Report cards for the schools were discussed at the February 12 meeting of the school board.
Three schools in the district – Monument Valley High, Tse’bii’nidzisgai Elementary, and Bluff Elementary – showed enough improvement to climb out of the “corrective action” status that designates the lowest performing schools.
Whitehorse High School remains in “corrective action” status. In addition, unless test scores improve next year, Tse’bii’nidzisgai Elementary and Navajo Mountain High may move into “corrective action” status.
Because concern was expressed in many areas of the state after several years of the program, the report cards this year do not include a single letter grade for each school.
Superintendent Ron Nielson said that the one-year break from letter grades may be extended if proposals before the state legislature are approved.
The School Report Cards are published by the Utah State Office of Education.
While the report cards for the schools do not have a single letter grade, they do include measures of several key indicators of school success, including overall achievement, growth in test scores, the progress of English Language Learners, and progress of the lowest 25 percent of students.
Each indicator is given an evaluation, ranging from “Critical Need” at the bottom end of the scale and moving upward to “Developing”, to “Typical”, to “Commendable”, and to a high of “Exemplary”.
These individual scores can be tallied to give an overall numerical score for each school.
There are 150 points possible for five elementary schools and one middle school in the district. The overall scores range from 45 at Tse’bii’nidzisgai Elementary to 84 at Monticello Elementary.
La Sal Elementary did not receive scores in all areas because of low enrollment numbers.
For secondary schools, a post-secondary readiness score is added to the other measures, resulting in 225 possible points for the five high schools in the district.
The overall scores range from 89 at Whitehorse High to 128 at Monticello High.
Navajo Mountain High did not receive scores in all areas because of low enrollment numbers.
Lynette Johnson, director of K-12 Student Support Services for the district, reports that the progress of English Language Learners (ELL) is a critical need for the district.
Johnson reports that the district is carefully monitoring the progress of the ELL students and hopes that improvements in SIOP instruction and other instructional programs will have a positive influence.
Johnson said that the number of teachers with training in English as a Second Language (ESL) has dropped in recent years.
Johnson added that the district had an aggressive ESL endorsement program in the past but it has been deemphasized.
“We need to improve our efforts with ESL,” said Johnson. She said that the district is trying to encourage more teachers to secure ESL endorsements.
Superintendent Nielson said that the report cards have increased accountability, “As schools improve, the bar goes up.”
“We are very diligently trying to say there is only so much support and we have to put it in the right place. We have to see results.
“We believe the things that we are implementing here are best practice and have been proven to work.
“We have some obstacles that we have talked about and that we are working diligently to overcome.”
Nielson added, “Our greatest challenge, we believe, is attracting and retaining quality staff.
We need individuals with a very deep skill set in our most complex areas. We have seen progress. I am very optimistic.”
In other matters at the February 12 board meeting, the district finalized ground breaking services for two new projects.
Groundbreaking was Tuesday, February 26 for the new Bluff Elementary School and the new gymnasium adjacent to Montezuma Creek Elementary School. The brief one-hour programs were scheduled to include traditional Native American blessings.
Bluff School use
Regarding the soon-to-be-abandoned Bluff Elementary School, the Town of Bluff submitted a request to acquire the old school.
Bluff Town Council member Jim Sayers presented the request to acquire the old school for public, non-profit, and/or public service offices.
“We really can’t offer anything as far as purchase price,” said Sayers, who mentioned that the town is “currently broke” but hopes to collect property taxes, sales tax and secure a portion of the Transient Room Tax in the future.
“Land is very expensive in Bluff right now,” said Sayers.
Sayers said that the new municipality is currently meeting at the Bluff Community Center and needs administrative space.
A letter outlining the request states that the building may be used as an office to secure drivers licenses, auto registration, forestry products, and more.
Other organizations that may be interested in using the space include Community Rebuilds, Design Build Bluff, and Utah Dine Bikeyah.
The letter states, “Bluff is central to the communities along the San Juan River, a crossroads that efficiently connects much of our southern San Juan County to our communities to the north.”
The school board will provide a property assessment once it becomes available. Further discussion on the issue was deferred to closed session.
In 1994, the school district sold its old administrative headquarters in Monticello to the City of Monticello for $130,000. The land surrounding the building was donated to the City with the stipluation that it remain in use as a park.
Fee waivers issue
Superintendent Nielson discussed progress on the district plan to deal with fee waivers.
The state auditor released a report expressing concern about the fee waiver program in schools across the state.
The law states that students are not required to pay school fees if they cannot afford them.
While the district currently covers many of the costs of the fee waiver students, there are other costs that may accrue.
The school district is researching the actual out-of-pocket cost of participation in all school activities, including fees, travel, food, lodging, and other expenses.
“We want to know what are the parents spending right now,” said Nielson. “What is it actually costing?
“It may not feel like $1,000 because it is over six months, but if you look back it may be that much.”
Nielson said that the preliminary information on the actual costs is “eye opening, but not extravagant.”
“The camps are close,” explained Nielson. “These programs are not extreme. A lot of the money is in travel, motel rooms, and the cost of meals. You very quickly get up to $1,000 and non-fee waiver kids are paying that.”
The process will also look at fundraising efforts, which cannot require specific fee-waiver students to raise money to cover their costs.
Nielson explained that research shows that fee waiver students are often among the least connected students in the community.
Many schools in the district have not required students to submit paperwork to establish fee waiver status, under the assumption that all students are eligible.
One result is that the district may require every student who may be eligible for fee waivers to submit paperwork.
Nielson said that when all is said and done, there may need to be a “drastic change” in how fee waivers are handled.
He made a very rough estimate that it could cost the district up to $300,000 a year to fully fund the fee waiver program
Superintendent Nielson said there is a possibility that the state will defer a decision for another year to allow districts to fully evaluate the situation.
Nielson said two bills are currently before the legislature, one clarifying and supporting the current school fee policy, and the other omitting academic fees altogether.
San Juan High report
In school reports, San Juan High School Principal Bob Peterson discussed school safety efforts at the school.
Programs at San Juan High include Navigate Prepared, “I Love You Guys” Program, and the Run, Hide, Fight active shooter defense protocol.
Peterson shared techniques being implemented in each classroom, including safety buckets, basic medical supplies, bucket of bricks, door magnets, water and other immediate supplies.
Lyman Middle report
Principal Paul Murdock discussed issues of interest at Albert R. Lyman Middle School. He shared school goals, including increases in proficiency in Language Arts, Math and Science.
Some highlights from the year include Restorative Practices, the annual School Play, Quiz Bowl, Utah State Capitol Field Trip, Mustang of the Month, Monthly Read the Rainbow parties and Leadership Team Training.
Sweet Job awards
San Juan Sweet Job Awards were presented to Shari Griffin, Gail Lee, and Chris Reeves.
Griffin, the art teacher at Monticello High, was honored for her work with the Monticello Banner project, which features student art work on light poles in Monticello, and additional displays at the school for community events.
Lee was honored for her work as the financial services expert at Whitehorse High School. She was called the secret to the success of many school efforts because of her behind-the-scenes expertise. “The school could not function without her,” said Principal Kim Schaefer.
Reeves, a Special Ed teacher at Montezuma Creek Elementary School, was honored for “knowing everything” and being a tremendous help at the school.
Odds and Ends
In other matters, Nielson updated the board on leadership training efforts in the district, specifically Strategic Leadership Teams. Nielson said that progress is being made in the schools from leadership teams.
The board held their annual training regarding meeting conduct, quorum representation, and Roberts Rules of Order.
Business Administrator Kyle Hosler provided an overview of the Budget Development process.
Human Resources Director Matt Keyes discussed the Navigation Prepared system, which is used for school attendance tracking and crisis management.
The next school board meeting is March 7 at La Sal Elementary School.