Archive for Thursday, April 27, 2006

Morford: De Soto High School encourages positive atmosphere

Administrators respond to students’ accusations

April 27, 2006

School officials say they're making every attempt to make sure De Soto High School is a warm and welcoming school.

At last week's board meeting, students said they were concerned district administrators chose to hire outside the district before hiring a De Soto resident for the activities director at DHS.

Senior Kasey Willnauer told board members he felt the school administrators were also making changes at the school that made it feel less welcoming and open to student input. Willnauer said he preferred policies implemented by previous principals.

Dave Morford has been principal of DHS for two years and said he's received lots of feedback on the opinions presented by students at the board meeting.

"The opinion brought forward is not the opinion of the staff or the majority of the students and parents as they spoke to me," Morford said.

He said he wanted to focus on positives -- the school has reached the standard of excellence, added advanced placement programs, upgraded remedial programs and started a tracking program for English as a Second Language students to be integrated into the classroom.

"I'm a very positive and upbeat person, and people have the right to express their opinions," he said.

Morford said students like Willnauer and Sam Johnson who spoke out at the meeting were exercising their First Amendment rights, just as students like DHS Student Council president Lucas Walker said he was pleased with the current administration and its policies.

"I'm a strong believer in the freedom of speech and I support students who want to exercise that," he said. "There were other students (Walker) with the opposite opinion, and I support them, too."

Morford said the school is continuing to improve its openness to students, which will be especially important with the growth planned for the school. Currently, the school at about 450 students and has the capacity for 750 students.

If voters approve a new bond issue in November, that could grow to 1,000 students with an expansion.

"We're always trying to improve everything -- communication and welcomeness. That's our job and that's our goal."

Willnauer also said last week he was concerned the district's process of hiring administrators didn't include more in-house candidates.

The district hired Richard Bechard of Holton for the activities director position at De Soto High School and Lexington Trails Middle School. He will be paid $65,000 a year.

There were 65 applicants for the position, Morford said, and it was well known that current activities director Roy Hawley was retiring.

District communications director Alvie Cater said the district posts all available jobs on its Web site, Cater said the district officially had no comment in response to the students' complaints.

"The focus is always to put students first," Cater said. "The district is looking to move forward to create the best possible learning environment for everyone involved."

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