Safety and behavior challenges are focus of school board meeting

Safety and behavior in local schools was a focus at the October 9 meeting of the San Juan School Board. 

After a threat against his school was made by a student on social media on October 1, San Juan High School Principal Bob Peterson said he “did not do one thing that was educationally-based all week because I was just trying to keep my school safe.”

Peterson said the school district worked with law enforcement officials to handle the threat, which was identified and responded to within a matter of minutes.

Peterson said, “The school has done a really good job over past two years with safety concerns,” but added that the efforts take away from instructional efforts.

The principals of the three schools in Blanding made their annual report at the school board  meeting in Blanding. All three principals mentioned concerns about the challenges of dealing with behavioral issues in the schools.

“There are needs in our district and community that I think are outweighing our expertise,” said Paul Murdock, principal at Albert R Lyman Middle School.

Blanding Elementary School Principal Jay Porter discussed the challenges related to providing services to special education students who have very high needs. 

“It is difficult when you have kids with mental or severe behavioral disabilities,” said Porter. “These are major issues that are very difficult to deal with. It is overwhelming, and I am burning out our special ed teacher.”

Porter said, “Behavior challenges were eating me alive [during a previous year]. It is debilitating to our ultimate goal of getting kids to learn.”

Porter said social workers are available in the classroom on some days but added that additional help would be great 

“These are kids who throw tables,” said Porter.  “I am not going to put my social workers or teachers in that situation.

“Social workers are good at talking through the problems, but dealing with the actual physical problems, that is not something they are doing or should they.”

Superintendent Ron Nielson reports that law enforcement continues to be involved with the incident at San Juan High School. The student is still not in the school.

“We will continue to work for the best welfare of students, staff, and the individual involved,” said Nielson.

In other matters at the October 9 school board meeting, the school board discussed at length several challenges with with the Johnson O’Malley (JOM) program, which is managed by the Indian Education Committee (IEC).

The JOM program provides approximately $115,000 in annual funding to address the education needs of Native American students.

The eleven-member IEC consists of local parents who manage the program. IEC members are selected for a four-year term, with a representative from each school with a large Native American population.

The most recent JOM contract with the Navajo Nation was approved in June for another two years.

Superintendent Ron Nielson reported that concerns about the JOM program were raised during a recent meeting with Tommy Lewis, the Superintendent of Education for the Navajo Nation.

Nielson quoted Lewis as stating, “We not only expect you to comply with this [JOM guidelines], we also want to hold you accountable.”

The Navajo Nation JOM guidelines limit IEC membership to a single term with a four-year maximum limit.

The problem, explained Nielson, is “there are a number of dedicated people on the IEC who have been there for multiple years.”

“To be in compliance,” said Nielson, “we may need to change how positions on the IEC are used.”

If term limits are enforced, Nielson reports that four of the existing IEC board members may need to leave. It is unclear if they would finish their existing terms.

Nielson outlined several changes that may be made to restructure the IEC, including a five- to seven-member board and decreasing the amount of work for members of the IEC.  The smaller committee would include a member from each community rather than a member from each school.

Several long-term members of the IEC board state they continue to serve because no one else is willing to serve on the committee.

Three members of the IEC commented during the public comment portion of the meeting.

Charlissa Benn, an IEC member for nine years, said she would like to finish her current term.

“I love what I do,” said Benn.  “I don’t mind giving my time.”

Willie Begay, an IEC member from the Blanding area, said he had served on the IEC for two years and is “just starting to learn the system.  Now I have to leave?”

Toniee Lewis has been involved with the IEC for eleven years, including the most recent seven years in Blanding.

Lewis told the school board, “We don’t answer to you. This board is for Native American parents.”

Lewis threatened to have the JOM funding pulled if the school board doesn’t cooperate.  “I would like to leave,” said Lewis, “but I don’t want to leave the board the way it is now.”

Members of the IEC state that the Navajo Nation approved the JOM contract in June, and it is good as is for another two years.

School board member Nelson Yellowman agrees. “We are in compliance currently because this contract does not end until later. What we negotiated in the spring is valid and up to date.”

Nielson said, “We are in good standing with our contract.”

Julie Holt reported on the District Leadership Team, which includes a group of school administrators who meet once a month.

The group is focusing efforts from the school district Quest Model on English Language Learners and Highly Effective Instruction.

Kristy Fitzgerald provided an update on efforts to create a document of what a graduate of the school district should know, experience, and understand. A separate article on the topic can be found on page A7 of this newspaper.

The district is beginning the process to find funding to continue the QTIP program, which hires highly qualified teachers in struggling schools. District officials say the program has experienced tremendous success. 

The board approved a resolution to continue the program, which was initially funded by $240,000 a year from the state legislature.

District employees Sheri Montella and Aaron Brewer were recognized with San Juan Sweet Job awards.

District Business Administrator Kyle Hosler reports that construction crews are making good progress on projects in Bluff and Montezuma Creek. 

Initial completion dates for the construction work are June 24 for the new school in Bluff and February 18 for the new gymnasium in Montezuma Creek.

The district continues to work with Utah Navajo Health Systems on land in Monument Valley for a new ambulance shed. District officials state that both entities seem interested in land east of the San Juan County Emergency Services facility.

School employees who rent district housing in Montezuma Creek, Monument Valley, and Navajo Mountain may have a $35 utility fee added to their monthly rent.

The fee will help cover the costs of providing internet service in the school district housing.

Three years ago, new infrastructure was paid with one-time funding. Hosler said the district needs a funding source and recommended charging users of the service.

Monthly rent for district housing ranges from $500 to $700. “The rent is low,” explained Hosler. “We still feel it is a good service.

“We are not a commercial internet provider,” added Hosler. “We really hope that commercial fiber will be available in the next two to four years.”

San Juan Record

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