MONTE VISTA—The Sargent Board of Education met Monday evening, Aug. 28, for their first meeting since the 2017-18 school year began. The board discussed a variety of mostly positive news about the district.
During the requisitions portion of the meeting, which discussed the purchase of Chromebooks and Smartboards vital for classroom use, Board President David Steinert added he has heard requests from the community for a better projector for the gym for graduation ceremonies. Secondary Principal Ronna Cochran answered she was aware of the concern and they have done research into purchasing one, but the cost ranges around $15,000-$16,000 and isn’t plausible in the foreseeable future.
Paul Gearhart, an assistant football coach, was the only resignation mentioned at the meeting, leading to a discussion of staffing for the football team, which is budgeted for one head coach and three assistant coaches. Board Secretary Gina Mitchell expressed frustration at the budgeting priorities, mentioning the football program has only grown by a few students but they have four coaching staff. “How did we find $3,100 to fund football coaches but couldn’t fund a wrestling program?” Steinert pointed out the number of students wasn’t their only concern with the proposed wrestling program, which Mitchell stated she understood, but added, “We also don’t seem to invest in education with that strategy,” pointing out it seemed an increase in football players meant an increase in coaching staff, but an increase in students in general did not lead to an increase in support staff or teachers, “which have much higher ratios.”
Jacob Lowder and Cody Hansen provided the “good news student reports” to the meeting, reporting the first few weeks of school were going well thus far. The students enjoyed the opportunity to view the solar eclipse and have chosen their homecoming theme on Oct. 14 to be “24 Karat Gold.” Student Council is currently raising funds by selling Sargent apparel, and the students praised the Healthcare lab opportunity, reporting “it was really quite eye-opening” and the students enjoyed seeing actual professionals work in the healthcare field.
Lowder and Hansen gave reports on football, volleyball, cross-country and listed recently-elected officers for FFA, FBLA and student council. “Everyone really seems to enjoy the four-day week,” they added before ending their report with high spirits and anticipation for the coming months.
Secondary Ag Instructor Clint Mondragon provided a “good news staff report” to Cochran, who stated Sargent FFA sent eight members to the San Luis Valley Fair, who showed a total of 18 animals. Eight animals were sold by Sargent FFA students for a total of $12,850. “Clay Kimberling’s pig was a division Grand Champion. Wyatt Clark was the Blue and Gold Show champion.” Mondragon also reported the students sold truck and tractor pull tickets and volunteered with trash pickup throughout fair week. They will also be collecting baling twine for the recycling program as a fundraiser. The students will go to properties when requested to pick up the twine and will clean it and store it in recycling bags at the school until there is enough for the recycling program to pick it up.
Elementary Principal Joni Hemmerling added the high school got to watch the eclipse and their recent back-to-school night raised over $2,000 for a student’s mother who is battling cancer. Hemmerling expressed great pride in the dedication of the students and the community at large as well for supporting a family in need.
Hemmerling discussed the numbers of students in the elementary school at length, adding although the kindergarten class incoming this year was much smaller than the class that entered the middle school, that seemed to be a trend around the Valley area, and she recently gained three students. She also added the new music teacher was doing well and is looking into purchasing a new curriculum.
The topic of enrollment numbers was brought up again later in the meeting as well during Superintendent Greg Slover’s report when Business Manager Rebecca Quintana discussed projections for per-pupil funding. Slover explained overall the district was down two students from last year, the biggest loss in the earlier grades, with only roughly 15 kindergartners entering when 32 seniors graduated in the class of 2017. Slover stated roughly 65 percent of the students are from out of the district, but they need to draw more in earlier in their educations. Quintana broke down the Full Time Equivalency and the CDE projections versus actual students. She explained schools with fewer students got more per-pupil funding, which is also going to increase by $178 per student to $9,758. The overall program funding however, will decrease from $3,977,000 to $3,961,000. By the 2018-19 school year the school would need to add 29 actual students to avoid a major loss in funding.
Board Treasurer David Bower expressed some frustration with how the state determines funding, asking Quintana if it impacted the district negatively to only add a few students at a time until they added the 29 students above the average? Quintana confirmed one student is not necessarily equal to $10,000 and the district would benefit the most from maximizing enrollment as program funding does not increase for only a few students. Mitchell also pointed out the district should look into why the out-of-district student count seems to be going down, if 65 percent of the students are from out of the district, then she wanted to know why some of those weren’t coming anymore, specifically in kindergarten. Quintana pointed out their largest areas of growth are often between kindergarten and 12th grade, and Hemmerling added there is a toddler waiting list of 20 students and the preschool class that will be entering kindergarten in 2018 will be much larger.
Slover also reported “a very smooth start to the school year.” He pointed out many times how proud he was of the principals and teachers, even at the elementary level for “knowing where their kids are and where they want them to be [academically].” Slover reported the substitute teacher rate will be increasing due to the minimum wage increase and the four-day week causing longer school days. The district is still exploring how best to utilize the $151,000 in the SRS fund from marijuana sales taxes and will decide after the Oct. 1 survey date to find what would be the best fit. Steinert pointed out that money is dispersed monthly and shouldn’t be seen as a $151,000 fund, but rather roughly $13,000 a month.
Recent test scores were discussed at length by the school board, presented by Brian Haddican. ELA scores were very good at the elementary level but math results were mixed, Haddican reported. Results for both categories were mixed throughout the middle school as well. There were lots of positive notes, including the excellent scores of the current freshman class, which Haddican called “stellar” and noted they showed great promise for the next four years. The board and administration expressed frustration at recent changes in standardized tests making it difficult to compare and analyze data. The statewide transition to the SAT and PSAT has meant the elimination of the ACT Aspire program at the elementary level. The ACT Aspire provided results down to which individual questions and topics each student and class struggled with the most, which Hemmerling and Cochran both stated the PSAT and especially the PARCC test do not provide. Cochran stated all 7-11 graders will be taking either the PSAT/NMSQT in October and will be taking a diagnostic test in February to compare the two. Hemmerling also added the elementary school implemented a new reading curriculum last year and the staff is already evaluating ways to focus on improving math scores for this year.
During the Action Items portion of the meeting, the board set directives for the District Accountability Committee (DAC) to focus on for the school year. DAC was entrusted with providing feedback to the board on the four-day week, continuing research on the landscaping project, evaluating the district’s website and looking for possible improvements in its formatting, making recommendations for budget prioritization and reviewing the academic calendar.
During the Discussion Items portion of the meeting, the board followed up on discussions started at the July meeting about how to best measure the effectiveness of the four-day week, as this academic year is the district’s pilot year. They agreed to evaluate it by five criteria. The first would be comparing monthly enrollment numbers to the numbers from the same months in previous years. The second is comparing students’ quarterly attendance to the same quarters from previous years. The third, similarly, is comparing staff attendance to the same quarters from previous years. The fourth is the academic growth of students and the fifth is a perception survey that will be distributed at the end of the year to both parents and students. Mitchell requested tardiness also be evaluated, which Hemmerling said would be easy to do.