Positive things happening at Marion schools

Marion-Florence USD 408 Superintendent Aaron Homburg is now in his third year of service and has many accomplishments under his belt. But he credits his staff, students and the community just as much.

“We have had a lot of good things academically going on in the district. Just this last year, the elementary was recognized as one of six blue ribbon schools in the state of Kansas and one of 280 in the United States,” said Homburg. “I’m really proud of all the staff, students and the community. This type of thing would not be possible if everyone wasn’t on the same page and working toward the same goal.”

Homburg, Marion Elementary School Principal Justin Wasmuth and teacher Susan Hall even got to travel to Washington D.C. to be honored for the Blue Ribbon award.

According to the website for the Department of Education, the coveted National Blue Ribbon Schools award affirms the hard work of educators, families and communities in creating safe and welcoming schools where students master challenging and engaging content.

All schools are honored in one of two performance categories based on all student scores, subgroup student scores and graduation rates:

Exemplary High Performing Schools are among their state’s highest performing schools as measured by state assessments or nationally normed tests.

Exemplary Achievement Gap Closing Schools are among their state’s highest performing schools in closing achievement gaps between a school’s student groups and all students over the past five years.

“The award is given out to schools K-12 age level. Us, plus the five schools that won it in the state of Kansas, were all exemplary high performing schools. That means that over a period of five years, we have shown that we are high achieving compared to what our free and reduced numbers are. We hit over what the projected scoring line was,” explained Wasmuth. “Dr. Watson, the Commissioner of Education for the state nominates 5-6 every year. We went over a process starting in January (2018) including submitting a bunch of paperwork to show what we do to get kids to where they are. We sent that in to the state and then the state sent it in nationally.”

Capital Improvements

In addition to academics, Homburg has had to deal with a few other areas such as maintenance.

“Our broiler in the Hill building that we were limping along with finally quit in March of this year. So the majority of the late Spring and early summer was spent procuring bids. We decided to replace it with a system that could heat and cool so now it is cool when it’s supposed to be cool and warm when its supposed to be warm. It has made for a much better learning environment. I’ve heard nothing but good from students and staff in those buildings. Those are two major things that we have done this year,” Homburg said.

Buses

The district had been dealing with an aging transportation fleet. A new bus can cost between $70,000 to $90,000.

“We had three buses that did not pass DOT inspection so we had to scramble and find buses that we could afford.We’ve had a lot of things going on that way, but we have managed to do make it work,” said Homburg.

New Education

“We are still working quite diligently on our new accreditation process. We are training staff. We have had several staff members who have gone to trauma informed conferences and trying to work on the social emotional needs of our students.”

“We are trying to stay on the forefront and do what’s best for kids to prepare them to go out in an ever changing world,”he said.

Vaping is another area that education has had to increase their focus on.

“There is a lot of information and the statistics are alarming on the teenagers that are vaping. It’s not just a Marion County issue but a nationwide one. We are working with students and parents trying to get them information on it,” said Homburg.

He explained that many will say vaping is better than smoking. It is but that doesn’t mean it is good for you.

“Travis Rodgers, our high school principal is doing a lot, and we are also working with Mrs. Stubenhofer, our middle school principal, trying to get information out to these kids on these different dangers on those types of things,” he said. “It’s changing. I heard the other day that if your teachers have been in the work force more than four or five years, they have no idea about these vaping things because when they were in college, it wasn’t that big of a deal. Some of them look like memory sticks which kids carry to class because they have to.”

Homburg said “All we can do is educate folks now. This day and age we worry about safety of students. We are always seeing what we can do to make things better. We’ve worked on our crisis plan. It’s impossible to think through every scenario, but the important thing that you write those things out and constantly look back and hopefully nothing ever happens, but if it does, it’s just second nature. Kinda like the old fire drill. “

Retention is key

Like all schools in Kansas right now, USD 408 is working on retaining teachers.

“There is a teacher shortage. We’re trying to do things to combat that like growing our own and taking care of our staff. We want to keep our ones that are here and not have them go to the big city or getting out of education. We want our turnover to be less and less,” Homburg said. “We want to make sure that we are still doing wonderful things so that we are recruiting our teachers back.”

Looking Ahead

A new thing the district is doing is an application for phones.

“On our application is a live feed that basically has stuff going on in the district. Teachers can post to it. It’s pretty cool. I think it’s been a wonderful thing that we can put the good things out there on a daily basis. I encourage people to download it,” said Homburg.

Homburg pointed out that updates and pictures are also placed consistently on the USD 408 Facebook page.

These are the two best places to find out all the new things coming up in the district.

“We have our musical coming up soon, too, so make sure you get tickets for it and come out and see it,” said Homburg.