The Van-Far Board of Education convened in the media center at Van-Far High School on Sept. 17. The board approved financial reports, transportation and Parents As Teachers program evaluations and the district’s PDC plan and budget. The tuition rate was set at $9,016 per student, based on last year’s cost.
“As a district it costs us $9,016 to educate each student,” Fortney said.
New Teacher Welcome
Superintendent John Fortney and the school board began the meeting by welcoming new teachers for the 2020-21 school year aboard. The teachers were introduced by Brian Hummel, Van-Far Elementary Principal and Kim Pafford, Junior High/High School Principal. Each new teacher gave a short introduction:
Leanne Nevin, Junior High Communication Arts, said that she got her degree in 2018 from Hannibal Lagrange and just moved here in March.
Brandon Overstreet, Elementary Music, said that he is currently working on his degree and is student teaching but is the teacher of record.
Ashlee Waddell, Agriculture, says that she got her bachelor’s in ag education in 2018 from Mizzou, is in her third year of teaching and is working on her master’s degree.
Beth Seymour, First Grade, said that she got her bachelor’s of health science in 2016 from the University of Missouri and her master’s degree in elementary education from Grand Canyon University this past May.
Rebecca Flint, Family and Consumer Sciences, joked that she did not want to reveal the year she graduated college but that she holds a masters in education from the University of Illinois and is in her 24th year of teaching.
Kevin Taylor, Sixth Grade, was not present but Hummel said that he was a substitute last year and he’s officially certified now with a bachelor’s degree in historic preservation and elementary education.
Kyle Edwards, High School Science, said that he is finishing his degree from Culver Stockton college.
“This is my girlfriend, Tina. We moved here back in May so we’re still trying to get to know the place as much as we can, with trying to stay home,” Edwards said. “If you see a guy cruising around town on a motorized bike, that’s probably me.”
Mr. Fortney confirmed that he has a picture of Edwards riding his bike in a pineapple costume.
“I have a picture of him [as a pineapple] and a selfie with him,” Fortney said. “It was outstanding.”
Next on the agenda was the superintendent’s report, which covered facilities, COVID-19 updates and Title 9 compliance.
Mr. Fortney reported that the district is still waiting on fencing to be delivered for the elementary school. The delivery was delayed due to a contractor COVID positive case. A shed is also being finished up. Lockers were repainted and they have been attached to the walls.
“We do not have lockers up yet in the two athletic sections,” Fortney said.
There are also six new welding stations. Gravel piled up in the overflow parking area has not been spread yet, and Fortney said they may wait and let the vocational/agricultural students do the work for educational purposes.
Statewide, Fortney reported that the Missouri Department of Elementary and Secondary Education (DESE) says that as of last week there were no districts that had to make an adjustment from their original back to school plans. Fortney also said that area superintendents expressed a concern during a ZOOM meeting that information received about COVID-19 policies and procedures vary widely by county.
“The responses that [school districts] are getting from their local health departments are as varied as the areas that we’re living in,” Fortney said. “That only adds to the confusion.”
The example cited was Marion County health department is saying that if one student has COVID the entire classroom including the teacher is isolated regardless of social distancing or the amount of time.
“So there are some battles going through that,” Fortney said. “So along those lines, obviously, we understand that we want kids in school. That’s the best opportunity for them to learn is having a kid in a seat with the teachers physically present with them.”
Given the different information coming from counties, Fortney added that some Missouri senators, DESE and the senate education committee are looking at liability protection for school districts.
“As we look at these kinds of things, we don’t know if the decisions we make today that are 100 percent right, tomorrow could be 100 percent wrong.”
In Maryville [Nodaway County], Fortney noted that teachers and teachers aides had been designated as essential workers. He said the Missouri School Boards’ Association had just issued guidance on this issue.
“We’re getting more information coming through,” Fortney told the board. “And we’ll make sure we’re sharing that with you.”
Fortney also reported that the district’s Title 9 training and procedures process is currently going forward and is currently in compliance. Title IX is a federal civil right that prohibits sex discrimination in education.
A board member also raised an issue about a flashing light on the high school side that was reportedly not working before school. Fortney said he would look into it.
Elementary School News/Enrollment
The superintendent’s report was followed by enrollment updates from the principals. Principal Hummel said that elementary enrollment is currently 299 students with 21 students enrolled in the district’s virtual program.
“There’s been a few hiccups and things with technology getting people signed on but we’re slowly working through all those,” Hummel reported.
Hummel said the elementary school has spent the first weeks of school assessing students on the 4Sight through SFA and also worked on the district’s new online assessment system, i-Ready.
“The students take diagnostics tests in reading and in math, and it provides them a path they would need to work on weekly through skills that they may be lacking or extending the skills that they already know,” Hummel explained. “That will be a big portion of our online experience should we have another shutdown. That will be something that students can do from home on their ipads and it’s also something that we do weekly at school.”
A band night was held for sixth graders interested in playing instruments, Hummel said. There were 25 interested students but not all of them showed up to the meeting. The elementary school is working with students who can’t afford to buy instruments to find instruments for them.
In other elementary news, midterm testing begins Sept. 23 and there will be a scholastic book fair Oct. 1-9 sponsored by the Parents-Teachers Organization. A reading night will be held on Oct. 8 with an “amazing race” type theme.
High School News/Enrollment
Principal Pafford reported that 284 students are enrolled in the junior and high school with 17 who are learning virtually. Pafford says that a lot was learned when school was out for 10 days due to COVID.
“We are on Day 7 with kids on campus,” Pafford said. “We learned a lot over those 10 days out on what worked and where we still had issues. They went home on Day 3. It was a quick study, a quick trial run, so if we do get into the situation again, we’re better prepared and [students] are better prepared.”
The school rings and spirit wear order days are being rescheduled with Jostens examining the possibility of having virtual options for the students. Pafford attended a fall conference for principals and brought back some ideas that might be implemented on topics such as winter athletics, A-Plus tutoring and virtual attendance.
Pafford provided a few updates on the junior/high school schedule. On Sept. 17, softball seniors were honored before their game, and MACC came to the school to collect for dual credit. Homecoming has been scheduled for Oct. 9, and recognition for football, cross country, band and track seniors will be Oct. 16. Dental screenings will take place at school on Oct. 23, and Parent teacher conferences will be held Oct. 26.
Pafford says that some discussion is in play on how to best handle homecoming and to get some ideas on how activities can still take place in a safe manner. She also noted that the school is making sure there is social distancing during breakfast and lunch. The superintendent added that the ag groups in particular are preparing for contests and that it’s ok for officers to have meetings, contest practice, etc., but that the schools just need to make sure there is a plan in place and that safety protocols are being followed.
School Bus News
In school bus news, the board accepted the resignation of a school bus driver, Jennifer Young. The district currently has three applicants for bus driver positions but none of them have their Class B licenses yet. Recruiting experienced bus drivers has been a big issue for all districts, Fortney noted, and getting new drivers trained with the proper credentials is an ongoing challenge. Fortney said that one of the deterrents for new candidates is a lack of health insurance benefits.
Fortney reported that a new school bus had been delivered to the district.
“It is awesome,” Fortney said. “I never thought I’d be so excited about a big yellow thing with wheels in my entire life.
The bus has air conditioning, heat, “a tone of storage,” USB ports and a 12-volt port under each seat and security cameras observing all angles inside and outside of the bus.
One bus has a wheelchair lift that doesn’t run a route because it’s aging. Fortney says the district transportation director is looking into the pricing and specs for a full size bus that is better equipped for people with disabilities that could possibly be acquired in the future.
Leanne Nevin, standing, is one of the new teachers invited to the Van-Far School Board meeting to introduce themselves on Sept. 17. Other new teachers, sitting in the front row, were Brandon Overstreet and Ashlee Waddell; sitting in the middle row were Beth Seymour and Kyle Edwards; and sitting in the back row was Rebecca Flint. Photo by Barry Dalton