Ongoing facility needs, understanding the culture of students, the teacher shortage and being aware of the tax burden on local patrons were just a few of the topics discussed during the Abilene Board of Education’s goal setting meeting Tuesday, Aug. 20.
The board met with new Superintendent Greg Brown, district administrators and Brian Jordan, Kansas Association of School Boards (KASB) executive director/leadership services. Also invited were candidates seeking election to the board in November.
“Our board is very interested in doing what’s best for kids,” Brown said. “Certain things were brought to the table to just think out loud. It was a real productive meeting.”
Some of the goals and challenges discussed include:
• Capital projects or facility needs — Three major projects were left undone that were planned as part of the 2014 bond issue to renovate district schools. The projects —renovating the vocational agriculture building, a new bus barn and updates at the football field — were left for a later time after bids ran higher than expected and it became apparent there wouldn’t be enough funding to do them.
Brown said it has been the board’s goal over the intervening years to “shore up” the district’s capital outlay monies to pay for the needed improvements.
When asked if the board has any idea what it might want to tackle first when it comes to facilities, Brown said that was unknown.
“We haven’t gotten to that point yet. We’re hoping to put together some priorities and approach them, maybe by December,” Brown answered.
A task force of board members, led by Board President Kyle Becker joined by members Jeff Bathurst and Chris West, was formed during the Aug. 12 meeting to gauge interest and set priorities.
• Gaining community support and input — especially important with a new superintendent joining the district.
“My job is to build relationships and connections within the community,” Brown said.
• Understanding the culture of students.
Brown explained it’s an area that’s garnering much more attention than it did just five years ago. Programs like USD 435’s mental health initiative and continuing to help students grow in social and emotional growth.
“We have a lot of young people who struggle with a lot of issues,” Brown said. “How does a school system best help kids as they’re sorting through those struggles?”
• Assuring that curriculum and course content remains relevant for today’s youth as they plan their future.
• Securing and retaining talented teachers and other employees.
When it comes to capital projects, funding is the biggest hurdle.
“Capital projects take money and it’s important we’re taking care of budget concerns appropriately,” Brown said.
To that end, the board said they understand the tax burden and are aware of the impact it has on patrons.
“We heard what was said at the budget meeting,” Brown said, referring to a patron who expressed how a mill levy increase is especially difficult for farmers who are assessed on hundreds of acres of farmland.
“I think the board is pretty conscious of not trying to take the community for granted. We want to be respectful of our responsibility in that as well,” Brown added. “The ag economy is another challenge we have. It’s a fragile existence. It’s a very significant part of our system and one that can’t be taken lightly.”
Another issue — not only for Abilene, but schools everywhere — is the lack of teachers.
“There is a significant teacher shortage across the state. So we feel very good about being able to fill the positions we did,” Brown said. “That said, we had an automotive teaching position that was unfilled. Those are challenges.”
Jordan, with KASB, talked about the importance of communications. Not only has Jordan worked with Abilene schools many years, but also he has long been acquainted with Brown, the superintendent said.
Jordan facilitated a discussion to help Brown and the board members understand each other — for example, how does the board prefer to receive communications and what method does Brown typically use to communicate.
“They said ‘don’t hesitate to text,’” Brown said. “It’s a small enough community that the patrons will come straight to the board when they see extra activity going on at the buildings.”
While the board doesn’t feel they need to know all the details regarding everything, they do need to know enough to respond responsibly to patrons.
Brown said he thinks his style and the board’s are a “pretty good fit. I think we tend to operate a lot from the same goals or same perspective,” he explained.
Brown said he felt the goal setting meeting was “productive,” with board members, district office and building administrators and even school board candidates giving input.
“Moving forward, we’ve got some broad brushstrokes of things we’d like to work toward,” Brown said. “Then it will be up to the board and me to zero in on some tasks that are connected to those broad goals.”
Contact Kathy Hageman at firstname.lastname@example.org.