Trustees adopt budget, celebrate high-reliability schools certifications

UCSD No. 1 Superintendent Ryan Thomas and assistant superintendent Joe Ingalls recognize all eight district schools for having achieved Marzano High-Reliability Schools level one certification. Pictured are Thomas, Ingalls (accepting the Evanston Middle School certificate), Uinta Meadows Elementary Principal Jerrod Dastrup, Horizon High School Principal Shad Hamilton, Aspen Elementary Principal Steve Peterson, Evanston High School Assistant Principal Scott Kohler, Clark Elementary Principal Kimber Fessler, North Elementary Principal Diane Gardner and Davis Middle School Principal Chris Brown. (HERALD PHOTO/Sheila McGuire)

EVANSTON — All eight district schools were recognized at the July meeting of Uinta County School District No. 1 Board of Trustees for having achieved Marzano High-Reliability Schools (HRS) level one certification. The effort to achieve certification for all schools by the completion of the 2018-19 school year was a stated goal in the district’s strategic plan. 

Assistant superintendent Doug Rigby said the move toward high-reliability certification began several years ago when Ryan Thomas became the sole superintendent and Rigby and Joe Ingalls became assistant superintendents of curriculum. “We did a lot of soul searching,” said Rigby. “At the time there wasn’t a lot of trust in the district.” Rigby said trust is a huge focus for high-reliability schools. 

The Marzano HRS program was built around the concept of high-reliability organizations, such as hospitals, nuclear power plants and even NASA, in which reliability is imperative. The Marzano program aims to build that same type of reliability to school systems. 

There are five levels of certification possible in the Marzano framework. Level one focuses on safe, supportive and collaborative schools, and the district’s emphasis on professional learning communities (PLCs) for staff and new safety features tie into that focus. 

Principals from district schools shared some thoughts on the HRS process, noting it has been hard work but something district staff have integrated into their systems. “It was really important to us that this wasn’t just a checklist to check off and then go back to what we were doing before,” said Kimber Fessler, principal at Clark Elementary. “It became really natural and not just a dog-and-pony show.” 

Uinta Meadows Elementary Principal Jerrod Dastrup agreed, saying, “Accreditations before have felt like a checklist, but this doesn’t feel that way.” 

Now that level one has been achieved by all district schools, the next step is to move on to level two, which focuses on effective teaching in every classroom. Rigby said part of that focus will be to develop a new evaluation system for teachers by bringing together a group of stakeholders to examine different systems during the upcoming school year and possibly pilot an evaluation system in the 2020-2021 school year. 

Ingalls said it’s important to note that the elements of each level continue to be put into practice throughout the entire process; however, the focus shifts somewhat. Level three of the Marzano HRS program focuses on guaranteed and viable curriculum. Ingalls said the district is on that path already with the emphasis on curriculum and PLCs to ensure the same material is being taught in the same classes and grade levels across teachers, classrooms and schools. 

The goal stated in the district’s strategic plan is for all schools to be certified as levels one, two and three by 2022. Levels four and five have not yet been integrated into district goals and doing so is still several years out; however, Ingalls and Rigby said there are district teams looking into the components of level four, which calls for standards-referenced reporting, meaning taking reports on student progress beyond letter grades and deeper into what exactly a letter grade means. Level five is competency-based education, which Rigby said the district is not near yet. 

In other business, district facilities director Jaraun Dennis provided trustees with an update on construction work taking place over the summer. Dennis said work on the roof at Evanston Middle School is on schedule and will probably be completed in mid-September; however, most of the major work will be finished before school starts at the end of August. Thomas said the new roof is a vast improvement. “It’s not hard to see that this one is going to work,” he said. “These guys are craftsmen.” Dennis and Thomas both said there were no water leaks from the roof during an early July heavy rainstorm, for the first time in many years. 

Work is also proceeding nicely at Evanston High School, said Dennis. New carpet has been placed in most classrooms, with only a few remaining, and new tile has been placed in science and shop classrooms. A large amount of work has gone into renovating the cafeteria area at EHS, with pony walls removed and the area opened up to allow for more students to eat lunch at one time. 

Outside the high school, a new handicap ramp is being installed, along with new sidewalk that wraps from the front of the building around to the gym for public access for sporting and other events in the gymnasium. The goal is for all renovation work at the high school to be completed by Aug. 9, prior to student registration and orientation days. 

Thomas shared results of an end-of-year staff satisfaction survey. Staff members were asked about their level of satisfaction with the board, the superintendent, the district in general and the overall climate. Responses showed approximately 78-82 percent of staff were either satisfied or somewhat satisfied with the board itself 84-92 percent satisfied or somewhat satisfied with the superintendent and 84-94 percent satisfied or somewhat satisfied with the district. Approximately 85 percent of respondents were satisfied or somewhat satisfied with the overall climate. 

Thomas said the same survey went out last year, at which time he said it would have been hard to imagine better results. However, this year’s results have, in fact, improved from last year. 

The board approved some one-time purchases, including $67,111 for new band instruments for the high school and both middle schools and $11,143 for new sewing machines for Davis Middle School. 

The board then turned to reviewing and approving the budget for the 2019-20 school year. Chief financial officer John Williams said there are some key ideas to take away from the district’s budget situation. 

First, he said the 2018-19 school year was one of “extraordinary expenditures,” including large purchases such as new curriculum programs and the SafeDefend early notification and emergency preparedness system installed in all schools, as well as school bus and snow plow purchases. Second, Williams said the overall budget looks healthy, with most departments coming in under budget. One area that went over budgeted amounts by about $14,000 was legal fees, largely due to litigation. 

Cash reserves at the end of the past school year were about $4.7 million, which Williams said is in the “sweet spot” of between 10-13 percent of the total budget. State law does not allow districts to have a reserve of more than 15 percent; any district with more than 15 percent is required to return excess to the state. 

Trustees adopted a 2019-20 budget consisting of approximately $45.3 million in general fund appropriations, $2.5 million special revenue appropriations, $3.1 million in major maintenance, $2.2 million in food service, $1.7 million in trust funds and $8.2 million in agency funds, for total appropriations of approximately $63.2 million. 

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