Higley USD high school graduations will head back to campuses

Higley USD district office
Higley USD high school graduations will be held at the schools' stadiums. (Courtesy Higley USD)

Higley USD high school graduations will be held at the schools' stadiums. (Courtesy Higley USD)

Higley USD is planning for live high school graduations in May, but they will not be held at Arizona State University’s Wells Fargo Arena as they were pre-COVID-19.

Instead, the ceremonies will be held at the high schools with graduates limited to two guests each, though that number could increase depending on the pandemic conditions at the time, according to staff’s presentation to the governing board Feb. 24. Many details remain to be worked out, Secondary Education Executive Director David Loutzenheiser said.

The ceremonies also will be livestreamed for those who cannot attend in person, he said.

The graduations originally were scheduled at ASU on May 27 with Williams Field High School in the morning and Higley High School in the afternoon.

Now Williams Field will be at 7:30 p.m. May 26 and Higley at 7:30 p.m. May 27 at their respective stadiums.

The switch came because ASU informed the district it would not host the event because of the pandemic, Loutzenheiser said. The district then looked into using other similarly large venues, such as professional and spring training stadiums, but they were not available for various reasons, Loutzenheiser said.

The district has checked into the artificial fields’ ability to handle a stage, chairs and the activities around a graduation ceremony, and it has been assured the fields can handle it and will not nullify the fields’ warranties.

Loutzenheiser said the district will continue to charge a $50 per student graduation fee to pay for streaming service and sound system rental; rentals for chairs, stage or ramp; and decorations, fireworks and wristbands. He said the fee does not cover graduation ceremony costs with the remaining covered out of the maintenance and operations budget.

The district also committed to holding a prom or prom-like event and is looking into the best way to have an awards night at Higley Center for the Performing Arts and senior night for the schools.

Technology update

The COVID-19 pandemic forced the district to speed up the rollout of technological devices to students and campuses, Information Technology Assistant Director Robert Schrope told the governing board.

The district has an initiative to have a 1:1 ratio between technological devices and students, with secondary students taking theirs home and elementary students leaving them at school.

In the past school year, students at seven schools received new or existing devices, with two more schools getting theirs this summer and the remaining four in the next school year, Schrope said.

The district also has a five-year plan on refreshing existing devices, which it rolls out by schools over the years, Schrope said.

Additionally, the district has implemented a help desk that is open to students or families during school hours, upgraded districtwide internet to 10G, deployed Cyberstrike as new cyber security and upgraded wireless networks at the middle schools.

The district also plans to replace its phone system and replace the intercoms at Coronado Elementary School and Higley Traditional Academy.

Other items

  • The board approved on the consent agenda the hire of Sossaman Middle School Principal John Dolan as the first principal of Higley Virtual Academy and Higley High Assistant Principal James Walker as the district’s director of student services/Title IX.

  • Interim Chief Financial Officer Jeff Gadd reported that the district is receiving $2.7 million in second round of the federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief funding, or ESSER II. An ESSER III is being considered in Congress, Gadd said.

By Tom Blodgett

Editor, Gilbert

Raised in Arizona, Tom Blodgett has spent more than 30 years in journalism in Arizona and joined Community Impact Newspaper in July 2018 to launch the Gilbert edition. He is a graduate of Arizona State University, where he served as an instructional professional in the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication from 2005-19 and remains editorial adviser to The State Press, the university's independent student media outlet.