Litchfield School Board Hires Two Administrators

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Five of the seven members of the Litchfield School Board voted unanimously to hire two new administrators for the coming school year at their regular monthly board meeting, held Thursday evening, July 19, at Litchfield High School. Board President Jennifer Reid was absent from the meeting, and they have not yet replaced board member Jeff Seabaugh, who resigned at the June meeting.

Following just over an hour and a half in closed session, the board hired Jeremy Heigert as an assistant elementary school principal and Dr. Russell Tepen as co-principal at Litchfield High School. Both positions were hired for the 2018-2019 school year.

Superintendent Debbie Poffinbarger said Heigert will be based at JD Colt and Ida J. Russell elementary schools, while Adam Favre, current principal at Sihler and Madison Park school buildings, will oversee all the elementary schools and be a mentor for Heigert. Andrea Lee, former principal at Colt and Russell schools accepted an administrative position in Jacksonville earlier this year.

"We hope to collaborate more as a whole with the elementaries by having joint faculty meetings," Poffinbarger said.

Dr. Tepen will be co-principal with Doug Hoster at Litchfield High School, and Poffinbarger said the district will be designating roles and responsibilities for the positions according to the strengths of each administrator. Former LHS Assistant Principal Patrick Reents resigned in June as he took a new job in Texas.

Citizen's Agenda

Board Vice President Ron Anglin officially called the meeting to order in the absence of Reid.

During the citizen's agenda portion, Litchfield community member Dawn Morris spoke in support of current LHS Principal Doug Hoster. Prior to the board meeting, she submitted a written letter by email to each of the board members, expressing her support.

"I have watched him with my son and many other students going above his call of duty," Morris said.

She encouraged the board not to have hidden agendas or tunnel vision, but to be leaders in the district. Morris also said she did not feel the school needed a co-principal position.

"The most important rule of education leadership is to always remember that people, not policies or programs are what drive highly effective schools," Morris told the board. "Tonight, I stand before you to show my support for Mr. Doug Hoster."

Other Business

During the consent agenda, the board unanimously gave Poffinbarger approval to  prepare a budget for the coming school year.  

They also approved the annual hazardous transportation areas in the district, which are places within a mile and a half of the district that the board deems unsafe for elementary students to walk to school. Poffinbarger said most of the approved areas include railroad tracks.

The board approved the destruction of closed session minutes older than 24 months, which they also do each month.

Poffinbarger told the board that July bills totalled $649,869, including $573,303 from the education fund, where all day-to-day expenses are paid. The district also spent $30,777 in operations and maintenance, $7,788 in transportation and $37,999 in tort funds.

In her treasurer's report, Poffinbarger told the board the total of all funds as of June 30 is $3.8 million, including $2.5 in operating funds and $544,088 in the capital projects fund.

The board unanimously approved a second reading of board policies, and Poffinbarger said they were mostly simple updates provided by Press Plus, a service the district subscribes to.

In new business, the board unanimously approved the district's school improvement plan, which is required by ESSA for Title 1 funding. Poffinbarger said the plan was developed through feedback provided by many collaboration meetings throughout the year as well as the data that was mined.

The board also unanimously abated $500,000 in working cash funds to the education fund due to concerns in the education fund balance. Poffinbarger said it was important they provide support to the education fund, as they have not yet received any local property tax dollars and the state general aid payments were not expected until mid-August.

"Right now, we're in a holding pattern, and we need to cut payroll checks," Poffinbarger said.

Information Items

New Buildings and Grounds Coordinator Brett Holliday reported they are on schedule for summer cleaning in the district buildings. He said that Colt and Sihler are complete, and they have pulled those custodians and moved them to the high school. Holliday added that Russell is almost complete, and they will start on Madison Park as soon as the Make-It program moves to Sihler School.

Holliday reported the district just completed its three-year asbestos inspection and also cleaned out storage, scrapping broken desks and chairs. He said they earned $500, which will help pay for the dumpster they used.

In a final item, Holliday told the board that representatives from UpChurch had been to visit the unit office due to sagging floors. At this time, the structure is sound and not in any danger, but he said they would need to be careful of placing heavy filing cabinets.

Board member Gregg Hires encouraged Holliday to make sure the district grounds looked nice in terms of mowing and weeds. Poffinbarger said she would take responsibility as the district was down custodians, and Holliday said he would make sure it got done.

In a technology update, Christy Holliday of QNS Services said the company is wrapping up the final few details in making sure the district is ready for school to start in August. They have begun working on classroom hook-ups, and will have a presence at the teachers' in-service to answer questions.

Poffinbarger reminded the board that registration for pre-K would be held Thursday, Aug. 2, from noon to 4 p.m., and that parents should bring all important papers. Kindergarten through 12th grade registration will be held Monday, Aug. 6, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. at the Litchfield Middle School cafeteria. LMS Principal Jennifer Thompson reminded the board that online registration is also available for families.

Superintendent's Report

During the superintendent's report, Poffinbarger said there would be a special board meeting on Tuesday evening, July 31, beginning at 4:30 p.m. at the high school for personnel matters and contract negotiations.

She told the board the district had received a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act) request for the contract of a former employee.

Poffinbarger told the board she had been approached by Jim Hewitt about a county-wide feasibility study. She reported the district would not be willing to lend money for such a study, but would be willing to look at the data.  Board member Julie Abel asked about the study and Poffinbarger said she didn't know many details, but assumed it was about consolidation. She added that Dr. Bob Mulch, a member of the feasibility study committee would attend the August board meeting. Earlier this month, members of the Montgomery County Board voted to give $10,000 to help fund this study.

In another note, Poffinbarger said that three school districts, including Pana, Nokomis and Taylorville, have announced their intent to withdraw from Mid-State Special Education, which could affect the Litchfield district if the costs are spread out among the remaining districts. Abel asked about how much that would cost Litchfield, and Poffinbarger said she wasn't sure of the numbers yet, but that it wouldn't be effective until the 2019-2020 school year. She said it would likely be a year-long process.

Personnel

In addition to hiring the two new administrators, the board made quite a few personnel moves to get ready for the coming school year.

They accepted the resignation of Austin Sherfy, seventh grade math teacher, assistant football coach and weight room supervisor, Devin Kindernay as activities custodian and Terri Eppinger as director of the Make-It (May All Kids Excel Into Tomorrow) program, effective Aug. 15.

The board approved the appointment of Kelley Walker as Make-It director, effective Aug. 15, Jamie Mortensen as high school math teacher, Katie Steinbach as a ten-month clerical aide at the high school, Lisa Schaffer as middle school athletic director, Chris Headrick as high school assistant golf coach, Jeremy Heigert as head volleyball coach and Stephanie Luttrell as high school assistant volleyball coach.

They approved the voluntary transfer of clerical aide Jan Jenkins from the high school to Colt and Russell elementary schools and Kaylie Ripley from third grade teacher at Colt School to seventh grade math teacher at LMS.

The board also approved the need for confidentiality to continue pertaining to closed session minutes from January 2018 to June 2018 and approved a formal written reprimand for LHS Principal Doug Hoster. All motions from closed session were approved unanimously.

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