San Juan School Board talks capital plans, mission statement, enrollment numbers

by David Boyle
News Director
Members of the San Juan School Board heard updates on capital projects, a grant for Native Youth Community Projects, and a proposed update to the district mission statement at their latest meeting.
As part of their October 12 meeting, members of the school board heard an update on capital project plans for the district.
San Juan is among 13 districts in the state qualified to apply for $50 million in funds from the state for capital projects. 
With the application now available, Business Administrator Tyrel Pemberton is preparing three applications ahead of the November 1 deadline.
Superintendent Ron Nielson explained while the program allows grant matches of up to four to one, the district will be applying for fund matching of two to one.
“There’s going to be a lot of competition for $50 million we felt like we wanted to submit something that we felt would be competitive.”
As part of the conversation, the district also began setting plans for the future of Blanding Elementary School.
A few months ago the district learned that doing the architectural work to determine if the Elementary school needs to be replaced or can be remodeled would likely cost $70,000.
With uncertainty if the district wants to explore the option of remodeling or committing to a new school (at an estimated cost of $30 million by the district in April). District staff and the school board have not yet decided on whether to spend the estimated $70,000 to evaluate the current building.
With a decision on the district’s applications for state funds coming in January, the board and school staff signaled that the district should prepare a draft request for proposal (RFP) for the evaluation of Blanding Elementary School.
The preparation would allow the district to issue the RFP in early 2023 if the elementary school project is not funded by the state.
At the meeting, the board also heard public comments regarding mask mandates at Whitehorse High School.
One student, a person who works in the school, and two community members voiced their concerns and opinions via written comments that masks should be made optional at Whitehorse High School.
Nielson responded that the district has tried to follow Navajo Nation guidelines at schools on the Navajo Nation.
“We have tried to follow the Navajo Nation guidelines since the beginning of the pandemic and those are still the expected guidelines. There is still a mask mandate in schools.”
Board member Lucille Cody shared that she had heard that tribal offices could be opening next month with a lifting of the mask mandate.
“I did call up to the President’s office to let them know that our students down here are concerned about the masks,”
Nielson added the district did sign an assurance at the beginning of the year that they would follow Navajo Nation health guidelines but that the board could change that if they wanted.
The board did not take action on the item at the meeting.
The board also heard an update on the receipt of a Native Youth Community Project Grant.
District Heritage Langauge Director Brenda Whitehorse reported on the $2.58 million grant from the US Department of Education.
Whitehorse reported on the grant awarded at an average of $500,000 for five years. A total of 11 objectives were identified for the grant funding.
Among them included strengthening the Heritage Language program by creating a district Native Youth Council, and expanding heritage language events. 
Other objectives include creating a bilingual seal module. Students who pass the program test would receive the bilingual seal on their diplomas and receive a $1,000 scholarship.
The grant would also expand Ute Language services at White Mesa by hiring an education coordinator and creating a curriculum for Ute Language learning.
The grant will be used to increase the number and quality of American Indian teachers in the district by providing educational pathways for students and classified staff, as well as strengthening retention for staff that earn bilingual endorsements and cultural induction practices.
Members of the San Juan School Board also received and reviewed enrollment numbers at their latest meeting. 
Superintendent Nielson said they provide the data every fall to keep the board informed.
“It gives you a good idea of any real extreme swings or patterns, drops or increases because those are all tied to funding”
October 1 enrollment numbers across the district stayed relatively the same with 2,881 enrolled students up one from last year. In comparison in 2020, the district had 2,929 students enrolled before the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The district also reported on the report of ethnic minorities in the district. The number of ethnic minorities reported in 2022 was 1,738 an increase of nine students from 2021.
A chart with enrollment information can be viewed below.
At the meeting, members of the district leadership team made up of district staff, principals and teachers presented a new vision statement for the school district.
The proposed mission statement was crafted over several months of meetings by members of the district leadership team:
“San Juan School District’s QUEST is to weave together critical knowledge, skills, and attitudes that will empower all students to lead meaningful lives, engage civically, and advocate for themselves and their communities”
The statement is intended to replace the current statement which reads: “The Mission of San Juan School District is to unite parents, students, educators, and communities to enable all students to become empowered, literate, well-adjusted, and productive citizens.”
While the board did not vote to approve the statement, they did ask for involvement ahead of updating the mission statement.
As part of their meeting, members of the school board voted to wait another month before approving a $250,000 contract to sell one acre of land in Monument Valley to the Utah Food Bank.
The motion by board member Merri Shumway asked for additional time for board members to suggest tweaks to the contract ahead of its likely approval at the November school board meeting.
The Utah Food Bank approached the school district after the organization had secured funds from the Utah State Legislature to build a warehouse in Blanding and distribution facilities in Montezuma Creek and Monument Valley.
While the Utah Food Bank has secured land in Montezuma Creek and Blanding, the district property was the only option to purchase in Monument Valley in the timeline provided as the funds must be spent by June 2023.
The proposed site of the acre is on the southern end of the district property near the Utah Navajo Health System clinic along highway 163.
The district also approved the use of Federal Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) Funds.
The funds come from Federal Congressional acts including CARES and ARP
The paymen to staff is $750 or two percent of the employee’s annual salary, whichever is higher.
At the meeting, the board also recognized employees as recipients of the San Juan Sweet Jobs award, Jesse Grover for his work as student council advisor at San Juan High School and Anna Hart was recognized for her work implementing a new intervention program at Blanding Elementary school.

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