School Board selects site for new Blanding Elementary School

by David Boyle
News Director
The San Juan School Board selected a site for the new Blanding Elementary School, approved a rule exception for an administrator to coach at San Juan High, and approved an agreement with the City of Blanding to bring a resource officer into Blanding schools at their latest meeting.
At their June 20 meeting, members of the board moved forward with a site for the new Blanding Elementary School and the architect for upcoming capital projects.
The school board voted unanimously to move forward with planning construction on an undeveloped lot owned by the district at the intersection of 800 North and 100 West.
The district issued a site evaluation report for two sites for the new school, which will replace the existing building. The report looked at the existing site of the school and the property selected at 800 North and 100 West.
Building where the current elementary school is located did have some advantages, but were mostly outweighed by the drawbacks of the location.
The report notes that “While earthwork and site preparation costs would be minimized at this location, design limitations, elevated construction costs, and the small size of the lot make this site less than optimal.”
Additionally, district staff noted the difficulty of operating the school while building on the same lot.
The approved site is located northwest of Albert R Lyman Middle School. The approximately 13.5-acre site has enough room to accommodate the new school, as well as the construction of an auxiliary gym.
While there are utility hook-ups near the undeveloped lot, one challenge of the new site will be the topography, with as much as a 10-foot differential between high and low points on the lot.
The Big-D Kitchell (BDK) report notes that earthwork would come at a significant cost.
Despite the cost, the report recommended the site the board ultimately chose. BDK recommended that the costs for earthwork at the approved site would be offset by the site’s advantages, resulting in an overall lower project cost and a design better suited for the community.
At the meeting, members of the board also selected an architecture firm to provide design services for the new school and entrance safety improvements planned at other schools in the district.
A district evaluation committee recommended MHTN Architects after reviewing four bids for the projects. The board unanimously approved entering into negotiations to have MHTN provide the services for the big capital projects coming to the district.
Members of the school board also approved an exception to a district policy to allow for a coach to also serve as an assistant principal.
In mid-May, the district opened applications for the San Juan High Assistant Principal. The lone applicant was Barkley Christensen, who has worked as a San Juan social studies teacher and as the head football coach of the Broncos over the past several years.
Under current district policy, accepting the assistant principal position would also require Christensen to resign as the head football coach.
Both San Juan High Principal Ryan Nielson and School District Superintendent Ron Nielson recommended the board grant an exception to allow Christensen to accept the position and continue to coach the football team.
Principal Nielson said he believed Christensen is an exceptional candidate and would make a difference at San Juan High.
“He’s an exceptional leader within our school. He has a lot of influence with football players and non-football players. He’s able to connect with students, he’s got tons of support from me to help support him to continue to coach.
“Every year I get calls from other places that want him to go coach at their high school and I want to do whatever I can to keep him here at San Juan High. I think its a great opportunity.”
Christensen has coached the Broncos to back-to-back state titles. Principal Nielson also noted that the 90 students playing football last year make up roughly one-fourth of the student body.
Nielson outlined that supporting Christensen includes a commitment that Nielson will be in school during the six to eight varsity road trips, including playoffs and that the assistant coaching staff is prepared to run practices should an administrative emergency keep Christensen after school.
“He’s very professional, very academic-oriented and he’s a great leader within our school. I would hope to have an exception to this rule,” said Nielson.
Superintendent Nielson also supported the exception to allow Christensen to coach while working as an Assistant Principal. Superintendent Nielson did say that the exception could have implications beyond this case.
Nielsen recommended the board examine the policy so that future exceptions to the rule would require a recommendation from a supervisor and the superintendent.
“There’s just not a one-size fits all that now we’re talking about a very unique individual, we’re talking about football which is a very abbreviated season compared to basketball for example.
“So anyways, I think there are some variables that have to be looked at in every individual case. The question is does the board want to wrestle with the exceptions or would you rather make that an administrative function?”
Board member Steven Black asked if the district should examine the policy against administrators’ coaching.
While Superintendent Nielson recommended a policy to have supervisors play a key role in granting exceptions to the rule, he agreed that a conversation about the policy ought to be revisited.
“Things don’t ever stay exactly the same so policy coming before the board is going to be a routine thing and it has been. I think we’ve reached a point where finding coaches 25 years ago, 15 years ago was not as challenging as today. We are really hard pressed in a number of areas. We have some programs that we have dropped because we have not found an advisor for them.”
Members of the board voted to approve the exception four to two. Black, Merri Shumway, Lori Maughan, and Nan Barton voted for the exception and Nelson Yellowman and Colleen Benally voted against.
The board also indicated they were interested in further discussing the policy at a future meeting.
San Juan School Board members also approved a partnership with Blanding City to bring a school resource officer into the school.
The district was approached by Blanding City with a Memorandum of Understanding to create a new position in the city police department to serve as a school resource officer. 
The agreement will have the city paying more than half of the costs of the position, while Blanding schools will pay $40,000 annually to have the resource officer in the schools on weekdays throughout the school year.
The outline will have the officer in San Juan High three days a week, ARL Middle School 1.5 days a week, and in Blanding Elementary one-half day a week.
Blanding schools will be using Utah Teacher Student Success Act Funding to pay for the position, with San Juan High covering the majority of the cost as the officer will be in the school the majority of the week.
District staff report having the resource officer in the school will build relationships with students, teach preventative lessons, and deter misbehavior by being a daily presence in the schools.
While the proposal came from Blanding City, the district is hopeful to take the model to other schools.
Board member Nelson Yellowman noted that the Navajo Nation Police Departments in Shiprock and Kayenta are stretched thin and may lack the manpower to provide a law enforcement presence in River Region schools in Montezuma Creek and Monument Valley.
Superintendent Nielson added that while the district previously had a Kayenta police school resource officer in Monument Valley schools, a request from the Navajo Nation to provide 100 percent of the funding for the officer resulted in the discontinuation of the program several years ago. 
Still, Nielson added that the time may be right to re-approach the Navajo Nation with a proposal similar to the one in Blanding.
Members of the board unanimously approved the Memorandum of Understanding with the City of Blanding.
Members of the school board also reviewed participation data and approved official responses to formally submitted suggestions and comments to improve the education of Native American Students.
Members of the board also approved the annual fiscal year budget at their June 20 meeting.
The review and responses are part of the compliance with the District Native American Policies and Procedures. The review is to ensure the district provides equitable access to programs, services, and activities.
The district noted citizen questions and comments are lower this year, in part because the district has been limited to in-person chapter visits as part of the Covid-19 pandemic.

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