Members of the Litchfield School Board heard an update on the district’s growing CTE (career and technical education) program, as well as a quarterly Fogleman Farms report as part of their monthly meeting on Thursday evening, March 18, at Sihler School. All board members were present for the meeting.
Members of the Career and Technical Education team, including Dr. David Lett (coordinator), Abby Carlson (career services coordinator) and Ellis Henley (eighth grade career pathways teacher), addressed the board with a 45-minute PowerPoint presentation. Dr. Lett opened the presentation with an overview of the district’s vision in terms of career and technical education for kindergarten through 12th grades.
“When every student in the district crosses the stage at graduation, we want them to have a very clear pathway of what they want to do,” said Dr. Lett. He introduced Carlson, who first talked about the online Galaxy program, offered to students in kindergarten through fifth grade, with an introduction to careers. She also talked about an upcoming resume class for juniors, and Dr. Lett mentioned the upcoming virtual eighth grade career day on April 16 with local speakers Earl Flack and John Wright of Hillsboro and Chris Short and Dr. Colleen Helgen of Litchfield.
This year, Henley has been teaching the eighth grade career pathways class, which provides a chance for eighth graders to learn more about themselves, as well as soft skills needed for jobs and careers. They all take an aptitude test through the online YouScience program
Carlson updated the board on the iDream/iCreate program in partnership with Valerie Belusko and the University of Illinois Extension. This is an odd-numbered year, so they are focused on iCreate, and Carlson said it has been going well, although many of the lessons had been shortened due to COVID. She added they hope to get more community leaders involved in the program next year.
In a final note, Carlson talked about a new, optional class for juniors, which starts this fall, which combines consumer education with careers. No student was forced to take it, but all but three juniors had signed up.
“You can see why we’re excited,” Dr. Lett told the board. “Every time I visit one of the classrooms, I come out so excited.”
Before concluding the program, Dr. Lett gave an update on the workforce training center, proposed for a building the district purchased next to Lincoln Land Community College. The project is currently on hold due to the ongoing pandemic, but Dr. Lett said it is on Governor J.D. Pritzker’s radar.
Dr. Lett also talked about an upcoming agriculture program in partnership with Lincoln Land that will start in the 2022-2023 school year, even before the center is built
“Even though we don’t have the building, pathways are being built,” said Dr. Lett.
Board member Gregg Hires asked if future plans for the CTE program included helping to place students in internships and summer jobs, and Lett said that is part of the plan, adding he wants to involve the Litchfield Chamber of Commerce and other local businesses in the future.
Board President Julie Abel thanked the team for their work, adding she’s excited about the opportunity for district students.
Abel also asked about community mentors for students, and Carlson said the plan was to put her office in the high school where she could mentor students. Abel asked about a class on social media, and Henley said he discusses social media ethics in his class.
“We are putting together a really great program that we hope is a prototype for career education in K-12 students in rural America,” said Superintendent Dr. Greggory Fuerstenau.
Chad Ruppert and Roger Krabbe of Bank and Trust presented a quarterly update to the board on the Fogleman Trust as part of the Citizens’ Agenda.
Ruppert said the farms had a pretty good yield over the past year, adding that the tiling helped that. He noted that the Standard City farm had the best corn it had ever raised.
“In the long-term, the tiling pays for both the tenant and district,” Ruppert said.
He added that they renewed leases with the tenants in December and kept the rent neutral, noting they may have to look into an increase for next year depending on how the year goes.
In the investment portion of the report, Krabbe said that while the farms make up 90 percent of the trust’s assets, they do have 10 percent in investments so they have cash to pay out in scholarships each year. Krabbe said the trust is worth over $8.2 million.
The district has around $750,000 in investments, including CDs, corporate bonds and preferred stocks, which yield an average of 3.6 percent interest. The market value of the return on the farms is around 2.2 percent.
Krabbe said that last year the district awarded 84 scholarships at $2,200 each, though one was returned.
Using the one-third formula, which calculates the net assets of the farm and uses one-third of that money for scholarships, would mean the district could award $2600 scholarships this year. The district estimates it will award 86 scholarships this year, including 24 current seniors and 62 renewals.
Krabbe said that using the formula, the district would have to dip into reserves. He recommended keeping the award at $2,300, which would allow the district to keep the reserves for another seven to eight years.
Abel, who met with Krabbe earlier in the week, recommended the board approve setting the Fogleman Scholarship at $2,300 per student this year. She added that the trust began awarding scholarships in 1986, and has paid out $3.8 million in scholarships to Litchfield students.
In other business, the board approved a one-year renewal on HVAC maintenance with Johnson Controls for $34,600. Dr. Fuerstenau said the district would revist the contract when they have different facilities in place.
During the consent agenda, the board approved the list of students planning to graduate early in December 2021. They will have met all district and state requirements to earn a diploma.
Dr. Fuerstenau said district bills are tracking, noting they had spent all the CARES Act money, which was the first round of federal funding during the pandemic, and was now working on the next round. He said the board would likely have to amend its budget for the year with incoming dollars from the most recent American Recovery Plan, which will also provide federal dollars to school districts.
The board approved payment of $250,347 in March bills, including $163,967 from the education fund, $43,738 from operations and maintenance, $29,314 from transportation, $11,311 from capital projects and $1,196 from tort.
As of Feb. 28, the district has a total balance in all funds of $30.3 million, including $7.9 million in operating funds, $13.4 million in capital projects and $7.6 million in health-life-safety.
Dr. Fuerstenau said the district had a current enrollment of 1,189 students.
In administrator reports, Madison Park Principal Adam Favre said they had nearly 100 students signed up for Camp Panther summer school, with the deadline to sign up on Friday, March 26. Students in grades pre-K through fourth grade may participate in the free program during the month of June. Hires said he felt it was a great asset to the district, especially since they were willing to provide transportation.
In a few other notes, Favre said they are making plans for pre-K screening. He also invited the board to join a book study with elementary staff on literacy improvement. He said there was lots of excitement among the staff and plans to implement some of the ideas.
At Colt and Russell, Principal Jeremy Heigert said things were going well, and he was excited to see so much interest in Camp Panther.
Curriculum Coordinator Jennifer Thompson said they started MAP testing at the middle school, with plans to head to Colt and Russell in April and May. She added that the staff has picked a new math curriculum and she plans to address the board at the April meeting.
At the middle school, Principal Dr. Russ Tepen said the students aren’t as excited about the possibility of mandatory summer school, but they are seeing an increase in student work, as some students try to avoid summer school. Middle school teachers are also staying after from 1:30 to 3 each day to work with students who are struggling.
In the superintendent’s report, Dr. Fuerstenau introduced Hilary Wagenblast, who will be the LHS assistant principal starting in the fall and Chris Kuntzman, who will be working with the district’s technology department.
Dr. Fuerstenau had high praise for the athletic directors, who are navigating almost daily changes to sports guidelines, while continuing to provide opportunities for Litchfield students.
“They’re really making sure our kids are doing the things they need to do,” Dr. Fuerstenau said.
He also thanked the crew that was working hard to videotape and livestream sporting events for those who could not attend. As a side note, he said several high school students stepped up to the plate to help and are interested in forming a course or club in the future.
He had high praise for LHS teacher Jo Brummet and the Student Council for successful Homecoming Week activities as well.
In a final note, he said the district continues to move forward with the State Street building project. The district’s attorney is currently working with the city on variances.
After spending nearly an hour in closed session, the board approved the monthly personnel report. All motions were approved unanimously.
The board rehired non-tenured teachers for the 2021-2022 school year, and accepted the resignation of instructional tutor Brooke Boehme.
In athletics, the board accepted the resignation of Drew Logan as head coach of the high school boys basketball team, approved Steve Aherin as a volunteer coach for the high school baseball team and approved Shane Grammer and Tim Rhodus as paid assistant high school football coaches.
They also approved the voluntary transfer of Mark Elvers as high school athletic director to assistant athletic director and the voluntary transfer of Dan Stewart as assistant athletic director to high school athletic director. Both transfers begin with the start of the 2021-2022 school year.
Following the personnel report, the board adjourned at 8:38 p.m. They will meet again on Thursday, April 15, beginning at 6 p.m. at Sihler School in Litchfield.