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USD 428 plans preschool addition
School board presents ROSE award
ROSE Birney and Graves
The ROSE (Recognizing Outstanding Support of Education) award was presented to Kylee Graves and Buzz Birney at Monday’s Board of Education meeting. Shown presenting the award is Director of Teaching and Learning Tricia Reiser.

Great Bend USD 428 Board of Education members heard a plan Monday to add a preschool in the Eisenhower Elementary School neighborhood. The proposal is still in the planning phase but the board gave its preliminary approval.

Superintendent Khris Thexton recommended the proposal for the “Little Panthers Preschool” to be housed at the former Head Start location. Openings would first be offered to USD 428 employees. Next in line would be families that live in the Eisenhower neighborhood, and then to the district at large.

“This is something I’ve always wanted to see for our district,” he told the board when it held its regular meeting on Monday. Director of Teaching and Learning Tricia Reiser and members of the study committee for this project presented more details.

USD 428 staff were surveyed and this is something many of them see a need for and would consider using. The most important considerations were affordability, followed by reliability, teacher credentials, hours of operation and availability. This would help the district attract and retain quality employees, Thexton said.

Administrators also believe it would help the community. They were concerned that 25% of students enter kindergarten each year without experiencing preschool as a 4-year-old. Studies show children are more likely to be “kindergarten ready” if they have preschool experience.

Eisenhower Elementary School has the highest percentage of kindergartners who did not attend preschool.

Head Start closed in 2019, leaving a gap in preschool capacity in the community, committee members said. Head Start was housed at the First Congregational United Church of Christ at 3400 21st St., which is a 4-minute drive from Eisenhower.

The plan is to rent the former Head Start facilities from the church and offer preschool to USD 428 staff first. Any available openings after that would be offered to residents in the Eisenhower neighborhood, and then to the entire district. The preschool would operate five days a week during the 10-month school calendar, with the potential of offering summer school and summer child care. No tuition fees would be charged for preschool but a fee schedule would be determined if childcare is provided outside of preschool hours. State aid and grant funding would be available for the preschool.

The cost is still being studied, but the committee estimates the district would need $65,000-$90,000 for start-up expenses, said USD 428 Public Information Director Andrea Bauer, who also served on the study committee. Two certified teachers and seven or more additional certified staff would be needed.

The preschool could accommodate 48 children, but not all day, all week, she noted.

The district already has a preschool at Riley Elementary. Nickie Ochs, a committee member who teaches at Riley, said that being tied to the school district works well. Students who need help with reading and math can start receiving extra help a year earlier.

Eisenhower Principal Joann Blevins was previously the Riley principal and she also spoke in favor of a preschool. “Studies show early intervention is how we close the achievement gap,” she said, adding a lot of Great Bend families can’t afford a private preschool. “This is a really good way to offer our community extra seats so we can fill that gap.”

Board member Don Williams asked whether this would create a hardship for private preschools but Reiser said she didn’t believe it would. Other board members expressed enthusiasm for the preschool, which Thexton said could be ready to open in the fall semester.

ROSE Award

During the meeting, the board recognized Kylee Graves and her father, Bryant “Buzz” Birney, with the district’s ROSE Award – Recognizing Outstanding Support of Education.

Director of Teaching and Learning Reiser presented the award, reading this statement to the board:

“During the 2020 Christmas season, Kylee Graves and her father, Buzz Birney, provided a phenomenal service to families of USD 428 students. They connected with the schools and others in the community to organize a district-wide giving opportunity that provided students in need with Christmas gifts. In their efforts, they spent commendable time learning about the students and choosing the ‘just right’ gift for each of them. Kylee and her father have a heart for the students in our school community. Their example of giving to the community is of the highest measure. The ROSE award (is) a token of appreciation for Kylee and her father for taking the action of going ‘above and beyond’ in caring and promoting the social-emotional well-being of our students.”

Graves is a family support worker at Lincoln Elementary School. Birney is the executive director of Live Like Jesus Today.

Meeting at a glance:

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

• A ROSE award (Recognizing Outstanding Support of Education) was presented to Kylee Graves and Buzz Birney. The board also recognized the district’s volunteers, although they haven’t been able to spend much time in the buildings this year because of the pandemic.

• February is Career and Technical Education (CTE) Month, so Great Bend High School Assistant Principal Randy Wetzel provided an update on CTE programs. This was followed by a report from students and from business teacher Amber Lucchesi concerning The Paw Shop.

The Paw Shop is a student learning lab operated by GBHS students offering customers throughout the community and the school district a variety of quality school spirit goods customized by business, marketing and computer graphics students. Students seek to provide a spirit-filled atmosphere for its patrons while expanding their knowledge of the business world.

• The board approved policy revisions that were first reviewed last month. They also reviewed two 2022-2023 calendar proposals. These will next go to the Great Bend - National Education Association (GB-NEA).

• The contract to repair and refinish the gym floors at Park Elementary and Eisenhower Elementary was awarded to the low bidder, Wichita-based Great American Hardwood Flooring, for $24,650.

• The board heard a preliminary proposal to add one preschool and gave the administration approval to move forward with plans.

• The board approved buying five automated external defibrillator (AED) units from First Responder KS in Wichita, to replace some that are 12 years old. The total cost after trade-ins is $8,100.

• The board renewed the partnership agreement with JAG-Kansas to keep the two Jobs for America’s Graduates classes at GBHS for the next school year. The cost is $22,000 ($11,000 per program), the same amount as the 2020-2021 school year.

• The annual E-Rate funding purchases were approved. This federal funding covers 80% of the cost for internet access, the Area Wide computer Network, and wireless access at the high school and middle school, all provided by Nex-tech, and a firewall from NCS. The total cost of these services is $240,950 but after e-Rate funding the cost to the district is $48,190.

The schools and libraries universal service support program, commonly known as the E-rate program, helps schools and libraries to obtain affordable broadband.

• The USD 428 Education Foundation Board of Trustees membership was approved. There were no changes. Taylor Calcara is the president.

• Assistant Superintendent John Popp presented several reports. He said the district has submitted its request to the state to offer a virtual school to qualified students. He also discussed the fall and winter testing data. It showed younger students, grades K-2 in particular, fell behind previous benchmarks in the last semester after the loss of in-person classes in 2020. Schools closed last March because of the pandemic and did not reopen until late August.

• Superintendent Khris Thexton also presented reports, including updates on pending/proposed legislation, Foundation mini-grants, COVID-19 and district projects. The projects include replacing the boiler at the Panther Activity Center; the board can expect to see bids on this project in April.

• The board approved contributions and grant applications:

- Kroger reward incentives of $345.43 to Lincoln Elementary and $271.46 to Riley Elementary

- $27.60 reward incentives from Casey’s Convenience Store Co. to Riley

- $78.10 in Box Top Rewards to Park Elementary

- Holly Tittel, Great Bend Middle School librarian, asked to apply for and receive a $500 grant from the Central Kansas Library System. It will be divided among the seven schools, each receiving $71.43 for library purchases.

• The board approved the retirements of two school psychologists, Diana Zecha at Hoisington High School and Teresa Frieb at Great Bend High School.

• There was a 15-minute executive session to discuss confidential information relating to actions adversely or favorably affecting a student. GBHS Principal Tim Friess joined the administrators in this meeting. No action was taken afterward, other than adjourning the meeting.