DHS students concerned about their school
Kasey Willnauer said he didn't understand why administrators told him he had "crossed the line" when he asked about the hiring of a new activities director.
The De Soto High School senior interviewed several school and district administrators and board members on his own time about the new activity director's hiring process. The item to hire the new activity director was added as a last minute agenda item at last month's board meeting. Willnauer said the last-minute change excluded members of the community who wanted a De Soto resident to have the job instead of an outside person.
Willnauer and about 30 DHS students and their parents came to the school board meeting Tuesday to discuss their concerns. The students said they have no problem with next year's activities director Richard Bechard of Holton, whom they understand is highly qualified for the job. Students said they didn't approve of the method the district used to hired an outside candidate for the open position. Their concern, students said, was that administrators were overlooking the wishes of their current staff and community to make major changes at the school. They're concerned that changes in the school are erasing its warm, small-town atmosphere. Willnauer said there was a general feeling that many staff and students at DHS are being intimidated to agree with administrators.
"See, we are different from staff," he said. "You can fire staff or make it miserable to remain in the district so they go on to pursue other career opportunities. You can't fire a student."
Willnauer said that while Superintendent Sharon Zoellner was hired from within the district, two DHS administrators were not.
"Over the past year, my school has felt cold and more like private property than that of a place where everybody knows your name and cares about what's important to us as students, " Willnauer said.
Although the board took no action and didn't respond to the students' concerns, board member Randy Johnson -- whose daughter Sam was among students appearing in protest of the board's decision -- asked to make a comment following the community comment portion.
Board president Sandy Thierer told Johnson, "no," which was followed by verbal objections from the audience.
"Because I am in charge," Thierer gave as a reason for not allowing the board member to speak. She also refused Johnson's motion for an executive session; saying whatever he wanted to say could wait until after a scheduled staff presentation.
Lucas Walker, another DHS student and the son of board member Rick Walker, said he disagreed with the opinions of his fellow students about the administrators being less than welcoming to students.
Although some students cited changing the school's motto and graduation speaker as being done without student input, Walker said that was not true. He said that as student body president, no one had approached him to complain.
"I haven't noticed a sense of coldness at DHS," he said. "The new administration has been very helpful to me. It's a non-issue on pretty much everything you've been hearing tonight."
Willnauer said through his interviews, he discovered a problem of miscommunication in the district. When he showed up for a quick interview with Zoellner, he said several other administrators showed up for the interview as well, which he felt was their attempt to intimidate an 18-year-old high school student.
"Along with that discovery, I also discovered there is a major problem with communication between the district administrators, school administrators and staff," he said.
Willnauer said board members should take students' opinions into careful consideration.
"Mark my words, board of education, we are the voting public. If this problem is not resolved, consider your position on the board to be in jeopardy," he said.
In other news, the board took action on the following items:
- Approved resignations for certified employees Cynthia Andrews, Starside English as a second-language, Ben Bartlett, DHS drama, Valerie Cartwright, DHS English, Dustin Jamison, LTMS math, Allen Terrell, special education and PE at De Soto High School.Also approved were resignations for classified employees Nancy Clark, parents as teachers, Dorothy Isabell, student nutrition assistant, Geneva Pressly, custodian and Rhonda Teater, administrative assistant and termination of Jennifer Bogart.
- Approved new certified employees Thomas Byers for business teacher at DHS, Jan Hicks for Starside, Cathleen Hubler for LTMS science and reading, Sarah Lavin for Mize, Tricia McNamee for Starside, Kyle Sonnedecker for math at LTMS, Traci Ybarra for Mize and Molly Young for family and consumer sciences at DHS.
- De Soto school board members agreed to bid out the district's sixth elementary school on Tuesday. The new school will be built at 71st and Choteau using the bond issue dollars approved by district voters in 2002. The new school has not yet been named and boundaries have not yet been determined. The project is being built with a total cost of $15.4 million with J.E. Dunn as the contract manager and Hollis and Miller as the architects. The cost of the project includes about $500,000 worth of road improvements required by the city of Shawnee.
Alvie Cater, director of communications, said the new school would be an improvement on the design of Prairie Ridge Elementary School, which earned an international design award this year after opening in 2004. However, the new school will have a smaller gym than Prairie Ridge, because Prairie Ridge's gym was built to accommodate nearby middle and high schools. The school's size will be similar to Mize and Riverview elementaries. The district has about 310 new students to add to its rapidly growing population and schools are already filled to capacity. District administrators plan for the school to open in 2007, along with the new middle school in Lenexa on Mize Road, near Mize Elementary.
Cater said the district is forming a boundary committee to present a plan for boundary changes for the new elementary school and middle schools. The committee would present to board members in December 2006. He said parents of both middle and elementary school students were welcome to join the committee. For more information on the committee, contact Cater at 913-583-8300, ext. 305.