At its Feb. 12 meeting, the USD 443 school board voted to join a program that should be a pipeline of quality student teachers to the district.

The board agreed to a partnership with Emporia State University that will bring ESU student teachers to the diverse district to complete their internship requirements.

Dr. Ramona Nance, executive director of human resources for Dodge City Schools, approached the board with a recommendation to approve the Professional Development Site program, in which which students with high-quality educational training will spend at least one semester fulfilling their internships in the district.

USD 443 will be the first district in southwest Kansas designated a Professional Development Site by the university.

As teacher shortages in Kansas persist, the hope is that after two semesters of student teaching in Dodge city those student teachers will decide to sign on with the district as full-time teachers following graduation.

"We think if they come here and spend a semester with us we've got an incentive for them to spend their first year teaching with us," Nance said. "They're going to love it and they're going to want to stay.”

Discussions for the PDS program with Dr. Matt Seimears of Emporia State started in early 2017. The university has student teachers in 17 Kansas school districts and 48 elementary school sites for the 2017-18 school year.

Nance said that along with other administration staff, she discussed several opportunities between the two institutions.

"This is the first step," Nance said, "It's creating a pathway for their student teachers to the Dodge City Public Schools."

The district's teacher recruitment and retention committee put together its plan a little over a year ago. Part of that plan was to get more student teachers. Getting them from a highly regarded teaching program is a great opportunity for the district.

"Emporia State has such a fine reputation for producing teachers and has not typically placed student teachers in the southwest corner of the state," Nance said. "This is a very positive move for our district. I'm very excited about the opportunity to partner with them."

Aside from the additional help, having interns in the classroom also provides USD 443 teachers the opportunity to mentor and further develop and consider their own teaching practices.

Concerning the vacancy on the board, the administration received five applications from the community to fill its open seat, according to Bill Hammond, director of business and operations for the district.

Original plans called for the board to interview candidates during its next lunch-hour meeting Feb. 26.

Hammond suggested that due to the expected length of the next board meeting, the board may want to interview candidates at a later date or perhaps pare down the number of interviews.

"My personal feeling is that if we have five we should interview all five rather than narrow it down,” board president Lisa Killion said. “In the desire to be transparent I think we should do that in the regular noon board meeting.”

Killion said the transparency should extend to the the candidates questioning as well.

"I think it is important that we have a list of questions and we asked those same questions of all the candidates,” Killion said.

"There is a feeling that if the questions are released to candidates so they can prepare themselves, there are advantages to that and maybe some disadvantages,” Hammond said.

Superintendent Dr. Fred Dierksen said that the Kansas Association of School boards provides a list of recommended questions for these situations.

“We will look into that and share it with you and we will share it with the candidates,” Dierksen said.

Killion also pointed out that the person selected to serve will only serve until the next election when voters decide who will sit on the board.

On the financial front, according to the administration, the district spends $5.5 million on health insurance annually. The district covers approximately 600 people under its custom-built medical insurance plan.

Considering the extent of that spending and the myriad changes resulting from the Affordable Care Act, the administration recommended that an independent consultant be hired to review the plan and see if changes need to be made to the current health insurance plan.

The administration also feels the evaluation would serve to show good faith to employees and taxpayers.

"With the Affordable Care Act we are now insuring some people that we didn’t insure in the district in the past,” Hammond said.

Killion said the review would be a good idea and asked about the cost. The district’s current curriculum audit has a price tag of about $5,000.

“It’s probably going to be quite a bit more than that,” Hammond said, “again depending on how deep you want to go.”

Board member Jeff Hiers questioned the expense.

“Those bids will be very high,” Hiers said. “It gets ridiculous. It can get crazy because they’re doing it on a percentage of the premium dollars.”

Dierksen pointed out that the administration wants to make sure any agency brought in to evaluate the current plan be unbiased and not have interest in selling the district a new plan.

“We thought that if we have an evaluation we don’t want them to have any wood in the fire,” Dierksen said.

No official action was taken but Hammond confirmed that the board wanted administration to bring it proposals.

The board approved three grant applications for the district's Head Start program.

Debbie White, Head Start director and principal at Bright Beginnings, said that with the help of the grants, next year the district will be able to offer five full-day Head Start classrooms. Three of the classes will be at Sunnyside Elementary and two will remain at Bright Beginnings.

White said she felt certain the new classrooms at Sunnyside would be filled. She said the district is putting the word out to residents in the south part of town about the opportunities for next year. She said the inconvenience of having to travel across town may have caused some residents to resist enrolling their children in pre-school.

"We're letting them know that they have a neighborhood option," White said. "We're looking forward to have them start pre-school at Sunnyside."

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