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Archive for September, 2009

By Emily Sanderson — September 23, 2009

In 2008-2009 school year, three schools in Sanpete County failed to meet the Adequate Yearly Progress (AYP) standards associated with the federal No Child Left Behind statutes.

They are Gunnison Valley Elementary, Gunnison Valley Middle School and North Sanpete Middle School in Moroni, according to the State Office of Education website.

The standards measure students in socioeconomic and ethnic groups as well as a group for students with special needs.  Gunnison Valley Elementary School failed in language arts among the economically disadvantaged students.  Gunnison Valley Middle School failed in language arts among students with disabilities, as did North Sanpete Middle School.

“Having the name of our school published in the paper because we didn’t pass AYP is not a catastrophic event because it was inevitable,” said Gunnison Valley Middle School Principal Alan Peterson.  “I can think of no public school that it is realistically feasible that they will not have some subgroup that will pull the entire school down.”

“But that doesn’t negate all the positive things that are going on in these schools with the vast majority of the kids,” he said.

North Sanpete Middle School hasn’t passed twice before among students with disabilities — in the 2003-2004 and 2005-2006 school years.  Gunnison Valley Elementary School didn’t pass in 2006-2007 among economically disadvantage students; however, this is the first time Gunnison Valley Middle School didn’t pass.

After two consecutive years at a Title 1 school, parents have the option of moving their child to another school.  Title 1 schools are elementary schools that receive special funding to assist young children in the teaching process.

But for the middle schools, not passing AYP is more or less a black mark, said Superintendent Courtney Symes of North Sanpete School District.

“I have to believe that people will understand that this only affects students with disabilities [at North Sanpete Middle School],” Symes said,  “The law is not fair.”

Only some students with disabilities are exempt from taking the test; those that are deemed capable take the same AYP test as the other students, Symes said.

“It’s difficult to promise that those kids will improve,” Symes said.  “At the middle school we deal with 50 percent new students each year.”

According to No Child Left Behind, if a school’s programs are solid, then kids will improve.  But Symes disagrees, saying that instead, the kids are singled out.

“I think it is disrespectful to those students.  They are in our schools, and we love them,” Symes said.  “We will make sure kids are improving as much as they can.”

Principal Grant Hansen of Gunnison Valley Elementary School said it’s the responsibility of the school and the parents to make sure young students are successful.  “We are disappointed that we didn’t pass all the areas of the test,” he said.

But not everyone can perform at the same level.  Students have different abilities, he said.

“Less than 10 students didn’t pass the test.”

Teachers of those students have been made aware of the poor grades and those students are going to receive special attention to see that they pass the test this school year, he said.

Principal Hansen said that the Utah Office of Education’s U-PASS test is similar to AYP, but is also measures progress over time.

“On a state level, we are doing really well,” he said.  “We are pleased that we are showing growth from year to year.”

The No Child Left Behind statutes require that students across the country achieve 100 percent on the AYP test by the year 2014, which bth principals Hansen and Peterson said will be impossible to achieve.

“The problem with the legislation will be a national concern,” Principal Hansen said.

“How many private schools have school buses with wheelchair lifts?  Under federal law, we are required to take everybody,” Principal Peterson said.  “And yet we are held under a magnifying glass.  It is impossible to get all the students to perform at the same level.”

“We are not fealing with nuts and bolts in a machine,” he continued.  “We are dealing with the human mind.”

Despite the poor grade, he’s pleased with the quality of education his students are receiving.

“The teachers do a phenomenal job with the very limited resources that the State Office of Education gives them,” he said.

But he also said teacher performance is one factor under scrutiny in schools that fail AYP.

“The teachers are the ones that are ultimately responsible,” Peterson said.  “We are going to make the necessary changes.  Marginal teachers will need to improve.”

In each of the three schools, if they don’t fail again next year, the schools will be back in good standing.

Statewide, the number of elementary and middle schools that made the grade was up from 85 percent in the 2007-2008 school year to 91 percent in 2008-2009, although the number of high schools in the state that made AYP declined from 94 percent in 2007-2008 to 84 percent in 2008-2009, according to the State Office of Education.

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By Emily Sanderson — September 23, 2009

MT. PLEASANT — Utah State government can expect to experience 15-17 percent cuts during the Legislative Session this winter, said Superintendent Courtney Symes at the North Sanpete School Boar meeting Tuesday, Sept. 17.

“How that will affect education is yet to be seen,” Symes said.  “Our board was generous to our teachers in the last year, but this year we may not have that luxury.”

State legislative analysts predicted last week that the State will be short $850 million over 2009-2010, but what has been supplemented with stimulus funds this year will not be available until 2010.

“I don’t think the economy will recover quickly enough for it to affect us,” Superintendent Symes said.

$420 million is presently stashed in the state’s rainy day” fund, $100 million of which is earmarked specifically for education, according to news sources.

But the State Office of Education is researching a federal grant called Race to the Top with which Governor Herbert hopes to supplement the rainy day fund, Symes said.

“It is a fairly rigorous process to receive the funds,” he said.  “No one is sure yet how the State grant will affect local districts.”

Depending on the requirements of the grant, Race to the Top could help reduce class sizes and other areas budget cuts will affect the schools, Symes said.

The school board agreed that despite the increased emphasis on math and emphasis on math and language arts because of the No Child Left Behind initiative, involvement in extracurricular activities are critical to the students’ success.

“If you can involve more kids in extracurricular activities, it brings up graduation rates and reduces discipline, said Board Member Robert Garlick.

“We haven’t cut extracurricular programs in our district,” Symes said.  “They are a motivation for kids to keep up their grades.”

Students who participate in extracurricular activities must maintain a certain GPA in order to qualify, Symes said.

“We encourage all students to get involved, but it is about 40 percent of students that aren’t,” said Principal Jim Bowles.

“That percentage is the inverse of the graduation rate,” said Board Member Brian Olmstead.  “But if all students were involved in extracurricular activities, it would be very expensive.”

The school board passed a new hazing policy and a safe schools and student discipline policy, as well as the new background check policy for teachers and classified employees at schools, which are now required by law.

The school board expressed concern about the cost of registering the board members form the National School Boards Association’s conference in Chicago, Ill., April 10-12, 2010, particularly since it will be held so soon after the legislative session when budget cuts are expected.  However, board members voiced how important the conference is, since it provides training and discussions for how to best approach issues that school boards are dealing with, such as the downed economy.

The school boar will research ways to reduce costs for the trip, such as staying in less expensive hotels near the conference and using frequent flyer points to reduce airfare.

Classified employees (i.e., those who work for schools but without teaching certificates) have been permitted to be coaches for the last few years, but the school board is presently reviewing their policy to make sure it is in compliance with the Department of Labor.

Classified employees are eligible for overtime pay, which the school district cannot afford.  As a result, the school board is considering defining all coaches as volunteers with stipends over and above their salaries.

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Ephraim political parties choose candidates for mayor, council

By Suzanne Dean and Emily Sanderson — September 23, 2009

EPHRAIM — Mayor Cliff Birrell, the incumbent Democrat, and David Parrish, a Republican, current councilman and owner of eight McDonald’s stores, will face each other in the election for mayor of Ephraim in November.

Two Republicans — Don Olsen, a former councilman and turkey grower, and Greg Dart, director of admissions and communications at Snow College — and a Democrat, Richard Squire, principal at North Sanpete Middle School, will vie for three seats on the Ephraim City Council.

But it took some fancy footwork behind the scenes to finalize the ballot and ensure that the three Republican candidates didn’t run unopposed.

In Ephraim, as in the rest of Sanpete County, there are about twice as many Republicans as Democrats.

So it was no surprise when 43 people turned out at the Ephraim Republican caucus last Thursday, Sept. 17, at Ephraim Elementary School, while only eight showed for the Democratic caucus, held at the same time at the Ephraim Middle School.

At the Republican gathering, their were nominations, speeches and competitive races.  The race for two nominations for city council even went two ballots.

At the Democratic caucus, people looked at each other.  “Why don’t you run?” participants asked, pointing to other participants.  The answers: No can do.  I just have too many school, church or family responsibilities.

Earlier, Birrell, who is retired and in his late 60s, had announced that while his term as mayor had been a great experience, he preferred to pass the gavel to another Democrat.

But who?  That was the question over the weekend and Monday as it appeared Parrish, Olsen and Dart would not have Democratic opposition, a scenario that could have left the 43 attendees at the Republican caucus choosing city leaders for a town of about 5,000.

Ephraim is the only city out of the 13 municipalities in Sanpete County that still has partisan elections.  In fact, it is one of the smallest cities in Utah that still relies on political parties to nominate candidates for local office.  In most towns, people simply file for offices.  A primary election is held to pare slates down to two candidates per office.

Ordinarily, partisan elections ensure competition, Birrell said Monday.  “If you don’t have to beat the bushes for candidiates, it’s a perfect system,” he said.

But as late as Monday evening, and facing a Tuesday 5 p.m. deadline to submit their slate to Deputy City Recorder Leigh Ann Warnock, Ephraim Democrats were, in fact, beating the bushes.

“We’ll have someone to represent the party,” Birrell said Monday night.  “We won’t run a non-slate.”

By Tuesday morning, Birrell had changed his mind and decided to seek re-election, and Squire had signed up to run for council.  The Democrats were still short one council candidate but had informed Warnock that their slate was as complete as it was going to get.

At the Republican caucus last week two vied to become the mayoral candidate.  Parrish initally faced Frank Montoya, a long-time Ephraim resident and member of the new Ephraim Intercultural Committee.  Parrish won that contest.

With the mayor nomination decided, four names were proposed for city council: Elaine Reid, an incumbent, as well as Montoya, Olsen and Dart.  Under rules of the caucus, the candidate with the fewest votes on the first ballot was to be eliminated.  Any candidate who got 50 percent (or more) of the votes on the first ballot would automatically win nomination to one of the two open seats.

Olsen got the 50 percent, thereby capturing one of the two nominations.  Reid ran last and was eliminated.  That left Dart and Montoya in the race for the second council nomination.  On the second ballot, Dart defeated Montoya.

Reid, who will be leaving office, has served on the city council at various times going back to 1990.  She has played a major role in improving the city’s two cemeteries and being involved with the fire department and city youth council.

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By Emily Sanderson — Sept. 23, 2009

ARLINGTON, Va. — What civic value do you believe is most essential to being an American?

That is the $5,000 question that high school students and teachers can answer in the Being an American Essay Contest sponsored by the Bill of Rights Institute in Arlington, Va.

The contest, the largest high school essay contest in the country, will award 180 students and teachers with cash prizes, offering first place ($5,000), second place ($2,500), third place ($1,250) and seven honorable mentions ($250 each) in nine individual regions throughout the United States.

The top three student winners and their teachers from each region will also receive all-expenses paid trips to the nation’s capital.

“This contest is unique in that it gives students the opportunity to share their thoughts about how the principles expressed in America’s Founding Documents shape and influence contemporary American citizenship,” said Bill of Rights Institute President Victoria Hughes.

Deadline for entries is Dec. 1.  Winners will be announced next spring.

For more information about the contest guidelines, visit http://www.beinganamerican.org.

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By Emily Sanderson — September 23, 2009

OREM — Drama students from Gunnison Valley High School attended the Timpanogos Storytelling Festival in Orem on Sept. 4, where they observed the acting styles of several professional storytellers.  Twelve professional storytellers helped celebrate the 20th anniversary of the festival in the new Mt. Timpanogos park built for the occasion at the mouth of Provo Canyon.

From the moving true stories of Donald Davis to the silly, stand-up-comedian-like stories of Bil Lepp, the students were able to witness the importance of being able to present information in an entertaining way.  The students are presently studying storytelling in their drama class, and each will present their own story for the class to hear.

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September 23, 2009

EPHRAIM — To install a needed upgrade to the city’s electrical system, Ephraim will experience a scheduled power outage Thursday, Oct. 1, from 7 a.m. to 9 a.m.

School will be out that day because the annual Utah Education Association (UEA) convention runs Oct. 1-2, so the city hopes having the outage on this day will reduce the impact to Ephraim businesses and residences.

“There is so much that goes into water, sewer and electricity in this city that no one knows about,” said Councilman David Warren who oversees the utility committee.  “They are doing an excellent job.”

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September 23, 2009

EPHRAIM — The city council at the Sept. 2 meeting voted to purchase a new back-up ambulance for Ephraim’s ambulance association for $24,700 — less than the ambulance they purchased in the last year.  Kerry Nielson, the EMT department’s maintenance officer, said the two-wheel drive van they’re leasing to own won’t go off road but will provide better mileage.

Federal regulations require an additional tank on diesel-powered vehicles beginning January 2010, increasing the price of ambulances by $10,000.  The additional tank is for an automotive grade of urea, a diesel exhaust fluid (DEF), which will “scrub” nitrogen oxide from the diesel exhaust, according to http://www.eurekalert.org.

Nielson said DEF is currently available in Nephi, and the new tank will reduce harmful emissions by 90 percent.

The department, one of the last EMT teams in the state that works on a volunteer basis, agreed they would rather have good equipment than get paid.

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