School board approves A/B schedule, sale of Bluff Elementary

The San Juan School Board finalized a new daily schedule for secondary schools, approved the sale of the old Bluff Elementary School, and discussed water issues in Montezuma Creek at their June 22 meeting.

Secondary schools in the San Juan School District will have a new daily schedule when school starts in August. 

For several years, students have had eight separate classes nearly every day, but starting this fall, it will change to an A/B schedule with students having classes 1-4 one day and 5-8 the next.

Students at six secondary schools in the district, including Albert R. Lyman Middle School and San Juan, Whitehorse, Monument Valley, Navajo Mountain and Monticello high schools will now have an A/B schedule with an 8:25 a.m. start time and a 3:15 p.m. release.

The daily schedule for teachers starts at 7:45 a.m., with a 35-minute collaboration meeting. Students arrive at 8:25 a.m. for three class periods of 80 minutes.

After a 35-minute lunch break is a final class period. Between 2:40 and 3:15 p.m. is a scheduled flex time to allow for additional interventions and instructional resources for students.

Whitehorse High and Albert R. Lyman Middle schools may have a slightly different schedule to allow the schools to serve two lunch periods.

The change in start time for the school day had been a point of disagreement among various stakeholders.

School Superintendent Ron Nielson said parents in the river region schools (in Montezuma Creek, Bluff, Monument Valley, and Navajo Mountain) favor starting the school day as late as possible, even up to 9 a.m. 

Meanwhile, the majority of parents in the mountain Region schools (Blanding, Monticello, and La Sal) preferred the school day continue to start at the same time.

One challenge is that secondary schools in the district often participate in distance learning, with a teacher at one high school broadcasting their lecture to students in multiple schools.

The method allows the district to offer more class options. Nielson explained that to keep that successful program, class periods across the district need to occur at the same time.

Neilson recognized that the schools won’t be able to meet all priorities but added the proposed schedule hits the most possible priorities.

Nielson said the top priority driving the schedule change is related to meeting the academic needs of students.

“They needed more collaboration and time for intervention extension, more teacher collaboration, and the needed time to go deeper into the concepts,” said Nielson.

The board passed the motion 3-2, with Lori Maughan, Nelson Yellowman, and Lucille Cody voting for, and Merri Shumway and Steven Black voting against.

Shumway and Black represent areas in and near Blanding. Nearly 80 percent of the 200 Blanding parents who filled out the district survey ranked “leaving school start times unchanged” as a top priority.

Shumway raised concerns about how different start times could impact drop-off times for parents, along with concerns about supervision of students who are dropped off early.

Nielson said the district has long had an issue with parents dropping off kids before school starts. The schools serve breakfast before classes start and have some capacity to supervise children who arrive early. Those who arrive very early may have to wait outside, depending on the weather.

Shumway shared the reason for her vote with Black, stating, “Overwhelmingly the people who responded from the area that I represent, that is their preference.”

Cody shared her reasoning for her vote with Yellowman, echoing similar thoughts and adding, “I know my area and the parents from the river region where we live would rather go with a later start.”

Maughan pointed to the survey numbers as part of her reason for the vote. An earlier district survey regarding COVID-19 had received nearly 1,300 responses, while the survey regarding the start time had about 1,000 less responses in comparison.

“We only had a total of 337 responses, and we are basing this entire decision off of 337 people,” said Maughan. “Every response is valid, but I also feel like the recommendation from staff is more highly in favor of an 8:25 a.m. start, which suffices both regions of schools.”

The new start time and A/B schedule will be implemented in August. The change also eliminates the need for a Tuesday morning late start at secondary schools and could also eliminate the Tuesday late start at elementary schools.

While secondary schools in the district will have an 8:25 a.m. start time, elementary schools in the district will be able to choose their start time on a school-by-school basis. 

Nielson reported that early discussions indicate the river region elementary schools will choose to match the secondary schools, with Monticello likely to stick with an 8:15 a.m. start. Blanding Elementary school will also be able to choose their start time.

At the meeting, the board also approved the sale of the old Bluff Elementary School. With the district completing the construction of a new Bluff Elementary School in 2020, the district has had the property listed for sale for several months.

The board approved the sale of the old elementary school property to the Bluff Town Council for $307,500.

Cody, Maughan, and Yellowman voted for the sale, with Shumway voting against and Black abstaining due to a possible conflict of interest.

The discussion about the sale or purchase of real property by government entities in Utah occurs behind closed doors, with the actual action taking place in open meeting.

The board also discussed the need for sufficient water for the football field and practice field at Whitehorse High School in Montezuma Creek.

Nielson reported the field used to get adequate water from Elk Petroleum, but as water needs for the oil company have increased, the availability for the Whitehorse field has decreased. Elk Petroleum is working with the district to solve this issue, with a recommended solution to increase water storage capacity.

“They have enough water; we don’t have enough water storage capacity,” Nielson explained. “We need to put it in a tank and then we can use it at will. But if we need to wait for the pumps to generate all the water, we can use it faster than the infrastructure can supply it out of the river.”

Neilson explained the water is needed to keep the field playable, with safety being a top issue.

The district could use Elk Petroleum infrastructure to pump the water up to the hill north of the school, with a gravity feed down to the fields. A new pump would cost up to $70,000, with the possibility of additional charges if the district chooses to put a new tank on top of the hill.

Installing artificial turf field was discussed. District maintenance personnel discourage that option because of the need for additional equipment and eventual replacement. 

The district also heard from Jones and DeMille Engineering representing the Aneth Chapter. The Chapter has purchased an old swimming pool and building in Montezuma Creek which has not been used for more than a decade.

The Chapter plans to turn the building into a wellness center. The infrastructure in the old building is connected to the Whitehorse High School water and sewer system.

The Aneth Chapter approached the district asking to be connected again. The connection point would be metered, with the Chapter paying the district for the water.

The board directed district employees and Jones and DeMille to work out details of the proposal before the board agrees to move forward.

The district has been approached by Bleacher Report, a sports news website, that is doing a series of videos featuring sports arenas off the beaten path. They are interested in featuring the Monument Valley High School football field.

Neilson reported they may bring an NFL player to Monument Valley to talk with high school players, record a traditional ceremony at the beginning of the year, and talk about Monument Valley.

The district hopes the sports media company could help promote a recent book the school collaboratively created. If the video series takes place, parental permission would be required for students to be filmed. Any filming would also be done with oversight to remain culturally sensitive.

The district received a report from the food service and special education departments.

Food service director Anna Fredericks reports the district served more than 141,000 meals during the school year. She also reported they are planning to implement feedback received from student surveys regarding menu preferences.

Special Education Assessment Director Paul Murdock reported that COVID-19 posed significant challenges for the department, but praised the work of staff across the district. 

Fredericks and Murdock both shared that retention of employees is a challenge for their departments.

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