Supt. to retire

Jacob Lane · Wednesday, April 26, 2017
West Liberty Community School District Superintendent Steve Hanson has decided to retire at the end of the school year, having served as superintendent a little over six years.

“After 37 years in K-12 education, (24 years as an administrator), I find that it is necessary to dedicate more time to family matters, which the time demands of being a school administrator do not allow,” he said.

Hanson’s first day as superintendent for West Liberty was April 1, 2011, when he replaced previous Superintendent Bob Mata. Hanson’s last official day will be June 30, 2017.

“I will spend July through September working on community projects, taking care of personal and family matters, reflecting on what comes next, and then make some decisions about what type of work fits best in the next phase of my life,” he said.

There is no information yet as to how the board will handle replacing Hanson, given how recent the announcement was to the school board meeting last Monday.

Next, BLDD Architects presented its vision of the future and long-term facility planning for the district. While their blue prints are not set in stone, they give a glimpse into what we could expect for future development for the district.

Sam Johnson, Director of the PK-12 Design Group for BLDD, referred to the long-range facility outline as a ‘Planned Response’ in front of the school board.

“In its simplest form, a Planned Response answers three questions,” he said. “Where are we now, where do we want to go and how do we get there?”

So to begin, where is the school district right now?

For the next five years WLCSD’s four major buildings are fine, though the Early Learning Center is hurting for more space to accommodate its preschool and kindergarten programs.

“The district does a good job at maintaining the buildings in a safe condition,” said Johnson. When it comes to emergency situations all four campuses are top-notch at the moment.

“The buildings are well maintained, your systems are aging however,” added Johnson. “You have in this building (ELC) and in some of the other buildings systems that are reaching the end of their life span.”

Those systems include plumbing, electrical, ventilation, heating and air conditioning systems. Next was functional needs, aka, how well is a building equipped to handle the task of teaching.

According to guide by the Association for Learning Environments (ALE) which appraises buildings over certain criteria, a grade was assigned to each building with aid from faculty support.

Specifically, the grade measures how well a building supports curriculum and instruction, which is always changing. Approximately 90-100 percent is great, 70-90 percent is satisfactory and 50-70 percent is borderline.

The high school has the highest rating at 91 percent. Makes since considering the actual building is the newest of all the facilities for WLCSD.

The middle school rates at 73 percent while the elementary school rates at 70 percent. Meanwhile, the Early Learning Center is the lowest at barely 60 percent.

So what does that mean? Well the ELC building needs the most help, which doesn’t come as much surprise to the school board or the community.

However, things are not dire according to Johnson. Now is the time for the school board to be putting together plans on how they plan to address these issues.

“One thing they conclude about the district is that it’s projected to grow over the next five years,” said Johnson. “It looks as though you’re going to have the ability to accommodate that growth for the next five years.”

That being said, BLDD has plan to accommodate that growth beyond five years. The plan has been separated into five phases, each one would require board approval along the way.

Phase one, move the bus barn and maintenance office from the middle school, most likely somewhere on the property near the high school. This opens up room at the middle school, leading to…

Phase two, add new music and ESL classrooms to the middle school, opening up more room in the building which is starting to get congested.

Phase three, which corresponds with has two, move the district staff offices out of the Early Learning Center to a new building or rented space. This opens up much needed room for the Pre-K and Kindergarten programs.

Phase four, add new fifth grade classrooms to the middle school and remodel critical areas. This could occur as soon as 2021 in time to meet projected enrollment needs.

Phase five, build an addition to the elementary school that would allow the Pre-K and Kindergarten programs to move in, thus resulting in the retirement of the Early Learning Center.

The last two phases could cost several million dollars, but would result in a three campus school district in West Liberty by getting rid of the Early Learning Center.

“I think it’s really defendable,” concluded Johnson of BLDD’s plan. “It balances the right work at the right time within the fiscal constraints of the district.”

As mentioned before, the Planned Response was put together at request of the school board to aid in future development; however, any final decisions have yet to be made.

Finally, the board is in the middle of deciding whether the Early Learning Center should retain a seventh preschool/kindergarten teacher for the upcoming 2017/18 school year.

There are seven open classrooms at the Early Learning Center, but according to pre-registration in April, the district only has enough students to fill six of the rooms to full capacity.

Typically if there’s not a need the district would either terminate or reassign a teacher somewhere in the district. However, the Early Learning Center seems to be a different ballgame.

It’s more than likely that during July registration several new ELC students will show up, requiring the district to add a seventh classroom. So, if they get rid of a teacher now, they’ll have to hire another back later.

“The pattern has been that we add back that teacher in August after one transfers or is terminated in April because state law requires that by April 30 teachers be notified if they will not be continuing in their contract,” said Superintendent Steve Hanson.

It really is a pattern, for at least the past six years the district has transferred/terminated a position at the ELC only to hire it back after July registration. Luckily, most of the teachers have been transferred within WLCSD.

The question facing the board, should it take the chance to retain the seventh teaching position since, more than likely, it will need one come July?

The board didn’t make a final decision during the meeting, though it did have questions about the number of children being held back in preschool from advancing to kindergarten.

“Are there 40 five-year-olds not moving on?” asked School Board President Chris Martin.

Potentially,” responded ELC Director Missy Johnson. “What’s up with that?” asked Martin.

“This is a very very young group of children,” responded Director Johnson again. “A lot of these parents are wanting to wait one more year.”

President Martin pressed further into the question, wondering how such a large group of five-year-olds, nearly double from last year, could be held back.

“Many are late June, July, August birthdays,” said Director Johnson. “And parents just feel that they are not as mature as they need to be to go onto kindergarten.”

She discussed how the demands are much higher of kindergarten students now, stating the kids are now reading in kindergarten unlike years before. Not to mention the fact that it is a large 5-year-old group.

These hold-backs have not been fully decided, and won’t be until May. These are just predictions by the district based on student performance and discussions with parents.

However, they come as a cause of concern for members of the school board, since they directly affect the classroom sizes in the Early Learning Center.

Not to mention that right now there are other areas next year that could benefit from additional help, including ‘English only’ third grade classrooms and ‘Dual Language’ fourth grade classrooms.

“We wouldn’t move to add another teacher right away at these other grade levels,” said Board Member Lynne Sasmazer. “It would be different at other grade levels.”

More discussion on replacing Superintendent Steve Hanson, the future of WLCSD development and the seventh teaching position at the ELC to come at future board meetings.
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