School Board gets BES update, reports from Montezuma Creek

by David Boyle
News Director
Members of the San Juan School Board updated a policy regarding fee waivers, recieved an update on the new Blanding Elementary School, and heard reports from Montezuma Creek schools at their latest meeting.
School district business administrator Tyrel Pemberton updated the board on efforts to build the new Blanding Elementary School. Pemberton explained that the district has held several meetings in the past month with stakeholders, including education committees and school community councils, and community member meetings to receive feedback on preliminary renderings of the new school.
“The design team has taken extensive notes on the feedback that was received from those different groups and has started to incorporate some of the feedback in the changes that were requested and asked for,” said Pemberton. “That’s been really helpful as we’ve gone through it.”
Pemberton also reported the district has received a preliminary geotechnical survey report and were set to receive a civil survey report soon after the meeting to help with decisions moving forward.
Pemberton added that while the district does not have a set date for a community presentation, a meeting will be held at a future date to give the opportunity for the community as a whole to get a look and provide feedback.
At the meeting, members of the board also approved the Teacher and Student Success Act (TSSA) framework to spend more than $1 million in funds to the district from the state.
District Superintendent Christine Fitzgerald explained the three priorities is how the money is divided in the district.
Priority one will see 25 percent of the funds go to cover teacher salaries, meaning $273,843 going to teacher salaries.
Priority two is social and emotional support in the form of school counselors and social workers, with $475,930 for school social workers and school counselor services provided to students.
The remaining $345,600 is split among the schools based on enrollment, with $120 per student based on a May 1 count to go implement the San Juan Quest Model.
School principals will submit plans for the funds. With enrollment guiding the outline, La Sal Elementary will receive about $1,500 with Navajo Mountain High receiving about $3,800.
Blanding Elementary will receive $63,000 and San Juan High will receive about $51,000.
Fitzgerald explained the schools have flexibility to use the funds.
“A large focus for last year was our multi-tiered system of support intervention and enrichment so a lot of our schools used funding for that.
“Some of that braided in saying ‘Okay we can afford from another budget half of a paraeducator so we’re going to cover the other half of the paraeducator from TSSA.’
“Another school has a reading teacher and they didn’t have enough to cover all the class periods for the reading teacher so maybe they picked up a portion of that reading teacher salary from TSSA. so it looks a little different dependent upon each school.”
Members of the board approved the TSSA framework for 2024.
The school board also heard reports from the principals at the two district schools in Montezuma Creek.
Montezuma Creek Elementary Principal Jenny Atcitty highlighted celebrations, noting the school had a highly successful back-to-school night with over 300 people in attendance.
Atcitty also noted that the Quality Teacher Incentive Program teacher teams are building capacity through mentorship and professional development and that the school is implementing a monthly culture night to build relationships with parents and the community.
Atcitty highlighted challenges at the school, including finding mentorship for classified staff, and finding substitutes to cover for staff. Other challenges included student attendance and building and playground issues.
Also presenting at the meeting was Whitehorse High Principal Kim Schaefer.
Schaefer noted celebrations, including increased stakeholder engagement with the school vision statement, as well as the addition of advocates and resources from outside services, including San Juan Counseling and Utah Navajo Health System.
Schaefer also noted that in last school year, Whitehorse high students read more minutes through the digital SORA platform than any other school in southeast Utah. She also noted better attendance on the first day of school than other first days over the past few years.
Challenges highlighted at Whitehorse High by Principal Schaefer include making up for academic losses during distance learning years. Schaefer also noted needed upgrades to the physical appearance of the building, including the outside front wall and carpets in some school rooms.
Schaefer also advocated for an increase in the Athletic Director stipend, noting that AD’s receive the same pay as head coaches while working through all three seasons and into the summer.
At the meeting, members of the board also recognized two school district employees at schools in Montezuma Creek
Phyllis Sam was nominated by several employees including one who wrote the following:
“Phyllis has dedicated so much time to provide individualized lessons to our students here at Montezuma Creek Elementary School. She goes above and beyond her duties to make sure lessons are provided to students. We appreciate her ability to multi-task all-day long.”
Whitehorse High teacher Kolby Tsosie was also nominated by multiple people, including Lucy Todachinnie, who wrote:
“Kolby does an amazing job with scholars teaching them history. He also is the advisor to student council and they have done a good job of participating and providing activities throughout the school year.”
Members of the San Juan School board also updated the district policy regarding fee waivers. Pemberton explained the update is required as part of a passed state amendment. 
“There was an amendment passed that requires us to update local policy to include SNAP as a provision for automatically qualifying for fee waivers.”
Members of the board unanimously passed the update to the district policy.

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