Encouraged by his strong support among community members, students and staff, Patagonia schools officials have hired Kenny Hayes as their next permanent superintendent.

Hayes has been a fixture in the community since he and his wife Journee joined the Patagonia Union High School faculty in 2013 to teach social studies and English, respectively. Since then, he has also coached PUHS sports teams and served as athletics and student services director, assistant principal/superintendent, and recently, interim superintendent.

“I think the kids and the staff at Patagonia are very good people, and this is a great place for my family – my wife teaches at the school, too,” Hayes said. “We like the town, we like the people, and the school is a good place to raise your kids. So staying here is a logical step for us.”

Hayes said he was offered the job last month, and Ron Pitt, president of the Patagonia Union High School governing board, told the NI on Friday that Hayes’ contract to serve as superintendent of the PUHS and Patagonia Elementary school districts had just received the final OK from the district’s lawyer. The three-year deal takes effect on July 1.

Pitt said Hayes is “a good fit for the community.”

“He understands small schools. He knows the challenges – it’s a rural school, it’s a small school. He understands the challenges that exist,” said Pitt, who noted that both he and Hayes grew up and attended school in small towns in Montana.

“But he also understands the opportunities that students have attending a smaller school as opposed to a large, urban school,” Pitt said.

Hayes takes over for Rachel Hochheim, who had led the elementary and high schools since the 2017-18 school year.

Hochheim went on maternity leave beginning last Nov. 1, and Hayes stepped in for her on an interim basis for the months of November and December, Pitt said, adding that when Hochheim returned in January, she and Hayes split the superintendent’s duties.

Then in February, Hochheim notified school officials that she was planning to move and would therefore not accept a new contract at the end of the fiscal year.

At that point, Pitt said, it was already late in the school year to begin a full-fledged national search. Then, during a subsequent school board meeting, community members, students and teachers asked for an internal search.

After that meeting, he said, board members surveyed the school employees, and all but one expressed a preference for an internal search.

Hayes ended up being the only internal candidate qualified to be superintendent, since he has the certificate of principalship that’s required by the state. So the board members interviewed him, and also set up sessions for students, school employees and community members.

“We gathered their input from each of those interview sessions and I don’t think there was anyone who said ‘I don’t believe he’s qualified,’” Pitt said. “We had very good, positive feedback from everyone who attended those sessions.”

Pitt said he also had a good impression of Hayes from his time as interim superintendent.

“I found him very open. I found him very much out in the community doing different things with the constituents of the schools, and I was rather impressed with that,” he said.

Patagonia’s elementary and high schools are operated by two school school districts with distinct governing boards. That’s because their boundaries are not identical. The high school district includes the territory of the elementary district, as well as that of the Sonoita Elementary School District, which operates its own K-8 school in Elgin.

Unlike Hochheim, who was the superintendent and principal of Patagonia’s public schools, Hayes was hired exclusively to be superintendent of the two Patagonia districts. He’ll earn an annual salary of $85,000 Pitt said.

“We technically will not have anybody in a ‘principal’ role at the schools, but that gives us the flexibility to see how we might want to change the administrative structure to accommodate both of the districts,” Pitt said.

As he finishes out the current school year in the interim role, Hayes and the Patagonia Public Schools staff are dealing with the unique challenges presented by the coronavirus epidemic, which forced all Arizona schools to close for the year.

Since the closure, Patagonia students have been forging ahead with a distance learning model.

“The K-5 kids are mainly doing paper stuff, with some hybrid online stuff. And 6-12 is doing mostly online, except for the kids who don’t have internet access and we’re providing paper copies for them,” Hayes said, adding that the schools distributed more than 100 Chromebooks to help students complete their assignments at home.

Hayes praised the teachers for doing a good job of getting materials put together for their students, and he said staff is hoping to put together some sort of graduation for their eighth-graders and high school seniors.

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