Public schools

Abilene Board of Education members last week heard an update on the status of the house being built by the Abilene High School Building Trades program.

Superintendent Greg Brown said he visited with instructor Jeff Austin who said the class is making good progress.

“They’re working on electrical and have a few plumbing items to finish up. Then they’ll be moving on to insulation and hope to be on track to have drywall finished by the end of the semester,” Brown said.

The goal is to have the house ready for sale by April 2020.

Construction on the house began last school year. In November 2018, the decision was made to spend two years building the home with the idea that the extra time would give students more opportunity to learn additional skills, adding value to the final product.

Previously, AHS construction classes built one house each school year, which were then sold at auction in May. However, when auction time came in May 2018, only one bidder showed up and that bid was $23,000 less than expenses.

The situation was not unusual. It had happened over and over in recent years.

Numerous reasons were given for the lack of buyer interest, but it was felt students and teachers could do a better job— producing a better quality home — if they had more time.

Despite the losses, school district decision-makers were reluctant to scrap the program. Students who have taken the class — which has been taught for decades — believe it is valuable. Statistics show that 60 percent of the students who took the class have used the skills learned in some manner or another, even if only for basic home repair.

So the building trades class became a two-year program, giving younger students a couple years to work on the same house.

Assistant Superintendent Chris Cooper last week said the students working on the house were getting “some experience they haven’t had in the past with electrical and plumbing.”

“Mr. Austin has been in contact with an inspector, making sure that’s all good to go,” Cooper continued. “They’re doing some rough-in pulling wire — we used to hire that out before. It gives them good experience and keeps costs down.”

Board Member Jeff Bathurst asked if the district had a buyer for the house once it’s completed.

Cooper said he did not believe so, explaining an attempt to pre-sell the house before construction began brought no takers.

Board Member Randy Gassman asked if plans were to continue the program as a two-year class or to try something different.

Abilene High School Principal Ben Smith said there hasn’t been much talk about the building trades house this year, but he felt keeping it a two-year program was a good idea.

Echoing Cooper’s comments, Smith said it gives students a chance to learn skills there was no time to learn before.

“Kids in the past would put in outlets, but they wouldn’t do any wiring and they hardly dealt with plumbing at all,” Smith said. “So, there’s a chance to dig a little deeper, practice more and learn more about what goes into a construction project.”

Currently, there are 22 students taking one of three classes, Smith said.

Visible learning partnerships

The board approved a proposal allowing the district to participate in “Visible Learning Partnerships,” working with several internationally known educational researchers.

The partnership will begin next fall and last for three years.

“This is some really big stuff,” Superintendent Brown said. “There are other districts in central Kansas that have been asked to join that effort as well. It’s really an honor, a little bit humbling and a little scary.

“We feel like we’re doing some things pretty well, but we don’t feel like we’re where we want to be yet,” Brown continued. “I think that very attitude is part of what’s drawing these folks to come and work with us and get to the next level.”

Gassman asked why Abilene was selected. Cooper said the main reason was the district’s MTSS (Multi-Tiered System of Support) structures which already are in place.

Cooper said the opportunity comes with “very little cost” and is something the district has already been working on.

“It’s not something different and new from what we have been doing, but it’s definitely at a higher level and it’s basically free,” he explained.

In the beginning, researchers will be working primarily with administrators and the lead teacher from each school building. Afterwards, they will work with teams.

Bullying prevention month

October is bullying prevention month in Kansas. Brown noted Abilene schools have practices already in place that came from an internationally-known bullying prevention group in Georgia.

AHS Principal Smith said the P3campus app has been a big help since it allows students to anonymously report inappropriate behavior. He also noted there’s a difference between mean and rude, conflict and bullying.

“Sometimes those first three can exist without it technically being bullying,” Smith said. “Usually you have to help students get to the root of where their conflict comes from.”

Bullying is not a one-time event. It occurs over time and is a power imbalance, he explained.

Trying to prevent bullying is a goal that’s never ending, Brown said.

“There will always be poor choices made by young people. That’s part of growing up. They make mistakes. They are sorting through who they are socially. Sometimes that thought process leads them into unhealthy interactions with their peers,” Brown said.

The bullying prevention policies are designed to help young people make better decisions as they grow and mature. “We will never be to a point where we are bully free,” Brown added. “Not on this side of eternity anyway.”

Other matters

• The board gave the go-ahead to refinancing the April 2014 bond issue, which raised about $24.2 million that financed district-wide school improvements.

Bond counsel Piper-Jaffray said the bond offering would allow the district to see a significant amount of savings, amounting to $1,470.351. The average interest rate on the bonds is 3.02 percent.

The refinancing includes only the maturities of three years — 2037, 2038 and 2039. The portion of the bonds refinanced will be accelerated and repaid in 2036, meaning the district is paying off the debt three years sooner than originally planned.

• In response to a question from Gassman, Cooper said schools are now required to give the pre-ACT test to all ninth graders and that Randy Watson, the Kansas Commissioner of Education, had polled curriculum directors to see if they believe state assessment tests should be replaced by the ACT test.

“My feeling is that’s what’s going to happen,” Cooper said, explaining Watson wants every junior next year to take the ACT and the work keys, a work ready test.

“It has applied math, workplace documents, some writing, some ‘are you ready to go into a place of business and work.’ So it’s not a college readiness exam, it’s an ‘are you ready to be placed in a job’ type of test,” Cooper added.

• The board approved paying Joan Anderson $1,000 per month to do the payroll clerk job duties until the person recently hired for the job can begin work. That person will start in mid-December. Anderson is the clerk of the board and had held the job of payroll clerk a couple years ago.

Brown said the amount was less than half what the payroll clerk makes each month and commended Anderson for her willingness to help the district out of a “really tough spot.”

• Brown told the board the district will observe National School Lunch Week and National Bus Safety Week in October.

Contact Kathy Hageman at

Contact Tim Horan at

(0) comments

Welcome to the discussion.

Keep it Clean. Please avoid obscene, vulgar, lewd, racist or sexually-oriented language.
Don't Threaten. Threats of harming another person will not be tolerated.
Be Truthful. Don't knowingly lie about anyone or anything.
Be Nice. No racism, sexism or any sort of -ism that is degrading to another person.
Be Proactive. Use the 'Report' link on each comment to let us know of abusive posts.
Share with Us. We'd love to hear eyewitness accounts, the history behind an article.