District to continue late-start Mondays, increase meal prices next school year

Trustee Tammy Walker and board chair Jami Brackin listen to a presentation by Doug Rigby and Joe Ingalls on progress and student achievement since the adoption of new curriculum programs during the May 7 school board meeting in Evanston. (HERALD PHOTO/Sheila McGuire)

EVANSTON — Students enrolled in Uinta County School District No. 1 will continue to go to school one hour later on Monday mornings throughout the 2019-20 school year, following a poll of district staff and parents that showed general support for the change to delayed-start Mondays to allow for staff professional development time. 

Poll results were shared with school district board members, staff and the public at the most recent regular school board meeting held on Tuesday, May 7. Other business at that meeting included a vote to increase school meal prices and an update on the budget situation for the next school year, presentations on the K-5 and 6-12 instruction department strategic plans, setting the board meeting schedule for the upcoming year and a report on the Red Devil Ranch. 

Superintendent Ryan Thomas presented the board with results of a poll conducted to assess staff and family support for the delayed-start Mondays the district implemented this year to allow for regular staff professional development (PD) time. The change was intended to provide PD time in a manner other than the use of monthly school half-days, which at one time occurred on Wednesday afternoons, followed by a move to Friday afternoons. 

Thomas said certified teaching staff in general were supportive of the delayed-start Mondays, with 56 percent expressing support in the poll. Support staff results were 52 percent in favor of delayed-start Mondays while 35 percent preferred the half days. Thomas said the primary benefit of switching to the delayed-start Monday format has been significantly improved attendance on Fridays. “We got our Fridays back,” said Thomas. 

Parental participation in the survey was high, said Thomas, with a total of 839 responses. “We’ve never had more than 300 before,” he said. On the parent survey, 27 percent said they supported delayed start, 21 percent said they preferred the delayed start over the half days, 10 percent said they supported delayed start but preferred half days and 15 percent said they did not support delayed start. A remaining 17 percent said they did not support delayed start but included inconvenience as the reason for that lack of support. 

Thomas said all district principals are “100 percent” behind continuing the delayed-start Mondays. He said there are still some things the district can do to improve the “Early Bird” program for students who need to be taken to school at earlier times on Monday mornings, and all schools have programs in place for those students. Thomas said the district will look at making those improvements and will again assess the delayed-start Mondays near the end of next school year. 

School meals will cost 25 cents more next year after the board voted to increase prices. Elementary lunches will cost $2.80, middle school lunches $3.10 and high school lunches $3.40. Breakfasts at all levels will increase to $2.00. Adult meals will be $4.25 for lunch and $2.50 for breakfast. A report from Terri Fowler, food service director, indicated the average lunch prices throughout the state are currently $2.83 at elementary schools, $3.06 for middle schools and $3.22 for high schools. Thomas said the price increases will bring in about $100,000 additional dollars, but the district “will still be in the red” with the costs for school meals. 

In his report on the 2019-20 budget, Thomas said preliminary numbers are available and it looks as though the district will be receiving approximately $800,000 more than last year due to increasing enrollment. He said it will be the first year in several years the district shouldn’t have to make cuts to balance the budget. The district currently has about $5.4 million in reserves after some large one-time purchases during the current school year on new curriculum programs and safety features, including the SafeDefend system for all schools. 

Thomas said there are a couple of potential one-time purchases that could be coming out of reserves in the coming months, including purchasing new computers for teachers, which haven’t been updated in several years, as well as some of the costs associated with the renovation of Evanston High School that will take place this summer. He said he anticipates those costs will come to less than $100,000. 

The budget will be discussed in more detail at the June board meeting and will be approved at the special budget session on July 17. 

The board meeting schedule next year was set, with plans to continue meeting at 6 p.m. on the first Tuesday of each month, with the possibility of meeting for work sessions when there is a fifth Tuesday of the month if needed. In a change from the previous format, the board will meet for executive sessions prior to the start of the meetings instead of afterward, although it is possible the board would have to go back into executive session at the completion of the public meeting at times. Regardless of how many items are on the executive session agenda, the regular public meetings will begin at 6 p.m. 

District Assistant Superintendents Doug Rigby and Joe Ingalls provided a presentation on the progress of new curriculum that’s been adopted by the district over the past few years. Rigby said since the adoption of new math curriculum at the 6-12 grade levels there has been a 40 percent increase in the number of students testing at the proficient level in math. 

Since the adoption of the new language arts curriculum, which began in the 2017-2018 school year, there has been a 31 percent increase in proficiency, and since the adoption of the new science curriculum, which just occurred this school year, there has already been a 4 percent increase in proficiency. 

Ingalls said the new English language arts curriculum at the K-5 levels not only allows for development of those skills but enhances social studies in the classroom, noting that elementary students learn about topics like the War of 1812 through the Core Knowledge Language Arts program the district has adopted. 

Ingalls said teachers of the so-called “specials” classes have also been working together to create the guaranteed and viable curriculum that has been, and continues to be, put into place for core classes. He said there is now a guaranteed and viable curriculum in elementary music classes for the first time in school district history, and physical education and media classes are also creating common unit plans. 

While spring WY-TOPP testing results are not yet available, Rigby said preliminary results at the middle school level are showing “tremendous growth.” Both Rigby and Ingalls said they are excited about the changes happening in Evanston schools. “There’s been a significant cultural shift in our schools in the last three years,” said Rigby. “It’s been a lot of work, but it’s been fun to see.” 

Finally, students from Evanston High School provided the board with a report on the Red Devil Ranch, located on district property near the bus barn. Bailey Barker and Noah VanVleet said the ranch provides more than 150 EHS, including special education students, the opportunity to participate in hands-on practical learning. 

Through work done entirely by students, there are now fences and corrals on the entire property, old farm equipment has been rebuilt, portable sheds have been put in place, and other equipment has been constructed. Last year the ranch produced 1,500 bales of hay and there are currently seven cows on the property that are producing calves each year. 

Thomas said it’s quite unusual for a school the size of EHS to have something like the Red Devil Ranch and said visitors to the district frequently ask to see and are invariably impressed by the ranch. 

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