2005 was ‘Good News’ for schools

ORIGINALLY WRITTEN LAURA CAMPBELL
“Good News” was more than just the name of the Hillsboro High School fall musical in 2005. Financial boosts puts smiles on the faces of administrators at both the public school system and Christian college in Hillsboro this past year.

For Unified School District 410, it was “new money” provided by state legislation that allowed the district to boost teacher salaries, expand developing programs for at-risk students and upgrade school equipment.

And a streamlined plan and hefty challenge grant have accelerated Tabor College’s ongoing capital campaign to expand student housing and accommodate the growth that has both pleased and concerned its administration in recent years.

USD 410

A new funding formula for public education in Kansas changed USD 410’s financial tune over the last year, allowing the district to improve salaries, programs and equipment in ways that weren’t feasible a year earlier.

The district received $413,750 in more revenue for the 2005-06 school year, as a result of the Kansas Supreme Court’s ruling in June that the state should spend $285 million more on schools for the next fiscal year.

“It was enough to keep up and to do a few new things,” Superintendent Gordon Mohn said. “Our teachers received 4.2 percent salary increase-a lot of that had to do with the school-finance legislation.

“And we were able to increase the elementary media specialist position to full-time,” he added, referring to the position held by Sandy Arnold.

The district also was able to further develop and implement programs for at-risk students with a portion of the “new money” that the legislation mandated be spent specifically on those students.

“They’re all new things that the legislation forced us to do, which is fine,” Mohn said. “We needed to do that.”

One such program, implemented at the start of last school year, is extended-day kindergarten for students who need additional help in reading and math in preparation for first grade.

“We’ve been able to include more students with the additional funding that we’ve got,” Mohn said. “We’ve touched more kids.”

The goal now is to extend the learning and support provided by the program beyond kindergarten, Mohn said.

“There’s that push to continue to think about all-day kindergarten,” he said. “What we want to make sure of is, if we go to all-day kindergarten, we still have something in place where we can give additional support to young readers who need help.

“We need to look at continuing to do things in first and second grade to keep readers on grade level,” he added.

Mohn said several teachers also attended a training conference on “Olweus,” a bullying-prevention program being implemented at Hillsboro Middle School.

“We kicked it off last year and we’re still in the process of implementing that,” he said.

The district also put some of its new money toward the purchase of a portable bleacher system.

That set and another one purchased by Tabor College will be shuttled as needed between the football field at the elementary school and the one at the college’s Reimer Field.

The dual purchase is the start of a facility partnership the two school systems are exploring for upgrading the football field and track at Reimer Field.

“We began this athletic-facility planning in December,” Mohn said. “We’re in the middle of that now.

“Along with that, USD 410 is reviewing our facility needs, looking at those issues especially in the areas of early childhood program, all-day kindergarten, childcare and some of those things.

Tabor isn’t the only community partner with which the district hopes to pool resources, Mohn said.

“We entered a joint project with the city to improve the baseball field at Memorial Field,” he said. “But that’s not finished yet.”

Some of those financial decisions will have to wait until the district gets word from the state about next year’s funding formula.

“It’ll be interesting to see what happens this year,” Mohn said.

“While I anticipate the state’s going to be required to put more money into education, I’m not as confident for this year that we’ll see additional funding, as they try to balance where the money ought to go and where it’s most needed.”

Beyond financial issues, Mohn identified several other highlights from the past year:

  • A successfully reloaded staff. Two long-time teachers and three long-time staff retired at the end of last school year-Gloria Winter (10 years), Dave Clark (24), Arlene Pankratz (33), Priscilla Unruh (21) and June Suderman (10). Carolyn Long (10 years) and Becky Carlson (21) also turned in resignations last spring, altogether leaving a void that Mohn said was difficult to fill.

    But this year’s five new full-time teachers-Melissa Stenfors, Bruce Major, Doug Dick, Lynn Just and Keli Chisholm-are rounding out the staff nicely, he said.

    “I thought we did a nice job of finding solid replacements,” he added. “None of them are first-year teachers-they’re all experienced people.

    “I think that speaks well of the community’s ability to attract people.”

    Gary Andrews also just completed his first year on the school board, replacing Doug Weinbrenner after eight years, Mohn said.

  • Another group trained to “Teach to the Future.” A second generation of 20 teachers completed the “Teach to the Future” technology program last summer, bringing the total to 30 who have learned to use cutting-edge technology and now have their own wireless laptop computers, Mohn said.

    “After this summer we’ll have 50 teachers trained in ‘Teach to the Future,’ so that’ll be 80 to 85 percent of our staff,” Mohn said.

    “And then I think we’re ready to take the next step.”

    That next step is to provide a laptop for each student, which likely won’t occur until the 2007-08 school year.

    “That’s kind of our target when we’ll be ready to take a good hard look at that,” Mohn said.

    “We’ll keep watching what technology’s doing-to make sure before we make that large of an investment that it’s the right way to go,” he added.

    “Right now we think it is, but you don’t know in 18 months or two years what kind of options are going to be out there.”

  • Six reasons to celebrate on Academic Recognition Night. In December, the district honored students who scored well and celebrated the achievement of the coveted “Standard of Excellence” in six areas: fourth- and seventh-grade math, seventh- and 10th-grade science, and eighth- and 11th-grade social studies.

    “I feel good about the Standards of Excellence in those areas where we’ve achieved them,” Mohn said. “We just need to improve student learning-continuing to work in all those areas.”

    Tabor College

    This year was one for some of the “biggest ever” at Tabor College, beginning with an estate gift and challenge grant that should speed along Tabor’s capital campaign for new student housing by a fall 2007 move-in date.

    Tabor announced in February it had received the largest estate gift ever, thanks to provisions regarding the Daniel H. Hiebert and Ruth E. Hiebert estates. The gift was estimated at between $400,000 and $450,000.

    “We are applying a portion of that to the capital campaign,” said President Larry Nikkel. “That was a wonderful gift from a father and daughter.”

    Tabor was then informed in October that the Mabee Foundation Inc. of Tulsa, Okla., had issued a $750,000 challenge grant to aid the college’s campaign.

    If the college raises $1.7 million by October to receive the grant, it would be the largest single donation in school history.

  • ikkel said the college is right on track to make that happen, thanks in large part to last summer’s changes in the housing plans.

    Instead of building a three-story dormitory as planned, sky-rocketing steel prices prompted the college to plan for a complex of townhouses along the west side of the 400 block of South Adams Street.

    “It just looked like it was prohibitive in terms of our being able to do that in the time frame that we needed,” Nikkel said of the former housing model. “So then we shifted into this townhome model, which frankly the students liked better because it’s like apartment living.

    “I think it was good because it’s something that we can get done in the foreseeable future,” he added. “We will meet an immediate need, and I think it will be a very satisfactory living experience for our students.”

    The plan is to finish fund-raising this summer, break ground in fall and move in students by fall 2007.

    But the new townhomes won’t completely accommodate enrollment growth, especially as Tabor’s full-time equivalency increased by 2.38 percent last fall, with 606 students on both the Hillsboro and Wichita campuses.

    Earlier plans included tearing down the men’s quad, which Nikkel said is no longer an option.

    “We’re really planning to do some level of remodeling of the men’s quad in addition to these townhouses because we’re going to need all that space,” he said.

    “We think that with rehabbing the men’s quad, bringing these new beds online and the houses that we have purchased that our foreseeable growth needs are taken care of.”

    Overall, Nikkel said he can’t help but be pleased with the last year’s financial trend, and he can only hope it will continue for the final push of the capital campaign.

    “Primarily because of the capital campaign, we’ve had two very successful financial years in a row,” he said. “That really has provided a great boost to our cash flow.”

    Beyond these financial successes, Nikkel outlined several other ups-and downs-of the past year:

  • Appointment of an academic dean. The search for a new vice president of academics and student development ended last spring with the hiring of Lawrence Ressler, previously academic dean at Roberts Wesleyan College in Rochester, N.Y.

    Ressler replaced Howard Keim, who moved on to become president at Hesston College.

    “You always hate to lose great people like Howard Keim,” Nikkel said. “But when they have opportunities like Howard did to become president of a good institution, you’ve got to send them with your blessing.

    “I can’t imagine that we could have found a more qualified person for this position than what Dr. Ressler is and will be,” he added.

    “With his experience at other good institutions of higher education, his energy and passion, and his unique skills in technology and in all areas of academic dean work, he’s been a great gift to us.”

  • A second year as a “Tier 1” school. For the second year in a row, Tabor was listed among the top institutions in the Midwest by U.S. News & World Report’s annual “America’s Best Colleges” edition.

    Tabor was ranked 51st among “best comprehensive colleges-bachelor’s” institutions.

    “Again we’re in the top tier, so that’s really nice,” Nikkel said. “Just to be recognized, to have that kind of external validation about the quality of our work is really good.”

  • Deaths in the family. Tabor lost three members of its community last year, including a student, a faculty member and a professor emeritus.

    Mason Wedel, a freshman from Buhler, apparently died in his sleep in his dormitory room during the early hours of Oct. 8. An autopsy revealed no clear cause of death.

    “It has a way of bringing to the reality of 18-to-22-year-olds the fact that they’re not immortal, that they could go to sleep some night and not wake up,” Nikkel said of the sudden death.

    “That was an occasion for people on campus to really come face to face with life and passion and mission and making life count.”

    The death of science professor Richard Wall in March left both an emotional and practical hole on campus, Nikkel said.

    “We have Dr. Wall’s replacement hired and will make that announcement fairly soon,” he said. “Again we have a very good person there.”

    The death of professor emeritus Clarence Hiebert was also strongly felt, Nikkel said.

    “He was no longer on staff, but he still had a very keen interest in Tabor and a very strong sense of presence at Tabor,” he said.

  • Special sports seasons. Nikkel said he was proud of all of his student-athletes and their coaches for an exceptional year.

    For the first time in the 38-year history of the Tabor football program, the Bluejays were picked in preseason polls by both the media and conference coaches to win the KCAC title, which they did for the second year in a row.

    The Bluejays went on to finish the regular season with an undefeated record for the time in school history and won its first NAIA playoff game in Sioux Falls, S.D., before losing in the second round.

    Tabor’s women’s and men’s basketball teams each clinched regular-season Kansas Collegiate Athletic Conference titles, and the women went on to win the opening round at the NAIA Division II national tournament and begin their 2005-06 season with a No. 4 ranking in NAIA Division II polls.

    “I think what makes me as proud as the record is the quality of our coaches and the quality of our students,” Nikkel said.

    “To have the chief of the officiating crew in Sioux Falls write us a letter and compliment us about the quality of our football team and our coaches is pretty special.”

  • Shared-facility partnerships with USD 410. The end of this year saw Tabor and USD 410 starting to explore options for sharing upgrades of the football field and track at the college’s Reimer Field.

    “For a community like Hillsboro and many other communities this size or larger, it’s hardly justifiable that we would all go our separate way and expect private donors or the public to foot the bill for all of that,” Nikkel said.

    “So the more we can do together-city, school and college-the winners are our students and our community.

    “I’m looking forward to working together on this and seeing if, within the next six to nine months, we can put together a plan that’s going to be a benefit to the community.”

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