TOMBSTONE — The new school year for Tombstone Unified School District started Aug. 5, with the high school reporting 444 students, representing its largest enrollment on recond.
Tombstone High School Principal David Thursby recently sat down with the Herald/Review and talked about the good things happening at the high school, as well as a few of the challenges.
HERALD/REVIEW During an interview on the first day of school, you noted that a little over 60 percent of Tombstone High School’s students are from out-of-district.
What makes THS so attractive to out-of-district students?
DAVID THURSBY: After speaking to several parents through the summer, many of them told me that Tombstone has a reputation for being a safe place for students to go to school. The fact that we have highly qualified teachers in every position as well as relatively small class sizes are other reasons parents and students like Tombstone.
In addition, families are impressed with our sports and CTE (Career and Technical Education) programs. Our successful JROTC and FFA (Future Farmers of America) programs also are big draws.
Another factor is that we keep our sports and extracurricular programs affordable for our students by charging a $1 activity fee for the entire school year. Most schools charge a large amount of money for sports and extracurricular programs, but at Tombstone we don’t want money to prevent students from participating in extracurriculars. This is something the school has been doing for a number of years now, and families really appreciate it.
HR: The high school gymnasium’s wooden floor was damaged and removed because of flooding, causing the gym to be closed until the floor is replaced. What is delaying the installation and what are the timelines for replacing the floor? How does the gymnasium’s closure impact athletics and the school in general?
DT: The gymnasium and band room floors were damaged by the flood. Sun Country Floors out of Mesa was selected by our insurance company to make repairs to both. Carpeting was removed from the band room, and the wood floor was removed from the gymnasium at the beginning of the summer. The band room is being used while we wait for the new carpet to be installed, but the gym will remain closed until the new wood floor is installed. We had hoped it could be replaced by the time school started.
Because of high levels of humidity in the supporting concrete, the contractor is unable to install the wood floor until the humidity drops to an acceptable level.
So, now it’s a waiting game. At the beginning of the summer, Sun Country drilled small holes in the concrete in nine different places to test for humidity. They come back every two weeks to recheck humidity levels because it needs to drop to a certain point before they can install the wood floor.
(There is a tentative Sept. 4 installation date, depending on how much the concrete has dried out.)
When unexpected things like this happen, you always need a backup plan. So, we’re making the best of a tough situation. Our volleyball team is practicing at Walter J. Meyer Elementary School and they may have to play their home matches there.
Our PE classes are being held outside. When it’s too hot outside, we’ve been moving the classes into our weight room.
Pep assemblies may need to be held outside at the start of the school year, until the floor is replaced and the gym reopens.
HR: Year in and year out, a significant percent of the school’s students — upwards of 38 percent — are drawn to the JROTC program. To what do you attribute the program’s success?
DT: It starts with leadership at the top. Chief (Tom) Gross and Master Sgt. (Dan) Kilpatrick are phenomenal leaders. They have a vision for the program. They teach their cadets solid leadership skills and the cadets take the vision that the Chief and Master Sarge give to them and they in turn lead the other cadets.
Our JROTC participates in really cool activities on a regular basis. They go on field trips about once a month and they have very competitive teams. The rifle team is nationally ranked and the raider team is also very competitive.
Besides learning these leadership skills and participating in a number of activities through the year, the cadets have a lot of fun. There is a special camaraderie within the program.
Along with all this, we have one of only two mounted color guards in the nation, which is really neat. They always look sharp and are often invited to participate at different events.
So, the combination of all these things are reasons why students are attracted to our JROTC program.
HR: In an effort to encourage students to take dual or reverse credit classes, Tombstone High School recently announced it will pay the tuition for two Cochise College classes for students who qualify.
What do students need to do to qualify for the tuition waiver and why are these dual credit classes advantageous?
DT: To qualify for the paid tuition, students must take the AccuPlacer test and receive a certain score to ensure they are college ready. Students also must be working toward a college certificate or associate’s degree. Those who take advantage of the dual credit classes receive both high school and college credits, giving them an advantage when they start college.
When we presented this option to families at a meeting in June, we were amazed by the number of parents and students who attended, so there’s a lot of interest in this. About 80 parents and students attended our presentation, which was far more than we were expecting.
While some students will be taking the classes at Cochise College, we’re offering some classes at the high school. We’re offering English 101 and 102, and there are classes students can take online through our computer lab, so students have different options.
HR: What is the biggest challenge you face at THS that is unique to the district?
DT: The biggest challenge we face is that we have students that live in so many different places. It creates very interesting challenges because we have to try to provide transportation for these kids before and after school, and for extracurriculars.
It also presents challenges to our coaches. There are a number of schools where students are within 10 minutes from the school. When our coaches call practices, we have to send an activity bus, which can take up to an hour and a half to pick up all the students just to get them to our campus because we’re so far away. They practice for two or three hours, then have to ride the bus back home.
It creates a unique challenge that we face that most school campuses don’t face.
We have students that come from St. David, Huachuca City, Whetstone, Sierra Vista, Palominas, Hereford, Bisbee, McNeal, and Douglas. So, we’re very, very spread out.
I think, as a result, it helps make our students more resilient.