District Update

November 16, 2020

Video Recap of November 16 Newsletter

November 16 Newsletter Recap

Board of Education Information

Board of Education Recap Article

This is not a full recap of all issues discussed at the Board of Education meeting. These are not official minutes. For more information on the Board of Education meeting, click here.

Superintendent Fred Van Ranken went over with the board how the gating criteria will work as it relates to athletics and activities until Thanksgiving. Athletics and activities will still follow the weekly gating criteria numbers even though the learning delivery modes (i.e. remote, hybrid, on-site) will not change till after the break. Right now, athletics would be in “orange.” Each week, Van Ranken will update the numbers on Monday and on Tuesday is when they will begin that mode of operation for athletics and activities.

The board also made plans for the historical display at Lindley Hall. Board members Andy Ortiz and Luke Edwards will serve on a committee alongside community members nominated by the remaining board members. They will also be asking for community input. That committee will determine what needs to happen in relation to the plaque.

For The Full Board Meeting:

November 9 BOE Meeting Part 1
November 9 BOE Meeting Part 2

Facebook Live Q&A

Q: Will we still have athletics seasons like wrestling?

A: That is the plan. If we end up in the red mode of operation during the season, there would not be any practices or anything else. Once we left the red mode, practices and events could continue. However, if there are remote events possible, like in Scholar’s Bowl, those could continue.

Q: Should parents wear masks and social distance when they are dropping off or picking up their students?

A: If they are in our facilities they need to wear a mask and social distance. A number of our quarantines come from people not social distancing properly. Now, sometimes that’s not always possible in an educational setting, but when it is, we ask you to follow these guidelines. We’ve got to stop the spread as much as we can.

Q: Are there still some classes at the high school that go on-site?
A: Yes, CTE classes are on-site. There are some special student situations where they’re more on-site as well. We do have some software for some of our CTE courses but not all of them.

Q: Does the district have any plans in place to help those students who are falling behind catch up?

A: We are working on a plan for the second semester as well as the second nine weeks of this semester. One of my biggest fears is that we are going to lose kids through the cracks.

When we look at the high school, about seventy percent of those students who are struggling in remote were also struggling this time last year academically. Some folks might have viewed remote as an easier path, If you struggled academically, it’s not necessarily an easier path.

Buildings are trying to come up with better mechanisms to reach out to those students who are struggling. I know in some other instances it may not necessarily be just about remote learning, but I would venture to guess that the large percentage of it is because we’re so used to the way education has been delivered before. If you are struggling as a parent and you’ve reached out to your principal and you aren’t seeing what needs to happen, reach out to my office.

Q: Why is Pre-K-4 on-site so much?
A: There are a few reasons. One of them is the science behind the transmission. With younger children, it’s not the same as it would be for high school students. We also want to keep those kids in school when they are getting those foundational skills.

We have to worry about custodial care. I get some flack for that but I do think about that. I don’t want a kindergartner at home alone because the parent has to make the decision between being at work and being able to provide food for their kids. It’s a really complex decision. I know I have some people who disagree with me on that, and that’s ok. I’ll restress, it’s not that I think our elementary staff is expendable at all. I don’t. We’re just trying to find that balance. It’s not an either or.

For the full Q&A:
November 10 Facebook Live Q&A

Superintendent's Corner

The numbers this week taken from logs maintained locally are (as of 11/13/2020):

• Students quarantined: 287 students

• Staff quarantined: 52 staff

• Active cases: 17 students (last week, the reported case count, which included recovered

cases, was 24) and 9 staff (there have been 23 total cases)

NOTE: This week I am reporting only active cases for students as we are adjusting the data keeping sheets to automate the calculation process in order to keep from having to count cases and quarantines from each building on a daily basis.

Thank You Staff

Thanks to all staff for their work during this time. I know this is difficult for all as we navigate, pivot and do our best to educate students and serve families. There is little middle ground as it comes to perspectives regarding decisions being made. I am not a “rah-rah” guy. I would be a terrible cheerleader. I do not weekly say how much I appreciate the efforts of all staff as we move through this difficult year. Please understand that I do appreciate your efforts. All of them.

November 4 Gating Criteria Decision and Other Thoughts

This past week the two recommendations that the BOE considered were from ME. They did not develop those recommendations. I discussed those with several administrators, directors and others from across the district, but they were from ME. If you are angry about those recommendations, please place that anger strictly on me.

Changing modes was something that we have heard over and over again that is too difficult, which resulted in me developing and making these recommendations to the BOE. Data regarding hospitalizations, transmission at different ages and within schools, etc. informed those recommendations (along with many, many other factors). I wanted options that provide certainty for staff and families. These options will do that. You may not like them, but they will do that. Once again, that is on me.

I think it is important for all of us to try to realize that decisions are made are done so based upon the information and perspective of the individual tasked with making the decision. Not one administrator, teacher or other staff member has all of the information BOE members have when making decisions.

Spend a day in the life of an elected official tasked with making these decisions that impact students, families, and staff. They get emails, phone calls, and in-person contacts from all stakeholders about what they should do and how they should do it, that includes staff, I do not feel in any way, shape or form that there is any ill intent or overarching negative agenda on the part of any BOE member. They want to provide educational, and where needed, custodial care opportunities as our public service always has while at the same time providing

for those that do it.

I will also tell you that I also have the same intent with decisions I make as well as the recommendations I pass on to them. I have said all along and will continue to say it is not about me nor is it about you. It is about those we serve. That will not change. I have also said many times. This stuff stinks... No one wants to have to make decisions like this as it relates to education. No one asked us what we want to do either. We just have to do it.


Carolyn Devane conducts ACT prep across the state of Kansas for students. She was here this past week in Newton working with students and made it a point to tell me how impressed she was with the Newton students she worked with in that virtual training session and how much fun she had doing it. She actually said she wished she would have recorded the session as it was so fun. Knowing Carolyn as I do, she would not compliment students unless they earned it. That was pretty cool.

Chisholm Middle School

Chisholm 7/8 center is trying to enact some interventions for their students who are struggling academically. These interventions, developed at the building level, are designed to ensure students have the ability to catch up academically and put them on a path to success. Those interventions might not be perfect. There will undoubtedly have to be adjustments in their plan, but they are attempting to attack those deficiencies, which I greatly appreciate and support. The reason to highlight this to the whole district is that it is important to consider allowing buildings to attempt to solve problems using logical, educationally sound strategies without the fear of being heavily criticized from within to a level it they no longer have the desire to take reasonable risks to improve. They should stay within guardrails set at a system level, but nonetheless be allowed those attempts. This is an example of reasonable risks being taken by a faction of our system to help students.

New Information

Hiring Bonus

Looking for a job? Know someone who is? We have good news! Some jobs at USD 373 come with a hiring bonus:

Eligible Positions and Amount of Cash Bonus:

  • 2020-2021 Certified Teachers ($600)

  • Transportation ($600)

  • Food Services ($600)

  • Facilities and Maintenance ($600)

  • Aides/Para Educators ($300)

The one-time bonus is paid out in two installments. The first, $200, will be paid as part of the first payroll of employment. The second installment, $400, will be paid in the sixth payroll as long as the employee is still working for the district.

Current district employees may also be eligible to receive a referral bonus of $300 if the individual they refer is hired and completes three months of service. The referral must be noted in the formal employment application.

Kansas Eviction Prevention Program

Have you had trouble paying your rent during this pandemic? There is a new program available through Kansas Housing for Kansas Eviction Prevention Program available on a first come first serve basis, giving tenants and landlords the option to apply for up to $5,000 per household for rent from as far back as April 1, 2020. Here is the website with more details if you think you may qualify: https://kshousingcorp.org/eviction-prevention-program/#:~:text=The%20Kansas%20Eviction%20Prevention%20Program,via%20a%20joint%20online%20process.

Next Newsletter Update

Please note, due to the Thanksgiving Break, the next newsletter will come out on December 2.

Important Reminders

Remember Your Masks

Please remember to keep our students, staff and other families safe by wearing a mask and social distancing while you pick up or drop off your students at our building. Help us stop the spread by following safety protocols.

Thank you!

Out Of This World Virtual Field Trip

Newton, Buhler and Clearwater have joined forces for an exciting Out of this World virtual learning opportunity for students across Kansas. Learn more about it here on our website.

We are excited about our stellar line up of intergalactic guides:

  • NASA scientists, Ben Honey and Krista Farrell, who work with the International Space Station

  • Teresa Sindelar, a former teacher at Buhler, who now trains astronauts

  • Justin Bartel, a 2001 NHS graduate, the Immersive Experience Manager at The Science Museum of Virginia

  • Steven Smith from NASA STEM Education

  • The Cosmosphere presenting Dr. Goddard’s Lab

All of the links you need to connect are on our website. They will be broadcasted live on Youtube. USD 373 and other Kansas districts will be joining in during the school day. However, this is open to anyone who would like to join! If you know of any students or families that would like to participate, feel free to pass along the information.

At the end of each presentation, there will be a question and answer time. Just leave them in the comments on YouTube.

Question and Feedback Form

Question and Feedback Form

On all of our district and school websites, you will see a Questions & Feedback button on the home screen. This will lead you to a new form that you can use to get your questions answered more quickly and make sure your feedback goes to the correct person. Please use this form for any emails or questions. You’ll notice a few dropdown menus. If you choose general district, a dropdown menu with a variety of topics will appear for you to choose from. If you select school specific, a dropdown menu will appear with a list of schools for you to choose from.

District Feature

NHS: Sunshine Squad

There’s a new group at Newton High School created to bring light and appreciation to staff and students at the building. The aptly named Sunshine Squad is comprised of 17 staff who have the goal of making their coworkers and students’ lives a little brighter.

COVID-19 and the stress associated with it sparked the idea for the Sunshine Squad. However, it’s part of the long-term goal to evolve the culture in the building overall. The Sunshine Squad plans team-building activities. So far, they’ve done special recognitions for custodians and the transportation team and bosses’ day.

The group is also making sure the staff stay alert and caffeinated with Friday coffee--a coffee bar complete with toppings and creamer. They also have a wall outside the workroom with clothes pins where staff can write positive messages to one another. And soon, they’ll be expanding the group to cover celebrations of students as well.

If any NHS staff members would like to join the group, contact Danna Gordon.

Railer Recognition

This is to recognize the accomplishments of USD 373 staff or students. If you know of a student or staff that should be recognized, please email info@usd373.org.

Department of Justice Grant

Opportunity Academy was awarded the Department of Justice Grant through Essdack. Essdack and Opportunity Academy will work together on training centered around Trauma and Social and Emotional Learning. The grant also comes with "VIBE" software that students and staff will utilize, this will help students in realtime and it will provide staff with feedback on how to work with students day-to-day.

State Gymnastics

Congratulations to the Newton High School gymnastics team for competing in state and taking seventh overall.

South Central KMEA District Choir

The following students made the South Central KMEA District Choir!

Mackenzie Glasmann

Madyson Groves

Madison Hershberger

Jenna Teichler

Hutchinson Symphony Anderson Concerto Competition!

Congratulations to Josh Bergman on winning 1st Place in the Hutchinson Symphony Anderson Concerto Competition!

Soccer AVCTL Division 1 Honors

Congratulation to the following Newton High School Railroader soccer players earning AVCTL Division 1 Honors.

1st Team Defender-Alex Sanchez

2nd Team Forward-Santiago Fernández

2nd Team Midfielder-Collin Hershberger

2nd Team Goalkeeper-Selvin Abrego

Honorable Mention Defender-Carsen Ebert


Congrats to Railer Debate this weekend. Madi Duncan and Bryttan Adams for going undefeated 4-0 placing second in the top division at the Lyons online debate tournament.

Congrats to the Novice Railer debaters this weekend. Emily Tolbert/Preston Vicenzi took first place 4-0 at the Wichita East tourney ahead of Dowling Catholic of Iowa and Truman from Missouri. Anahi Sanchez and Jaydn Nash just missed medaling at 3-1. Diego Coy Dick and Jacob McKinney also competed Saturday.

A Look Around The District

Staff Shout Outs

Have a staff member go above and beyond for your student? Did a coworker go the extra mile to make a difference? Let us know and they'll be featured here! Please email info@usd373.org with the information.

Blake Smith deserves a shout out for being a great administrator. Blake takes the time to get to know his students and build therapeutic rapport. He works to understand what is really going on vs. just addressing the behavior. Blake consistently displays a positive attitude and uses humor daily which fosters a positive working environment.

I want to recognize the Santa Fe 6-1 team! They go over and beyond for their students!

I want to recognize Rebecca Schloneger. She is doing an amazing job teaching her orchestra students. She has gone above and beyond to make sure that she reaches all students. I overheard her talking with students the other day who forgot their materials in the building. She told them that she would drop off their materials at their house during her lunch and after school. She shows so much kindness and grace to her students. Her room is always a calm and welcoming place!

I'd like to give a shout-out to my fellow School Psychologists: LaKaya Bieker, Tyann Hekele, Jessica Mefford, and Allison Nava; and Yordano Ochoa who is finishing his school psychology practicum. Our school psychs work hard for students, staff, and families every day. I'm so grateful to work with this team!

Mindy Hammond: always putting in extra time to make sure her remote students understand what to do on assignments. She creates videos every day for them to help walk them through the instructions. She is always willing to help out other staff and students, and her positive attitude is refreshing. Thanks, Ms. Hammond for all you do!

Shawna'de Smith: She makes herself available to remote students through lots of google meet times, and also finds a way to be present in my classroom to help with her students as well. Plus, she is always going above and beyond to find and create resources for my class! It is clear that she cares about education and about her students' overall wellbeing. Thank you Mrs. Smith for all you do!

Sherri Nicholsen/Tami Perkins: These two ladies keep the ship afloat! South Breeze is lucky to have them!

Cathy Willis, Karla Conner, Helen Wild, Leslie Raprager, Chris Boston/Wedel, Linda Gonzalez, Mimi Leo: Thank goodness for flexible aides. These ladies are here, there and everywhere! We are all thankful for the willingness to help wherever needed. Kids love them and so does everyone else!

Jo Wharton, Ellen Mick, Gina Christensen, Mary Stanbacher, and Robyn Fletcher: These ladies are always ready and willing to be where they are needed and meet students' needs right where they are. We are thankful for all they do! Kids love them and so does everyone else!

Art Friesen, Derek Belgard: These two guys drop everything to help out. Whether it's a mess on the floor or bringing a desk to a classroom, they keep things running. Big thank you to both of them.

Brooke Stroud: Brooke is our nurse aide at South Breeze. If she has a down minute at any time, she is helping at the office. We appreciate her hard work!

I would like to give a shout out to Mrs. Tate for always putting in the extra time to record lessons. She is always available and prompt with her responses.

Erica Rickard at NHS has done a fantastic job of teaching the dual-credit college math class -- even though she has another class to teach at the same time!

I would like to give a quick shout out to Mrs. Toni Mitchell. Mrs. Mitchell is the SPED special ed case manager at Chisholm 7th and 8th grade school.

My 7th-grade student is working in the Remote Only learning format. Mrs Toni Mitchell has gone above and beyond in helping my student succeed these first 9 weeks of school. She's available for daily Google Meetings and in-person instructions when necessary.

Mrs. Mitchell has made learning less stressful in these trying times.

We appreciate Mrs. Toni Mitchell

Ms. Enfield deserves to be recognized. She has gone above and beyond to help out the kiddos in her class more than once. She makes learning fun for them, even though it is remote. She is so patient with the kiddos. And when things don’t go like they should, she adapts to it without frustration. She is doing a great job with the year we are given. Thank you so much for all you do Ms. Enfield!

I want to shout out to ALL the staff at Slate Creek Elementary. You are Amazing❣❣❣❣❣ With everything going on in the world right now, you all still thought of so many things to be grateful for. That just goes to show how blessed we are to work together. Thanks ❣

Anna “Cherie” Wedel has been incredible at providing distance learning for her gifted students in USD 373. She is so invested in making sure her kids get a great learning experience and feel loved by her. My son was happily surprised to even receive a Birthday Card from her on his birthday. Despite all the obstacles of online learning, Mrs. Wedel has found a way to connect with her students. Thank you.

I would like to thank Mrs. Ramey at Sante Fe. She is really encouraging to her students. My student says she is a great teacher. She gives her time after school to connect with her students with online games. She has done a great job encouraging her students through this pandemic.

I would like to give a shout out to Ms. Mindy Arreguin, who is a para in Ms. Schrag’s room. I’m sure the rest of my coworkers would agree she goes above and beyond to help us all and to help the students. Not sure what we would do without her. She is an awesome person and amazing coworker. She keeps us all on task and always has the answers we need. We have had a crazy few weeks, and she still manages to always keep a positive attitude. We love Mindy.

I would like to give a shout out to Ms. Unruh. She does a fabulous job with our kiddos at Sunset, engaging them in her music lessons. She is so positive with each and every one of the kids. I've been able to listen to many of her lessons this year with specials coming to our classrooms. My students look forward to the days we have music and are so excited to see Ms. Unruh! Sunset loves you, Ms. Unruh!

Thank You, Allison Heisler, at Slate Creek, for helping me 'navigate the new waters' of Slate Creek and USD373. You have gone above and beyond!

Carmen Weller has the most amazing virtual lessons for her music students. She has gone far and above making engaging lessons for her students! I am so blessed that she is teaching my child!

I just wanted to shout out to Mr. Webb for going above and beyond in being available for my child while in hybrid and while quarantined. He was available in zoom anytime he had a question. While we were in quarantine, he made sure to include him in the class WIN times and basically ran two classes, one online and one in person. This made a huge impact for my child and helped him continue to learn during these challenging times.

I'd like to give a shout out to Northridge First-Grade Teacher Ashley Adkins and Jill Montano (aide for Ashley Adkins, NR). Jill is SO patient and kind with the kids I see her work with in the library and in the classroom. First grade is such a challenge this year (they didn't even finish Kindergarten!), and I think these ladies are both AMAZING in what they do for our kids. Mrs. Adkins is teaching not just first-grade requirements but finishing up what they missed last spring. I admire that she is also helping them become better citizens and to learn kindness and manners. They are a fabulous team and seem to work so well together. A huge plus is how much their students seem to love them and thrive in their environment. We can't do much with our current situation but maybe knowing that someone notices the fantastic job they do helps a little!

Shout out to Blake Smith. He is always willing to lend a hand and do whatever he can to make things work!

Loren Kurtz, SPED para, has been doing a phenomenal job and is such a great addition to the team. He works really well with the students and they all enjoy having him. He has stepped up and taken on a lot of responsibilities and is always willing to help and be flexible whenever needed!

Thanks to (I'm assuming) our tech department, our K-4 students use a QR code to log into Clever. I know some teachers in other districts who wish their process was as simple!

Shout out to Nick Sisson for working hard and making sure all of his students and other students are successful!

Valorie Pfannenstiel goes over and beyond to make her students feel safe and productive! She is truly an amazing teacher!

Ashley Nottingham is a great librarian! She really connects with students and helps them develop a love for learning!

Jessica May is a wonderful teacher and has a great skill making students learn when they do not feel like learning! She has great classroom management!