School board searches for replacement trustee

Trustees Jami Brackin, Christa Barker and Dave Bennett listen to back-to-school reports from principals during the Sept. 3 meeting of the UCSD No. 1 School Board. (HERALD PHOTO/Sheila McGuire)

EVANSTON — The Uinta County School District No. 1 Board of Trustees held its regular meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 3, when trustees and district administration took a few moments to thank former board member Tammy Walker for her service to the district. Walker resigned from the board on Monday, Aug. 26, following a family decision to move out of Evanston. 

Superintendent Ryan Thomas said, “She’s been a very conscientious board member. We’re sad to see her leave and wish her well on her new endeavors.” 

Board chair Jami Brackin said the process to appoint a replacement for Walker’s position has already begun, and a new board member must be named within 30 days of Walker’s resignation. The board is currently accepting letters of interest from those who would like to serve on the board, with a deadline of Sept. 13. Brackin said a special closed session will be held on Sept. 17 to interview candidates, with an open session later that same evening to name the replacement. 

Discussion items during the board meeting included an update on student enrollment, which is up this year. Thomas said enrollment is up approximately 100 students from last year at this point and is above 2800 students for the first time in five years, which is a good sign from a budgetary standpoint because of state funding based on enrollment. Evanston High School Principal Merle Lester said they anticipated having about 740 students at the high school but are actually at just under 800. 

Thomas said there are also 30 new teachers in the district this year, with most being teachers not only new to the district but to the teaching profession as well. 

The board also focused on strategic planning and board and district goals for the 2019-20 school year. The district’s vision and mission remain the same, although Thomas indicated it is probably time to update them since they were last changed three years ago. Core values largely remain unchanged other than a safety emphasis on behavioral expectations being identified, taught and modeled. Thomas said all schools in the district are especially focusing on that particular value. 

Board goals include a continued commitment to the high-reliability schools framework and professional learning communities, improved district communication and an emphasis on school safety and security. A new focus in the strategic planning is on life skills, including citizenship, positive behavior supports, anti-bullying, healthy living strategies and accountability for students, parents and staff. 

Brackin said the focus on the components of life skills was something the board felt strongly about when going through the policy-making process of Rule CKA, allowing concealed carry of firearms, because CKA was only one piece of a comprehensive approach to school safety and security. 

The board voted to approve the 2019-20 strategic plan.

Other action items included revisions of policies pertaining to suspension or expulsion of students and student discipline. The changes were largely the result of legislative changes that required bringing district policies in line with current law, as well as to reflect the fact that the district no longer uses corporal punishment although it was mentioned in the previous policy. The new policy no longer includes corporal punishment as an element of student discipline. 

During public comments, Shelley Piiparinen addressed the board about art education in district elementary schools. Piiparinen said she had developed a plan to get visual arts education back into elementary schools, following a discussion on that topic during the August board meeting.

“I’ve seen a swing in education over the years from holistic learning to individualized subjects and now the pendulum is swinging back again,” she said, “but visual arts is getting lost in the elementary schools.”

Piiparinen said she believes the district could potentially find grant funding to hire one dedicated art educator to circulate between all four elementary schools to provide visual arts instruction as part of regular classroom learning. She said the state has set specific visual arts standards for elementary schools, which she believes the district is not teaching. 

Piiparinen said she went through the numbers and schedules and determined that currently a student could graduate from Evanston High School possibly receiving only two quarters of visual arts instruction throughout his or her entirety in the local school system.

“That equates to about 68 hours of art education in 13 years,” she said. 

Under the plan Piiparinen proposed, one dedicated art teacher could make plans to visit each classroom in district elementary schools once per month. She said current curriculum, including Core Knowledge Language Arts and Eureka Math, often reference art in the materials, making ideal entry points for art education into existing curriculum. 

As she did at the August meeting, Brackin said elementary art instruction is going to be part of an ongoing conversation and she thanked Piiparinen for the suggestions. Piiparinen said she shared details of her plan via email with both Thomas and K-5 assistant superintendent of instruction Joe Ingalls.

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