Board gears up for school year

Nathan Steele

School starts today in Custer School District, so preparations and back-to-school housekeeping occupied much of the discussion at the Aug. 14 Custer School District Board of Education meeting in Hermosa.
The board heard from new staff member Nicole Wells, who is the early childhood special education teacher. She announced that the early childhood special education team will host an ice cream social open house Thursday, Aug. 24, from 3-5 p.m. The event is for families and children ages 3 and 4 with or without delays to get information related to services, hear about upcoming screenings, see the classroom dynamic and tour the environment.
The early childhood special education team seeks students to enroll in the play partners program “to build friendships and  understanding of our students.” The free program pairs early childhood students in special education with students in the general education population and will enroll participants at the ice cream social. The program runs Monday through Thursday from 8:15 a.m. to 10:45 a.m. in Custer and for Hermosa in the afternoon from 12:30 p.m. to 2:45p.m.; however, there are currently no early childhood students enrolled in special education in Hermosa, so the program will start following screenings for students.
The program is “looking to provide an inclusive approach to education as early as possible for students so they feel like they belong with their peers,” said Wells.
The start of the new school year also means reviewing and updating handbooks and policies. The board approved updates to student/parent handbooks for the Hermosa and Custer elementary schools and Custer Jr./Sr. High School. These included minor changes and updates, such as updated meal prices, page numbers, etc.
The district’s board policies are also being reviewed and updated. The board approved having the legal staff at the Associated School Boards of South Dakota (ASBSD) review the board’s policy book to ensure they are in line with state and federal laws and Department of Education regulations. The staff will give recommendations for any changes, which the board will then have the option to adopt. Naugle says this is an inexpensive way for the district to ensure they have good and up-to-date policies on the books. The estimated cost is between $1,000 and $1,500.
The board tabled the second and final readings of 20 board policies (AEA, BB, BD, DBDA, DJ, DJC, GBI, GCI, IGBC, IGDA, IGDA-R1, IHB, JEA, JECG, JFC, JFCL, JFG, JFGA, JHG and LI) until more board members could be present to vote and to give the board more time to review them. These policies cover a variety of topics including class sizes, tobacco and vaping-free schools, student searches, board meetings and legal status, bidding requirements and more.
In other news from the meeting, the board:
• Received an update from Naugle on some new options for the Career and Technical Education (CTE) expansion project. Lately, the plans have expanded to consider moving some of the facilties and offices in the armory to the main school campus. The hope is that the district will save time and money by using this expansion project as an opportunity to achieve some of the other long-term goals of the district: a new gym, relocating administrative offices to the main campus, expanding parking at the schools and providing more “flex classrooms.” The board also approved a contract with Dean Kurtz Construction for this expansion project.
• Renewed a contract for participation in the Associated School Board’s Workers’ Compensation Trust Fund. Co-business manager Terri Reynolds reported that workers’ comp claims have gone up in the district this past year.
• Approved a grant writing contract for Eve Trandem. Last year, she brought $26,000 to the district through grants. These grants are used for special education, school security, CTE or anything else the district may need. This contract will allow her to continue securing these funds.
• Received an update from Katherine Jensen, a special education teacher in Hermosa, on her progress toward completing a school psychology degree. She also has two other bachelor’s degrees and two master’s.
In the arduous first year of the program, she has completed 36 credits  with a 4.0 GPA. She started with 13 people in program, but now there are just six—all contracted through school districts as school psychologists are in high demand. At the end of her program, which will take two more years to complete, she will be a nationally-certified school psychologist.
• Acknowledged four Hermosa teachers—Molly Wonnenberg, Gabby Lewis, Taylor Henwood and Jacque Hagen—for participating in the Good to Great Teacher program. The program is for third to fifth-year teachers. The teachers went to Chamberlain for  the first meeting, and will meet more throughout the school year.
“Three to five years is when we lose folks,” said Naugle, so this program gives a “deeper look into teaching” and gives additional trainings with hopes to better retain teachers.
• Acknowledged FCCLA National Leadership Conference—three students went to Denver.
“They represented us well,” said Cass.


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