Photo by Brett Nachtigall/Fall River County Herald-Star
Hot Springs Music Director Melissa Vande Stroet leads the Hot Springs High School Pep Band during a basketball game in Case Auditorium earlier this year.
By Brett Nachtigall
HOT SPRINGS – The March 8 board meeting of the Hot Springs School District began with audience member Justin Gausman speaking during Public Participation how he was disappointed to learn that there was not currently a 7th and 8th grade choir program.
His comments were in relation to a newspaper report of the school board’s Feb. 8 meeting where two others had spoken up during Public Participation and urged the board to hire an additional person in the music department to assist Melissa Vande Stroet, who has been overseeing both the middle and high school band and choir for the past two years. This doubling-up of responsibilities was the result of significant budget cuts in 2018 which eliminated one of two music positions in the middle and high school.
Also during the Feb. 8 Public Participation portion of the meeting, the board was also asked to consider adding an additional counselor to the district’s staffing to assist the lone counselor, Simon Jamieson, who had been tasked with being the counselor for all 12 grades which was also a results of the 2018 budget cuts.
Later on in last week’s March 8 meeting during committee reports, both positions were addressed by the board as it was announced they were going to hire a full-time choir teacher and add a full-time counselor position for the upcoming 2021-22 school year.
Board President Bob Preuss said that while they do appreciate input from the public regarding the need for teaching positions, the board often is unable to comment on the work being done behind the scenes to address staffing needs.
Superintendent Dennis Fischer said the school would be posting a vacancy for a vocal teaching position the following day. He said they had been discussing the need for the position with Mrs. Vande Stroet who had expressed a desire to focus on band, so the new position would be for Grade 6-12 choir.
“The money follows the students,” Fischer said. “If the students sign up for music classes, then we’re going to expand the FTE (full-time equivalent) for that person.”
“We do appreciate the input people have in letting us know what is desired,” added Board President Bob Preuss. “But we sometimes are always in the process of working on it.”
The counselor position was addressed in the Safety & Security Committee report when Preuss said the committee had been looking at ways to address the students’ social and emotional learning through counselors, social workers or student advocates. He said they have been discussing a partnership with Fall River Health Services to address some of those needs.
Fischer expanded on Preuss’s comments and said they have been looking at sustainable ways to address the need for an additional counselor following the financial cuts of 2018, which includes existing staff who can help with some of the student needs, ranging from career guidance as well as social and emotional needs.
He added that research has shown that a school should have one counselor for every 375 students.
“If we’re at roughly 750 students, we should have two FTE guidance counselors or people that are assisting our kids in those areas,” Fischer stated. “With the plan that the administrators have come up with, we think we’re going to be at that 2.0 FTE combination of social worker, guidance counselor, student advisor – like Edgemont has – and full-time guidance counselor.”
Also during the March 8 meeting’s committee reports, it was pointed out by board member Ryan Walz that plans were ongoing with an architectural firm to design a new building to replace the current shop building. While a two-story building was discussed at one time, the current plan was to go with a singles-story design with the possibility of expanding upwards to a second floor in the future, if deemed necessary.
Despite it being only one story, it would still provide about 18,000 sq. ft. which is about twice the size of the current shop building. In addition to wood shop and welding, this new structure would also serve the STEM curriculum as well as chemistry, and also others, depending on interests of the students, Supt. Fischer said.
Walz said they are looking at having the new building also attach to the high school and/or Tays Center, or possibly even the middle school.
Following a 90-minute executive session, the board reconvened and approved the 2021-22 School Calendar, which shows the year beginning with a pair of staff in-service days on Monday and Tuesday, Aug. 16 and 17, followed by the two first days of classes for all students on Wednesday and Thursday, Aug. 18 and 19, which will both be early dismissal. Full educational days will commence the following week on Monday, Aug. 23.
Christmas vacation begin with early dismissal on Thursday, Dec. 16, with classes not resuming until Monday, Jan. 3, 2022. The last day of school will be Thursday, May 19, 2022.
The board also unanimously voted to extend the contracts for four of their administrators, including Business Manager Bilbruck, Elementary Principal Karn, Secondary Principal Lurz and Special Services Director Schniers.
CORRECTION: It was stated in the original printing of this story, that the contract of Assistant Secondary Principal/Activities Director Charles Hruby was also renewed by the board at the March 8 meeting, but that was not stated at the meeting. Supt. Dennis Fischer did say that further negotiations were still being conducted.