Hillsboro Junior High To Offer New Programs

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Hillsboro Junior High School will begin offering baseball and softball programs following the decision made at the regular meeting of the Hillsboro School Board on Tuesday evening, Jan. 11. All board members voted in favor of the new sports programs, which were presented by junior high principal Don Van Giesen at last month’s meeting.

“The interest is there; 40 junior high students have stated that they would like to participate in softball and 34 students have expressed interest in baseball,” Van Giesen reported. “This is something the district has needed for awhile. It will benefit our junior high students and strengthen the high school baseball/softball programs.”

He estimated that there will be a brief overlap with the basketball program, approximately one to two weeks. However, none of the current coaches felt like this would be a hindrance. The season will start at the beginning of the next school year. Budget-wise, coaches would be paid on the same schedule as other junior high sports.

Coach Joe Reed presented a plan to renovate the weight room at Hillsboro High School. Reed took on a similar project at a school where he formerly taught and has been working to develop a potential plan for needed improvements to the HHS weight room with the guidance of District Maintenance Director Fred Butler over the last semester. Reed stated the current room presented many safety hazards and that improvements would attract new students to the space and allow coaches to train athletes more efficiently.      Upgrades would include new equipment to replace outdated, deteriorating items as well as flooring.

Reed explained that it would be cheaper to purchase the new equipment in bulk rather than trying to piece-meal the space by making purchases over an extended period of time. He presented three bids to the board:  Life Fitness for $134,500.62 (only includes equipment - does not include the flooring), Tag Fitness for $143,517.72 (includes equipment and flooring) and Direct Fitness for $131, 228.58 (includes equipment, flooring, lay out and set up).

Superintendent David Powell stated that the improvements were not included in this year’s budget - requiring a future budget amendment. If approved, the cost of flooring could potentially be taken from the Capital Improvement Fund and the other requests could be taken from the Education Fund under physical education or athletic needs. The board discussed other options to fund the renovation, and asked if there were any outside organizations, such as the sports boosters or Education Foundation, that could help offset the cost of the project. The discussion was tabled.

Board member Bryce Rupert presented a draft to revise the district’s COVID-19 policy. The proposed plan mirrors one that is already in place within the Vandalia School District. Vandalia is one of seven or eight school districts in the state not following the state’s pandemic mandates and currently on probation from the Illinois State Board of Eduction with threat of pulling their recognition and funding, and potentially holding diplomas. Powell expressed concerns regarding Vandalia School District’s COVID policy, pointing out fallacies in how they are measuring positivity rates. Board President Matt Lentz asked if the superintendent knew how the Vandalia policy was holding up.  Powell stated that there is no clear data in how the Vandalia policy is faring as the district is not testing or contact tracing their students internally. He stated that if the Hillsboro district were to revise their current policy, they would need to have a more concrete metric system in place. The board members agreed to put a draft of the proposed plan on the district’s website and engage parents to provide feedback on their thoughts/wants in regard the district’s COVID policy.

Hope McBrain, director of curriculum and instruction, and Brandy Buske, special education program coordinator, presented the 2020-2021 School Report Cards. “This looks a little different than what we are used to,” McBrain began. The data showed major testing lags with the kindergarten and freshman students - indicating, to her, that the COVID-related shutdowns most affected transitioning students and highlighting the need for the district’s early intervention/preschool programs. She stated that the high school has increased the amount of “credit recover” offered and is in the process of getting the high school students back on track. She also reported that dual-enrollment has increased, as has participation in CTE (career-technical training eduction) classes. Buske congratulated the district on meeting all the compliance indicators set forth by the IDEA act, for the 2020-2021 school year. “This is directly related to all of the hard work by the educators and staff of the Hillsboro School District.”

Following the presentation, the board approved  school improvement plans for Beckemeyer and Hillsboro Junior High School - a requirement for summative designations funding.

Parent Lyn Caselton heatedly addressed the board with her concerns about the lack of a mental health plan in place for students undergoing duress caused by the district’s mask requirement and quarantine periods - stating that the board should be prepared for legal challenges when children have mental or physical issues due to wearing masks.  

After a closed session, the board hired Nicki Murray as junior high computer teacher, and rehired all of the fall coaches as presented with the exemption of the pending resignation of the high school cheerleading coach. 

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