Lance Morrow, principal of Buhach Colony High School in Atwater, was appointed by the Board of Trustees night as the new Sonora High School principal.

Morrow, 54, has never taught in Tuolumne County, but said he developed a fondness for the area in the 1990s while a math teacher, football coach and girls soccer coach for East Union High School in Manteca. At the time, East Union High School and Sonora High School were both in the Valley Oak League.

“I am very anxious to become part of a school and community that does have scuh rich traditions, and I look forward to becoming part of the community,” Morrow said after the meeting Tuesday night.

Morrow, a Modesto resident, said his educational philosophy was driven by rigor, relevance and relationships.

“It’s just what I think education needs to be all about, so students reach their highest potential and are ready for their college and career,” he said.

Morrow added he wanted to maintain high academic standards at the high school and boost achievement so students could reach “the next level.”

Morrow earned a bachelor’s degree from California State University, Chico, in agricultural business in 1988 and a teaching credential from California State University, Stanislaus, in 1990.

He taught at East Union High School in the Manteca Unified School District for nine years before moving into administration. He said he was principal at Ripon High School before becoming principal at Buhach Colony High School, which is in the Merced Union High School District.

Buhach Colony High School had an enrollment of approximately 1,900 students, more than double that of Sonora High School, he said.

Morrow said his start date and his salary have not been determined.

According to district documents, 12 people applied for principal. Four of those candidates were interviewed, replied to writing prompts and gave presentations. Over 20 staff and community members were involved in the decision, the document said.

At the end of the meeting, a procession of Sonora Union High School District employees congratulated Morrow on his appointment.

Trustee Kim Norton voted against his appointment.

Certificated employee representative Debbie Hopper said staff was appreciative to be included in the interview and discussion process in the selection of the principal.

Wildcat Ranch

The district voted 4-1 to approve a settlement agreement in the lawsuit brought against them by the Tuolumne County Farm Bureau, an agricultural advocacy nonprofit organization that sued them for their handling of the sale of the Wildcat Ranch property.

Board President Jim Riggs said the settlement agreement was not an admission of liability, but represented “a compromise of disputed claims between the district and the farm bureau.”

The board committed to following Brown Act practices in further negotiations, providing records to the bureau and paying attorney’s fees to the bureau.

Riggs also said the board would take “necessary steps” to designate the property as surplus if they chose to sell it again “regardless of previous actions taken by the district.”

Trustee Jeanie Smith voted against the settlement agreement.

Sonora Dome

Trustees also tentatively set the membership of an ad hoc committee of two board members, Nancy Scott and Jeanie Smith, to confer with members of the Historic Dome Preservation Group to evaluate parking and potential membership of a new surplus property committee.

Davina Lane, a member of the nonprofit organization, expressed before the appointment some consternation that the committee was not yet formed.

“I’m a little concerned that it's taking a little longer than we hoped,” she said.

Sonora Union High School Superintendent Mark Miller said a committee could not be formed at the June meeting, because it would have to be included as an action item for at least 72 hours before the meeting to be considered.

Trustee Erik Andal said an eventual committee should include a diversity of professions and people with relevant expertise.

Riggs said the ad hoc committee would confer with Alan Zimmerley, president of the dome group, to discuss the issue of parking and who would be candidates for the committee.

“There’s lots of things to get sorted out here,” Riggs said.

Some board members noted that the surplus property process may need to be reviewed or evaluated if the committee believed more of the Alternative Education campus should be declared surplus to accommodate additional parking.

A former district advisory committee voted on Jan. 16, 2018, to declare the Sonora Dome and two adjacent buildings surplus.

Other business

The board also approved the hires of Elizabeth Garrett in the position of learning director of Educational Services; Carole Sielaff as director of Special Education; Anthony DePage as a grant-funded, self-contained classroom teacher; and Mitchell Nihonyanagi as a math teacher.

It was also the last meeting for outgoing principal Ben Howell, who presented to the board on classroom size and the efficacy of a possible block schedule at Sonora High School.

Howell said the overall class average is about 28.98 students (excluding outliers special education with an 11.71 student average and physical education with a 50.15 student average).

Howell also recommended the school stick with a traditional schedule to maintain student focus on pillars of campus culture, including band and athletics.

Trustees wished Howell luck in his future endeavors as superintendent-principal of the Summerville Elementary School District.

District Chief Business Official Dana Vaccarezza said minor changes were added to next year’s budget to reflect fund transfers intended to pay for the Wildcat Ranch lawsuit and for retroactive staff raises approved by trustees during a June 11 meeting.

With the approved changes, district reserves within a three-year budget projection dropped from 13.6 to 12.65 percent in the 2019-20 school year, 9.58 to 8.61 percent in the 2020-21 school year and 6.22 to 5.27 in the 2021-22 school year, Vaccarezza said.

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