By allowing ads to appear on this site, you support the local businesses who, in turn, support great journalism.
Little Panthers Preschool will open in August
The sign outside the former “Head Start” preschool playground at 22nd and Tyler will soon come down as Great Bend USD 428 prepares to open its Little Panthers Preschool - photo by Susan Thacker

Great Bend USD 428’s plans to open a preschool in August are moving ahead. On Monday, Eisenhower Elementary School Principal Joann Blevins and Little Panthers Preschool Director Amanda Moran-Jones gave a progress report to the school board.

The preschool will be under the oversight of Eisenhower but is located a few blocks away, at the former Head Start location at 3400 21st St. It is being leased from the First Congregational United Church of Christ.

“I’m happy to say that this week we’ll probably be hiring our last teaching assistant, so that will make our staff full,” Blevins said. The preschool will have one teaching assistant (TA) assigned to each of its three classrooms and two more part-time TAs who also have other duties. One will be in a classroom except when she’s working for Food Service during breakfast and lunch. The fifth teaching assistant will be a part-time TA and part-time custodial worker. The schedule will allow some of the TAs to be at the school after 5 p.m. to make sure all of the children are picked up by their parents.

Moran-Jones has been on board since April 26 and has created two handbooks, one for staff and one for families, as well as schedules. “She’s even been painting down at Little Panthers in her free time,” Blevins said.

“Our numbers are looking really good,” Moran-Jones said. “We’ve only got about five openings between all three classrooms.” She noted that other USD 428 preschools are also nearly full. Riley Elementary’s preschool has some afternoon spots open and the Helping Hands Preschool at the Washington Early Education Center is full, she said.

The preschool openings were offered first to families of USD 428 employees and then to the community.

Blevins said the classroom for 3-year-olds who will attend preschool all day is full. There are a couple of spots left in the all-day classroom for 4-year-olds. The third classroom is for 4-year-olds who will be there for half a day, morning or afternoon. There are a few openings there. “We’re still getting a lot of calls,” she said.

Most of the children from non-USD 428 employees’ families will eventually go to Eisenhower school. Some of the preschoolers have older siblings there, Blevins noted. “Those families are really excited to be able to have their kids start at Eisenhower (and) have that connection right away.”

“It’s been fun to see all of the folks in town that have really embraced early childhood and want to be a part of it,” she said.

An open house for parents will be held from 6-7 p.m. on Aug. 17. Eisenhower School will have an open house for kindergartners that same evening.

Looking ahead

The report on Little Panthers Preschool was just one item on the agenda at Monday’s school board meeting. Assistant Superintendent John Popp shared the beginning of the 2021-2022 school calendar:

• Aug. 3-4 - Enrollment

• Aug. 9 - Helping Hands enrollment

• Aug. 6-12 - New teacher orientation

• Aug. 13, 18 - Teacher work days

• Aug. 16-17 - Teacher in-service work days

• Aug. 17 - Staff opening session

• Aug. 19 - First day of classes for grades K-6, 7 and 9

• Aug. 20 - First day of classes for grades 8 and 10-12

Superintendent’s report

Superintendent Khris Thexton also updated the board on several items.

He said the Food Service department has been making meals for 630 students a day during summer school. Students get lunch and the following day’s breakfast after summer school dismisses. Those who aren’t in summer school can also pick up the meals, but the district no longer offers curbside service; people have to go into the schools to pick up meals in the gym between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.

Food Service Director Kristy Alvord had prepared to serve meals to as many as 800 students per day, but Popp said outside participation dropped after the curbside service that started during the pandemic was discontinued.

“You have to get out of the car and go in,” he said.

Nonetheless, Thexton said, “I’m happy that people are taking advantage of the offering.” Free breakfast and lunch are available to anyone 18 years old or younger. The program is available this month at all five elementary schools. Meals will also be offered July 6-30 at Jefferson, Lincoln and Riley schools, but hours will be 11 a.m. to 12:30 p.m.

• In his report on project updates, Thexton said some concrete work is scheduled for this summer, along with work on the gym floors at Park and Eisenhower schools. The installation of the new boiler at the Panther Activity Center will start in July. 


The school board on Monday approved the following contributions and grant applications:

• $8.60 from Box Tops to Helping Hands preschool

• $1,539 from Liberty Steel & Wire, Peoria, Ill., to the GBHS FFA

• $25 from Presbyterian Women to El Sol

• USD 428 has applied for and been awarded a Kansas Board of Regents Classroom to Classroom Grant in cooperation with Fort Hays State University. This program will assist local people who do not have a degree but are interested in teaching to become licensed to teach. USD 428 will receive support and coaching for people who enter the program.

USD 428 hears from Kansas Can Star Recognition Program

Great Bend USD 428 received special recognition from the Kansas Can Star Recognition Program for 2020, Superintendent Khris Thexton said.

The program recognizes the efforts of the district to support and encourage post-secondary readiness and, in turn, graduation rates.

USD 428 received the Commissioner’s Award, acknowledging student preparedness for high school graduation and the district’s attention in civic engagement, social-emotional growth, individual plan of study and kindergarten readiness.

The district also received the Copper Award for Graduation Rate, noting postsecondary effectiveness. Last year the graduation rate at GBHS was 90%.

“This is recognition to be celebrated at all levels within USD 428,” Thexton said. “A student’s educational journey begins in the early years of preschool and continues through high school, impacted by many teachers and staff throughout the years in between. In classrooms across our district, our staff works diligently to fulfill our mission of preparing all students to become responsible citizens and lifelong learners.”