently examining through the set-up of a fee schedule for the use of the airport.

Though nothing certain has been determined yet, the charges could range from tie-down fees for aircraft to providing a city-run fueling system to capture the fueling revenue.

City officials said they plan to hold a grand opening of the new runway, tentatively scheduled for the first Saturday in October.

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Bacon believes differing career experiences will add to Coolidge council

COOLIDGE — With a background as a former business owner and a retired government administrator, Sue Bacon believes her varied experiences make her a good fit for City Council.

Bacon’s early career began in food service management before she decided to open up a restaurant with her husband, which the pair ran for 12 years.

After they sold the business, she then went to work for the State of Wyoming and retired 22 years later as Division Administrator in the Department of Family Services.

Her different professional experiences have given her a look at “two-sides of a coin,” she said.

Being a former small business owner provides her a strong understanding of the types of challenges small businesses in Coolidge face, Bacon said, while her background in the government sector has given her with ample knowledge regarding important government functions such as grants and budget management.

Bacon is one of five candidates running for council in the 2020 election cycle. Originally from Wyoming, she has lived in Coolidge for almost 8 years. But being a “transplant,” as she refers to it, has not had any impact on her love for the local community.

“I’m as committed to Coolidge as someone who grew up here their whole life,” Bacon said.

Since moving to the area, Bacon has served as a volunteer and member in a number of organizations including the Coolidge Rotary Club, the Artisan Village of Coolidge, the Coolidge Historical Society, the Coolidge Friends of the Library and the Pinal County Chapter 36 Disabled American Veterans Auxiliary.

She first became interested in getting involved in the community after she enrolled in a Leadership Coolidge course, sponsored by the city. The eight week course sought to teach members of the public about the functions of the local government and its different departments.

Bacon currently also serves as a member of the Personnel Advisory Board. She was appointed about a year ago.

Giving back to the community, through volunteerism and service opportunities, has been and continues to be a personal passion for Bacon.

If elected to council, she hopes to help sustain the growth Coolidge has seen in recent years — especially amid future difficulties the city might face.

“We’re going to have a lot of challenges in Coolidge because the impact to finances as a result of COVID-19,” she said. “While it can be challenging, I think we still have the potential to see Coolidge grow. And I’d really like to be a part of that.”

Among the issues Bacon hopes to address if elected include the need to expand the city’s infrastructure and services as the community continues to grow— ensuring that services like the fire and police departments are “strong.”

As a citizen, Bacon said she is passionate about supporting the community in anyway possible — something she hopes to help spread should she gain a seat on council.

“I believe in supporting Coolidge in every way I can— whether it’s shopping local (or) whether it’s participating in activities and things that Coolidge has to offer,” Bacon said. “I would like everyone in Coolidge to join me in doing all those things because that’s how we’re going to make Coolidge stronger and stronger.”

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Eloy ICE guard dies from COVID-19; cases up dramatically in CG

ELOY — A senior correctional officer at Eloy Detention Center died Sunday from COVID-19, according to a company spokesman.

Eloy Detention Center is a minimum and medium security private prison owned and operated by CoreCivic for U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and was opened in 1994.

The name of the employee is not being released due to family privacy and the officer last worked at the detention center on June 7.

"We also want to honor our employee's work to keep those in our care and our communities safe and healthy," Ryan Gustin of CoreCivic told a Phoenix television station. "Those efforts have never been more critical than during this unprecedented pandemic. We are eternally grateful for his dedication, service and selflessness."

The death was one of three new deaths reported in Pinal County Tuesday morning, bringing the total to 47.

There were 23 new positive cases reported in Eloy, bringing the total to 306, the second most in the county. However, Eloy's rate of infection is now nearly 16 per 1,000 population, the highest in the county.

Casa Grande had 51 new cases reported Tuesday, the highest single-day number for any community in Pinal County. Casa Grande now has had 364 positive cases, the most in the county.

Maricopa saw 18 new cases, while the three ZIP codes in the San Tan Valley/Queen Creek area reported 35 new cases. Coolidge reported 13 new cases.

Statewide, the number of new cases reported Tuesday topped 2,000 for the first time.

Normally the Tuesday report is the highest during the week because of delays in reporting over the weekend, but Tuesday's report of 2,392 new cases was high even for a Tuesday. The total number of positive cases in Arizona now numbers 39,097.

There were 25 new deaths reported statewide, bringing Arizona's total to 1,219.

The overall number of cases includes people who have recovered or showed no signs of illness.

It’s unclear how many of the new cases are due to expanded testing.

Gov. Doug Ducey has said hospitals would possibly forego elective surgeries if capacity was 80% or greater to save space for a COVID-19 surge. So far, though, there have been no indications that elective surgeries will be delayed.

St. Vincent de Paul, in a joint effort with CVS Health, has started offering rapid, free virus testing for uninsured people by appointment at the nonprofit's clinic in Phoenix. The goal is to allow people from low-income and other disproportionately affected communities to be tested, with results provided on the spot.

Licensed health care providers who work for CVS are staffing the testing operation. CVS also announced last week it added 14 more retail drive-through testing locations to 35 others already open in Arizona.

The number of new cases has leaped over the past two weeks. Ducey's stay-at-home order expired more than a month ago.

Arizona has drawn national attention as one of several emerging virus hot spots. Some experts have criticized Ducey and his administration for not doing more to stop the spread such as enforcing face masks and increasing contact tracing.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.