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story.lead_photo.caption Becky Kesler, Texarkana Arkansas School District Superintendent, hands a bonus check Friday to Donald Williams, a teacher at Arkansas High School. Photo by Kelsi Brinkmeyer / Texarkana Gazette.

The Texarkana, Arkansas, School District passed out bonus checks to all staff members Friday morning to thank them for the extra work they've put in during the pandemic.

The Board of Directors approved a recommendation by the TASD administration in October to give certified and classified staff a onetime additional compensation payment of $1,000 and $500, respectively. And they managed to keep it a secret from staff until Friday morning.

District administrators divided up to visit all the different locations and surprised staff members by delivering checks to each employee in their campus/department. They made sure to socially distance and meet teachers at their doorways to limit contact with students.

Superintendent Becky Kesler said she worked closely and persistently with the Department of Education to figure out a way to compensate her staff. Finally, they came to an agreement to pay them for the additional time they'd put in.

"I wasn't going to take no for an answer," Kesler said. "I got very annoying, I think. I just kept going back and saying, 'Well, what can I do?' Where there's a will, there's a way. And we got it done."

She said having to teach three different learning pathways — traditional, blended and virtual — caused many long nights and added hours for staff.

"Trying to keep the kids engaged, and especially the ones at home, was a challenge," Carla Phares, a teacher at Arkansas High, said. "Because they're not getting a lot of interaction. So, that's a struggle. But we're doing some fun things for them, like TikTok challenges. And we Zoom every week. We try to keep them involved even though they're at home."

Phares said the bonuses came at an ideal time not only to buy Christmas gifts but to unexpectedly help pay for an upcoming trip.

"It was very exciting," she said. "We're tired, but that was a little cherry on top."

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