The Times - Serving Waitsburg, Dayton and the Touchet Valley

By Tracy Thompson
the Times 

Coffee with the Superintendent

Praise for staff and volunteers, upcoming levy vote, safety drills, winter closures and immunizations discussed


December 12, 2019

WAITSBURG-Immediately after Cocoa with Santa in the multipurpose room, Superintendent Mark Pickel met with parents and grandparents of Waitsburg Elementary students for coffee and donuts in the music room.

Levy Upcoming: Pickel let those in attendance know that the district is due to hold a levy vote, as "our levy cycle is every two years, so we are up for a levy this February," he said. He reminded folks that "Levies are for learning, bonds are for building."

"Levies are a very important part of the educational process because as you know it supports extracurricular activities, arts, our after-school programs and our athletic programs," he continued.

With the passage of the levy, Pickel said he is hoping to reignite the District's music program, but mentioned that "we have been blessed by Kate Hockersmith and her bluegrass group which comes on Tuesday and Thursday after school as part of the Cardinal's Nest program, they have really stepped up and helped out a lot. I can't thank them enough."

The mission is to hire a new music teacher for next year. He noted that it is a difficult position to fill as the instructor must be able to teach a range of subjects from Kindergarten to High School, from choir, to beginning instruments and on up to band.

Cocoa with Santa: Pickel praised the Food Services staff, including Susan Wildey and Erin Elsey for their wonderful efforts in putting together the Polar Express Train/Cocoa with Santa event, noting that Wildey and Elsey were both at the school preparing for the event at 3 a.m. He also mentioned the contributions of Allan Huwe and Louis Gagnon in building the train car. "We had people volunteer to paint, we got the middle and high school kids to help serve, it was truly an effort by everybody, it was magical." Pickel continued.

Grandparent Jim Romine complimented Mr. Pickel for his effort to visit all of the grade school classes.

"You put yourself out there to be accessible, and because of that the kids have all the confidence in the world to come and talk to you." Romine said

Winter weather: Another parent inquired about the district's policy regarding late starts and school closures due to winter weather.

Pickel remarked that he works closely with Maintenance Supervisor Colter Mohney, and that they are in phone contact beginning at 4:00 a.m.. He has plans to post the policy on the District website, to include the following areas of notification: on the website, on Skyward, on the District Facebook page, and on the school district's app, as well. He encouraged parents and caregivers to make sure their contact information (phone numbers, email addresses) are current and up to date, and to enable the app to send notifications directly to their phones.

"Our goal is to try to notify no later than 6:30 a.m., but we are going to try to notify by 6:00 a.m., as we have staff that arrive at 6:00 a.m.

School Board Position Open: The open position on the School Board was brought up, and it was noted that the position is to come from District #1 , which is located north of HWY 12. After the next board meeting, they will announce that they are accepting applications.

Other announcements included word of the Elementary Winter program on Thursday, December 19 at 6 p.m. in the Multipurpose room. Each class has been preparing two numbers and have been practicing at the end of the school day.

The Dayton-Waitsburg athletic combine survey results will be announced at the upcoming Board meeting.

Concerns: Virginia Romine asked if the district has done anything to identify potentially 'risky' students.

Pickel noted that the elementary staff meets on a weekly basis, and part of their agenda each week is to talk about students. Pickel stated by virtue of being a small school, " all of our teachers know all of our kids very intimately, so if there is anything that pops up, we just talk about it as a group," and that he involves counselor Rosy Nechodom. If there are concerns in regard to issues such as developmental delays, he will involve Special Education Coordinator Mr. Christenson, who will assemble a team to assess the situation.

Pickel also said that secondary principal Stephanie Wooderchak meets with the middle school staff at 7:30 on Tuesdays and at the high school on Thursday mornings at 7:30 a.m. on a weekly basis. "We are very aware of what's going on around us," Pickel said.

Safety Drills: Pickel described the different type of drills the schools prepare for, including evacuation drills, lockdown drills, and a soft lockdown drill. Pickel said, "If there is something directly impacting a school building itself we go into a full lockdown-we shut and lock the doors, shut the lights off, put the kids away from the windows, get the kids down and quiet until they hear from the Superintendent that it is all clear."

In a soft lockdown, staff will make sure all the doors are locked and classes will continue to operate as normal, but students will not go outside. "Our teachers coach the kids on what to do, and what the differences are," he said.

The last type of drill is to shelter in place, which might result from the release of an airborne substance. This instance involves gathering all the students together in the Multipurpose room, organized alphabetically by name and by class.

One issue that does need to be addressed is that the district does not have a relocation plan in place right now. "That is something the State has tasked school districts to do. We will get law enforcement involved," Pickel noted.

Pickel is resistant to preventing access by installing a locked door buzzer system and mentioned that the current policy is to make sure that all doors to the elementary building are locked, except for the front door.

Immunizations: A final discussion on student immunizations discussed the process staff go through to check and verify that students are up to date, the communication efforts for those who are not, and that currently, all elementary students are fully vaccinated.


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