I always struggle to come up with a topic to write about. It isn't because there is nothing to write about. In fact, it is just the opposite - there is too much to write about! How does one boil down all of what occurs on a daily or monthly basis in a school district the size of Newton? Does one focus on the great things that happen in our classrooms every day like the students learning to take apart and then reassemble computers as part of a career pathway or the kindergarten student learning beginning and ending sounds as part of becoming a good reader?


Or does one focus on the accomplishments of teachers such as Megan Nagel, a teacher at Santa Fe 5/6 Center who is one of eight teacher finalists for Kansas Teacher of the Year or maybe a special education teacher who is assisting a student that is having a difficult time transitioning to a new school or maybe Ashley Best, kindergarten teacher at South Breeze and her colleagues that are working extra hours this year to revision kindergarten?

Or should I focus on the bus drivers, cooks, servers, police officers, custodians, secretaries, nurses, latchkey workers, paraeducators, instructional aides, business office personnel, technicians, and maintenance workers that keep this complex organization running on a daily basis?


In a few short weeks, residents of the communities of Newton, North Newton, and Walton will enter voting booths to cast votes that will impact our district for years to come. You will help to elect the next board members and decide the fate of a bond proposal. During the last several weeks, I have been presenting bond information to anyone and everyone that would have me. My role is to inform the public of the plan and why it is needed. During these weeks, I have been asked many questions. Patrons have shared their opinions. And, still the message may not be getting to everyone.


In 2013, the district underwent an efficiency and effectiveness review conducted by the Center for Innovative School Leadership at Emporia State University. During this process, four outside experts in curriculum, maintenance, operations, and finance spent time in the district surveying parents, students, and staff and conducting focus groups. A report was provided to the Board of Education and administration began the work of prioritizing recommendations and creating action plans.


In 2014, the district had a safety and security audit conducted by Chuck Clanahan with the Department of Homeland Security. The information from this review was shared with district leadership teams and the Board of Education. Also during this year, the district refunded, or refinanced, existing bonds to take advantage of lower interest rates. This resulted in tax savings for the patrons in our district.


As part of conversations around the needs identified in the previously mentioned studies as well as input from staff members, district administration began to discuss the needs in relation to capital improvements that could not be paid for with $1.8 million dollars received annually for capital outlay. The cost of the needs identified far exceeded the ability of the budget to support.


The Board of Education determined that a strategic vision and comprehensive plan were needed. So, from 2015 through the spring of 2017, the Board of Education, members of the community and staff members contributed hours in dialogue, discussion and study, which included structural analysis of buildings and demographic studies.

 

The district with the assistance and input from the community has identified the needs. Newton High School, which is 44 years old, needs renovation throughout the original footprint including replacing of mechanical, electrical and plumbing systems, a storm shelter, and a state-of-the art science wing. Walton Rural Life Center needs a storm shelter, permanent classroom space, and additional space for physical education, nursing, counseling and administrative services. The enrollments in the elementary schools need to be balanced to provide for more efficient use of the buildings. Santa Fe and Chisholm schools are at capacity and the proposal provides for a reconfiguration of grades to reduce crowding and the number of school transitions that students must make between PreK and high school. Other identified needs include storm shelter upgrades; security upgrades such as cameras, keyless entry, controlled access to buildings, and visitor check-in systems; and technology upgrades to support the increased security measures as well as supporting additional technology devices for learning.


It is difficult to boil down an article to one topic. This article simply acts as a reminder of all that they do and the work that has occurred to get us to the proposal before the community.

 

— Deborah Hamm is Superintendent of Newton USD 373. She can be reached via email at deborah.hamm@usd373.org or by phone at 316-284-6206.