Deegan and Emmy Ortiz are among the first students to arrive at the Elgin School on the first day of classes August 1.  Photo by Marion Vendituoli

“I’m looking forward to this year,” Sonoita District Superintendent Mary Faley said. The Elgin School, which kicked off the new school year on August 1, has seen a dramatic increase in enrollment, the school is fully staffed, the art program has been reinstated, and improved internet capability and access is being developed. 

This academic year, the school anticipates that there will be 143 students enrolled, the highest number in recent history. The largest class is 4th grade, with 23 students. The smallest is 3rd grade, with 10 students. 

The number of enrolled students fell to a low of 107 in the fall of 2020 during the pandemic when several families opted for homeschooling. The numbers started to increase when the Elgin School opened classrooms back up for in-school learning sooner than most of the neighboring districts. 

The school made the decision at that time to not allow out of district students to enroll in an effort to maintain adequate social distancing on campus. “We were closed for open enrollment,” Faley said. “We haven’t reopened it yet.”

Higher enrollment translates to more funding from the state. During the pandemic, the school’s budget was cut significantly, according to Faley. Staffing was also an issue. Anna 

Coleman, the art teacher, was reassigned to teach 3rd grade the first year of the pandemic, and then moved to 4th grade last year. She is back in her art room this year. “I’m really excited to get the students to engage in hands-on activities. Art is important for children because it opens up their brains and they learn how to problem solve. It combines creativity with mindfulness. It’s the cornerstone for young learning,” Coleman said.

Two new teachers have joined the faculty. Kim Crawford will be teaching kindergarten and Kat Greeson will take over 5th grade. “This is the first year since I’ve been here that we are fully staffed,” Faley said.

The school has also upgraded internet capability. The fiber project has been completed. Funded by the FCC’s National E-rate program, fiber-optic cable was run from the center of Sonoita to the Elgin School, providing the school with much higher internet capacity. The school also received grants to upgrade devices. 

Still in the works is the state funded Final Mile project, which focuses on providing reliable internet to rural areas. Triad Wireless, who won the bid to provide the service, is currently applying for a building permit to erect an 80-foot tower on school property. The plan is to locate the tower next to the gym.

The goal of the Final Mile project is to provide students with low cost, reliable internet. The cost will be $10 per month and is restricted to educational use only. However, because the infrastructure will be in place, Faley anticipates that Triad will, in the future, offer its internet to the entire community.

Faley is also excited about plans for a new early childhood center. The county has allocated $450,000 of a grant to fund this project. The school is looking at two options, to build a new building, or to remodel two rooms in the school, which would leave funds available for staffing. Although not earmarked for a pre-school specifically, Faley is hoping to include that in these plans. She is a strong proponent of early childhood education. “I’m pretty passionate about that,” she said. 

Despite all these improvements and the effects of inflation, the school budget, which was finalized the end of June, did not raise the secondary tax rate for property owners in the district. According to Faley it went down slightly, less than 1%. 

Faley does not anticipate any changes to the current school board, as the two board members whose terms will be up are running unopposed in the general election. “I’m happy about that,” she said. “I think we have a really good board.”