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Ellsworth schools work around staff vacancies

ALICE drills go well, but more work is needed

ELLSWORTH – As the school year enters its third week, the biggest challenge Ellsworth Community School District is seeing by far is stavng shortages.

As Superintendent Barry Cain went through the monthly personnel report at the Sept. 12 Ellsworth School Board meeting, he detailed how the district thought they had full-time middle/high school Spanish and art teachers hired, but found out just weeks before school started that they did not. Longtime art teacher Mary Lewien and Spanish teacher Lesley Stoesz retired at the end of last school year. Finding replacements for those positions has been tough.

“We have a lot of irons in the fire," Cain said about figuring out the stavng shortage.

He recently reached out to Elmwood School District Superintendent Glenn Webb, who said they’ve gone through three foreign language teachers in three years.

Cain said Ellsworth and Elmwood high schools are talking about a 66-30 partnership, in which Elmwood’s foreign language teacher teaches Ellsworth students online for one block a day. Sharing stau will increase their pay and provide them with more hours; Elmwood has some teachers who are parttime. Ellsworth would reimburse Elmwood for the teacher’s time, who would in turn pay the teacher.

Ellsworth Middle School reading/language arts teacher Kim Catron will teach eighth grade Spanish the first term, while the district is working with area universities to find stau/interns for the second term. They are looking for people who can teach a block or two each day. Seventh grade Spanish students have been shuwed into other classes for the first term and will take Spanish later in the year.

The state Department of Public Instruction requires the district to teach a foreign language at the middle school levels. The district hopes to hire full-time teachers in the spring.

“It is hopeful," Board President Katie Feuerhelm said. “That hire list is robust." Cain said the district has been thrilled by its new hires, but just needs more people. A training session for substitute teachers was held recently, and Cain joked that he locked them in a room to keep them available. Permanent substitute teachers are in demand almost every day in the district.

“We’ve just come to the realization that stavng is going to be an issue," Cain said.

The board approved the personnel report for September, which included the following stavng changes: Hires: Katie Bennett-Deiss, EES special education teacher; Deborah Carlson, longterm substitute teacher; Connie Girdeen, EES Title 1 teacher; Carson Huppert, pool director; Emily Lofgren, EMS special education teaching assistant; Ryan Paul, district-wide full-time substitute teacher; Chyla Richard, EES Food Service stau; Matthew Stacy, EES custodian; Kara Therriault, EES Kindergarten teacher Transfer: Adam Koger, transfer from EHS phy ed teacher to EHS phy ed teacher/ athletic director Resignations: Brenda Brewer, EES counselor; Chealsey Gerth, High School/Middle School art teacher; Emily Kelser, High School/Middle School Spanish teacher Extra/co-curricular: Mylon Anderson, EHS assistant cross country coach; Nicole Campuzano, EHS yearbook advisor; Tisha Krig, mentor; Lydia Krueger, middle school building level team leader; Lily Puhrmann, assistant eighth grade girls volleyball coach ALICE drill

Ellsworth schools performed an ALICE (alert, lockdown, inform, counter, evacuate) drill last week. EES principals Mary Zimmerman and Travis Logslett, EMS Principal Olin Morrison and EHS Assistant Principal Jason Janke reported on how the drills went.

Pierce County Patrol Sgt. Chad Koranda and Ellsworth Police Chief Eric Ladwig took part in the drill at EES. The administration met with Ellsworth’s Sgt. Darren Ekholm and Pierce County Emergency Management Director Christine McPherson Tuesday to go over suggestions on how to keep students safe in the event of an active shooter.

“We were very impressed by how quietly and quickly people were able to lock doors," Logslett said. “We just need to work on barricading the doors with objects that are tall enough." Janke said while the drill went well at EHS, many kids don’t seem to take it as seriously as they should, a point he makes sure to address with them directly. “Many kids are not aware of school shootings around the country, like in Texas," Janke said.

Kids aren’t consuming news the way other generations did, Janke explained. They aren’t reading newspapers or watching the evening news on TV, with streaming services available and social media occupying their time. They just aren’t as aware of current events as they should be.

“I just think there’s some teaching that needs to go on," Janke said. “We need to make sure that they’re aware of things. They need to take it seriously." One classroom at EHS was not fully “locked down" during the drill and was breached.

“To me that’s a big deal," said board member Michael Petersen. “Because that was one of the issues at one of the last mass casualty events. I think the community would find that potentially bothersome." Janke said stau found it “very alarming" and it was handled immediately.

“Some people think I’m confrontational," Petersen said. “I’m not trying to be confrontational. It’s a communication piece." Board member Steve Mark was surprised to learn that evacuation is an option in the plan. Cain explained that students, usually older students, can decide for themselves if evacuating safely to the school’s rally point is the safest option, if they’re not able to barricade and lock down. Meeting at the rally point makes it easier to account for people after the incident is under control.

“The reaction to and the complete securing of the perimeter and the facilities and the accounting for people takes hours and hours and hours," Cain said.

Janke said older students are also advised not to get in their cars and drive away in the event of an active shooter. This could result in police thinking they need to pursue students’ vehicles instead of responding to the actual threat.

The next ALICE drill will be held in the spring. Zimmerman invited board members to observe or participate.

Other business

• The board decided to revisit school board member salaries every other year. Salaries were increased Oct. 11, 2021 to align with other area school districts. Annual salaries are $2,700 for the board president, $2,200 for the vice president, $2,400 for the clerk and treasurer, and $2,100 for a member.

• Cain reported the district will perform its Third Friday Count this coming Friday. There are many factors in the student population count, but the number of students this year is at 1,622, down 11 from last year’s 1,633. Cain called it “flat enrollment. "

• Zimmerman presented the district’s annual seclusion and restrain report, which is required by state law. The number of incidents in which students needed to be secluded or restrained due to mental health issues nearly doubled from last year, when numbers were in the low 20s. Zimmerman said stau tries to verbally de-escalate situations first because the goal is to reduce the number of times seclusion and restraint is used.

• The board recognized Panther Employment Services, led by special education teacher Jason Haugley, for a job well done over the summer. Eight students participated in the program, which teaches real-life employment skills to students while they help district custodians.

• The board also recognized those who worked on the fifth annual back to school supply event, which served 105 students.

September 20, 2022