By a 4-1 vote, the school board lowered the student teacher ratio at the school from 22:1 to 20:1. Under current enrollment figures, the change will increase the number of teachers at the school by 1.2.
The northern high schools have a 20:1 ratio and southern high schools at 18:1. Area elementary schools have a higher student teacher ratio, with southern schools set roughly at 20:1 and northern schools at 22:1.
“Since I have been on the board, I have never understood why ARL had a different student teacher ratio than the other secondary schools,” said board president Merri Shumway.
The Blanding school is the only middle school in the sprawling district. Seventh and eighth grade students in Monticello, Montezuma Creek and Monument Valley attend classes at the local high schools.
While requesting that the change be made at ARL, Principal Chas DeWitt explained that 76 percent of the core classes at ARL are larger than the 22:1 student teacher ratio. He added that a change in the student teacher ratio, in addition to other curriculum adjustments, will allow ARL to drop the number of core class that are too large from 76 percent to 35 percent.
Using the ARL criteria, 75 percent of middle school-age classes in Monticello are too large, 70 percent in Monument Valley and 40 percent in Montezuma Creek.
In addition, the change will allow ARL to establish the only middle school honors courses in the district, in addition to adding a number of additional non-core classes, such as character ed, math and study skills and an additional journalism course.
ARL already offers nearly a dozen non-core classes that are not available to middle school age students in other areas of the district.
“I look at these non-core classes at ARL and begin salivating for my seventh and eighth graders (in Monticello)” said board member Bill Boyle, who opposed the action. “I would love for them to have these types of opportunities.”
“If people really want their kids to have these types of opportunities, you come to school in Blanding,” said Shumway.
After nearly running out of cash reserves in 1994, the school board set rigid student teacher ratios. Retaining fiscal discipline by sticking to the ratios has helped put the school district in a stronger financial position.
In other actions at the March 12 board meeting, the board spent several hours in a painstaking process to determine how to handle budget cuts caused by the possible loss of a number of federal grants, including at-risk and heritage language programs.
In other school matters, the school district has removed the controversial book Thick from the Young Adult Choices (YAC) program in the San Juan High School library. San Juan Record writer Terri Winder expressed her concerns about the book, which has elicited a storm of controversy.
School supervisor Ron Nielson reports that a committee set up to review the YAC books found that it was not appropriate for use in the school library. The school district instituted a review process for the YAC books after a parent complaint in 2007.
There will be no new books coming to the school district through the current YAC program.