Coffeen School Transitions To Pre-K

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At their meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 11, members of the Hillsboro School Board unanimously voted to transition Coffeen School from an elementary school to a school solely for pre-K beginning next school year.

After the move, all grade school students in the district will attend Beckemeyer School in Hillsboro, and 160 of the 180 pre-K students in the district will go to Coffeen (the 20 who won't are those at HCCDC on the Hillsboro Area Hospital campus.

"I'm more resolved than I was before to transition Coffeen School to pre-K only," Superintendent David Powell said on a plan he laid out to board members at their January meeting.  "I believe it is the best of some bad options.  It is with a heavy heart that I make this recommendation."

That recommendation did not involve any staffing decisions; how many extra sessions will be added to Beckemeyer to keep grade school class sizes manageable, and subsequently how many teachers will lose their jobs are decisions for a later meeting, Powell said.

High school teacher Matt Vaughn, who serves as president of the district teacher's union, described the "new reality" of the current teacher shortage, "and that should make this board cautious about RIFing (reduction in force) teachers."

Vaughn said of the six grade school teachers currently at Coffeen, if two were employed for extra classes at Beckemeyer and two filled an impending retirement and an impending resignation, the net result would be two teacher jobs lost. Instead, he asked the board to add more teachers to Beckemeyer this year, then let impending retirements the following year reduce the number of teachers through attrition instead of RIFs.

The unit office was full for the meeting.  Many of those present work at Coffeen School and wore orange school shirts.

"I want to tell you about a wonderful place with an amazing staff that I have had the privilege of working at for more than 20 years," Coffeen Principal Marci Gutierrez said.  "There's nothing like the climate and culture at Coffeen School, and it breaks my heart to lose that.  My heart is heavy for my staff and kiddos. If the decision is made to close Coffeen School, I will lead us out with our heads high."

She asked the board to put serious thought into the transition period.

Board members approved a $15,000 agreement with Hurst-Rosche Engineers for architectural and bidding work for the possible replacement of the heating system and the addition of air conditioning in the high school gym.  If the board moves forward with the project, estimated costs are $370,000 for HVAC and another $65,000 for ceiling work at the gym.

Powell pointed out that money to do the work would come from the one-cent sales tax approved by voters several years ago; that money can only be used for school facilities, and no other purpose.

The board tabled consideration of a cooperative agreement for junior high softball with the Morrisonville School District, pending information on how the Panhandle School District might impact the plan.

To begin the meeting, Powell read an email from former school district choir director Chris Corpus, now at University High School in Normal, complimenting the high school chamber choir at a recent performance, and another email from Heather Lessman complimenting junior high principal Don VanGiesen for "going above and beyond" for a student.

Gutierrez thanked Imagine Education for a field trip grant at Coffeen School, thanked two anonymous donors for paying off 21 student lunch accounts, and congratulated a pre-K teacher for establishing a "kindness tree" at the school.

In addition to the approval of meeting minutes and school district bills as part of the consent agenda, the board approved annual intergovernmental agreements for the Regional Office of Education for participation in the Regional Safe Schools Program, and Alternative Schools program.

After a closed session, the board hired Adam Haston as high school girls golf coach and Jim Luckett as high school boys golf coach, Jodi Speiser as high school girls tennis coach, and Shawne Page as cook.  Board members also approved Bailey Newingham as volunteer junior high track coach.

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