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So what’s new at YSHS, Gudge?

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New YSHS/McKinney art teacher Elisabeth Ventling Simon has readied her classroom for the new school year.

If you follow, at Yellow Springs High School/McKinney School, the glistening, new, Bulldog-blue floor as it circles the gym and flows like a river past the art room, the weight room and a host of other venues on the first floor and peek into the rooms, you are likely to find, in a scene reminiscent of Ray Bradberry’s Farenheit 457, people reading everywhere. In the art room, you will find new art teacher Elisabeth Ventling Simon. In the fitness room, you will find new equipment. In the administrative office you will find a new resolve to help at-risk kids. These are a few of the things returning high school and middle school students will find in the new school year, according to Principal John Gudgel in a recent interview. Students returned to school on Wednesday, Aug. 27.

Over the summer, much of the hallway flooring was replaced. The old floor, which, according to Gudgel, was only about five years old, had become the victim of a combination of the weather and poor installation. A canopy has been installed to keep the rain from beating on a door where it had been leaking through and under the floor and the new floor was allowed a week to cure before receiving two coats of wax.

“The custodial staff has been working hard to get the school ready,” Gudgel said.

The new equipment in the fitness room, an elliptical bike and a multi-press weight machine, were donated by The Antioch Company. On a recent visit, the room was full of athletes readying themselves for the fall sports season.

Last year, the schools had initiated a reading literacy program. While the new project went forward at Mills Lawn, it got derailed at YSHS/McKinney by the very ambitious Water Immersion program, which taxed students and teachers almost to their limits in terms of time and effort. With a busy play schedule, community service, senior projects and a variety of extra curricular activities, it soon became apparent that the school had taken on too much last year, Gudgel said, so reading literacy is being revived this fall.

High school English teacher Elizabeth Lutz-Hackett originally proposed the reading literacy initiative when she became aware of a nationwide decline in students’ reading ability. Students who do not fully comprehend what they are reading are set up for failure, she said last year. She doesn’t want anyone to fall behind because of difficulty reading, not only in English, but in all courses.

“Reading phobia masks the students’ ability to read and comprehend,” Gudgel said. “Standardized tests are all essentially a test of a student’s reading comprehension.”

Implementation of the reading literacy initiative will involve a team of teachers from all disciplines who will attend monthly workshops at the Greene County Educational Center and then incorporate the new strategies into their own courses. Small libraries will be set up in the classrooms to make books available to students who do not have their own, and time will be set aside for reading, not only for the students, but for the teachers and staff as well.

On Fridays, students will use English class time to read for fun and will be required to read two independent books per quarter, writing book reviews for posting on the Internet. They will also be encouraged to participate in the book club at the library.

A Drop Everything and Read (DEAR) program is planned, during which 20 minutes of a period on a rotating schedule will be set aside weekly for students, teachers and staff to read silently. According to Gudgel, he will join in the reading as well. He will also develop a library for his office, so that students who are sent there for disciplinary reasons will have something to read while they are waiting to go back to class.

As the school year drew to a close last spring, Gudgel told the school board at one of its meetings that he was becoming increasingly concerned about the “kids who drop through the cracks.”

“This year we will have a new focus on the academically at-risk kids,” he said recently.

To that end, he has asked Assistant Principal Vickie Hitchcock to start planning strategies for identifying early on those students who are at risk of not graduating, and for giving them the help that they need.

Gudgel is currently interviewing for a new play director, to replace former art teacher Andrea Auten, who also held that position. No current faculty member is interested, according to Gudgel, who said the job has been posted.

With the retirement of long-time math teacher Chris Rainey, there has been a shifting of math teachers. Former McKinney math teacher McKenzie Reynolds is taking Rainey’s position, teaching algebra and advanced math. Jack Hatert has moved up from Mills Lawn to teach seventh and eighth-grade math.

New art teacher

Elisabeth Ventling Simon comes to the art room at YSHS/McKinney by way of Lebanon and Xenia, with a short stop in St. Louis. If her name has a familiar ring to it, it’s because her father, Jim Ventling, has taught at the high school for 30-plus years, and currently teaches computers.

She is excited to teach in a community that supports the arts, Simon said in a recent interview.

She grew up in Xenia and lives there now, and started drawing at an early age, always taking art courses while attending the Xenia Community Schools, Simon said. After graduation from Xenia High School, she went on to Webster University in St. Louis where she earned a bachelors, and she took her masters and teaching certificate at Wright State. In Lebanon, she taught art in the junior high in a large school system that offered a strong and growing art program.

She is married with a 1-year-old son. Her husband, John, works for Reynolds & Reynolds in Kettering as a quality analyst, and he also plays and teaches guitar.

Her position is part-time, teaching periods 2–6, which comes to about five hours per day. She also does free-lance art work, including murals and illustrations, and recently did a magazine cover for New Moon, a literary magazine.

She would love to see the art teacher position grow, Simon said. “I am looking forward to building a wonderful program here,” she said.

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