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School board looks ahead
Seniors brainstorm graduation ideas
file photo 2019 graduation
Darian Harbaugh GBHS Class of 2019 senior class president, leads graduates, faculty and attendees in the Pledge of Allegiance during last year’s graduation ceremony. With schools closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, it is unclear how the Class of 2020 will celebrate graduation. Also pictured here are, from left: Katherine Snapp, valedictorian; Elizabeth Linenberger, salutatorian; Jacquie Disque, board of education member, Tim Friess, principal; and Susan Young, board of education member. File photo by Andrea Bauer, USD 428

Two weeks into the Continuous Learning Plan implemented by Great Bend USD 428, administrators told the school board Monday that the teachers and school staff have designed and are implementing online or distance learning for all the students of USD 428.

“We have contacted, I would say, 99 – close to 98% of our kids,” Director of Teaching and Learning Tricia Reiser said, adding that is “a great testimony for a 5A school.” Teachers at elementary schools and the middle school are contacting families every week.

“We’re still trying to get hold of the last few (students),” Superintendent Khris Thexton said. The district will survey parents, staff and secondary students to learn what adjustments can be made.

“One thing we continue to work on is getting internet for all of our families,” he said. Nex-Tech, Cox and AT&T all have programs for helping families.

Thexton said the administrators continue to meet with the Kansas State Department of Education on a regular basis, sometimes daily. One thing public schools will have to deal with is how to use the federal funding they receive through the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act signed by President Donald Trump on March 27. The funds can be used through September of 2021.

Thexton said the funding will be used “to help bring our students up from time spent out of school.”

Board member Deanna Essmiller wanted to know what will be done about the gap between self-learners and students who fall behind when they return to school in August.

Thexton said he hopes the district can offer some summer school, but he doesn’t know if that is possible “or how it might look this year if we’re allowed to have it.” The cost for summer school may be greater than in the past “but that’s what the CARES money is for.” The district also uses the Kansas Multi-Tier System of Supports (MTSS) to evaluate students and provide intervention in areas where they are not up to grade level.

“You can’t make up a quarter of your school year (overnight),” Thexton said. “MTSS will let us know where kids are behind so we can bring them up to speed. We hope to have normal school in August but you can’t guarantee anything at this time.”

Board member Don Williams wanted to know if any students have moved out of the district. Thexton said it is hard to know, but some have moved in since the school buildings closed in March.

“Great Bend Middle School just enrolled three students,” he said.

Recognizing graduates, teachers

Board member Lori Reneau asked what ideas are being considered for graduation. Thexton said GBHS Principal Tim Friess and Assistant Superintendent Randy Wetzel have been in contact with a panel of five to seven senior class representatives. Suggestions have ranged from a traditional graduation ceremony in the summer to some kind of virtual stage or a drive-in style event. A local radio station is interested in doing a broadcast.

“It’s really going to come down to the shelter-in-place (order) and if they lift that,” Thexton said. “We’ve been working with the health department and can discuss ideas with them.

“We want the kids to be part of this; it can be unique,” he continued. “We’ll share  a list of ideas when we have it. The kids are pretty into (the process).”

Graduation isn’t the only tradition affected by COVID-19 and the stay-at-home order. The annual Employee Recognition Banquet has been canceled, although Public Information Officer Andrea Bauer has been looking at ways to honor retirees and recognize employees’ years of service “and the hard work they do for us,” Thexton said.

Grants and contributions

The board approved the following contributions and requests to apply for grants:

• GBHS received $200 for the FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America) club from Delta Tau Chapter Epsilon Sigma Alpha International.

• Riley Elementary School received $500 in memorial contributions in memory of Albert and Carol Risley.

• Park Elementary School will accept an Outdoor Wildlife Learning Site (OWLS) grant for $1,964 from the Kansas Department of Wildlife and Parks, to plant a garden south of the school. The grant application was submitted by the Park Booster Club.

• Food Service Director Kristy Alvord has again received a grant through the USDA, this time for the 2020-2021 school year. The grant is a federal and state program that provides reimbursement for the cost of making free fresh fruits and vegetables available to students as a snack, two to five days a week. Grants are based on total number of enrolled students and the percentage eligible for free and reduced-price meals, which means the snacks will be available to students at Eisenhower, Riley and Park. However, Lincoln and Jefferson schools will also benefit from the grant by getting to try new vegetables at lunch time; the items just won’t be available as snacks.



Meeting at a glance

Here’s a quick look at Monday’s Great Bend USD 428 Board of Education meeting.

• The board recognized the district’s Kansas Teacher of the Year candidates, Jessica Geist, teacher of grade six at Lincoln Elementary, and Wendy Popp, teacher of math at Great Bend High School. They will represent USD 428 in the 2020-2021 Kansas Teacher of the Year program.

• The board approved the low bid for replacing multiple sections of carpet at GBHS, from Kustom Floor in Great Bend, for  $269,890. Superintendent Khris Thexton said the bid was lower than expected.

• The board approved adding girls wrestling as a sport at Great Bend Middle School. The sport will coincide with the middle school boys basketball season. (See story in the sports section.)

• The board renewed its membership with the Kansas Association of School Boards, which provides assistance in such areas as policy development, personnel, negotiations, school improvement and legal services. The membership cost for 2020-2021 is $13,135, plus $2,100 for the Legal Assistance Fund.

• The board had its first reading of 2020-2021 Student Handbooks, Teacher Handbooks, Athletic and Activity Handbooks. Changes can be suggested and the board will be asked to approve the handbooks at the May meeting.

• Assistant Superintendent John Popp gave a personnel report. Many staff members have expressed their gratitude for the school board’s commitment to employees during these uncertain times. Recruiting for new staff is now exclusively online, which presents a new challenge to finding and hiring good teachers for next year. The board accepted the resignation of Mandy Galla, preschool teacher at Riley Elementary School and approved two teacher appointments: Amy Haxton was hired to teach special education at Riley and Rebecca Lehew was hired as the next library media specialist at GBHS.

• The Food Service Department was commended. The district has provided, on average, 1,188 meals per day.

• Superintendent Thexton provided an update on COVID-19 and the district’s Continuous Learning Plan. President Donald Trump signed the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act on March 27, which provides $13.5 billion for public schools. Some of the money Great Bend receives will be used to help kids catch up after missing a quarter of the school year (in the regular classroom setting). If possible, he said, the district would like to have summer school in some form.

• Contributions and grant applications were approved.