Superintendent’s contract extended to 2026
The graduation rate of USD 413 students dipped by 13 percent for 2020-21 graduates compared to the previous school year.
Falling from 94.7 to 81.6 percent, the figure also puts it 6.5 percent below the statewide average. Superintendent Kellen Adams said the primary culprit for the number is the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We believe that COVID-19 definitely had an impact on schools. I guess, if anything, it exposed that school is important, because of what you’ve seen in the way of achievement across the board,” he said. “Whether that be test scores, graduation rates or attendance rates – all of those have had an impact.”
Adams drove the point home, noting that two months of traditional classroom instruction was wiped out during the 2019-20 school year, “followed by uncertainty in the following school year.”
“So you might be quarantined twice. Your teacher might be quarantined twice,” he said. “There were several days missed by students, and some missed more than others last year.”
The sapped instruction time greatly affected overall outcomes, including the district’s graduation rate, Adams said.
“You have 187 days in a school year. Some kids might have missed every bit of 20 percent of that last year,” he said. “That’s a big deal.”
An unknown number of former district students also elected to call it quits during the pandemic.
“We believe that there are some kids that unfortunately just said, ‘I’m not coming back to school,’ and that had an impact on our graduation rate,” Adams said.
Adams also attributed the district’s below-average graduation rate to a fluky, unfair system.
“With the way that our state’s system is set up, we have some exceptions that we believe in our heart are not considered to be true non-graduates, but the state determines they are,” Adams said.
Adams cited a former CHS student who he called an “extremely high achiever” with a dazzling ACT score.
“He completed all of his graduation requirements by the end of his junior year,” Adams explained. “So we believed it was time for him to move on — there is no need for him to have to stay around for his senior year.”
As a result of that decision, Adams said the student was deemed by the state to be a non-graduate.
“That to us is a failure within the system, not a failure of the kid,” he said. “If kids are deciding they aren’t going back and dropping out, those are legitimate. But there are some that we think aren’t legitimate. The system needs to be changed.”
While Adams justifiably believes that example to be unfair, he did note that the case was an outlier for the district.
“We don’t want to overshadow that there are definitely legitimate non-graduates. We’re not trying to say we don’t have work to do, because we do,” Adams said. “But that example kind of highlights one that’s being counted against us that we don’t think should be.”
Adams is bracing for the possibility that his detractors will hold his feet to the fire over the newly-released data.
“I am certain that there will be people that are unsatisfied with this drop,” he said. “Whether or not it’s used against me, I guess we’ll wait and see on that.”
Adams reiterated that the district is taking the matter seriously.
“We are concerned, just to be clear. We’re not trying to brush it off,” he said.
He discussed plans to rectify the situation. Although he mentioned the COVID-19 pandemic as a driving force behind the dropout rates, he said the district is also looking at other potential root causes.
“What is causing kids to leave early? What is our current practice, and does that need to be amended?” Adams said.
The Chanute Extension Academy may give the district a leg-up in remedying the issue. CEA offers qualifying students an alternative curriculum to aid with their path to graduation.
“One of the best things we did was add the CEA, because we know that not all students thrive in a traditional (classroom) environment,” he said. “CEA is certainly a non-traditional environment.”
District officials may need to think outside of the box, according to Adams.
“Like CEA, that can help some of these other students,” he said.
Due to staffing cuts, the district did not replace outgoing administrator Tracy Russell earlier this year. Russell was formerly the assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. Those duties have now fallen to Assistant Superintendent Matt Koester.
“Matt is handling all aspects of teaching and learning,” Adams said. “It’s going to become a constant focus for us, especially as we meet with our principal teams and so forth.”
The dropout rate increased only slightly from 0.8 percent in 2020 to 1.5 percent in 2021.
“We’re very proud of this one,” Adams said. “Both of those numbers are below the state average.”
During Monday evening’s contentious Board of Education meeting, Adams’ contract was extended by an additional year. The rolling three-year contract now takes Adams to 2026. The board unanimously approved the extension, 7-0.
Adams called the board’s review of his extension routine in nature, typically taking place this time of year.
“Despite what local hot-button issues might be going on, we continue to stay on our path of annual things,” he said, referencing the transgender restroom controversy. “Our board has made it clear that it’s not going to be distracted from the normal routine of work that needs to be done.”
Adams, who earns $143,222 annually, added that he was pleased by the board’s show of confidence in him.
RMS parking space
USD 413 has addressed a long-discussed issue, with plans to add additional parking space near Royster Middle School.
On Monday, the district closed on the purchase of a house at 506 W. Main St., located just to the west of RMS. The total expenditure was $105,748. Adams said that the district plans to demolish the house for added parking space.
“We have had, for a number of years, an issue with parking at Royster. Not just related to events, but events kind of highlight it,” Adams said. “On a normal daily basis, we’ve got teachers and parents that park in the adjacent business owners’ lots.”
Adams said that for entities the size of USD 413, an unwritten rule is to snap up adjacent properties whenever possible, as was the case with CEA, located just to the east of RMS.
“Any time an adjacent piece of property becomes available, you always take a serious look at it,” he said. “I would venture to guess that the college and hospital have the same kind of unwritten rule.”
Utilizing an escrow account, the deal was brokered through Chanute-based Kansas Secured Title, Inc. The seller of the property was listed as Lois Elaine Lauthern (Brill).
“The adjacent home became available, we evaluated the price, and obviously we knew we had that need for parking. So we’re resolving that longstanding issue with that,” Adams said.
The following changes in personnel were approved after closed executive session during Monday’s meeting:
Resignations: Michelle Finley, food service; Heather O’Connor, CHS assistant girls wrestling coach; Akul Patel, technology director; Desiree Stich, teacher aide.
Terminations: Jerry Dodson, transportation; Cammie Helton, technology secretary.
Retirements: Teri Eastman, teacher aide; Dallas Masoner, RMS teacher and RMS head boys track coach; Janis Ward, teacher aide.
Employments: Tracie Allen, food service; Justin Bancroft, RMS assistant wrestling coach; Jacob Durossette, CHS assistant girls wrestling coach;
Angie Page, food service; Oral Ramsey, transportation;
Edin VanAnne, CHS assistant track and field coach; Melissa Wikel, food service.