In a 5-2 split vote, the Garden City USD 457 Board of Education approved a proposal to establish district-sponsored and organized cheerleading programs at Kenneth Henderson and Horace Good middle schools, following a community-spurred discussion about what programs the district should consider a priority.

With the vote, the board approved allocating between $15,600 and $26,000 to pay the program’s four part-time coaches, and will determine the exact investment based on the experience of the coaches hired, said Roy Cessna, USD 457 public information coordinator. Board members Lara Bors, Jean Clifford, Tim Cruz, Mark Rude and Jennifer Standley voted in favor of the proposal, and Tim Hanigan and Dana Nanninga voted against it.

Both schools already have set money aside for uniforms, and there will be no travel costs as the teams will only cheer at home games.

The programs will replace the current middle school cheer partnership with the Garden City Recreation Commission, which costs students $80 for each of the year’s three cheer seasons. The approval of the new program, open to both boys and girls, means KHMS and HGMS will no longer be the only schools in the middle school Western Athletic Conference to not offer a cheerleading team.

Ahead of the discussion, two people, substitute teacher Dawn Fuchs and KHMS student Baylee Hutcheson, addressed the board during the public comment session, both speaking in favor of the proposal.

Fuchs said a school-organized program would eliminate cost and student eligibility issues persistent in the recreation commission’s partner program and potentially put them on the paths for college cheerleading scholarships. Hutcheson, who cheered at KHMS last year, echoed some of Fuchs’ other points, saying the program helped her build confidence and leadership skills and was an option for those not interested in other sports.

Community members also sent letters to board members, asking the board to instead consider funding and expanding the district’s robotics and Science Olympiad programs, which the letters said were currently funded only by grants, sponsorships, donations and concession stand sales, respectively. With district funds, coaches could be compensated, materials and equipment could be updated and the Olympiad program could be expanded to KHMS.

After the vote, USD 457 Superintendent Steve Karlin said while the robotics coaches currently do not receive stipends, the district was considering changing that. He said the program was a class at Garden City High School and that the district had offered the program, as well as seed money to purchase equipment, to all elementary schools, intermediate centers and middle schools. Nine had taken advantage, he said.

“My point is there is a process that is active and in place that is moving us in that direction. And so, the innuendo that that is something that is being ignored or not supported … certainly wouldn’t be my perception,” Karlin said.

On Monday, Hanigan, like other board members, referred to receiving feedback from the community that argued the district was not adequately investing in other programs, like robotics or orchestra, which he considered to be academic. He suggested getting a breakdown of the amount of money spent per student in different activities to help determine a minimum or maximum spending limit for those activities.

“Where’s the cutoff when the benefit of the total activity budget outweighs the benefits we’re getting from these activities? The default position is that all activities are good and help keep kids in school. But, I think we all agree there has to be an upper limit to what we spend,” Hanigan said.

Nanninga said she was not opposed to the cheer program, but thought the board should “start changing the culture of the district” so sports do not always take priority over other programs. Other middle schools in the state offer chess club, computer science, debate, creative writing, media club, yearbook, an online newspaper and recycling club, she said. If the district followed in their footsteps, she said, it could provide more diverse and potentially more academically-focused electives and extracurriculars that could appeal to different niches of students, including those that weren’t athletic.

Bors said she supported looking into options for more district support for the robotics program and Science Olympiad, since both have been established and grown over several years and garnered consistent student interest. Currently, she said, KHMS and HGMS are the only schools in their conference to not offer not only cheerleading, but also scholar’s bowl, and it would be “difficult for them to justify” supporting one without the other. To make that happen, she said, community members should continue communicating interest to Karlin, their principals and the board.

“There’s a process to go through, from what I understand, and we’re not just doing knee-jerk reactions to every single club or activity that comes up,” Bors said.

Board member Tim Cruz said he spoke to cheer parents about the program’s benefits, but mostly wanted the board to focus on supporting existing and future programs at the school. He said the board needed to ask teachers what programs they would like to see in their schools.

“We’ll try to find funding for it,” Cruz said. “At the middle school, at the high school, at the alternative high school, what can we do to make your kids want to come to school even more?”

All board members were present, with Nanninga sitting in via a conference call. She had to disconnect after the vote on the middle school cheerleading but reconnected for a closed session.

In other business:

• The board approved five changes for the 2019-20 calendar creation process. The district's calendar committee must maintain the current 174.5 contact days for students, include a collaboration component in the calendar, consider the addition of breaks that may include more federal holidays, include two back-to-back days of teacher in-service in September for AVID training for secondary schools and present the calendar to the board no later than March 4. The approved changes follow the board’s conversation from its previous meeting about potentially adding more breaks during the school year, particularly on federal holidays like Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and potentially moving the last day of school after Memorial Day in coming years to reduce the achievement dip students see during long summer breaks.

• The board discussed potential plans to take AVID programs at KHMS, HGMS and GCHS schoolwide, which likely would include a Garden City AVID teacher training next fall. Schoolwide programs must have 60 percent of teachers trained.

• Tracy Johnson, director of nutrition services, presented a Nutrition Services report breaking down percentages of students who receive free or reduced meals and results from a GCHS survey that asked students why they were not eating school lunches. Johnson said all schools had seen increased breakfast participation since the district began offering more choices and times, and that her office was working with principals, counselors, nurses and teachers to make sure all students would have the opportunity to receive school meals. She told the board that this year, all students at KHMS, HGMS and GCHS under 18 are eligible for a free after-school, on-campus meal, which will help feed students who have to stay after school for extracurricular activities.

 

Contact Amber Friend at afriend@gctelegram.com.