Students of the Van-Far R-I School District not wanting the Summer to end with the start of school looming were surprised last week to learn their vacation was extended one more week.
With five days to go until the first day of school, the Van-Far R-I School Board voted in their August 18 monthly meeting to change the start of the school year from August 23 to August 30.
The August 30 date was previously approved when the district adopted both the primary calendar and back-up calendar in a previous meeting this Summer.
Van-Far’s board made the decision to allow the district more time to better prepare the building for the start of the school year after a wave of construction has taken place in the past two months.
Though the decision was made, it wasn’t an unanimous one.
Board President Jim Hopke along with members Kevin Motley and Dr. Greg Frost all voted “No” on whether the district should officially adopt the alternative calendar. Those voting “Yes” were board members Kimber Nation, Pete Nasir, Dana Keller, and Larry Wheeler.
Van-Far Superintendent Dr. Stephen Hunter reported to the board that the elementary construction was completed on time but there was some still minor finishing work to be done.
After the superintendent joined the architect Jon Berendzen for a walk-thru, a final punch list was compiled though all of the rooms but one were completed.
In the unfinished room, lights have been ordered and temporary lights were set to be installed until the permanent lights arrive. A roof hatch will also be added.
The installation of smartboards by the technology department will take some time to get set up. Meanwhile, phone lines are in and additional lines have been added.
WERDCC prison workers were at the school on August 17 to help move furniture into the classrooms.
In looking at the upgrades in the elementary school, patrons will notice first the new double door security system at the front of the school. The Van-Far Elementary office staff will have to activate doors in order for entrance to be granted. A new breezeway now exists there to help provide better security.
In the front office area, the likely 40+-year old carpet was removed and replaced with tile.
The location of what was known as the “pods,” where multiple classes met with no wall to ceiling in between each, doesn’t look the same any more.
The new hallways now includes doors for multiple classrooms sealed by walls up to the ceiling.
No longer can students and teachers easily hear noise from the class right next to them.
Each room also offers a storage area for the students. Some teachers also have access to storage closets in their classroom. New tile floors have been laid down throughout the remodeled area.
Another noticeable improvement is the air quality of the elementary building with the installation of a Samsung air system.
Temperatures are regulated by the system, giving a comfortable learning environment for the students.
There is now just one hallway on each side of the library for students to use in accessing the library.
Fire doors have also been established in multiple locations.
The reading room has a new look in the library as new tile floor has been installed.
Many former fixtures like cabinets in the old bathroom were saved so they can still be used by the district.
“It was an amazing project to pull off literally in a couple of months,” Superintendent Dr. Hunter told ‘The Vandalia Leader.’ “We literally gutted a building and built it from the ground up, inside. We think it will be great for our kids…No doubt it will be a better learning environment than it was…Have to say the improvement is dramatic and really sets the building up for the next 50 years….We had teamwork to pull off this thing…”
Superintendent Dr. Hunter noted that a lot of work has been done by a lot of people, whom he thanks, and progress has been advancing every day on the project.
During the reports of members portion of last week’s board meeting, President Hopke stated that the elementary building is coming along nicely and will be a major improvement. Board member Dana Keller said she is anxious to get students into the new environment. According to the meeting minutes, the consensus was that it will be a good learning environment for the students and the faculty and staff are to be commended for their efforts throughout the process.
Van-Far Elementary Principal Brian Hummel thanked the board for the calendar consideration.
The new calendar now puts the Van-Far Graduation Ceremony on Sunday, May 21 with the last day of school now set for Friday, May 26.
As for Van-Far Jr./Sr. High School, the gym floor was refinished by Charles Leubbert Flooring and is reportedly in good shape.
Tax Levy Set
During a Tax Hearing held just before the Van-Far R-I School Board’s regular meeting, the board unanimously approved a motion to keep the tax levy unchanged.
During the 2016-2017, the tax levy was set at 3.3901 in the operating levy and .6099 in the debt service for a total levy of $4.
Superintendent Dr. Hunter said the district has maintained the levy at $4 or close to it for several years and made a recommendation and proposal to keep things the same.
In Executive Session, the board filled several positions.
Vickie James was hired as the district’s new Director of Adult Education and Literacy.
Tyler Oesch was hired as a high school teacher and was named the new Speech/Drama Conference sponsor.
Penny Jennings-Copelin was hired as an assistant high school football coach. Alex Cucciarre has become the new golf coach, the new FCCLA sponsor is Rebecca McCurdy, Nicole Gibson was named a Jr. High Student Council sponsor, and Lesley Brewster was hired as a Para.
The minutes from the previous meeting were also approved.
Principal Hummel said there were 131 students and 15 staff members at this year’s Back to School Pool Party. He thanked the board for sponsoring the event again this year.
Van-Far Jr./Sr. High School Principal Kim Pafford reported a good turnout for the parent information night and the community work day. According to the meeting minutes, she also discussed activity eligibility concerns regarding the current policy in place. She proposed a “Students in Good Standing” Policy as an alternative. She stated this option would keep students more engaged with the activities.
The board then approved a motion to accept the Students in Good Standing Policy, to be included in the handbook in place of the current “No F” policy.
The board read and accepted the letter of resignation from Holly Jungers.
The board approved the MSBA Policy Update GCPB-Resignation of Professional Staff Members. It also re-adopted the MSBA Policy BBFA-Board Member Conflict of Interest and Financial Disclosure.
One fuel and oil bid was received from MFA Oil for the 2016-17 school year. The bid was accepted and also includes an antifreeze bid.
A first reading was given of the 2016B Policy Updates.
Superintendent Dr. Hunter gave a budget update. While some areas can’t be controlled, he did note a goal of exploring areas that could be controlled. Those include looking at health insurance coverage costs, possible savings of using a four day work week, ways to increase revenues, and a continuing effort to look at staffing needs.
Gerding, Korte, and Chitwood CPA’s conducted the district financial audit on August 3. In the exit interview, they indicated no areas of major concern.
It was noted no information had been sent to the district regarding the MSBA Fall Regional Meeting. It was also noted that the MSBA Fall Conference will be held September 30-October 2.
The consent agenda was approved with just President Hopke abstaining. New VFTA President Courtney Blattel introduced herself to the board.