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BASIS Flagstaff adds new grades and classrooms

BASIS Flagstaff is under construction. The college prep charter school is working on nearly doubling its current campus on Gemini Road by 30,877 square feet to make room for new classrooms, a new gym, a new playground and more parking.

Alex Cohen, a fifth-grade teacher at BASIS, can’t wait for the new construction to be finished.

“I’m really excited to see if we can push and achieve more. For the first time ever we’ll be able to build off our own curriculum,” she said, referring to the fact that the school will also add kindergarten through second grade for the 2018 school year. According to Cohen, that means that in a few short years she’ll be teaching students who have only attended BASIS for their schooling.

Cohen, who teaches math and science, is also excited about the new state-of-the-art science labs that are part of the new construction. She said the students are excited about the new full-sized gym and the new playgrounds that will be installed. The 2018 senior class is especially excited about the plans for a senior lounge area where students can relax and work on their senior projects.

According to a press release from Willmeng Construction, the construction has been in the work for a few months and will expand the existing 34,867 square-foot building to accommodate BASIS’ plans to add kindergarten and first and second grades to the school. Charhuff & Cueva Architects have designed the new space.

The construction includes renovations to the existing building to renovate restrooms, add locker cubbies, paint, install new carpet and update the administrative offices. The construction is supposed to be finished in October but the new classrooms should be available to students at the start of the school year in August.

The school opened in 2011 with 425 students and served fifth through 12 grades at first. It welcomed fourth-graders in 2015 and third-graders in 2016. It now serves 650 students. The addition of kindergarten through second grades would make the Flagstaff school the second BASIS school in Arizona to serve students from kindergarten through 12th grade in one building, joining BASIS Prescott.

BASIS.ed, the organization behind BASIS Flagstaff, was founded in 1998 in Tucson with 50 students and six teachers. The organization now has schools spread across the U.S. and one international school. BASIS.ed is known for its rigorous curriculum, including college prep classes, that allows some students to meet state graduation requirements by grade 11. Seniors at BASIS can take classes that are equivalent to 200 to 300 level college classes. They also have the option of doing an intensive research project that is related to their college or career goals.

Ben Shanahan, Arizona Daily Sun 

Matthew Johnson, 13, works on landing a tail whip Thursday afternoon at Foxglenn Skatepark while the weather in Flagstaff remains warm. There's a 40 percent chance of rain in Saturday night's forecast, with a bigger storm system possible for early next week. For more, see the story on Page A3.

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New program at NAU brings Navajo culture into the classroom

In a possible first, two Navajo school districts and the Dine Department of Education have teamed up with Northern Arizona University to bring a teacher education program from Yale University to the Navajo Nation.

The new professional development program, called the Dine Institute for Navajo Nation Educators, is for kindergarten through 12th-grade teachers who work in schools on the Navajo Nation, said Jolene Smith, a teacher from Kayenta Unified School District. The idea behind the program is to help teachers on the Navajo Nation to create, share and use a curriculum in their classrooms that is connected with the Navajo culture.

Any teacher who teaches on the Navajo Nation can apply for the program, said Angelina Castagno, the planning director for the new Dine Institute for Navajo Nation Education. But because of the workload involved in the program, she recommends that experienced teachers, not new ones, apply. The program is currently limited to teachers who work in schools on the Navajo Nation.

The Dine Institute for Navajo Nation Educators started accepting applications for the program on Dec. 6. The deadline to apply is Jan. 10. Applicants have to fill out an online form, answer three essay questions and get approval to attend from their principal. Applicants will be notified of their status by Feb. 5. The first seminar in the series starts in April at NAU.

Teachers who are accepted into the program are called fellows and attend two seminars during the year on various topics in humanities and science, such as the physics, chemistry and biology of the human body or how diet can impact the human body, she said. The teachers who attend the program are given the chance to voice which seminars they would like to attend when they apply. Those with the most interest are chosen for that year’s seminars. There is no charge to attend the Institute; however, fellows may have to purchase books for their seminars.

“The idea was to make the seminars and the program teacher-driven,” Castagno said. It is teachers who suggest and pick the topics they think will help them the most in instructing their classes.

The seminars are taught by NAU professors who are experts in the fields and who have consulted with Navajo elders to connect the material with the culture, Castagno said. The fellows who attend the program read, research and discuss the material online and in person at seminars at NAU and at various places on the Navajo Nation. The seminars are held on Saturdays for four weeks during the school year.

At the end of the program, fellows have to create a curriculum unit based on what they have learned that matches district, state, national and Navajo education standards and incorporates Navajo culture, Castagno said. The curriculum units are presented at the end of the fellowship year and posted online for other teachers to use. Fellows are also responsible for sharing their curriculum unit to other teachers in their district.

The program is part of the Yale National Initiative and the first of its kind for Yale in a rural area on a Native American nation, Smith said. The Yale National Initiative has typically focused on public schools in urban low-income areas. But lately, the program has been trying to reach out to rural and other underserved public school districts.

Smith said she was recruited to attend the Yale National Initiative as the first group of Yale fellows from the Navajo Nation in 2010 by a fellow teacher at Window Rock Unified School District, Marilyn Dempsey.

The Yale National Initiative is a program that is designed to strengthen public schools and teaching in low-income urban or rural areas, she said. Like the program at NAU, teachers attend a series of seminars on humanities and science at Yale as part of the program for two weeks in July. At the end of the two weeks, the teachers who have attended the Yale National Initiative are required to create a curriculum unit that can use in their own classroom and be shared with other teachers and other schools.

For example, one year Smith created a math unit that used the dimensions of the traditional Navajo hogan. Students had to scale a life-sized eight-foot-by-eight-foot hogan down to a two-inch-by-two-inch model. While learning the math behind scaling their projects, the student also learned about the history and significance of the hogan in Navajo culture. Smith has also used traditional Navajo rug patterns to teach students fractions.

“It really is a neat experience. They really value teachers,” Smith said. “They focus on teachers leading from the grassroots. It’s the teachers who decide what workshops and speakers we want to hear from. They really cater to what we need in our classrooms.”

Smith has gone back to attend the Yale National Initiative nearly every year since then. But not many teachers from the Navajo Nation can make the trip to the East Coast to attend, she said. The Yale National Initiative realizes this and encourages fellows to work with a local university or college to bring the program to their communities.

Smith reached out to Northern Arizona University in 2016 to see if the university would be interested in partnering with the Kayenta and Chinle Unified School Districts and the Dine Department of Education to bring the program to teachers on the Navajo Nation.

“NAU is a central partner on the reservation,” Smith said. “A lot of our teachers have graduated from NAU and we know that NAU really supports the tribes."

“They needed a university partner and we thought it was a great model,” Castagno added.

2 GOP senators urge criminal probe of Trump dossier author (copy)

WASHINGTON — Two Republican senators have made the first known criminal referral in congressional investigations of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, targeting the author of a dossier of allegations about President Donald Trump's ties to Russia.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said Friday they had referred former British spy Christopher Steele to the Justice Department for investigation about false statements he may have made to the government. Graham is the chairman of a Judiciary subcommittee that is investigating the Russian meddling.

The referral comes after Republicans in Congress have made several attempts in recent weeks to undermine the credibility of special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation, the Justice Department and the FBI, charging there is anti-Trump bias within the ranks of federal agents and prosecutors.

In a cover letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and FBI Director Christopher Wray released by the committee, the senators said the referral relates to "certain communications between Christopher Steele and multiple U.S. news outlets regarding the so-called 'Trump dossier.'" The rest of the referral is classified and was not released.

Lawmakers cannot prosecute, but generally refer any criminal violations they find to the Justice Department. On Friday, Justice Department spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores said the department had received the referral and will review it.

The dossier is a compilation of memos Steele wrote during the 2016 campaign that contained several allegations of connections between Trump and Russia, including that Trump had been compromised by the Kremlin. Trump has called the dossier "phony" and derided it as a politically motivated hit job, and many Republicans in Congress have been focused on discrediting it.

The cover letter does not say who the senators believe Steele lied to, but Grassley said in a statement about the referral that "everyone needs to follow the law and be truthful in their interactions with the FBI."

Republicans have been asking the Justice Department for months whether the dossier was used as part of its initial investigation into Russian interference.

The dossier was turned over to the FBI in 2016, and federal investigators worked to corroborate portions of it. Some of the information was distilled into a summary that then-FBI Director James Comey presented to then-president-elect Trump in January 2017.

More recently, Mueller's investigators interviewed Steele in Europe as part of their probe into Russian election interference and ties between Trump associates and the Kremlin.

Trump's effort to keep Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a vocal and loyal supporter of his election bid, in charge of an investigation into his campaign offers special counsel Mueller yet another avenue to explore as his prosecutors work to untangle potential evidence of obstruction.

The federal investigation into possible coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia already includes a close look at whether Trump's actions as president constitute an effort to impede that same probe. Those include the firing Comey, an allegation by Comey that Trump encouraged him to end an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn and the president's role in drafting an incomplete and potentially misleading statement about a 2016 meeting with Russians.

The latest revelation — that Trump directed his White House counsel, Don McGahn, to tell Sessions not to recuse himself from the Russia investigation — is known to Mueller's investigators, who have interviewed many current and former executive branch officials. It adds to the portrait of a president left furious by an investigation that he has called a hoax and suggests that he worked through an intermediary to keep the inquiry under the watch of an attorney general he expected would be loyal.

Three people familiar with the matter confirmed to The Associated Press that McGahn spoke with Sessions just before he announced his recusal to urge him not to do so. One of the people said McGahn contacted Sessions at the president's behest. All three spoke on condition of anonymity to avoid publicly discussing an ongoing investigation.

Although the episode makes clear Trump's exasperation with the investigation, it remains unclear whether Mueller's team has evidence to establish that the president's collective actions were done with the corrupt intent needed to prove obstruction of justice.

Trump and his lawyers have repeatedly maintained that he did nothing improper and that, as president, he had unequivocal authority to fire Comey and to take other actions. They may also argue that the president was empowered to want the attorney general he appointed to oversee the Justice Department's Russian meddling investigation or, as McGahn contended to Sessions, that there was no basis or reason at that time for the attorney general to recuse himself.

Larry Hendricks  

Davida and Orlando Watts stand outside the family emergency shelter run by Catholic Charities Community Services in Flagstaff.


The late Lowell astronomer Earl Slipher, as shown in a still from the 1956 "Man and Mars" episode of the TV program, "Disneyland." 

Snowpack that feeds Colorado River is at 20 pct of normal

LAS VEGAS — Rocky Mountains snowpack that feeds Colorado River water supplies was 20 percent below average in December in some areas, prompting a prediction that the key water source for seven U.S. states could flow at 54 percent of its average volume during the April-July snowpack runoff period.

The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported that the conditions issued by the National Weather Service's Colorado Basin River Forecast Center could improve if more snow falls but that winter precipitation so far has been far below normal.

The river is a critical water source for Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah and Wyoming.

Lake Mead's surface has dropped more than 130 feet since drought descended on the Colorado in 2000. But the lake that sits upstream from Hoover Dam east of Las Vegas ended 2017 almost 2 feet higher than a year ago, as use of Colorado River water by Nevada, Arizona and California hit its lowest level since 1992.

According to preliminary accounting figures from the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, those three states consumed a combined 6.7 million acre-feet from the river last year, driven by wet conditions in California and widening efforts to curb use in Arizona.

That left enough water in Lake Mead to keep it more than 7 feet above the trigger point for a federal shortage declaration, which would mean mandatory cuts for river users in Nevada and Arizona.

The federal projections released last month called for Lake Mead to finish 2018 roughly 4 feet lower than it is now but still safely out of shortage territory. In light of Wednesday's river forecast, the projections for the lake are almost certain to get worse.

Colorado River author and expert John Fleck said the reduction in consumption is impressive considering the population in the areas served by the river has grown by about 7 million people since 1992.

"It's a sign that we are succeeding in using less water in the Lower Colorado Basin," said Fleck, director of the Water Resources Program at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque.

"It's critical that we're learning to do this, because this isn't enough. . We're going to have to do it more," he told the Review-Journal.

California was able to cut its river use by more than 440,000 acre-feet last year, in large part because of huge snow accumulations in the Sierra Nevada that helped refill the state's drought-depleted reservoirs and above-average precipitation elsewhere that reduced water demand.

Fleck said Arizona cut its river use by almost 360,000 acre-feet mostly to stave off more substantial, mandatory cuts in the future.

"Arizona has been cranking down their use to try to avoid a shortage," he said.

Nevada used about 239,000 acre-feet of its 300,000 acre-foot allocation in 2017, an increase of roughly 2 percent over the previous year.

Bronson Mack, spokesman for the Southern Nevada Water Authority, said water use went up slightly last year because of increased economic activity and the addition of more water customers. Hotter, drier weather also might have played a part, he said.

One acre-foot of water is enough to supply two average for a little more than a year.

Most of Nevada's river water goes to supply about 90 percent of the water consumed by the Las Vegas Valley's 2 million residents and 40 million annual visitors.