Schools make case for senior projects


EVANSTON — The Uinta County School District No. 1 board of trustees met from 6-9:38 p.m. on Tuesday, May 2, with an hour-long executive session afterward.

The meeting began on a positive note as the board heard about goings in the schools and community. Among other notable accomplishments throughout the district, Clark Elementary teacher Adrienne Unertl has been named STEM Educator of the Year. 

UCSD No. 1 Superintendent Ryan Thomas said the school district has been quoted a health insurance cost increase of 12.9 percent this year, negotiated down from 14.9 percent. Since the school district cannot pay the full cost, employees will be offered four options: 

1. Increase the deductible from $1,500 to $2,000 (which would reduce the 12.9 percent increase by 3.5 percent), increase copays from $25 to $30 for primary care physicians and from $50 to $60 for secondary care physicians and return to the 2015-2016 school year premiums ($297 a month for a family)

2. Increase the deductible and have employees pay more for prescriptions

3. Change and return to the 2015-2016 employee premium ($297 per month)

4. Change the deductible, office copay and prescriptions and split the cost equally between the district and employees (the employee family premium would be $305 per month) 

Thomas said the fourth option would save the district the most money, and staff have generally expressed willingness to take that option. 

“... We’re in a time of crisis,” Thomas said. “We’ve never faced a 3 1/2 percent cut; we’ve never lost 100 students in a year; we’ve never looked at a $400 million dollar shortfall for the 2018-19 school year. And our staff is responding.” 

Thomas also noted that dental insurance costs, which are separate from the general health insurance cost increase, will rise 7 percent. 

Thomas said if UCSD No. 1 goes out to bid, a self-funding option or joining a Wyoming teachers and educators plan could be difficult — and the latter would place many Wasatch Front options out of network. Thomas said UCSD No. 1 sends about 70 percent of its healthcare business to the Wasatch Front. 

The insurance committee will give the board a recommendation at tonight’s meeting at 7 p.m.

At a recent meeting, the board and community members had some questions about the value of senior projects, so Evanston High School seniors Chandler Barker and Judith Sanchez joined EHS principal Merle Lester to respond. 

For their senior projects, Sanchez taught a conversational Spanish class at BOCES for nine weeks, and Barker did an internship with CPA Nathan Sponenburgh, taking a semester-long accounting class online through BOCES and doing taxes for Larry Wagstaff, Brenden Ellis and Barker’s parents. Sanchez confirmed that she wants to be a teacher, while Barker has chosen engineering over accounting as his career path (as he wanted to decide between the two at the start of his project). 

Barker said he believes some of the resistance to the senior project is because his generation is afraid of hard work. However, he said he enjoyed the chance to explore potential careers in a way that saved him years and thousands of dollars that might otherwise have been wasted. 

Lester shared the survey that EHS gave to teachers and seniors, and most were positive about the value of the senior project. 

Local teacher Jenni White came up to say even the failed projects provide great learning experiences. 

“Even when they go wrong, they can be so right for the kids,” Jenni White said. 

Lester added that about 60 percent of students are doing career-oriented projects, and he wants to see that move closer to 80 percent in future. 

Board clerk Jami Brackin asked whether it is possible to waive the senior project for students who are already excelling, such as those in several AP classes or with high ACT scores. Lester said an opt-out could steal from the students’ opportunities. 

In response to Brackin’s concern about the students not intending to go to college, Lester said most — even in the oilfield — will be sent to postsecondary training to become qualified for their jobs. 

Trustee Kerby Barker commended people in the community who have offered their support to students looking for real-world experience. 

Lester said the project was established 10 years ago under Dr. James Bailey’s leadership. The senior project offers a chance to develop and measure soft skills that other tests and classes cannot. 

Community member Nick White said he has helped with a couple of senior projects, in addition to having his children do them (his son graduated last year, and his daughter will start on her senior project next year). 

“I wouldn’t change it for the world,” he said. “… Stack it on her. Let her learn what she’s made out of.”

“It was so neat to come into a community and school district where this was in place,” Horizon High School principal Shad Hamilton said, adding that if the senior project is cut, it probably won’t come back, and the students will lose from that. 

Bubba O’Neill then presented strategic planning for activities, and he shared a video that Jake Hibbard and Dustin Matthews created. 

Overall, UCSD No. 1 has had 1,079 contests, performances and other activities — not counting elementary school activities — and 71 percent of students are involved in at least one sport or activity. Activities span not only athletics but academic activities. 

“Evanston offers such a wider range of activities than the school where I was from — any school I knew of when I was growing up,” Hibbard told the board.

Rigby shared secondary instruction strategic planning. He focused on how UCSD No. 1 is looking to give principals and employees more autonomy. With the planned curriculum changes, the focus is to create a viable, realistic curriculum that the schools can actually carry out while meeting the state standards. 

The board then accepted two resignations and approved a contract for Bethany Jones, a speech language pathologist, as well as granting permission to bid for a food service van. They then moved into executive session.

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