Changes greet students for start of school


It’s time to go back to school, and things will be a little different this year.

Students at all Dubois County public schools will return to class Thursday, while those attending North Spencer Schools will head back to their classrooms Wednesday, Aug. 15. This is the second consecutive school year for the local countywide school calendar that aligns each of Dubois County’s four corporations’ holiday breaks and start and end dates. Holy Trinity Catholic School in Jasper will also resume school Thursday and follow a calendar with breaks and a completion date identical to the other Dubois County schools.

Otwell Miller Academy, Pike County’s first charter school, opened for its second year of class today.

And with kids funneling back into hallways, school safety will be a priority for all county schools.

Each of Dubois County’s four school districts also received matching grants that will be used to increase school safety. Southeast Dubois Schools will use its funds to pay for equipment used to secure the school buildings or to enhance medical and police response to them, while Southwest Dubois Schools has added a school resource officer to their staff and Northeast Dubois Schools plan to add one during the school year. Greater Jasper Schools is working closely with the City of Jasper to bring a second school resource officer to their district.

Below are some of the other ongoing projects or changes parents and students can expect to see this year or in the near future.

Greater Jasper Schools

Greater Jasper Superintendent Tracy Lorey could not be reached for comment, but change is in the air in Jasper.

Construction is ongoing on the new Jasper Elementary School. At the school board’s July meeting, Scott Stenftenagel, The Stenftenagel Group’s clerk of the works who works alongside the corporation on construction projects, said work was moving forward.

“Everything’s really moving quickly out there and the good weather has obviously accelerated that,” Stenftenagel said.

The 111,132-square-foot elementary school will be fit for approximately 850 students in pre-K through fifth grade when it opens at the beginning of the 2020-21 school year. The building will bring together the populations of both Fifth Street School and Tenth Street Elementary. According to information from the corporation, the school’s design includes enhanced safety features and incorporates learning environments conducive to small-group instruction and STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) exploration.

After returning to school, students and parents at Jasper High School, Ireland Elementary, and Jasper Middle School will notice visible changes to their buildings, such as increased security at school entrances. Teachers across the corporation will also wield the power to contact police and notify fellow staffers of an intruder with the touch a button on a smartphone app. Site reviews and the unification of emergency protocols districtwide have also been a priority and at the June school board meeting, Lorey said the corporation wants to involve students and parents in conversations about safety.

Southwest Dubois Schools

When asked what changes parents and students in the Huntingburg-based Southwest Dubois County School Corporation can expect this coming school year, second-year Superintendent Tim LaGrange pointed to matters he addressed during his State of the Schools address late last month.

In that address, he spoke of new hires such as new Southridge Middle School Principal Greg Gogel, and the ongoing campus improvement project that has revamped the high school football stadium and will bring a new parking lot to Huntingburg Elementary.

The corporation also received a matching $50,000 school safety grant and Project Lead the Way grants at Huntingburg and Holland elementaries that will pay for STEM resources.

Southeast Dubois Schools

Changes at the Ferdinand-based Southeast Dubois County School Corporation include a new career and technical education building and weight room at the Forest Park Jr.-Sr. High School, as well as a new elementary principal.

The new facility that will house STEM classes is a more than 19,000-square-foot addition that sits on the north side of Forest Park near Buechler Arena. It houses multiple classrooms and laboratories and is scheduled to open when school begins. Woodworking, automobile, welding and metalworking equipment will be stationed in that building.

“Our industrial arts area was built in 1976, and the curriculum has changed multiple times over that 40-year period,” said Superintendent Rick Allen. “With those changes, now we can put all those hands-on courses under one roof.”

And the teachers can now share equipment and knowledge with each other, which wasn’t possible when the classes were scattered throughout the Forest Park building.

Over the past year, a committee of teachers and coaches have orchestrated a fundraising campaign that has raked in more than $100,000 in donations and pledges to outfit the school with a completely new weight room. As of the last school board meeting, they were about $20,000 away from hitting their target fundraising number. The work on the new weight room will begin this month.

Also new in the corporation is Ferdinand Elementary Principal Tyler Lemen, who will take the helm at the school following last year’s retirement of Stacy Kitchin. He came to the corporation from Holy Trinity Catholic School in Jasper.

Northeast Dubois Schools

At Northeast Dubois High School, Principal Tina Fawks said with the retirement of high school special education teacher Tammy Schulthies, the corporation will lose someone who did a lot of legwork to build a spectacular special education program. Katrina Messmer will take her place.

Schulthies also retired from her post as longtime head coach of the girls track and field team, and Vic Betz stepped down as the boys track and field coach after 44 years.

Several teachers at the school also volunteered to resurrect the Spirit Club, which had not been active the past three years. Future activities sponsored by the club include a senior breakfast on the first day of school, tailgating events before home sporting contests and more.

Preaching the importance of kindness will also continue to be a big part of the school’s culture, Fawks said.
“We’ve talked about continuing that as a focus because we feel like it was so powerful last year,” Fawks said. “Just the environment and how it felt to be here at school was so positive, and I think a lot of that came from that kindness push.”

North Spencer Schools

Much like Southeast Dubois, North Spencer Schools will welcome students with upgrades to facilities and new elementary school leadership.

New this year is a 17,365-square-foot expansion to Heritage Hills High School that includes a new commons area, restrooms, a concession stand and choir room on the school’s main level. The wrestling room will also move from the upper level of the auxiliary gym to the main gym.

The expansion also includes elevator access from the school’s upper level to the lower level of the main gym, which has been outfitted with bleachers that are compliant with the American with Disabilities Act. ADA-compliant bathrooms have also been added at the school. That construction has been in the works since March 2017.

At the football stadium, an overhaul that cost $1.8 million brought additional home-side bleachers to “The Jungle,” as well as an upgraded main entryway and ticket booths. A new press box, increased ADA accessibility, new sidewalks, fencing, lighting and a total restructuring of the west side parking lot. Included in the project is a lighted walkway that connects the football stadium to the main gym.

A 12,000-square-foot metal building has been added to the far north end of the parking lot behind the Career/Technical Education building. This new building will be utilized for various athletic and extra- and co-curricular practices and training activities.

Also, Lori Hermann of Rockport was named Chrisney Elementary School’s new principal last month, replacing Julie Kemp, who left the position earlier in the summer for another principal gig at Boonville Middle School.

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