Higley USD is working on a possible virtual alternative for this school year’s high school graduation ceremonies, district officials told the governing board April 29.

Graduations for Higley and Williams Field high schools are scheduled for May 21, but plans have been put into doubt by the coronavirus pandemic.

“We're not sure exactly where we're going at this time, but we do have plans for lots of different situations,” Superintendent Dr. Mike Thomason told the governing board.

Higley USD K-12 Educational Services Assistant Superintendent Dawn Foley said graduation has been an “all-consuming conversation” that has been conducted with administrators, student groups and other districts. She did say something will be done at the date and time of the originally graduations.

“You almost have to grieve that this is the reality we're dealing with and how do we honor and celebrate our class of 2020 the best way we can, knowing that all the options we've thrown out there, some of them aren't reasonable, feasible, safe, and ... they don't replace the experience,” said Foley, who also is a parent to a high school senior.

Originally, the district considered small groups with families invited, but as state guidance changed about how large groups could be, the viability of that option dwindled.

“Let me just tell you the exhaustive conversations and anguish we've had because we all want to celebrate our kids special,” Foley said. “We don't want to be accused of not doing enough for or making it special enough or our kids. But at the same time, you don't want to create a scenario where we create a health hazard that may alter the course of the rest of your human life in a pandemic and global effect that we don't even know the extent of yet.”

Foley said Williams Field High School equipment manager Matt Marqueling, who has computer, design and coding skills, offered a program he uses to use a spreadsheet of information to populate slides of each senior, which could be shown when a senior’s name is called at a virtual ceremony.

The template would include the school logo, student’s senior picture, information on their future plans and who they want to thank.

District officials also are talking with different companies that put on such virtual ceremonies, Foley said.

In the meanwhile, administrators are identifying who would give the different speeches in preparation for video recording of those speeches in advance of the event. Music needs also are being considered.

If it is all put together by May 15, the result could be ready for the ceremonies’ originally scheduled times May 21. The video could be broadcast on the Higley Center’s TV platform at those times, Foley said.

“We have begun working through putting together the parts and pieces of the best virtual ceremony that we can at this moment with all hope that we didn't have to use it,” Foley said. “But that's where we're at right now.”

Board Vice President Kristina Reese called graduation a rite of passage, but said it was less about the ceremony than the chance for seniors to celebrate together. She said the district must make a decision on how to proceed soon soon based on best available information so that families can make plans.

Thomason said some of that decision would be based on what the governor said can be done with gatherings, but if those are not possible, they are preparing the virtual piece.

Another possibility would be stitching together individual videos of students walking across the stage, but Thomason if putting together 500 videos cannot be done in a quality manner, the district will not do it. Individual slides could be then done instead.

Board Member Jill Wilson asked about other opportunities for the seniors to gather and celebrate at another time. Thomason said too many will be moving on with their lives—going on missions or to college or joining the military—to make a later graduation ceremony feasible, but something else will be done.

“I'm thinking more of a prom-type situation,” Thomason said. “They've missed out on their senior prom. And so if we can take a look at next year or in the future or in the summer or maybe for their five-year anniversary, I don't know what it looks like. I honestly don't. But I do know that the district does have funds set aside for our graduation, that we owe it to these guys to look for something for them to celebrate in the future.”

In other board items:

  • The board had an opportunity to review an update to next school year’s calendar and proposed calendars for the following four years. The proposals carve time for junior high school teachers to get professional development as elementary and high school teachers do. Parent-teacher conferences were moved back to allow teachers to develop more feedback for parents. No action on the proposals was taken.

  • The board approved increasing certified teacher base salaries by $1,000 to $41,000.

  • The board unanimously approved a Request for Qualifications, or RFQ, to go out to contractors who may wish to bid on doing the work for the proposed field house at Williams Field High School.

  • The board denied expense reimbursement to Higley High School Athletic Director Aaron Dille for $2,229.01 for three trips he took—one to Florida with the golf team; one to Colorado to scout football teams for a prospective home-and-away series; and one to Washington D.C. for an athletic directors convention. The trips did not get preapproval, and board members said Dille had been told he would need that after similar expenses last year. The vote was 4-1 with Board Member Scott Glover dissenting.

  • The board unanimously approved the issuance of classified work agreements with a step-level increase for the 2020-21 school year. A one-step movement reflects an average increase of 3.4% for the classified non-exempt employees.

  • The board unanimously approved contracts with vendors for its various employee benefits packages. Employees will pay no additional money out of pocket for its medical and dental premiums in the coming year.