Skip to main content
A1 A1

Vincennes University’s Kris King pulls up for a jumper against John A. Logan’s James Dent and K.J. Debrick (32) on Friday in the championship game of the Region 24 tournament at Rend Lake.

South Knox still reeling from buyout
  • Updated

Members of the South Knox School Corp. Board of Trustees met for the third time in as many weeks Monday night, this time paving the way for the hiring of a new superintendent.

Many of those in attendance, however, continued to grieve the old one, demanding answers that, at least for now, school board members aren’t ready to publicly give.

After going against multiple, impassioned pleas from South Knox teachers, parents and community members to retain current superintendent Tim Grove, board members voted earlier this month to “separate” in their contract with the 11-year superintendent, buying out its final year.

As part of that deal, Grove will stay on through August.

School board members held a special meeting Monday to have their first discussions with Kent DeKonick, a former school superintendent himself who now does consulting work via the Indiana School Boards Association.

The board has retained DeKonick for $3,500 to help them through the process of finding someone to replace Grove, so during a meeting held inside the activities room at South Knox Elementary School — DeKonick and board member Alicia “Bunny” Houchins appearing via Zoom — they agreed on a timeline for an application and interview process, even laying out some of the questions that will appear on the initial questionnaire.

The board hopes to officially open the application process early next week, with the first round of interviews set for the second week of May.

If all goes to plan, DeKonick said they could have a candidate selected and announced by mid-June.

But when DeKonick asked about the level of community involvement the board desired in choosing a new superintendent — offering to host everything from a community-wide written survey to even a public input session — the question drew chuckles and head-shaking from a large, rather frustrated crowd gathered inside the gallery.

They haven’t felt heard throughout this process, many members said, and once again, board members kept mostly quiet, unwilling to shed any light on why they opted to buy out Grove’s contract.

Several stood to ask questions, like where the estimated $200,000 it will cost to buy out Grove’s contract will come from, as well as the reasons they opted to part ways at all.

But most board members, once gain, sat silent and stoic.

“How is this being justified?” one woman asked. “The buyout itself says this is ‘in the best interest of the school corporation’ but how is that?

“How is (spending $200,000) in the best interest of the school corporation, our teachers, the students? Where is this money going to come from?”

While most board members have remained silent, many community members who attended the very tumultuous meeting early this month repeatedly referenced possible unrest over the performance of the boys varsity basketball coach, specifically during an incident on the court during a game in January.

Many clearly believe the riff between the superintendent and the board began when Grove opted to penalize the coach, suspending him for two games.

The board, however, overrode the administration’s decision, allowing him to coach.

During that hour-long meeting, teachers and taxpayers living in South Knox pleaded with the board to reconsider, one teacher even likening them to “school yard bullies,” others expressing concern for what the ongoing discord would do to the morale of teachers and staff, and several accusing the board of placing athletics over academics.

Houchins has remained steadfast in her loyalty to Grove, voting against the measure to buyout his contract and condemning her fellow board members for their silence on the matter.

Board member Jesse Watjen, too, offered a response during that meeting, briefly saying he thought social media had fueled “rumors” about the board’s decision, and that he would never let “sports drive me in any decision I make.”

The others, however, remained silent.

Collectively, the board issued a written statement immediately following that meeting, one saying that members and Grove had “successfully agreed” to the buyout together.

But South Knox parent Larcy Emert expressed concern that all the repeated silence and public unrest will make it difficult to entice a worthwhile candidate, likening the situation to a “mess.”

She expressed a willingness to trust the board yet again, a willingness to give thoughtful consideration to any reason given for parting with Grove, but so far, none have been offered.

“If this isn’t about basketball,” she told the board, “just tell us. We don’t know because you haven’t addressed it.

“It’s all such a mess right now — a mess that hasn’t been cleaned up and one that will follow us,” she said. “What if we don’t attract a good candidate, one that represents our values? If we want an excellent school corporation, we need an excellent superintendent.

“And now I’m worried that isn’t going to happen.”

To that, school board president Eric Carter said that’s why they’ve looked to the Indiana School Boards Association for guidance and help.

“There are several (educators) wanting to get into administration, and they have a lot longer reach than we have on our own,” he told the crowd.

“It’s our hope that (DeKonick) can help us find the best person for all of us.”

Even still, many of those in attendance couldn’t be appeased.

South Knox parent Patrick Cork again demanded to know where the $200,000 would come from, expressing concerns about a potential lack of raises for teachers and support staff in the future, even a possible reduction in force, although board members have never mentioned any of that.

“Where is this money going to come from? Are you going to start a Go Fund Me?” he asked to which the group chuckled. “Or are you each going to give $50,000 to the corporation and resign?”

Teacher Milaina Goodman said these last couple of weeks — with all the unrest brought about by the public discord — have been hard for teachers, but the children themselves are beginning to have questions, too.

And she doesn’t have answers, she told the board.

“I have kids coming up to me daily asking, ‘Can you tell me what’s happening in our schools?’ ” her voice breaking with emotion. “I have 8-year-olds asking me, ‘What’s going to happen to our school?’ And I don’t have answers.

“They’re upset, and as a teacher it’s my job to calm their nerves, address their concerns, and I can’t.”

Emert again urged the school board to begin offering answers, pleading for transparency, sooner rather than later.

“Because if you don’t, this problem will only grow bigger and bigger,” she said, “and it will follow us into a new school year.”

Members of Lincoln High School’s Winter Guard, from front to back, Allison Boldger, Kaitlyn Weiler, and Mera Chaffins perform Saturday at Franklin Central High School in Indianapolis as part of the Indiana High School Color Guard Association semi-state competition. Winter Guard did not advance to the state finals with their show, “Dreams,” officially ending their season for the year. “They had a very great year, and we are proud of them,” said band director Bill Marsh.

Sun sets on Winter Guard season

VCSC nears end of WLA renovation
  • Updated

Officials with the Vincennes Community School Corp. have their hands full with a pair of improvement projects.

Members of the board of trustees on Monday during their regular monthly meeting gave superintendent Greg Parsley permission to award a handful of bids associated with the purchase of some furnishings for inside the newly-renovated Washington Learning Academy, located at what was once the Washington Elementary School, 2134 Washington Ave.

The purchase of the furnishings — everything from chairs to desks — is among the final pieces of the $4 million project to transform the building into something suitable for a “21st century” alternative school, Parsley said.

But for now, they’re actually hitting pause on the project.

The school corporation also recently awarded an $800,000 for the reconstruction of both the baseball and softball press boxes at Hill Field, in addition to some new fencing — and that project, Parsley said, now needs to take priority.

“So we’re just going to slow the progress down on WLA right now; they have until the end of June to wrap that up anyway,” Parsley said. “And that will allow crews with Wolfe to move over to that Four Lakes/Hill Field area.”

Crews were expected to get started over there on Monday, Parsley said; the baseball and softball seasons at Lincoln High School are expected to get underway during the first week of April.

In the meantime, Parsley said the project at the Washington Learning Academy is down to its final details anyway.

He said officials opened bids on the furniture packages earlier this month alongside architects with Myszak and Partners, Vincennes.

In total, six companies submitted bids. All of them, because each had a low bid on some of the pieces needed and because delivery times tend to vary widely, likely all of the vendors will be awarded at least one contract.

The companies included Lee Company, Corporate Design, Hudson Office Solutions, Business Environments, Sharp School Services and ESP Business Furnishings.

Monies for the furniture will come from a combination of the VCSC’s Rainy Day Fund as well as left-over monies from the ESSER funds used to pay for the overall project, Parsley said.

Parsley also said this project — which has largely mirrored a major $40 million effort two years ago to overhaul the school corporation’s four neighborhood elementary schools — remains on budget and on time.

“We’re doing largely the same that we did with Riley Elementary School,” Parsley explained of the WLA project. “We did not change the footprint of the building; we’re simply bringing the interior up to a 21st century standard.

“It has new windows, secure entrances, office areas, the floors will be redone, fresh paint and new mechanical systems,” he went on. “And because the building does need to be ADA compliant, we added a lift, too.”

The VCSC plans to welcome back students to the WLA in August, at the beginning of the 2023/24 school year.

The VCSC embarked upon the renovations just last year.

Formerly an elementary school, it was sold in 2012 amid a $300 million statewide funding cut to public schools. Bought by the First Christian Church, it operated for awhile as a community center and pre-school.

But the VCSC bought it back in 2019 for use as a central location for its alternative school programs, from elementary school all the way up to Lincoln High School.

Currently, alternative school students have been displaced to various other buildings. The high school students are at the high school, middle school at Clark Middle School, and each with their own entrance to create privacy.

All of the elementary school alternative school students are being housed at Tecumseh-Harrison, Parsley said.

Purchasing the building back and making it a central hub for alternative education, Parsley said, was the logical next step in making alternative education a priority for the school corporation.

Making the space more suitable for those students’ needs, he said, is the next.

“We are a strong believer in all forms of education, certainly alternative education,” he said, adding that since its inception, it’s resulted in nearly 40 students earning a diploma that otherwise may not have. “We’re giving those students an additional lifeline when the traditional classroom simply doesn’t meet their needs.

“We have to meet students on the path where they’re at, and I think alternative school has allowed us to do a pretty good job at that.”

In other business this week, the board recognized local attorney Anastasia M. Weidner with its 2023 Ruth and Mickey Kimberly “Good Idea” Award.

Weidner has volunteered to “provide the legal work to those that cannot afford a lawyer to obtain guardianship over their child with a disability,” according to a release issued by the school corporation.

The award was created years ago in memory of former VCSC special needs student Mickey Kimberly, and is awarded in March as part of Disability Awareness Month.

Board members also recognized their Employees of the Month for the month of March.

The first was Jason Neeley, a fifth-grade math teacher at Vigo Elementary School. Prior to that, he worked as a special education teacher.

He has also coached basketball and football at Clark Middle School along with boys’ and girls’ basketball at Vigo.

He is currently a CMS softball assistant coach, and he continues to coach the Vigo Math Bowl team and oversees the fourth- and fifth-grade Math Pentathlon Program. He is also part of the after-school tutoring program.

Megan Blue, the secretary at Riley Elementary School, was also recognized as an Employee of the Month. This is her seventh year in this position.

“Megan is always pleasant and polite. She is the first face and voice someone encounters when they call or come into the school or the main office,” the release states. “She never makes them feel they are bothering her. Instead, she gives them the attention they deserve and shows them she is there to help.

“Megan is a multitasker and keeps things organized. She takes initiative and many times has things done before being asked to do them. Megan supports the entire school family, and we appreciate everything she does.”

The Employee of the Month at Franklin Elementary School was Andrea Turner, a third-grade teacher currently in her 16th year with the VCSC.

“Turner has been a leader in improving math instruction and helping students make incredible gains. She is caring and goes beyond to help students,” the release states.

And at Tecumseh-Harrison Elementary School, Michelle Burcham, who serves in the Title I lab, was recognized as Employee of the Month.

“She can always be found with infectious smile on her face. Her connections with staff and students are amazing and she reminds me daily she loves her job. Michelle does not have much down time but when she does, she always goes to teachers to offer her assistance,” the release states.

Council approves ARPA reallocation
  • Updated

City council members on Monday passed the third and final reading of an ordinance that will re-appropriate the city’s remaining American Rescue Plan Act funds.

At the council’s meeting on Feb. 27, Mayor Joe Yochum explained the measure doesn’t change the plan for how remaining funds will be used, but rather completes a required step allowing the funds to be dispersed for upcoming projects.

Of the nearly $4 million the city received in ARPA funds, $1.5 million will go towards the cost of a fifth water tower and other drinking water updates; another $1 million will be used by the city’s Redevelopment Commission to spur housing developments; and another $1.15 million will go to projects overseen by the new Hoosier Enduring Legacy Program (HELP).

Before passing the first reading of the ordinance in late February, council members asked for a little more information about how HELP will spend those dollars.

Jamie Dugan, the local community coordinator for the HELP initiative, explained to council members last month that her team was in the process of reviewing a finalized list of projects — ones that would require $6.7 million to complete.

All of those projects, she said, have been vetted by the Office of Community and Rural Affairs (OCRA), with each one qualifying as an eligible expense.

“With $1.15 million (of the city’s ARPA funds), we obviously can’t pay for all of them, but we can look for alternative funding sources,” Dugan had told council.

She explained to city officials that her team was finalizing the list of priority projects that will be targeted with the program’s one-time historic funding, noting she would provide a list to them soon after a March 1 meeting with OCRA officials.

During Monday’s meeting, council president Tim Salters hoped for another update, asking if it would be possible for Dugan to regularly attend council meetings to keep them abreast of the program’s progress and next steps.

“Jamie came and gave a good presentation last time. Do you think we could have her come more often?” he said, looking to Yochum, who works directly with Dugan.

Yochum, who indicated he would invite Dugan to return before the council, said he’s hopeful to “have the strategic investment plan soon.”

Vincennes is one of a select group of Indiana cities or counties to be designated as a 2022 HELP community, with Dugan hired in June to build community engagement to determine what residents’ interests are in terms of applying for additional monies to improve quality of life as a result of the pandemic.

In addition to funding HELP, the water tower project, and housing developments, city council approved the remaining $171,386.51 of ARPA funding go toward preparations for next year’s solar eclipse.

Vincennes will be in the path of totality for the April 8, 2024 eclipse, making the city a likely destination for thousands of tourists from across the United States, flocking to watch the Moon pass between the Sun and the Earth, completely blocking out the light. The natural phenomenon of a total solar eclipse occurs in the same geographical location only about once every 400 years.

While few details have been released, city and county elected officials are working alongside the Vincennes Knox County Visitors and Tourism Bureau and Knox County Chamber of Commerce in preparing for the event.

The ordinance reallocating the ARPA funds passed by a vote of 5-0, with councilmen Brian Grove and Marc McNeece absent from Monday’s meeting.

In other news, city council approved the third and final reading of an ordinance that amends the Knox County Zoning ordinance, changing two plots of land near 1401 Hart St. from Single Family Residence (R-1) to Central Business District (C-2).

Attorney Katie Kotter, of HartBell LLC, went before the Area Plan Commission last week, where the request was unanimously approved, before seeking approval of the city council on behalf of petitioner Gary Memering, resident of Memering Motorplex.

Memering reportedly already owns all other lots on the block, all of which are currently zoned C-2.