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Priorities

Priorities

I would like to share with you a concern I have about the perceived priorities within the USD 489 school system.

First, let me introduce myself. My name is Scott Jones. I am a Hays resident and a 19-year veteran of the Kansas educational community. I spent 10 years as a high school teacher (five years coaching baseball) and have spent the last nine years teaching at the post-secondary level. I have completed two advanced degrees in educational administration.

I have started to reach out to USD 489 Board of Education members in the past, but always refrained. This time, I feel like I need to say something.

I am deeply concerned about upcoming meetings and the possible direction school administrators could be leading you regarding the further development of athletic facilities. As I mentioned, I do "get it" -- I was a coach. I love athletics, and I believe athletics can play an important part in an educational experience. However, there must be balance, and the board must set priorities.

* Last week, I was a meeting and sat next to a teacher from Hays Middle School. I asked if he would be taking students to the MACE Computer/Media Competition held in Manhattan in the spring. He explained the district would not support such a trip, because it would cost $1,000. Only if he wanted to donate his time to help the students raise money (and they raised enough money) would be allowed to take them to this academic competition.

* Recently, I spoke to a faculty member at Hays High, I asked if the district had ever reinstated stipends for department chairs who take on additional responsibility (beyond that of a classroom teacher) to organize, support and lead academic units (groups of teachers) during the school year. I was told the district still claims they do not have money for this expense. Teachers are doing it on their own, with no compensation from the district.

* A few years ago, I was touring Hays High and I passed a trophy case, I noticed it was all athletic trophies. I asked someone, "Where do they put the academic trophies?" At first I just received a blank look, then the person said, "Oh, well, I think Mr. Hester lets those teams put their trophy in the office for a week after they receive it, then I guess it just goes to the sponsor/coach/teacher? -- I don't really know, we don't have a trophy case for them."

* On May 17, Shaina Prough received the Dan Rupp Award for Excellence in Economic Education. Dr. Hester was in attendance and even took a picture. Did he ever advise the board Mrs. Prough had won this award? My guess is he did not. Furthermore, had this been an award for a coaching endeavor, each board member might have received a personal phone call -- or would have at least been advised by email.

* There is a high school athletic director. Why do we not have an instructional director? Some will argue that is the principal, but that is false. In a school the size of Hays High School, the principal is not able to focus an adequate amount of time on instruction -- and, in the coming year, this position will have more responsibility as we cut one of the assistants. Furthermore, if the district really believed the principal was the instructional leader, then adequate effort would have been made to post the vacancy, recruit, interview and select the best candidate for the position, not just quietly move someone up internally.

* Class size: I have also heard that at Hays Middle School (perhaps fifth grade) that there are two classes at or exceeding 26 students. I have no doubt the district can find highly qualified and highly effective classroom teachers willing to live in Hays. So, the fact classrooms are overcrowded is a reflection of a shrinking budget, yet the board is willing to raise taxes for athletic facilities?

* What are the travel policies for athletic versus academic activities? For instance: meal stipends, registrations, hotel/lodging, sponsor support, travel, etc. As a BOE member, do you know the policies and are the policies actually implemented as they are intended? Finally, are the policies (and however they are implemented) a reflection of the priorities of the BOE?

I realize that athletics are more "politically sexy" than academic activities. They are often more exciting and, as I am sure the administration will tell you, they (some) generate revenue. I love football, and I also believe that a winning football team (especially early in the season) can set a positive tone for your entire high school. However, in the midst of difficult economic times, priorities must be made and perceptions must be considered.

I urge you to focus on academic support before supporting the administration in their continued quest to further develop athletics and athletic facilities.

As BOE members, you are also teaching the students of our community, by the choices you make and the priorities you embrace.

S.R. Jones

Hays