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M-G hires principals, extends superintendent contract

The Madison-Grant school board approved the hirings of two new building principals and renewed the contracts of several other administrators at its meeting Monday.

The district had two openings after current junior/senior high Principal Bengamin Mann was approved to the new district CFO position effective July 1 and Park Elementary School Principal Melissa DeWitt resigned to take a position as Head of School for ACCEL’s Virtual Preparatory Academy of Indiana at Madison-Grant.

At the recommendation of Superintendent Scott Deetz, the board approved Scott Ritchie to serve as the new junior/senior high principal and Andrew Brown as the new Park principal.

“I’m very excited to be able to recommend to the board two fine upstanding and excellent educators,” Deetz said. “Our teachers at both buildings have been heavily involved throughout the process reviewing many, many applications and working with the administration through the interview process, and that interview process has brought forth two outstanding candidates.”

Deetz said Ritchie has more than 10 years of junior/senior high school principal experience, currently serving in that capacity at West Central Middle-High School in Francesville.

“In his time as an educator, he’s built a nationally recognized robotics team, overhauled a low-performing high school into a four-star school and changed the community’s idea about college attainability,” Deetz said.

Ritchie said Madison-Grant was on the way home from his current job and he would sometimes think it would be nice to work in the district. He said he is excited to have the opportunity to lead the junior/senior high.

“So I was looking over here on the way and just thought, man it’d be nice,” Ritchie said. “And boom, it’s just sort of surreal how it happened and got going. So I’m really excited to get going and start helping go where you guys want to go.”

Brown comes to M-G from the College Corner Union Elementary School in College Corner, Ohio and Liberty, Indiana, Deetz said.

“He has been instrumental in implementing their multi-tiered systems of support to reach all learners,” Deetz said.

Brown said returning to M-G is coming full circle for him, as he previously served as a coach in the district, and he is looking forward to getting going in the new position.

Following review and a public hearing held May 17, the board approved a new contract for Deetz to continue as district superintendent from July 1, 2021 to June 30, 2024. According to the contract, Deetz will earn a base salary of $110,000 annually.

The board also renewed the contracts of Summitville Elementary School Principal Jackie Samuels, junior/senior high Assistant Principal Mike Schuck and Athletic Director Ryan Plovick.

In other business, Deetz informed the board the district’s reentry plan for the ‘21-’22 school year is now available on the district website for public comment. He noted more firm details will come later in the summer, but the district posted its current plan to be in compliance with requirements for receiving the next round of federal COVID relief money through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief program.

Deetz said as it has been from the start of the pandemic, the district will follow state and local health department guidelines funneled from CDC recommendations.

“So if the CDC and the governor say no masks, we have the flexibility to run with that,” he said. “So quite honestly not a lot has changed in our plans because our plan has always had that language from the flow of the officials who are dictating those guidelines to us.”

MPL celebrates underrepresented stories through exhibit, guest speaker

Everyone has a story to tell. On Tuesday, Marion Public Library (MPL) welcomed Marion resident and published author Tashema Davis to tell hers.

During the past month, MPL celebrated authors and storytellers who have been underrepresented in the culture in a program called “Telling A People’s Story.”

The program came with a display during the month of May. Davis was originally scheduled to speak during last month, but due to scheduling conflicts had her day postponed.

Davis spoke to those who gathered in meeting room B downstairs at MPL about the importance of representation, and shared personal stories she had seen and lived through.

“I think it’s important to realize some stories are never told,” said Davis. “Before this time in 2021, you may not have realized when you go into the bookstore there are very few books that look like me, and there are very few books that look like my girls.”

In addition to being an art teacher at Marion High School, a muralist, owner of Echo Gallery and a full-time mother, Davis has also published several books. The inspiration for those books comes from her life. Most importantly, they come from her daughters.

Davis emphasized the effects of seeing equal representation starts at a young age. She supported this with a personal story about her daughter.

“She came home one day and told me that she wanted blue eyes, and then another day she told me she wanted long yellow hair, and as an African-American woman that just crushed me,” said Davis. “... My kid wanted to be something other than what she was. How can I help her to see that those things are beautiful, but she’s also beautiful the way she is?”

That led to Davis creating “Brown Beauty,” a book to show her daughter how important and beautiful she is.

“When you are constantly bombarded with images that do not look like you, but these images are said this is what beauty looks like and this is what you should look like,” said Davis, “whether you are very strong and very secure, it still affects you.”

For MPL, being able to celebrate the history and heritage of underrepresented storytellers was a priority, and was made possible through the display and guest speakers like Davis.

MPL Head of Youth Services Tylanna Jones said that it was important for the library to be able to provide books that showcase other cultures.

“It’s so important to offer a variety of books that share the cultural, historical and social makeup of African-American cultural identity,” Jones said through email. “We strive to keep a diverse collection.”

Jones said that the books and stories are important to help introduce those who are unfamiliar to the African-American experience.

Madison-Grant considers athletic eligibility changes

The Madison-Grant United School Corporation board discussed possible changes to its extracurricular eligibility policy at Monday’s regular meeting.

Athletic Director Ryan Plovick said the current policy, adopted in 2004, lists several avenues where a student could be deemed academically ineligible for extracurriculars, including a minimum GPA, receiving two F’s in a grading period or earning consecutive F’s in a class.

Plovick proposed the district adopt the IHSAA’s template for academic eligibility, stating a student must earn a passing grade in 70 percent of their classes to be eligible. At the junior/senior high level, this would equate to a student passing five classes, Plovick said.

There are several reasons the district is looking to change the policy, Plovick said, including the introduction of elementary athletics and fact that elementary report cards are different compared to higher levels but would be treated as the same with the current policy. Plovick said the way the policy is currently worded also leaves room for interpretation, so there have been numerous “gray areas” and debates over the years.

While the ultimate goal is to hold students accountable and encourage improvement in their academics, Plovick said he also believes the current policy is a bit “restrictive” on students who may actually do better in the classroom when also engaged in athletics after school.

Plovick said more than 90 percent of all Indiana districts use the IHSAA language for eligibility, and to his knowledge Elwood is the only other area school that does not currently use the template policy.

“We’ve had all kinds of different scenarios through the years and there’s always – I don’t like gray areas when it comes to a policy like this,” he said. “It’s too important, too much at stake for our kids, and a cut and dry with the IHSAA, which is what our competitors are currently playing by, I want us to be on the same standards as well.”

During their respective seasons, Plovick said that each coach receives a weekly grade check stating which students on their teams are struggling, earning D’s or F’s in classes. He said coaches work with teachers, counselors and other school staff to try to bring the grades up while also encouraging students to advocate for themselves and work issues out with teachers.

Plovick noted oftentimes students will say grades are lower because a teacher hasn’t inputted grades recently, but the Powerschool software allows coaches to see if that is truly the case, which it usually isn’t. He said when he talked with coaches about the change they were in favor of it, noting they wanted to keep kids academically accountable while also being fair to students.

The board asked how students attending the new virtual academy would be affected by the policy. Plovick said just like homeschool students, virtual students will be required to attend at least one class on M-G’s campus to be eligible for athletics while also being held to the same academic standards.

Superintendent Scott Deetz noted only homeschool and virtual students within Madison-Grant’s physical boundaries are permitted to participate in extracurriculars through the district. He said the board is encouraged to consider the change with the expectation of a vote at a later meeting.

COVID-19 vaccine information

County upgraded to yellow zone

According to the Indiana Department of Health (IDOH) dashboard, Grant County has again been upgraded to the yellow advisory level based on COVID-19 metrics. The county had just been downgraded to blue, the lowest level, last week, and officials have said recent case counts and positivity rates have suggested a fluctuation right on the border between the blue and yellow zones.

IDOH Wednesday reported 308 new COVID-19 cases statewide. That brings to 747,799 the number of Indiana residents now known to have had the novel coronavirus following corrections to the previous day’s dashboard.

A total of 13,289 Hoosiers are confirmed to have died from COVID-19, an increase of 12 from the previous day. Another 419 probable deaths have been reported based on clinical diagnoses in patients for whom no positive test is on record. Deaths are reported based on when data are received by the state and occurred over multiple days.

To date, a total of 10,588,907 tests, including repeat tests for unique individuals, have been reported to IDOH since Feb. 26, 2020.

COVID-19 vaccine information

COVID-19 vaccines are now available to Hoosiers 12 and older. To schedule at a facility within the state system, visit ourshot.in.gov or call 211. Vaccines are free, but insurance may be charged an administrative fee. Appointments for the second dose will be made when the first dose is administered if receiving a Moderna or Pfizer vaccine that requires two doses.

The Grant County Health Department and Marion General Hospital (MGH) are operating vaccine clinics locally within the state system. Appointments can still be scheduled, but walk-ins are also now accepted at this time within the state system clinics.

Children ages 12-17 are only permitted to receive the Pfizer vaccine, which is offered locally at MGH.

The Marion Walmart and Meijer locations, Walgreens locations at 1323 N Baldwin Ave. and 2620 S. Western Ave. in Marion and CVS at 4630 S. Washington St. in Marion are also offering COVID-19 vaccinations at their in-store pharmacies as part of the Federal Retail Pharmacy Program (FRPP). Eligible customers can schedule a vaccine appointment via the stores’ respective websites.

Visit uplandfamily pharmacy.com or call 765-998-8072 for information on Upland Family Pharmacy’s vaccine clinic that offers the Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

All veterans can now receive a COVID-19 vaccine from VA Northern Indiana Health Care System (VANIHCS) regardless of their enrollment status or character of discharge. Caregivers, Spouses, CHAMPVA Recipients and Veterans who are not enrolled in VANIHCS, please call (800) 360-8387 ext. 71101 to preregister. Phone lines are open 8 a.m. 4 p.m., Monday-Friday.

If you have recently received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, flu-like systems within the first few days of vaccination are part of the body’s normal immune response to the vaccine. Those symptoms include pain, redness and swelling in the arm where you got the vaccine, as well as tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, fever and nausea.

Anyone who develops a severe headache, abdominal pain, leg pain, shortness of breath or leg swelling within three weeks after receiving the Johnson & Johnson vaccine should contact a health care provider and inform the provider of the symptoms and recent COVID-19 vaccination.

According to the IDOH COVID-19 vaccine dashboard, 20,341 Grant County residents have received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, while 19,571 are fully vaccinated through receiving both doses of a Pfizer or Moderna vaccine or the single dose required for the J&J vaccine. Statewide, IDOH reports 2,705,820 Hoosiers have received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine requiring two doses, and 2,623,766 Indiana residents are fully vaccinated by receiving two doses or the one-dose J&J vaccine.

CSO advisory

Marion Utilities announced a combined sewer overflow (CSO) advisory for June 9.

When it rains, older sewer systems throughout the city can overflow, sending untreated rainwater mixed with sewage into the Mississinewa River and Boots Creek. In the event of rain, please avoid contact with water downstream of combined sewer overflows for the next three days. Signs are posted along the waterways to identify where contact with the water could be hazardous to your health. For more information, please visit marionutilities.com.