By Richard Smith
Tim Gonzales has been fairly calm this summer, for a school district director faced with construction delays on two of three campuses and the sudden departure of the principal of the district’s nationally-recognized high school.
Mr. Gonzales is the executive director of Paradise Schools, who planned to open the year with expansions to Paradise Honors High School and a new junior high campus on the same site. Delays to the start of construction set parts of the project back, and when school started Monday only the high school expansion was finished.
However, Mr. Gonzales said, the setback has not diminished the interest that drove the Surprise-based charter school district’s decision to expand in the first place. He said construction on the new middle school building just north of the high school should be finished in early October, as should new high school athletic fields east of campus.
“We projected around 2,500 students for this year K-12 and we currently have an enrollment of 2,529 with seat offers still out for kids to start on (Aug. 7), as well as additional students on our waiting lists. Ultimately the delay had little to no impact on our student count which is a testament of the quality of education our staff provides for Paradise Schools’ students. We are being creative with space on the elementary and high school campus to make room for the current students while we wait for the middle school to be open,” Mr. Gonzales stated in an email.
Before the expansion Paradise Honors High School, at 12775 N. 175th Ave., could squeeze in 580 students. The two new high school buildings are complete, allowing Paradise Honors to have 800 students.
Renovations at the high school and elementary school offices also are finished, he stated, and enhance the safety and security of both campuses.
A snug K-8 campus at the Paradise Education Center, 15533 W. Paradise Lane, is nothing new. For years, the campus has topped out at 1,500 students.
The goal was to move about 600 of those students into the new middle school building on land adjacent to the high school when classes began this week. Then the Paradise Education Center would be less crowded and still able to expand K-5 enrollment to 1,200.
Early in the start of the construction cycle in the winter, it was clear some work would not be ready by August.
“We experienced significant and unforeseen delays in the permitting process which has caused the delay of the initial work of the middle school campus,” Mr. Gonzales said.
For Paradise Schools, the wait is not so long as to diminish the wave of good feelings brought on by the expansion.
“All of our staff is buzzing with excitement and pride as we will fulfill the K-12 system and campuses we began planning in 2004. As we celebrate our 20th year of excellence in education for our families of Surprise we are excited to offer the highest caliber of education and amazing campuses. Our reputation as a quality learning institution has brought us extremely talented and very qualified staff from as far as Jamaica. As a result we have added approximately 55 new staff members this year,” Mr. Gonzales stated.
Paradise Honors will play football away from home for one more season, as the new football stadium will not be finished until October. The Panthers were able to renew their agreement with The Odyssey Institute to play on that Buckeye charter school’s field.
The soccer teams should be able to play their winter home games on the new field. And the new baseball field and tennis courts should be broken in by the time spring sports arrive.
“On a side note we refinished our PHHS gymnasium floor this summer to meet NCAA and high school regulation sizes so we can partner with Ottawa University. We are the only high school in the West Valley to have that amenity which is lending itself for a great partnership with Ottawa’s men’s and women’s basketball programs while they build their new university facilities,” Mr. Gonzalez stated.
Amidst all the new buzz on campus, Paradise Honors also welcomed a new principal Monday. But Jessica Alessio is a familiar name.
Michael Sears had been the school’s principal through its formative years. Mr. Gonzales stated that Mr. Sears had family issues in his home state of Ohio that required his immediate and indefinite attention.
Ms. Alessio was slated for the assistant principal position at PHHS this year and Mr. Gonzales stated she was the best person to take charge on the campus. She was there when the campus opened and said what makes the high school unique is its culture of high expectations and care for students.
“This is a special time for PHHS, and for Paradise Schools as a whole. When I think about what I am most looking forward to about leading Paradise this year, I have to say that it is fostering interpersonal relationships with all stakeholders – students, parents, teachers, administration, community members, etc.,” Ms. Alessio stated in an email. “This is the strongest staff we have ever had at PHHS and the dedication of these individuals is what makes me energized and excited for all that is to come.”
She has served the several years as the PHHS Master Teacher and last year also served on special assignment dealing with the high school discipline.
In addition, she went on to lead the PHHS professional development when she held positions as a Mentor Teacher and Master Teacher, all the while earning her second Master’s degree in administration at ASU.
“I originally hired her seven years ago when I was the PHHS principal. She has continuously proven herself as a terrific educator teaching our high school students and was able to offer college classes on campus as a dual enrollment teacher/professor through Rio Salado College,” Mr. Gonzales stated. “Overall, Jessica has a superior work ethic, is level headed and maintains a caring, personable demeanor with students, parents and staff. All of her proven attributes made her the best person to carry on our successful academics and safe, positive culture at PHHS.”