Emma Alderman | editor in chief
The USD 329 board made several staffing changes, approved a religious education program, discussed bond options and addressed sixth grade participation in athletics.
The board announced that Steve Oliver will take over as WHS principal next year, while also continuing to serve as junior high principal. Jeron Weisshaar will serve as assistant principal and athletic director for both schools.
Implementation of a new RESPECT project was passed. RESPECT stands for Religious Expression Supports Positive Equity-Centered Teaching.
In an email to the Charger, superintendent Brad Starnes described the project as an attempt to focus on improving student performance and teacher practice by increasing awareness of students’ freedom of religious expression and the appropriate ways to leverage it as a social, emotional and learning asset. “Amid all they are facing, we have an opportunity to support students’ religious faith as a learning and coping asset.”
“The respect project addresses, in the whole child piece, empirical evidence about how children’s religious studies upgrade behavioral and academic assets,” Starnes said.
The board members discussed the program at length.
“I’ve said it at other board meetings that if we don’t start putting God back in a place we took him out of then this mental health piece is going to get worse and worse,” board member Justin Frank said. Frank also asked Starnes whether the WHS library contained a bible. Starnes confirmed that it does.
Kelly Oliver was the only board member to veto the motion.
“I have concerns about this for our school district and the reality of it as a public school district,” Oliver said. Oliver also expressed concerns about the program’s focus on Christianity, according to the website, gogateways.org.
Starnes supported the legality of the program and noted endorsements for religious education from organizations including the NEA and ACLU. He also confirmed that no other public school in Kansas currently uses the program.
This motion passed with a 4-1 vote, with members Tony Conrad, Jerome Hess, Justin Frank and Don Frank all approving.
The board also passed a motion 5-0 to allow sixth graders to participate in sports.
“The sixth graders don’t really have anything to do in that building other than go to school and see all the other kids doing sports, but now they can be a part of this too,” athletic director Jeron Weisshaar said.
Weisshaar cited concerns about participation numbers as part of the reason to support the change. He also discussed the possibility of moving to varsity and JV teams at the junior high level rather than splitting teams by grade.
Due to the physical nature of the sports, football and wrestling will not be offered for sixth graders due to KSHSAA rules.
The board accepted the resignations of Garett Eck as WHS assistant softball coach, Jess Rutledge as WHS boys assistant basketball coach, Jamie Dunbar as WHS and WJH head wrestling coach, Miriam Barton as WHS English teacher, Chloe Smith as WJH math teacher and coach
The board accepted the employments of Cheryl Lewis as WHS and WJH head cheer coach and pep club sponsor and Kristin Berroth as WHS and WJH assistant cheer coach and pep club sponsor.
Jim Vopata resigned his position as at-large board member. After discussing options, the board elected not to fill the position until Vopata’s term is up.