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New elementary school principal chosen

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By Dave Bell

The Vandalia Board of Education on Tuesday promoted two people from within the district to fill the positions of elementary school principal and high school guidance counselor, and added duties to an existing employee's job description to create the position of part-time business manager for the district. All three positions start with the 2008-09 school year.

Thirteen-year employee Stacy South, who currently serves as a reading specialist at Vandalia Elementary School, was named principal of the school. She will replace Gary Rahe, who is retiring after the current school year.

Luke Hohlt, who has served as a special education teacher in the district for five years, will become a guidance counselor at the high school. He has a master's degree in guidance.

He replaces Jerry Evans, who will be retiring at the end of the current school year.

Taking on the duties of part-time business manager will be 11-year business and accounting instructor Lori Meseke.

She will retain her teaching duties, but will advise Superintendent Rich Well in the areas of projecting revenues and expenses, coordinating district accounting functions and controlling district expenses. Meseke is a Certified Public Accountant.

"Most of the work for this position will take place largely in the summer, with minimal hours during the school year," Well said after Tuesday's meeting.

"We want to make sure we're doing all the necessary financial planning to keep the district in a strong position."

The board also voted to employ five Title I teacher aides for the 2008 spring semester. Those aides are: Abby Evans and Whitney Smith at Jefferson Primary School; Mary Eisenbarth and Kristy Grimsley at Vandalia Elementary School; and Kate Todd at Vandalia Junior High.

The board also approved Dave Bell as a non-paid volunteer assistant boys track coach.

In other business, the board approved the school calendar for the 2008-2009 school year. The first event of the year is a teacher institute day on Aug. 18, with the first day of classes on Aug. 19.

The last day of classes before the Christmas break is Dec. 19, and activities resume on Jan. 5 with a teacher institute day, followed by the first day of classes on Jan. 6.

Five emergency days are scheduled from May 26 to June 1, if needed to make up for school days canceled because of bad weather.

A year-ending teacher institute day is scheduled for June 2.

The board also approved seniority lists of certified and non-certified school district employees, and approved the second reading of district policy updates.

Vandalia Community High School Principal Randy Protz reported that the school has registered approximately 52 students for 1,141 credit hours as a part of the dual credit program.

In that program, high school students can get college credit for certain classes taken from instructors qualified to teach at the community college level.

Since students earn the college credits without having to pay the college tuition, Protz reported that the program represents a savings of $77,588 for the students.

To facilitate discussions about moving toward a closed-campus lunch hour at the high school, the board set a roundtable meeting for Monday, Feb. 11, at 7:30 p.m. in the VCHS cafeteria. The purpose of the meeting, Well said, is to allow for a conversation about the issue between administrators, staff, parents and community members.

Currently, high school students are allowed to leave school grounds on foot during the 30-minute lunch break, but arent allowed to drive their cars. Well said about 70 to 75 percent of VCHS students eat their lunch on campus.

We are one of just a few schools in the area with an open campus, Well said after Tuesdays board meeting. We feel that having a closed campus would limit discipline problems during lunch hour and reduce truancy in the afternoon. Its another potential school liability issue when students are off campus.

In his superintendents report, Well reported the following:

All building renovations undertaken earlier this school year under the Health Life Safety program have been approved by the state. He said that the next phase of the work will involve mandated security improvements to several buildings in the district. Included will be security vestibules, indoor security measures, alarms and door locks.

The districts Teacher Evaluation Instrument Committee, comprised of teachers and administrators, met Monday. Well said that the committee plans to have an updated evaluation document ready in February.

Well noted that several steps have been taken recently after the districts No Child Left Behind program was amended and approved by the state board of education. He said that the Title I portion of that program has made new funding available to school districts in the state. Vandalia Junior High School Assistant Principal Brian Holliday outlined the main elements for the board:

The district will pay for professional development training in curriculum mapping, Standards Aligned Curriculum and Response to Intervention.

As previously mentioned, five new aides have been hired for the spring semester. They will help with reading, math and ISAT preparations.

The district has received $41,000 for the purchase of laptop computers for use at Jefferson Primary School, Vandalia Elementary School and Vandalia Junior High School. The new computers, which will be housed in the libraries at those schools, will be available for use by students and staff.

The district will launch a preparatory summer school program, focusing on preparing students for the coming school year rather than on remedial work for those who failed to make satisfactory progress in the previous year. The summer school program will be two weeks long and will start in late July.

Well also said that, in spite of high expenses in utilities and fuel during December, the districts financial picture continues to look good.

Our four operating accounts (education, building, transportation and working cash) are $2.1 million in the black through December, he said. Were doing well, year to date.

Because of the infusion of money from the school bond issue last spring, the district is now in the situation of having its funding ahead of time, so it can be in the bank and earning interest rather than being behind and paying interest on borrowed money.

That is such a positive thing for the district, Well said.

Through December, total district expenditures are 56 percent of budget.

Well also told the board that, for the first time since 1985, the states 816 school districts will receive a higher per-pupil rate from the state. In the Vandalia district, that funding will go up $400 per student (to $5,734 per student per year). See associated story for details.

Absent from Tuesdays meeting were school board members Matt Hall and Jay Smith.