By Nolan Madden
The Joseph City Unified School District began the new school year last week as the recipient of two federal subsidies awarded through the U.S. Department of Education’s Office of Elementary and Secondary Education.
The first grant was awarded in the amount of $75,000 under the Title I program, which provides financial assistance to schools with high numbers or high percentages of children from low-income families to help ensure that all children meet challenging state academic standards.
A $1,000 grant was awarded under the Title II program, which focuses on increasing academic achievement by improving teacher and principal quality.
Superintendent Bryan Fields announced during the Aug. 11 meeting of the district governing board that the funds allocation was more than he was expecting for the district.
“We enrolled an increased number of free and reduced lunch applications this year, which were submitted and documented by the district. I did not know that it would help this much, though,” he said.
Fields complimented the school secretaries, business office staff and new cafeteria staff for their diligent assistance with enrollment. He explained that the grants will fund the purchase of much needed software and supplies for students and the teaching staff.
Fields also presented Joseph City Elementary School Principal Danny Hutchens as the August Employee of the Month. “Mr. Hutchens has led our school to a top rating in the state. The two biggest compliments I can give are that I really believe he has a genuine concern for the welfare of the district in everything that he does, and I believe that every student that has been in our elementary school felt that he loved them,” said Fields.
In his report to the board, Hutchens noted a successful start to the school year for students and staff. “The teachers are happy, the kids are happy. We also had a great turnout at our open house,” he said.
Hutchens expressed positive feedback on a new reading series interface for the district’s elementary school students. “A great benefit of the program is that all the materials are digital. In the next few weeks, elementary students will receive a username and password, so if your child happens to forget their reading text at school, no problem. Just log in and it will be right there. If they are a first grader and they are having trouble reading…, the system will read it to them,” he said.
Hutchens noted the program would equally benefit students at below average and above average reading levels.
In other action, the board:
* Received an elementary school update from Hutchens on installation of new student backpack hangers, a new library card maker, new laptops for student classrooms and the renovated main office reception counter, a portion of which has been modified to a lower height for ease of guest and staff use.
Hutchens also addressed a concern raised regarding classes with a high population of students. He acknowledged that three classrooms are currently assigned approximately 30 or more students per teacher, and that this issue was anticipated prior to the start of the school year. He advised the board that he has assigned an extra teacher’s aide per class for at least half of each day. The distribution of a stipend to teacher aides is under consideration by the administrative team for discussion next week.
* Received updates from Business Manager Steve Mills on assessed property tax valuation, access control and flood control renovation projects completed across campuses.
* Heard comments from district employee Mike Lorenc, who said he felt he had been constructively terminated as an employee during a recent performance evaluation.
Fields said that he “accepts full responsibility for any mistreatment that Mr. Lorenc may have endured,” but reassured the board that Lorenc has not been constructively fired.
The board informed Lorenc of its desire to convene separately to fully address the issues as presented and expressed appreciation for his comments.
* Approved all consent agenda items, including district vouchers for general funds encumbrance, $247,085.07 and $68,468.75; payroll, $154,607.36; revolving fund, $1,036; and auxiliary encumbrance, $857.95 and $108.
* Approved the June 2015 preliminary district, auxiliary and student activity financial summaries.
* Approved board travel to the Arizona School Boards Association (ASBA) Law Conference scheduled Sept. 9-11 in Scottsdale.
* Approved setting open enrollment capacity for the 2015-16 school year.
* Approved community use of facilities, classifications and fees.
* Appointed qualified evaluators for certified staff, including Fields, Hutchens and Eric Miller.
* Held the first reading of policy revisions recommended by the ABSA regarding executive sessions/open meeting, notification of board meetings, agenda, minutes, retirement of facilities, staff participation in political activities, support staff reduction in force, promotion and retention of students, graduation requirements, tuition/admission of nonresident students, admission of transfer students, student discipline, reporting child abuse/child protection, supervision of students, student fees, fines and charges, and request for transfer of records.
* Held the first reading of a policy revision regarding Public Right to Know/Freedom of Information, including discussion and approval of fees for copying.
* Approved waiving the second evaluative observation for certified employees rated in one of the two highest categories.
* Approved acceptance of a donation of football equipment from Travis Sherman, head football coach at Queen Creek High School.
* Approved fiscal year 2016 extra duty faculty assignment appointments of Darolyn DeWitt as an elementary certified teacher mentor; Claire Young, elementary winter music director and Red Ribbon Week coordinator; and Selena Nells, Indian Education coordinator.
* Approved hiring Julie Layden and Andrea Miller as substitute teachers; and Jared Dixon, substitute custodian.
* Approved athletic/activity workers, including Lance Baldwin, Larry Baldwin, Cassie Bigler, Carolyn Burt, Chris Burt, Andy Brennan, Kim Brennan, Scott Brennan, Geri Buckley, Karsten Flake, Dana Johnstun, Sam Johnstun, Megan Kartchner, Amy Miller, Andrea Miller, Lance Mosier, Kaylee Peerly, Diana Rogers, Sierra Rogers, A.J. Smith, Cheyenne Smith, Deanne Smith, Gayla Smith and Jim Smith.
* Approved coaching staff, including Andrea Miller as Joseph City Junior High School softball coach; and Kacey Halbison, JCJHS assistant softball coach.
The board will hold its next regular meeting at 4:30 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 8, at the district office in the boardroom at 8176 N. Westover St.