District talks progress, guns, field renovations

School board members Cassie Torres, Caleb Guild and Dan Wheeler listen to an update on the progress toward High Reliability Schools level 2 certification during a Nov. 2 meeting in Evanston. (HERALD PHOTO/Sheila McGuire)

EVANSTON — The Uinta County School District No. 1 Board of Trustees focused on three main topics at the regular monthly meeting held on Tuesday, Nov. 2, when board members got a progress report on the district’s efforts to become certified as a High Reliability School level 2 by the end of this school year, the district responded to public comments on proposed Rule CKA, and a conversation was held about the need for renovations of the Evanston High School football field.

Staff from elementary schools, middle schools and EHS shared with trustees the steps and processes being taken to meet the goal of being certified as a High Reliability School (HRS) level 2 by May 2022. Davis Middle School Principal Chris Brown said middle school administrators and teachers had been participating in lesson studies, which are opportunities for staff to sit in as fellow teachers teach a particular lesson. Teachers then give one another constructive feedback on the teaching methods and processes used in the lesson.

Rylee Berger, first-year teacher at DMS, said the lesson studies have been very helpful because they allow teachers to really work with and learn from their peers. Evanston High School teacher Brad Francis said they, too, have been working together to observe one another teaching, which he described as “going to other master level teachers and stealing from them.” He said it’s been invaluable to get ideas from one another and to realize the multiple different ways that teachers can use to teach to the standards of a given subject. Francis said the evaluation he received from other staff sitting in while he taught was the “most effective evaluation I’ve ever had.”

Clark Elementary Principal Kimber Fessler explained six indicators that are the focus of HRS level 2 certification, including school leaders communicating a clear vision for instruction, supports being provided to teachers to continuously enhance teaching, and instructional practices being known and monitored throughout the school. Other indicators include teachers being provided with clear and ongoing evaluation, teachers being provided with regular opportunities for professional development directly related to their instructional growth goals, and teachers having opportunities to observe and discuss effective teaching practices.

Brown and assistant superintendent Joe Ingalls said the district is seeing the results of the use of professional learning communities throughout the district, with improving test scores. Brown also said there were no students at DMS with D’s or F’s in any class at the end of the first quarter of school, which is a first for the school.

Superintendent Ryan Thomas and board members then spent some time responding to the public comments received on the district’s proposed Rule CKA, which would allow approved staff to carry concealed firearms on district property. Many of the comments from Thomas and trustees focused on what they feel are inaccuracies reflected in the public comments.

Thomas, board chair Jami Brackin and trustee Jenny Welling all addressed comments from the public that said the decision to arm teachers is not based on evidence. The three indicated they believe there is evidence supporting arming teachers as one potential school safety measure, and Welling said it’s possible to get online to find evidence to support either position.

Trustees and Thomas also addressed concerns expressed about training and ammunition requirements, stating the training required in the district policy exceeds the requirements in state statute and has been approved by local law enforcement and that the ammunition requirements in the policy were suggested by law enforcement. They also pushed back on claims that there has still been no constructive dialogue among various stakeholders, with Thomas stating he has had an open-door policy from the beginning but none of those opposed to the policy have ever come in to speak with him in person about their concerns.

Brackin and trustee David Peterson both referenced law enforcement response time as one of the key factors in their support of the policy, as a school shooting could be over by the time police are able to get to the scene. An emotional Peterson spoke about his concerns related to his wife being a teacher and potentially putting herself between students and an armed attacker, saying he wanted teachers to have an opportunity to defend themselves when protecting their students.

All trustees were in agreement that they had been very open to listening to concerns and comments from the public, that the process has not been rushed and that several ideas from the public had been incorporated into the policy. Now that the board has responded to public comments at a meeting, the rule itself will likely be voted on at the next meeting in December.

The board then turned to a discussion with activities director Bubba O’Neill about the condition of the EHS football field and outdoor track and the need to repair and alter the area for student use. O’Neill updated trustees on an idea to make the needed changes, which he jokingly called “idea 1,174,” to provide a proper play area for the high school soccer teams, as well as the football and track teams. The soccer teams have never had the ability to play games at their school since the EHS soccer program began in 2002.

O’Neill said he’d had some preliminary discussions about replacing the football field with turf and replacing the track surface, which is currently in need of structural repair. Currently, O’Neill said EHS is the only 3A/4A school in the state that doesn’t have a turf field. Evanston also doesn’t have the ability to host large soccer tournaments because of the lack of a regulation size soccer field with lights and bleacher seating.

O’Neill said it may be possible to replace the track and install a turf field, as well as replace the lighting and the press box for between approximately $2-3 million. Facilities director Jaraun Dennis said he’d had discussions with the state about the possibility of using major maintenance funds to make some of the needed repairs to the press box because of its very poor condition and it appears that would be an allowed use of those funds. In addition to providing a field for soccer, the benefits of the field and track replacement include fewer injuries involved with playing on turf and additional opportunities for high school gym classes.

Thomas said they’d had discussions about using some of the district’s reserve account of about $6.2 million for the project, particularly since the state limits such accounts to 15% of a district’s annual budget. As the district is very near to that 15% limitation, they will likely have to spend some of the funds or be forced to give them back to the state. Thomas said it’s also possible to use a situation in which the district loans itself the funds from the reserve account and then pays it back at a set amount per year, noting that the reserve account has grown from less than $2 million to more than $6 million in the past few years.

O’Neill said there were still details to be worked out, including moving the pole vault and long jump boxes to a different location so the football field could be widened. One possibility is to remove some of the berm between the field area and the LDS church on Cheyenne Drive and put the field events area there, which the district may be able to arrange with donated labor and equipment from local companies. He said they were also looking at possible corporate donations to help pay for the new lights, which he said are quite old and desperately in need of replacement.

If everything were to fall into place, O’Neill said it’s possible the field replacement could begin in the spring and be ready for use by fall of 2022. Trustees were supportive of the idea, agreeing that finding a solution for the soccer teams was long past due, and Thomas indicated it may be necessary to hold a special meeting to discuss the situation and take quick action, particularly if local businesses are able to help with some of the berm work.

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