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Friday, January 17, 2020

Fort Thomas School Board Honored – More Than 60 Years of Combined Service

Fort Thomas school board members were honored for their service. Back row: Teacher Dawn Hils,  Jeff Beach. Front row: Ann Meyer, Karen Allen, Superintendent Karen Cheser and Lisa Duckworth

by Robin Gee

January is School Board Appreciation Month, and the Fort Thomas Independent Schools District board members were honored at their first meeting of 2020.

Dawn Hils, a teacher at Woodfill Elementary and co-president of the Fort Thomas Education Association, was on hand to thank the members for their service. She noted that combined the members have 61 years serving on the school board.

Brad Fennell is the longest serving member in the history of the board with 20 years of service. Both Karen Allen and Jeff Beach have 16 years each, and Lisa Duckworth has eight. Ann Meyer is only in her first year on the board, but it was noted that she brings 28 years of teaching experience to her position.

Hils said she and other educators appreciate how the board balances school needs with an ever-tightening budget and limited time. "You’re always asked to do a lot with a little. I’m especially impressed, looking at the agenda tonight, at the time that’s involved in your job. People might perceive this as a once-a-month duty, but we know better," she said.

"I’ve been teaching now, this is my 31st year, and I have seen not only our duties as teachers escalate with the changing times but your jobs as board members. There are meetings before the meetings. There are committees upon committees."

She also noted that the board has made people their priority in all their decisions. "We realize you are taking care of facilities and curriculum and people and things. It’s just a lot to manage, and we do appreciate your prioritizing the people during these tight times. Thank you very much." Hils presented the board members with a small gift in appreciation.

Superintendent Karen Cheser also thanked the board and presented each member with an all-weather jacket in Highlands blue. "We are extremely grateful. None of the things we can do in this school district can happen unless you lead it and you support it. We appreciate your vision, your dedication and hard work. You are always putting the kids first and always looking at how can we do better and better meet the needs of our students and our teachers."

Cheser also noted that board members receive a stipend each year, but each year they have voted to donate it for scholarships. This year the board has created a fund for special projects with their money. One recent use, she said, was providing some financial help to help the family of a teacher facing a life threatening illness.

"We just want to say thank you very much to our board for having such kind hearts and always putting people first as Dawn says, so thank you," she said.

Taking care of business for next semester and next year

At the start of the year, the school board can elect to change positions within the board. For 2020 Allen will serve as board chair, while Duckworth will remain vice chair. Board committees were also set for the year with few changes except Meyer will take over Allen’s role on the Curriculum Committee.

The board also approved their meeting schedule for the year, which will remain unchanged with monthly meetings at 6:30 p.m. on the second Tuesday of the month and working meetings held on the Thursday prior to that (first Thursday) at 8:15 a.m.

At the meeting, the board also approved the school calendar for 2020-21 as well as a tentative draft budget.

Johnson Update

Director of Operations Jerry Wissman reported that work on Johnson Elementary is progressing and things are going well. Anticipation of winter storms was built into the schedule. Since there has been no snow this has benefited the construction schedule, but heavy rains in late December and early January made moving materials in and around the site difficult.

If you drive by the project right now you can see walls have come up and work is progressing, he said. He added that he anticipates delivery of structural steel for the project in January on schedule.

Wissman had some change orders for project costs including a retaining wall that will cost less than expected and several small ticket items to meet code requirements. The board passed these as well as a scheduled payout to Morel Construction.

Campbell County Imagination Library

Fort Thomas schools have been a partner in the Campbell County Imagination Library for the past year. The project is an offshoot of Imagination Library, founded by and funded by Dolly Parton.

Children from birth to age five, whose families sign up, receive a free book every month. The school district is working with other districts and the Campbell County Public Library for the project. The districts help provide funding for the books (a 50/50 split with the library).

In addition to funding, districts are asked to promote the program within their communities and to commit to a target of 30 percent participation.

Now open at 2000 Memorial Parkway in Fort Thomas. 
Assistant Superintendent Bill Bradford asked the board for continued support for the program. The organization has recently reorganized as a 501c3, allowing it to accept donations that can help defray some of the costs of the books. Partners will now also share in the cost of an audit every four years that is required of the project’s new nonprofit status.

Bradford noted that Fort Thomas participation in the program is just under 49 percent. "This is the highest of all the participating Campbell County school districts," he said. "This is great news, but we recognize there is potential and opportunity there."

Cheser said she and school principals have been exploring ways to reach out to younger children and their parents. She said she hopes the district can create events around the Imagination Library program to encourage more participation and to strengthen ties between the district and younger children in the community.

The school board voted to approve continued participation in the program.

Wrestling coach position is approved and ready for next fall

The school board also approved the creation of a wrestling coach position at the high school level. This is welcome news for the students and parents interested in the sport who have been lobbying for a varsity-level team.

Cheser said the position will not be filled until next fall, and there must be at least 12 high school students signed up for the program before it can move forward. Middle school students can participate in wrestling at the club level, but high school students who want to compete must be a part of a varsity team.

She noted, too, that a group of dedicated parents have been raising funds to help defray costs for equipment and fees for the program.

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