Dax Keller was unanimously voted in as a new trustee on the Preston School District Board of Trustees on Sept. 16. Keller fills a position vacated by Jodi Shumway, who resigned from the board last month in order for the district to employe his wife as a teacher.
“One thing I am grateful for is the youth,” said Keller. “I know so many of them and love them and want the best for them.” He feels the same about the staff. “I think education is one of the most important things. If I can do anything to help make the education system better, I’d love to,” he said. Keller and his wife, Tami, have children in each of the district’s schools as well as one that graduated, he said. Keller is known for his service to the community as a former stake president of The Preston North Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and as the owner/operator of Ron Keller Tire in Preston.
The board was also informed of the resignation of Jason Keller as wrestling coach in the district. The district is now looking for his replacement.
Some of the district’s new teachers were introduced to the board of trustees: Janie Skinner will be teaching sixth-grade English, replacing a position vacated by Vicky Mather. “I believe 90 percent of misbehavior deals with a lack of skill and (kids) are trying to deflect attention from that. (In my class) they learn they are more capable than they thought they were because I don’t let them submit (inferior) work,” she said.
Richard Wilkinson Richard also came from Arizona, where he taught high school English. He is filling a position held by Judy Buxton, and will teach English and history at PHS. He and his wife have five children and live in Nibley, Utah.
Arnica Shumway just earned her teaching degree and will be teaching fifth grade. “I’m excited about it. I love fifth graders,” she said.
Brad Nielson, who was hired to fill the position of district business manager left by Brian Mendenhall’s unexpected death earlier this year, also met the board. He had been working at Allred and Jackson Accounting in Logan. He also fills the same position for West Side School District and SEITech. He and his wife live in Weston and are the parents of three.
Mendenhall filled many positions in the district, including district contractor. The district is considering hiring a contractor to take care of the district’s many building projects, said Marc Gee, district superintendent.
Tom Lewis is the district’s new transportation director, filling a position left by Kevin Seamons, who retired. He started working with the district a year ago as a bus driver, but has 20 years in the transportation field. “I love the drivers. I love the kids,” he said. “Kevin has been a great mentor. (In a recent state inspection) we scored 99.8 on our equipment. Not quite as good with paperwork, but they cut a little slack since Kevin has been sick for so long,” he said.
A turnaround was added for a bus at 5966 N. 1200 West. Lewis also noted that while some buses are at capacity, others are on the low end as more parents or siblings take kids to school, he said. The trustees approved the district bus routes. They are also looking for a director for the Preston Education Foundation and possibly a booster club.
A booster club for PHS sports would function under the umbrella of the education foundation in order to coordinate and improve the efficiency of fundraising, said superintendent Gee. Art or music programs may also run fundraisers under the foundation, which provides tax incentives and can work through tax benefits easier for large donations, he said.
The district was directed to implement an after-hours system for students and teachers to report exposure to COVID-19 to accelerate the district’s ability to start contact tracing earlier. A form has been placed on the district’s website that allows families to contact the district after school and on weekends.
“We had a couple situations where students have mistaken said they or their child has COVID-19 and they didn’t. If one child had them, they assumed the whole family had it. Research … says there is a 12 to 15 percent chance of passing it onto family. We don’t want to contact trace for people who aren’t infected,” said Gee.
The district is also trying to narrow the time students have to be away when exposed. “We copied this process from other schools. They are going to encourage the student to stay home for 14 days, but only require seven days if they were just around the person that has COVID-19…and they need to keep wearing the mask,” he said.
Participation in activities requires same things: mask unless students can maintain six feet in social distancing. If a student has a negative test after having contact with an infected student, then they can come back to activities. There are two kinds of tests that can be conducted.” The antigen and antibody test, which you can get back within an hour, is only accurate 7-10 days after exposure,” said Gee. That test can be read in an hour. The swab test gives an accurate result but takes two to three days to get results back. The local health district was part of the district’s early decision-making process.
The district had report of four students who tested positive for the disease last week. The four-day week has proven beneficial. “The day they stayed home plus the three day weekend, kept them away during the virulent stage,” said Gee.
Trustees were updated on the district’s progress on construction. Footings have been poured for football bleachers, but the factory building the bleachers has been shutdown twice. That has pushed the delivery of them back to Oct. 12. “The minute they are here, the organization that’s putting them in can be there that day and assemble the bleachers. It will take five to six days,” said Gee.
The roofing is complete on the Pioneer breezeway and the interior walls are complete. Most of HVAC is in and the district is waiting on state approval for fire suppression system, which has also been delayed by COVID-19.
The district also received engineering specs back last week on the roofing and HVAC system for the high school. That project is expected to start in the spring when the weather warms up.
At the Oakwood Elementary, a second pod has been demolished and will be worked on throughout the winter. The first one remodeled is now being used by students and teachers.
Potholes have been filled behind the junior high. “We’ll do more, but that was the most important stretch. Where the buses unload will be a much larger project, so we’ll wait,” said Gee.
Finally, the trustees were informed that the district is receiving $1,156,117 in funds through the CARES Act.
Most of what was held back earlier in the spring as the state waited to see what costs would be incurred due to the pandemic will be sent to the district, which is working with administrators and teachers on how to best use those funds. Uses include funding classified staff pay during shutdown, the additional hours the tech team used during shutdown, additional cleaning staff and personal protection equipment. Some funding has already been used to pay for 700 of the 1,000 devices the district rolled out for students’ personal use. Another 300 devices are needed and will be funded through these monies, as well as licenses and virtual curriculum teachers use to connect with their students online.
Taylor Bowles, representing the teachers, thanked the district for support in getting teachers and students back to school. She reported a general sense of stress among teachers as they continue to navigate how to teach students both in class and online.