By Brett Nachtigall
HOT SPRINGS – Hot Springs School Board members, administration and more than 20 other faculty members and guests took part in a virtual board meeting last Tuesday, April 14, where the board unanimously approved the hiring of four new administrators for the 2020-21 school year. All contracts are for one year and renewable the following year, which falls in line with how the district as handled its principal contracts in the past.
The decision came following an approximate 1 ½ hour executive session where current Superintendent Kevin Coles, incoming Superintendent/current Business Manager Dennis Fischer and all of the board members – some of whom were at the school, but most participating from their homes – went into a seperate “online room” to discuss the merits of the proposed new hires.
Hired as the new Secondary Principal (Grades 6-12) was Troy Lurz, who will be coming to Hot Springs from Gibbon, Neb., where he has been the principal since 2014. A graduate of Chadron State College, Lurz has 17 years of administration experience, as well as some family connections to Hot Springs, as his mom Lois is a resident here.
Joining Lurz in the high school and middle school will be Charles Hruby, who was hired as the Assistant Principal for Grades 6-12. Hruby, who will be moving to the area from Webster where he is a high school science teacher and basketball/cross country coach, will also serve as the Activities Director for the school district, replacing Levi Klippenstein who held that part-time position this past year.
According to Fischer in a phone interview following the board meeting, the specific job duties of an assistant principal will be at the discretion of the principal and/or superintendent, however they traditionally are focused on student discipline, staff meetings and evaluations, interviews. He said Hruby will be working directly under Lurz and that he will most likely determine at a later date where he wants him to focus his attention.
Fischer said he has had good experience combining the duties of assistant principal and activities director from a previous school district. He said the advantage of having a full-time person on staff who can handle the dual roles is the flexibility. One day the person could be spending 90 percent of their day on principals duties and then the next day 90 percent on activities, Fischer said, depending on the time of year and what is going on within the district.
Also included on the list of new administrative hires for next year were Abby Karn as the Elementary Principal (Grades Pre-K through 5th) and Jacquieline Schniers as the Special Education Director.
Karn is currently in Rapid City and has experience working in both Knollwood Elementary and Wilson Elementary. She has indicated that she plans to commute from Rapid City at least for the first year of her job in Hot Springs, Fischer said. Schniers is currently living overseas and has spent the last two years as the Special Education Director overseeing eight Dept. of Defense schools in South Korea. Fischer said she and her family – which includes a pair of high school-aged daughters – plan to move to area by next fall. Schniers also has experience working in the Rapid City area and was in Hot Springs briefly in 2012.
Fischer said the overall financial impact with new hires is nearly equal to the impact this year, despite the restructuring of the administrative positions which moved around the duties for the positions, but didn’t require any significant additional money from the general fund budget.
He said there may be a slight increase of about $1,000 to $1,500, but when he described how they plan to restructure the business office, Fischer said there’s a good chance there will be some savings there to make up for that slight increase for the administrators.
Currently Fischer serves as the school’s Business Manager, and next year when he is Superintendent, he said he will likely maintain a 20 percent portion of those duties and then elevate current business office employee Wendy Bilbruck to a position to take on the remaining 80 percent. He said the business office also currently has a part-time employee doing accounts payable who may go to full-time and take on some of Bilbruck’s other current duties.
Also during the school board meeting, members approved a plan to pay 60 percent of the salary for a school resource officer with the City of Hot Springs paying for the other 40 percent. It was stated at the meeting that this is something that has been discussed and budgeted for the past couple of years, but hasn’t happened until now. Fischer said the school will be paying the majority of the salary because the city will be providing the equipment and other related requirements of the position. The individual hired for the position would then be serving nine months for the school during the school year, and the other three months of the year as a city officer.
During Public Participation at the beginning of the meeting, the board heard from teacher Kim Thompson who said that the school buildings’ Sunshine Committees have decided to forego the usual nominating of the various Teachers of the Year and instead recognize the outgoing building principals – Kelly Bilbrey, Liz Baker and Mary Weiss.
At the conclusion of the meeting, the board heard from two of those building principals – Baker and Weiss – as they gave their usual updates.
Baker said she has been having weekly virtual meetings with staff to discuss the progress students have been making with their online learning. She said all but three students have been able to access their assignments online and special arrangements have been made to ensure those who do not have online access are still getting their assignments in print form.
Weiss said she recently had a meeting via Zoom where students and teachers discussed a plan to potentially hold a form of graduation in Centennial Park on the normal graduation day of May 16. While nothing is yet planned for certain, discussions will be ongoing with input from students and parents.
Weiss also said she is having weekly staff meetings where they discuss online learning and what students are having difficulty with the process. She said she has personally attempted to contact all of the students to get them their assignments, but yet, there are on average 10 to 12 students per grade level who have not made any effort to complete their assignments. The senior class has been the best so far with only four or five students who have not done assignments.
Baker also commented on this topic and said there were only about three kids who have not been turning in assignments.
Superintendent Coles said that Hot Springs is no different than every school across the state now that is trying to determine the best way of moving forward with how to grade and promote students to the next level during this unprecedented time of learning. Discussions will be ongoing with districts across the state to do so in as consistent manner as possible.
During his update, Coles also said that the district is now serving lunch to about 160 kids per day, which is up significantly from the 40 or so during the first week of the school shutdown. He said that they will be able to continue the lunch program through the summer as well.