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Hancock school board hears from public

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One of the largest crowds in many years filled the Hancock Public School media center for the March school board meeting. Numbering close to 60, the crowd included a majority of people present to question the board members about their decision to place Hancock teacher Adam Steege on unrequested leave of absence. The decision,  made by the board at their February meeting, reduced Steege’s teaching position from full-time to .345. The reduction included eliminating the .25 principal position held by Steege and reducing the Industrial Arts classes by one.

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Board Chairman Barry Nelson opened up the visitor recognition portion of the agenda stating that the board wanted people to try to keep comments to a minimum of two minutes each. He added that not much action would take place at the meeting but the board was willing to hear what the community had to say.

Chad Christiansen was the first to speak, with a few words on behalf of the Hancock Education Association. He asked that the HEA be part of the board’s decision making process.

What followed was about 14 members of the audience asking questions, showing support or opposition and making suggestions for alternative ways to address the situation.

Kim Wolf reminded the board that they represent the people and asked them to look at how many people were present with a different opinion than that of the board members. She asked the board for better communication and community input. She pointed out that Steege was vested in the community with 15 years of teaching, owns a home here and his children attend the Hancock School.

Others present spoke about the Industrial Arts program and how it had benefited their children and themselves. Many felt that it would be a mistake to cut courses when there was no financial reason to do so. Industrial Arts is a program that helps students who may not choose to go to college but rather enter the work force doing things like welding, construction or similar work.

Two former school board members spoke at the meeting. Ken Feuchtenberger stated that it was commendable to see the support of the community at the meeting. He wanted to remind the people present that the board members spend a lot of time on school issues and need to have their decisions respected. “These are good men,” said Feuchtenberger, “and I respect them.”

Randy Reese had a different approach. He asked the board and administration why the assistant principal, namely Adam Steege, was not included in the discussusions conducted by the transition committee.

Supt. Jerry Martinsen stated that over the years they had a lot of discussions with Steege. He added that it was the committee’s belief that Principal Tim Pahl was the best person to handle the principal position. He is more familiar with the new state regulations regarding evaluations and the board and administration felt more comfortable having him take the principal position full-time and hiring a part-time superintendent.

Others in the crowd addressed the curriculum issue. As part of the decision to reduce the Industrial Arts courses, the board is proposing the addition of technology courses. Nelson explained that the demand for computer experience is increasing in nearly every job. “Society is changing,” stated Nelson, “the demands for computer, even in agriculture, is growing.” He added that money was not an issue in the board’s decision.

Marla Miller addressed the curriculum also. She said that if the board is concerned about the STEM courses which included science, technology and math, than one course they should be looking at is physics. It was clear that the school cannot offer every course the students need.

“Our enrollment is up and we have momentum going for good things here in Hancock,” Miller stated. “Why now do we feel we have to make this cut. What else was considered, what other proposals were made?”

Board member Joel Flaten, who was on the transition committee who made the recommendation, said that they had explored a lot of options. They had at least six that included moving Pahl up to supertintendent or making a position for a dean of students. In the end, the committee felt that having Pahl as a full-time principal was the best fit.

Adam Wink, a former student of Steege, praised him for his teaching. He stated that Hancock is a very ag driven place. “I feel the ag program should be dang good,” said Wink. “It really hurts me to say this but I don’t know that I would pick him for that position. My question to the board is, has that man had the opportunity, the list of things given to him, that we really want. If he hasn’t I think negotiations should be on the table.”

Kevin Koehl was the final speaker and he felt that some of comments were a disservice to the board members. “We have a very, very good school. The performance evaluations are a critical part of keeping Hancock at the top,” said Koehl. “We do this board a disservice to think this was done as a spur of the moment decision.”

Later in the meeting the board members made a motion to proceed with a hearing request from Steege. In the request, Steege stated that he would rescind the hearing if the board would change the unrequested leave of absense from .655 to 1.0 FTE. Currently the resolution states lowering his position by the .655 full time equivalents (FTE). Changing this to 1.0 would mean Steege would be laid off for his entire position. The board chose not to change the resolution.

The hearing will mean that a judge will hear both sides of the issue and then make a decision. That is why the initial action by the board is referred to as ‘proposed’ since the staff member has this option.

After all agenda items were completed the board members had a few comments about the discussion. One of their concerns, which has been an ongoing challenge, was in curriculum. Nelson stated that it is something he is constantly thinking about and he felt there was some good communication at the meeting about this. He added that he felt the board members got a little beat up about the ‘behind closed doors stuff.’

He said that as retirements come about over the years, the board needs to look at where they can make changes in the course offerings. Perhaps include things that are broader for the entire student body. A challenge in this is how to balance what is offered during the same class times. How do you make it fit so that it is not in competition with another subject a student might be interested in? That is a big challenge in a single section school like Hancock.

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