Trustees raise number of days for absences

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Change a response to practices, desire for rounded education

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Fredericksburg Independent School District students will now have more days they can be out of class to participate in extracurricular activities.

In a much-debated change to its current policy of 10 days (plus seven more for post-district competition and other allowables), the board on Monday night voted 4-2 to raise the limit to 30, given the number of activities some active students take part in.

“We have some multi-sport athletes who also miss for academic competitions, and we make the playoffs in a lot of sports, which is great,” Principal Joe Gonzalez told trustees. “But with travel, it involves more overnight stays. We have some neighboring districts, especially those in West Texas, who have unlimited days.”

Gonzalez said just because the limit was raised to 30, that didn’t mean every student would max out their allowable days. Currently, the district uses a case-by-case waiver system, which allows administrators to check grades and discipline records for those students needing to be absent.

The proposed changes also sought to make a grade of 65 the threshold for whether a student may attend. All said this only affected a small handful of students, fewer than five this year.

Supt. Jeff Brasher worried that could put the district’s principals in a position to have to pick and choose who gets to attend extracurricular events if they are over the limit.

Both addressed concerns by trustees Mark Cornett and Natalie Bowman, the two dissenting votes.

Cornett and Bowman preferred a grade threshold of 70. “If we’re going to have a grade standard, I’m for 70. Let’s raise the bar if we’re going to shoot for academic excellence,” Cornett said.

“Also, we have never not allowed our kids to participate,” Bowman added.

Board president Brian Lehne said the district was not following the policy as it is currently written. “I would hate to restrict kids from being well-rounded,” he said.

Cornett worried a change in the policy would result in more absences, but trustee Lance Love said it would not as no budget increases for sports had been approved.

Carolyn Austin, a policy consultant with the Texas Association of School Boards, said the UIL allows districts to set their own policy, but if districts are routinely in violation of it, the UIL can clamp down on that district.

“The UIL allows districts to give a ‘livable’ limit and still require justification,” she said.

Trustee Kerrine Herber said she had conflicted feelings, as trustees ask teachers to be in class, but allow students more absences.

“I was on the fence about it, but in the end, it’s applied learning, and these kids are engaging through these activities,” Herber said. “They are taking those skills and putting them into practice.”

Instructor George Burns said absences apply to more than just athletes. He said his daughter is not in athletics, but between engineering, debate and band, she had missed 17 days.

Cornett said he thought the district was going down the wrong path.

“Just saying 30 absences period is one thing,” he said, “but allowing a 65 on Tier 1 classes I feel is watering down our Advanced Placement goals.”

Both Cornett and Bowman were sworn in for new terms after an unopposed election.

 

Other business

Assistant Supt. for Finance Deborah Ottmers said the legislature’s changes to state revenue funding are still unknown until the session ends.

She said it will be difficult to begin budget preparation without knowing how much in additional funding would be received by the district and if raises would be feasible.

The board also heard reports from Bobby Kincaid on contractor progress, and a School Health Advisory Council report from Patricia Rivera. Trustees also performed a review of the district’s current policy with the TASBY consultant.

 

Recognition

FISD trustees also congratulated Dani O’Neill for being named Elementary Teacher of the Month and Kim Zuberbueler for being Secondary Teacher of the Month. Chris Keese from the district’s maintenance department was also recognized as FISD Employee of the Month.

Brasher also recognized the “Superintendent Advisory Team,” made up of 11 students. Brasher said this group develops leadership skills and gives the superintendent a chance to hear from students first-hand and get insight into student body. The group met once per month with Brasher.

Receiving a Leadership Excellence coin were members Brittley Bowers, Faith Geistweidt, Claire Stehling, Riley McGuffey, Chad Braden, Kalyn Snedecor, Jacob Reynolds, Jaci Spies, Levi Wilkins, Ricky Alvarado and Jacob Jenschke.

Also, Patrick Padgett recognized his state FFA championship livestock team, made up of Caleb Behrends, Kayla Feller, Wyatt Geistweidt and Jacob Jenschke.

Dana Sultemeier, officer with the Fredericksburg ISD Education Foundation, reviewed the first three grants awarded to classroom instructors, and presented a check to trustees for $8,390 to cover the initial grants.

The foundation also received a $30,000 donation from the Sisterhood for Good. New classroom grants will be awarded in the fall and next spring.

 

Other action

Hires — FISD filled 16 positions and now has 14 positions open for the 2019-2020 school year.

Primary – Alicia Elrod, music teacher.

Elementary — Nathan Lorraine, grade 5 math-science; Kelsay Edwards, special education resource; Ashley Fitzsimmons, grade 4 teacher; Kimberly Van Epps, grade 5 teacher; Rosella Castilla, grade 2 bilingual teacher; Julia Tinoco, grade 2 bilingual teacher; Jessica Lutz, assistant principal and teaching coordinator; Carole Merrill, grade 5 ESL teacher.

Middle school — Ryan Williams, band teacher; Marti Spruiell, assistant principal and testing coordinator; Suzanne Christian, special education content mastery.

High school — Capt. George Fadok, NJROTC teacher; Bo Wilson, history teacher and boys’ coach; Emily Harper, teacher, culinary arts and hospitality; Jolynne Sultemeier, teacher, family and consumer sciences.

Special education — William Ritter Jr., diagnostics.