School starts for nearly 6,000 Sanpete students
By Suzanne Dean
With school starting today in both the South Sanpete and North Sanpete School Districts, the two superintendents, while using a little different terminology, are both emphasizing the same thing.
The bottom line is learning—through rigorous curricula, assessments to make sure students are “getting it,” and generally making sure youngsters are having the richest and broadest experience possible.
The Sanpete County school population is bigger than most people realize. About 6,000 children will be walking and riding buses to school today, 3,300 in South Sanpete and 2,650 in North Sanpete.
Superintendent Larsen in the South Sanpete district says enrollment has grown modestly over the years, and there haven’t been any unusual spikes. In the North Sanpete district, Superintendent Sam Ray says based on informal observation, he expects enrollment to be up this year.
More than 800 people are working for the two districts. South Sanpete expects to have 185 teachers, including 19 new ones, plus about 325 paraeducators and classified staff this school year. North Sanpete is planning on 155 teachers, including 10-12 new ones, plus 200 classified employees.
“We want kids to get everything out of school they can,” says Superintendent Larsen of the South Sanpete district. “We want them to take college classes (while still in high school) and find out what they really want. We want them to take the vocational classes and find out how to solve problems….Leadership, participation in sports, music, home ec—all those things we want them to experience.”
Besides a rigorous curriculum and providing the best school experience possible, South Sanpete continues to emphasize college readiness, Larsen says.
The college has nurtured a relationship with Snow College for the past 10-15 years, he says. The college lets the district know what classes students need in high school to ease into various programs at Snow. “We have common goals,” Larsen says. “We want to keep kids in school. They want to keep kids at Snow. So we’re trying to guide them that way. It’s a real powerful connection.”
Sam Ray, superintendent in North Sanpete, says his district is in the fifth year of a five-year plan to implement a model called “Professional Learning Communities,” where teachers work in teams to try to get the best learning results possible.
The model is built around four questions, he says. First, “What do we expect all students (in a given grade or subject) to know and be able to do?” Second, “How do we know when they’ve got it?”
The third question is, “What do we do for those who don’t get it?” And the fourth question (the one North Sanpete is taking on this year) is, “What do we do for the student who already got it?;” in other words, the gifted and talented students.
“The whole idea is we empower teachers to work in teams,” Ray says. “We want all our first grade teachers to work together on how to teach first grade. We want all our secondary math teachers to work together on how to teach secondary math.”
The teachers have been developing assessment tools to be used across the district in specific elementary grades and secondary subjects, to find out if students are learning the things the teams determine to be critical.
“I’m not evaluating any of the teachers based on those results,” Ray says. “The teachers are evaluating themselves. And they’re sitting together…and saying, ‘Wow, you really did well on this. How did you teach it?…And they’re learning from each other.”
The South Sanpete district has a lot of new faces in its principal corps this year. Karen Soper, formerly principal at Manti Elementary, is now in charge at Manti High School. Josh Palmer, formerly with Central Utah Academy, the South Sanpete program at the Central Utah Correctional Facility, is the new assistant principal at Manti.
John Gillette, who was vice principal at the high school last year, is now principal at Ephraim Middle School. Michael Moon, a teacher at the school, has moved up to vice principal. And David Ipson, who was teaching at Manti Elementary School, has moved into the principalship replacing Soper.
With passage of HB 373 in the Utah Legislature, a measure appropriating $16 million for student mental health, both districts are putting together programs to identify students and families with mental health problems, and to connect them with community resources. Next year, the appropriation is supposed to double.
“We’re very, very excited,” Larsen says. “This is our No. 1 request from teachers, for mental health services.”
The South Sanpete district has added two part-time school nurses, which means it will have four nurses working in the schools. One of the main roles of the nurses will be working with counselors to address mental health needs. Next year the district hopes to add a clinical social worker to the team.
North Sanpete has added one part-time nurse, bringing its nurse corps to three part-timers. “That pretty much doubles the nursing services we’ve had in the past,” Ray says.
The district has also hired a social worker to cover the middle school and high school, and next year hopes to add a second social worker, which would be enough to have social worker coverage for all schools in the district, Ray says.