Greene Co school board ups counseling staff, works on career education

Greene County students will have more help next year dealing with turbulence in their lives and developing behaviors that maximize learning.

The board of education at its May 16 meeting approved creating an additional counseling position. The board stopped short of specifying the new position be at the elementary school, but left it to the administration and the counseling staff to determine the best way to use the new position.

The additional staff will bring the district to five fulltime equivalents for counseling.

The need for more counseling staff was brought to the board last month by elementary counselor Teresa Skalla. The board then asked superintendent Tim Christensen to bring back suggestions of ways to increase counseling for students.

He suggested that staff with counseling certification be scheduled with more time as counselors; schedules be changed for current counselors (eg, he questioned if lunch duty is the best use of Skalla’s time); contract for outside agencies for services; or hire an additional counselor.

Board president Mark Peters repeated what he said last month, that elementary counseling is a very high priority for him.

Board member Steve Karber spoke in favor of the additional position, but reminded the board a teaching position may need to be cut to make the money available. He said the money is there for the 2018-19 school year, but depending on enrollment, there may not be spending authority for it the following year. “I’d love to have more teachers. I’d love to have more money for our teachers, but we need to figure out different ways to do that,” Karber said.

According to board member Sam Harding, “We have to find a way to get another (counselor). We found money for sports. We have to find money for this.”

The board also approved ending the contract with Genesis Development for Education Based Career Education (EBCE) and instead creating a position for a work-based learning program coordinator.

The program is for high school special education students and places them in jobs with appropriate support. Special ed teachers asked if the program could be brought back “in house.”

Christensen had already spoken to Lisa Garnett, who has worked for the district previously, about accepting such a position. The position will be fulltime and will include classes with general education students that include mock interviews, job skills, resumes, and serving as a liaison between the school district and employers.

The contract with Genesis had been for $13,000 per year. The remaining portion will come from the general fund. “I think getting kids out in the workforce would create added opportunities,” Christensen said.

The board reviewed a district career guidance plan for grades 7-12. The plan is a requirement of the state Department of Education.

The program features exploratory classes and field trips to Iowa Central Community College and Iowa State University in grades 7-8. Ninth graders would take a one-trimester class that would meet on days they don’t have phys ed class. The class would include developing a resume and a cover letter, doing a mock interview, and the same topics Iowa Workforce Development covers. Freshmen would meet with a college representative, a military recruiter, or a tradesperson. Those same activities are expanded in grades 10-11 as packets students complete independently. Seniors would be required to complete National Career Readiness Certification.

The presentation on the career guidance plan was informational only at this time.
The board reviewed a timeline for issuing the general obligation bonds approved in April for new school construction and repurposing the middle school. The first bond issue of $15,980,000 will be done in late summer.

The board okayed increasing the cost of activity passes for 2018-19. Student passes will increase from $50 and $75, adult passes will increase from $75 to $100, and family passes will increase from $200 to $250. There will be no change in book fees or student meal prices. The adult lunch price will increase from $3.55 to $3.65.

During the open forum high school math teacher Patty Fisher spoke with the board about the loss of teaching positions at the high school due to retirements and the increasing assignment of high school teachers to other buildings for parts of the school day. She said she was speaking on behalf of several high school teachers.

According to Fisher, the high school has a net loss of 5-1/3 positions during the past five years. During that time the high school gained 90 students in enrollment.

She referred to the “acceptable” rating given the high school on the Iowa school report card. “I’d rather our high school be higher than ‘acceptable’ because I know the quality of teachers we have,” Fisher said. “But I don’t know why we continue to take teachers out of the high school. I don’t know how that’s making the high school stronger when we’re ‘acceptable’ and we want to achieve higher next year, how we’re going to get better when we keep taking teachers out of the high school. And, I don’t know how we’re supposed to help students get better assessment scores… how we’re supposed to help kids not drop out of high school when we don’t have relationships with them, and how we’re supposed to help them reach or surpass their potential.”

She said taking teachers from the building increases workload, hurts morale, makes collaboration more difficult, and makes it hard for teachers to develop strong relationships with students.

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