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Park Record, September 7, 2021--New South Summit superintendent says academic plan needed before district seeks another bond. Greg Maughan says facility needs will likely be addressed in the future, however...

New South Summit Superintendent Greg Maughan describes himself as an “educator at heart,” someone who didn’t enjoy school himself and wants to make sure every student has a plan to get the most out of the opportunities the district has to offer.

He took over the post this summer, inheriting a district that officials say faces overcrowding issues but where efforts to raise taxes to pay for new facilities have fallen short twice in the last five years.

He’s also taking over in the middle of a pandemic that has presented unprecedented difficulties for public schools.

Speaking last month, just before students were set to return to classrooms, Maughan sounded optimistic, with no sign of being daunted by the major challenges the district faces. He seemed energized that his first superintendency comes in one of his family’s favorite places.

“I shared with our new employees yesterday, kind of half-joking, but really kind of not half-joking: It’s taken me 28 years to get here to South Summit,” he said.

Maughan is a former junior high science teacher who was most recently the principal of East High School in Salt Lake City. He started as South Summit superintendent July 1. The district had been led by Steve Hirase on an interim basis after former Superintendent Shad Sorenson stepped down Jan. 1.

Maughan said his wife showed him the Kamas Valley and Uinta Mountains shortly after they were married nearly 30 years ago. They and their four children would head to the mountains in the summer with their trailer, fishing poles and motorcycles.

“I could not have fallen more in love with any particular area,” he said. “… Some of my favorite memories are attached to this valley.”

The attractions of the Kamas Valley have lured many other people, as well, and one of the issues plaguing the district in recent years has been keeping up with a growing population.

The problem isn’t new. Nearly 15 years ago, then-incoming Superintendent Barry Walker told The Park Record the toughest challenge facing South Summit would be keeping up with the tremendous growth in the Kamas Valley.

2018 estimate indicated that enrollment would grow from 1,673 students to 2,500 by 2028 and that schools would be beyond capacity.

Voters recently have struck down two attempts by the Board of Education to borrow money to build new schools: A nearly $59 million bond in 2017 and an $87 million bond in 2019.

Maughan said the district has to ensure it knows what sort of academic programs it wants to deliver before again asking to raise taxes to build new schools.

“Those academic needs should be driving the conversation around facility needs, not the other way around,” he said.

He said the district is pursuing a strategic plan that should be completed by the end of the academic year. Groups of employees, parents and teachers are examining four areas of focus the district has identified. Once the needs are known, he said, the conversation can begin in earnest about how to provide for them.

“Let’s say we bonded and the bond passed and we built the high school,” he said. “If we don’t have any data on what we need academically, we could build a high school that we get the kids into and we could find, ‘Oh shoot, we need a classroom space that supports our students that are in the health profession, supports nursing classes.’ We didn’t know that and we have to put a bunch of additional money into this brand-new school.”

He did not identify a timeline for when the district would again pursue a bond.

“I imagine at some point in the future, I can’t say when necessarily, but I imagine some time in the not-too-terribly distant future, based on academic needs, we’ll need to address facility needs of building another school,” he said. “Whether it’s elementary, middle or high school, that’s something we’ll have to figure out.”

As for the pandemic, Maughan said the district isn’t mandating vaccines for its employees or masks for its students. School districts were forbidden to mandate masks by the state Legislature.

Maughan said educators tend to comply with rules and indicated he would support whatever pandemic-related decisions come down from the Summit County Council or state authorities. He said he was working with both.

“We really recommend parents talk to pediatricians … because it is a personal choice and it’s not mandated,” he said of receiving a vaccine. “There’s a lot going on and, as far as COVID goes, we’re going to continue to work with those like I mentioned, continue to support our teachers and staff and continue to work to welcome kids back.”