Connect with us

CUSD 7 News

Record number of Partnership scholarships awarded to GHS class of 2022



Front row (L-R): Haylee Ikerman, Emilee Schmit, Jacob Stevens, Jackson Stevens, Emmery Pau, Iris Page
Second row (L-R): Levi Hatlee, Brynn Baker, Zach Reiniesch, Mason Weller, Kylie Kasarda, Lanie Doty, Alyssa McDaniel, Karissa Mull, Madison Niemeyer, Luke Hatlee
Third row (L-R): Brianna Wentler, Brenna Halteman, Alexis Shuey-Warford, Elizabeth Eaker, Ashton Bethard, Quincy Peterson, Hanna Bray, Isabella Wallace, Katherine Polo, Partnership President John Fassero
(Not pictured: Brock Doty, Michael Kain Pabon, Alex Pelt

The Partnership for Educational Excellence of Community Unit School District 7 (CUSD7) in Macoupin County celebrated its 30th anniversary by awarding a record number of scholarships in the GHS Class of 2022.

Each of the 27 seniors who received a named memorial Partnership scholarship now have $1,000 toward tuition at an accredited technical school, college or university.  And we are delighted to break another record this year: three sets of twins earned scholarships on our 30th anniversary.

These awards bring the total number of Partnership scholars to 497.

Remarkably every penny of the $319,500 that The Partnership has been privileged to award since 1992 has come from local people and businesses, alums and foundations.  In addition to scholarships, The Partnership has also awarded more than $630,000 to curriculum enhancement for 30 years in every grade in every CUSD7 school.  Nearly $1 million!

Warm thanks to the donors who have trusted The Partnership to invest in our future: our children.

Students earn scholarship recognition and financial support for initiative, character, responsibility, and hard work in school activities, community service, and academics.  They are chosen regardless of class rank, GPA, or need.  We are proud to recognize and assist students from every quarter of each class.

In addition, we are honored to present on behalf of the estate of Evaline Boehmke gifts of $100 each to students chosen by GHS music faculty for excellence in band and chorus.

This year’s recipients, their respective scholarships, and information about the donor are listed below:

  • DR. D. ROSS AND MRS. ROSEMARY BILLITER SCHOLARSHIP: Zach Reiniesch, son of Mike and Amy Reiniesch of Benld, will attend Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey to study petroleum refining.
    • “We are grateful to the people of this area who have supported my medical practice,” said Dr. Billiter, who retired recently after nearly 50 years as a general surgeon at St. Francis Hospital in Litchfield.  “This gift acknowledges our appreciation and an investment in the future of our area.”
  • EMIL BORGINI MEMORIAL EDUCATION SCHOLARSHIP: Quincy Peterson, daughter of Grant Peterson and Kelly Bruhn of Gillespie, will study at Western Illinois University in Macomb to become a middle school social studies teacher.
    • Emil Borgini’s career as an educator included time as a teacher of English, history and French in Benld and in Gillespie.  He also served as principal of GHS for 20 years and concluded his career as district superintendent.  For many years an anonymous donor made this award possible.
  • CORDES FAMILY MEMORIAL SCHOLARSHIP:  Michael Kain Pabon, son of Danielle Fisko of Benld, will attend Blackburn College in Carlinville to explore career options.
    • Established in 2018 by Pete and Sally Prevedell Seraphin, it honors Sally’s maternal ancestors Fred and Amelia Cordes who were known for their hard work, gardens, and hospitality at their small farm in the Hudson River Valley.  Donna Cordes Prevedell is a Partnership director.
  • ELINOR DAVIES NURSING SCHOLARSHIP: Brenna Halteman, daughter of John and Kelly Halteman of Gillespie, will work toward a BS in Nursing, starting at Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey.
    • Established by friends and family in honor of Elinor who served many decades as school nurse in CUSD7.  She was also an active member of the Gillespie First United Methodist Church.
  • CAROL ENRICO DE LUCCA MEMORIAL SCHOLARSHIP FOR A TOP GIRL GRADUATE: Alyssa McDaniel, daughter of David and Staci McDaniel of Gillespie, will study exercise science at Monmouth College in Monmouth, Illinois.
    • Family and friends endowed the award in memory of this Benld native who was a respected educator and counselor.  The daughter of Rose Enrico, she established a consulting business to help students pursue their goals through higher education.
  • ROGER DEWITT MEMORIAL SCHOLARSHIP: Karissa Mull, daughter of George Mull and Christy Spencer of Gillespie, will attend Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey with a focus on art.  
    • An outpouring of memorials for this talented farmer, painter, horse breeder, horticulturist, and musician led to this award. Song writing and performing with his band Southern Blend were backdrops to his first career as a farmer and second as an artist.  Self-taught, he depicted small family farm life, a disappearing culture of the rural Midwest.
  • DON DOBRINO MEMORIAL SCHOLARSHIP: Jacob Stevens, son of Jami and Matt Schmid, will attend Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey to study psychology.
    • “The Duke” was best known at GHS for 1976 and 1990 trips by the football Miners to the 2A finals in the Illinois State Playoffs.  In college, he went to the Rose Bowl with the Iowa Hawkeye, knocking out Oregon State 35-18.  A double threat, he was also known as the “Strike-out King” of the Big Ten, leading to time with the Washington Redskins and the Pittsburgh Pirates baseball teams.  Even after retirement he continued coaching at his alma mater, Mt. Olive High School.  He was ultimately inducted into the National High School Athletic Association and the Illinois High School Hall of Fame.
  • ANDREW EASTON, SR. MEMORIAL SCHOLARSHIP: Luke Hatlee, son of Kelley and Becky Hatlee of Gillespie, will attend Southern Illinois University Edwardsville to study business administration and computer information systems.
    • A teacher and coach for more than 20 years, his passion was to motivate his students and athletes to achieve to their highest level.
  • DANNY GRIFFEL MEMORIAL AGRICULTURE SCHOLARSHIP: Mason Weller, son of Chester and Katina Weller of Gillespie, will study agribusiness at  Southern Illinois University Carbondale.  
    • Danny, a veteran who served in the US Army in Korea, operated the family farm established in 1856.  A member of many social and civic organizations, he enjoyed Mustangs, boating and motorcycles.
  • HAYES FAMILY SCHOLARSHIP FOR MEDICAL CAREERS: Iris Page, daughter of Brian and Whitney Page of Gillespie, will attend the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign to begin pre-med studies.
    • Billy and Diana Hayes established this scholarship in 2021 to support GHS graduates interested in medicine.  Diana’s career as a nurse taught them the field’s potential to enhance self and community.
  • H.E.I.D.I. FOUNDATION MEMORIAL SCHOLARSHIP: Haylee Ikerman, daughter of Jeff and Wendy Ikerman of Gillespie, will attend the University of Illinois Springfield to major in social work with a focus on children.  
    • Gerald and Sandi Brand’s foundation, in memory of their daughter Heidi, assists those interested in helping young people with special needs achieve full potential.  H.E.I.D.I. stands for Helping Every Individual Develop Independence.
  • JOHN AND MARY HICKS FAMILY SCHOLARSHIP: Brock Doty, son of Christy and John Blank of Gillespie and Brian and Brenda Doty of will study to be a power company lineman at Southeast Lineman School in Trenton, Georgia.
    • John, mayor of Gillespie and a local businessman, and Mary, an active volunteer, offer this award in memory of his parents, Lloyd and Betty Hicks.
  • JULIA KRAVANYA MEMORIAL SCHOLARSHIP: Brynn Baker, daughter of Matthew and Nicole Baker of rural Shipman, will attend the University of Spa and Cosmetology at Springfield to become a cosmetologist.
    • Born in Scotland, she married Anton J. Kravanya in 1942 in Gillespie.  They raised daughter Fran and son Tony, who operates Kravanya Funeral Homes with his son Anthony and daughter Lyn.  Nicholas, another grandson, is a dentist in Carlinville.
  • DAISY LANCASTER MEMORIAL SCHOLARSHIP: Lanie Doty, daughter of Christy and John Blank of Gillespie and Brian and Brenda Doty, will attend University of Spa and Cosmetology in Springfield to study cosmetology.
    • Daisy retired as a cafeteria cook in CUSD7.  She was an active member of United Methodist Women at Gillespie’s First United Methodist Church.  She and husband Bill enjoyed playing pinochle and watching their nine grandchildren and great grandchildren play sports.
  • J. E. LIBBRA FAMILY FARM SCHOLARSHIP: Madison Niemeyer, daughter of Matt and Robin Niemeyer of rural Gillespie, will attend Southern Illinois University Edwardsville to study business management in order to form an equine therapy business.
    • Married for 48 years, Joe, a hardworking grain and livestock farmer, and Eileen, a nurse, were dedicated to their four children: Mary Sievers, Joe, Trish Elking, and Carol Kramer, who maintain this scholarship in their honor.  
  • HENRY MARCACCI  MEMORIAL SCHOLARSHIP: Brianna Wentler, daughter of Tristan and Sabrina Wentler of Gillespie, will attend Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey to study education.
    • He taught business in CUSD 7 for 33 years and also served as county school superintendent for eight years.  He and his wife Lucille raised seven children; all attended CUSD7 schools.  He died at age 101.
  • LOUIS POLOVICH MEMORIAL SCHOLARSHIP: Alexis Shuey-Warford, daughter of, David Warford of Gillespie, will attend Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey to study education.
    • Established by his family, this scholarship honors Lou who was a respected teacher and principal in CUSD 7 and a devoted member of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Benld.
  • ROBERT M. PREVEDELL MEMORIAL SCHOLARSHIP: Elizabeth Eaker, daughter of Crystal Howard of Gillespie, will attend Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey to study business so she can open a pet salon and shelter.
    • Robert lived 94 years as a farmer near Eagarville.  Beloved for his dignity, good nature, integrity, and generosity, he was a prolific woodworker; veteran house mover; self-taught musician; and talented gardener. 
  • TRAVIS SEMPLOWSKI MEMORIAL SCHOLARSHIP: Ashton Bethard, son of Jeffery and Rachel Bethard of rural Litchfield, will attend Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey to study computer engineering.
    • A graduate of GHS and member of Future Farmers of America, he was an automotive specialist when he died on 28 July 2009 at age 21.
  • TEBBE FAMILY FOUNDATION SCHOLARSHIP: Emmery Pau, daughter of Gavin and Sara Pau, will attend Southeast Missouri State University in Cape Girardeau to study computer science.
    • GHS graduate Mark Tebbe, Class of 1979, founder of Lante Corporation, and his parents Ralph and Rose Marie Tebbe of Sawyerville, founded this scholarship for students of computer science and engineering, They have also funded many classroom mini-grants through their family foundation.  Rose and another of her sons, Ken, are Partnership directors.
  • DAWN  TILLEY MEMORIAL SCHOLARSHIP FOR EMERGENCY MEDICINE: Hanna Bray, daughter of Joshua and Cynthia Bray of Benld, will attend Illinois State University in Normal to study exercise science/physical therapy and also become an EMT.
    • Dawn Tilley was a paramedic with the Gillespie Benld Area Ambulance Service.  Dedicated to emergency medical care, she also worked on Dunn’s and MedStar ambulances.  She volunteered with Gillespie Area Providers and Christmas Angels.  “She would help anyone who needed anything,” her family recall.
  • BARNEY TRABAN  MEMORIAL SCHOLARSHIP: Kylie Kasarda, daughter of George and Amy Kasarda of rural Shipman, will attend Southern Illinois University Edwardsville to study business management.
    • Barney, born to James and Theresa Traban of Wilsonville, was the only one of the four well-known Traban children to graduate from high school.  After a career in the hospitality industry, Barney arranged a gift to further the educations of other GHS graduates.  His sister Theresa carried out his wishes.  Barney’s gift is the largest single contribution ever made to The Partnership.  Other siblings were Mary Traban and James Traban.           
  • MICHAEL VALENTI MEMORIAL SCHOLARSHIP: Katherine Polo, daughter of Kevin and Therese Polo of rural Carlinville, will attend Southeast Missouri State University to study criminology.
    • This 1994 GHS graduate lost his life in a tragic accident.  Michael had earned an associates degree at Lewis and Clark Community College and was continuing his education at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville.
  • VFW POST 4547 SCHOLARSHIP: Levi Hatlee, son of Kelley and Becky Hatlee of Gillespie, will attend Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville, to study business management.
    • The Partnership is pleased to offer a scholarship for a child or grandchild of a U.S. military veteran and/or a student who has committed to ROTC (Reserve Officer Training Corps) in college.  This scholarship is the result of a generous gift from the now disbanded Gillespie VFW Post 4547.
  • PETE VISINTIN MEMORIAL SCHOLARSHIP: Emilee K. Schmit, daughter of Brandi Brewer of Carlinville, will attend Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey to study child clinical psychology.
    • Pete Visintin Sr. worked as a certified mechanical technician in Gillespie his entire career. He was passionate about the trades and vocational education, fields in great demand today.  This donation to the Partnership for Educational Excellence helps a student attain training and expertise to pursue an enjoyable and profitable career.  Pete’s son, also named Pete, is a teacher at Ben-Gil Elementary School.
  • FRANK WARGO MEMORIAL SCHOLARSHIP: Jackson Stevens, son of Jami and Matt Schmid of Dorchester, will attend  Lewis and Clark Community College in Godfrey to study human resources.
    • Frank was an outstanding scholar athlete at Gillespie High School.  His subsequent college education led to a career as a computer programmer and later as a contractor with the State of Illinois, which let him to work from home despite serious physical limitations.  A faithful attendee at many GHS sporting, civic, and charitable events, he was a familiar and well-loved figure.  Frank’s inner strength made him a model of positive attitude, good nature, and goal driven persistence in the face of hardship.  He valued his education and wanted others to attain theirs in order to also build independent and satisfying lives.
  • JIM  “ZIRKS”  ZIRKELBACH SCHOLARSHIP: Isabella Wallace, daughter of Crystal Gwyn and Larry Wright of Benld, will attend the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign to study forensic psychology.
    • Zirks’ nine children established this award to honor his accomplishments in law enforcement in Macoupin County.  “We want him to enjoy seeing the young people who carry forward his commitment to law enforcement,” says the family.  He was Macoupin County sheriff from 1990-1998; Chief Investigator for Macoupin County; a member of the Macoupin County Board; a founder of the Macoupin and Montgomery County Crime Stoppers; and active in the statewide Sheriff’s Association.  His children include married daughters Tracy Werner, Joan Cain, and Kimberly Burns.  His sons are Robert, Dennis, James, Mark, Brian, and Bradley.
  • EVALINE BOEHMKE MUSICIANSHIP AWARDS  Evaline Boehmke, was an ardent supporter of music. She left a generous bequest for $100 cash awards for students selected by the music faculty of GHS for outstanding musicianship.  This year the band winner is Alex Pelt and the chorus winner is Quincy Peterson.

The Partnership for Educational Excellence is an IRS-chartered 501(c)3 not-for-profit educational foundation. It also awards classroom grants to enhance curriculum. To donate or learn more, contact us at: or P.O. Box 125, Gillespie IL 62033.

Share this story



Community News

School board deals with personnel issues during special meeting




Stephanie Bray

Meeting in special session Monday night, members of the Community Unit School District 7 Board of Education accepted “with regrets” the resignation for purposes of retirement of Stephanie Bray, one of the district’s three technology integration specialists, effective June 4.

The board called a special session to deal with the apparently unexpected resignation before the board’s regularly scheduled monthly meeting later this month. However, board members tabled action on approving a revised job description for the Student Information System/Data Integration Specialist position, pending further discussion.

The board also tabled action on posting the newly created vacancy and tabled posting a district-level secretary’s position.

In February of 2022, the board accepted “with regrets” Bray’s announcement of her retirement “no later than the end of the 2025-26 school year.” There was no indication of why Bray moved her retirement date up by two years.

On a motion by Weye Schmidt, seconded by Amanda Ross, the board voted unanimously to accept Bray’s resignation. The action followed a 50-minute executive session to discuss personnel issues behind closed doors. The public portion of the meeting lasted less than 10 minutes.

In other action, the board voted to renew the district’s One Room contract to offer a remotely taught Spanish class to fulfill the district’s foreign language requirement for the 2024-25 school year. This will be the second year an off-site teacher will teach foreign language at GHS, using remote communication technology. Supt. Shane Owsley said the district had no applications for the vacant teaching position last year. This year, an applicant from Brazil explored the possibility of teaching in Gillespie but ultimately accepted a tutoring position at Greenville University. Owsley said hiring the applicant could have become cumbersome because she was not yet certificated to teach high school Spanish. He said he recently changed the job description from Spanish to foreign language to expand the pool of potential applicants.

In other personnel action, the board approved the maternity leave request of Amber Allan, BenGil Elementary physical education teacher, effective Aug. 28 through Jan. 20.

In separate actions, the board accepted Nathan Henrichs resignation as Gillespie High School freshman football coach, posted the position as vacant, and appointed Henrichs as a varsity assistant football coach. The board also voted unanimously to appoint Alex Jasper as an assistant freshman football coach. The board unanimously accepted Wayne Ireland’s resignation as a volunteer assistant football coach, and voted unanimously to appoint Jarrod Herron and hire Trenton Cleveland as volunteer assistant football coaches.


The board voted unanimously to hire Michael Rodriguez as a high school volunteer assistant women’s basketball coach.

On a motion by Schmidt, seconded by Kelli Vesper, the board hired Alexis Ollis as a head cook and kitchen staff member, pending documentation of certification and a background check. The board also Brittany Hughes as a district kitchen staff worker, pending documentation of certification and background check.

On a motion by Vesper, the board voted unanimously to post a vacancy for a one-on-one paraprofessional aide.

Board members voted unanimously to accept the resignation of Jessica Kelly as a middle school assistant track and field coach and voted unanimously to hire Jay Weber as the high school head track and field coach.

The regular monthly meeting of the board is set for 6 p.m., Monday, June 24, at the district’s administrative office.

Share this story



Continue Reading

CUSD 7 News

School board names new head football coach




Members of the Community Unit School District 7 Board of Education on Monday night voted unanimously to appoint Cory Bonstead as the Gillespie High School head football coach for the 2024-25 school year, replacing Dalton Barnes, whose resignation was accepted last month. In other action, the board voted to dismiss Assistant Varsity Football Coach Donnie Allen, and to not renew Allen’s appointment as the high school track and field coach.

The actions bring to an end several weeks of controversy related to the former head coach and assistant coach. Barnes resigned last month as both a high school physical education and social studies teacher as well as the head football coach after parents alleged he and Allen engaged in verbal and physical abuse of student-athletes. An online petition garnering more than 630 electronic signatures accused Barnes and Allen of “child abuse,” citing alleged “verbal abuse, physical abuse, influencing and coercing student-athletes to act against other student-athletes that have spoken out against the abuse, and attempting to limit the First Amendment rights of student-athletes with threats and manipulation.”

While Barnes submitted his resignation, Allen did not step down, precipitating Monday night’s actions to sever him from the district.

Bonstead was hired in July 2022 as a high school resource teacher. He has served as an assistant football coach for the past two years. Before coming to the school district, he was an assistant football coach for Galesburg’s Knox College, where he earned his degree. As a formality, the board also officially accepted Bonstead’s formal resignation as assistant freshman football coach and posted a vacancy for that position.

The actions to hire a new head coach and dismiss the assistant coach took place following a one-hour executive session to discuss personnel issues and other concerns. Upon returning to open session, the board voted unanimously to rehire a roster of certified staff members discussed in executive session.

The board accepted “with regret” the resignation for purposes of retirement of long-serving district custodian Jerry Balzraine, effective May 31, 2025.

Custodian Neil Balzraine, representing non-certificated employees, read a statement thanking Supt. Shane Owsley, Board President Mark Hayes and other board members for coming to an agreement with the union for a new contract covering non-certificated employees.

“Through night and weekends, we worked hard and got a lot done,” Balzraine said. “These meetings were most professional, cordial and productive.”


Later in the meeting, the board voted unanimously to accept the new contract, which reportedly was ratified by union members Monday morning.

In other personnel action, the board reappointed winter coaches, including Casey Sholtis as GHS head boy’s basketball coach, Jake Kellebrew as assistant high school boy’s basketball coach, Anthony Kravanya as an unpaid volunteer assistant boy’s basketball coach, Jarrod Herron as scholar bowl coach for high school as well as seventh and eighth grade, Andrea Williamson as high school dance coach, Elizabeth Thackery as seventh-grade volleyball coach, and Celia Jubelt as eighth-grade volleyball coach.

Board members unanimously voted to accept the resignation of middle school paraprofessional James Bryant and to post a vacancy for the position. The board also approved a maternity leave request for BenGil Elementary School paraprofessional Kristin Schoen.

The board voted unanimously in separate actions to accept the resignation of Celia Jubelt as head high school women’s volleyball coach and post a vacancy for the position, and to appoint Matt Brawner as a GHS assistant women’s basketball coach.

Also in separate actions, the board voted to post job openings for a district head cook and a district kitchen employee. Board member Amanda Ross who moved to approve both actions pointed out the openings represent existing positions. “I want to be clear that we are not creating new positions,” she said.


On a motion by Peyton Bernot, seconded by Ross, the board green-lit three safety projects to be funded with proceeds of a COPS Federal Safety Grant.

PASS Security of Fairview Heights was the sole bidder for adding door access security for entry to the middle school/high school complex at a cost of $81,210.

Barcom Security with base offices in Springfield, Swansea and St. Louis, submitted the sole bid of $113,000 for an updated fire alarm system for the middle school/high school complex.


Commercial Telephone Systems, Collinsville, also the sole bidder, will install an updated intercom system at the middle school at a cost of $62,769.

“The companies we hoped would submit bids did submit bids and the prices were what we expected,” Supt. Owsley told the board. The contracts call for the work to be completed by two days before the start of the 2024-25 school year.


The board voted to place on file for public review an amended budget for the current fiscal year, which ends June 30. Owsley advised that some numbers in the tentative amended budget are likely to change for the board’s final approval next month. State law requires a 30-day review period, however, even though some data to be reflected in the budget is still being collected.

“I can tell this will change,” Owsley said. “I will have final numbers and a presentation for the board in June.”

Last month, the board directed Owsley to begin work on a tentative fiscal 2025 budget authorized operational expenditures for the period between July 1 and whenever the new budget is approved. Typically, the district finalizes a budget for the current fiscal year in September.


Upon Owsley’s recommendation, the board declared two buses and one truck as surplus property. The three vehicles will be advertised for sale to the highest qualified bidders.


In other words action, the board:

  • Approved a high school course description book for the 2024-25 school year. GHS Principal Jill Rosentreter said there are no major changes from the course description document the district used last year.
  • Approved a revised school calendar. Supt. Owsley said the only change is setting 12:45 p.m. as the dismissal time on days that have early dismissal. Previously, early dismissal times were staggered at 12:30 and 1 p.m. The change is precipitated by the district’s decision to start the school day as the same time for all three attendance centers.
  • Approved a district-wide job description list.
  • Approved a corrected school fees schedule. Owsley said the action was needed because the schedule approved last month was inaccurate due to a computer error resulting from merging fee schedules from the district’s three attendance centers.

Share this story



Continue Reading

Community News

School board approves elementary school principal’s retirement, accepts resignation of high school teacher/coach




FFA members headed to state competitions next month. Kayla Wills is at right, back row.

Long-serving BenGil Elementary School principal will retire in two years following the Community Unit School District 7’s Board of Education’s approval during Tuesday night’s regular monthly meeting of the board. On a motion by Kellie Vesper, seconded by Amanda Ross, the board voted unanimously to accept “with regret” the retirement of Elementary Principal Angela Sandretto, effective at the end of the 2026-27 school year.

At the time of her retirement, Sandretto will have been a district employee for 31 years, including 21 years as an administrator. Sandretto’s tenure predates the construction and collapse due to mine subsidence of the former Benld Elementary School. She started her career when the old Benld High School served as the district’s elementary school. She was principal when the new Benld school was built and when the seven-year-old building was destroyed by mine subsidence in 2009. She continued to serve as principal during the transition from the damaged school to the new BenGil Elementary School in Gillespie.

In other action, the board accepted without comment the resignation of Dalton Barnes as a physical education/social studies teacher, and as Gillespie High School head football coach. The resignation, accepted unanimously, appears to be related to recent controversy over alleged abusive behavior toward students.

Gillespie Police Chief Jared DePoppe and School Resource Officer Wayne Hendricks both attended the meeting, and left soon after the board completed actions related to personnel. Supt. Shane Owsley told the BenGil Post the police presence was a precaution due to concerns that “accusations and rumors on social media could spill over” into Tuesday’s meeting. An attorney from the law firm representing the school district accompanied the board into a one-hour executive session early in the evening to discuss personnel issues and other items.

Elementary Principal Angela Sandretto will retire at the end of the 2026-27 school year.

Accusations on social media in recent weeks alleged Barnes and an assistant coach engaged in verbal and physical abuse of students. With a goal of 1,000 signers, an online petition urging the termination of employment for Barnes and the assistant coach has garnered 639 electronic signatures. The petition accuses the two men of “child abuse,” citing alleged “verbal abuse, physical abuse, influencing and coercing student athletes to act against other student athletes that have spoken out against the abuse, and attempting to limit the First Amendment rights of student athletes with threats and manipulation.” The petition alleges there have been numerous instances of abuse and that the abuse has been allowed to continue despite “multiple red flags and complaints.”

No members of the public appeared before the board to address the complaints. Several teachers and teachers union officials attended the meeting but, likewise, made no public comments.


In other personnel action, the board:

  • Voted unanimously to accept “with regret” the resignation for purposes of retirement of GHS/GMS guidance counselor Jill Strole at the conclusion of the current school year, and to post the position as vacant.
  • Hired Aubrey Morgan as a first-year, non-tenured teacher tentatively assigned as the BenGil Elementary School music teacher for the 2024-25 school year, pending verification of certification requirements and a background check. Morgan is expected to receive her bachelor’s degree in music education this spring from Southern Illinois University, Edwardsville.
  • Voted to appoint Nikki Brawner as the GHS head women’s basketball coach for the 2024-25 school year. Additionally, the board accepted Brawner’s resignation as an assistant GHS women’s basketball coach and posted that position as vacant.
  • Voted, in separate actions, to hire Alex Jasper and James Bryant as GMS paraprofessionals, pending verification of certification requirements and a background check. Additionally, the board voted to appoint Bryant as the GMS eighth-grade boys basketball coach for the 2024-25 school year.
  • Voted to employ Alexis Lupkey as GHS head cheerleading coach for the 2024-25 school year.
  • Voted, in separate actions, to hire Nikki Hunter and Rebecca Leitschuh-Birdsell as full-route bus drivers for the 2024-25 school year, pending verification of certification and background checks.

On a motion by Ross, seconded by Peyton Bernot, the board voted to employ Jennifer Parker, Nancy Schmidt, Amy Price, Marci Johnson, Karissa Smith and Vanessa Barrett as teachers for the 2024 elementary school summer school program.

In separate actions, the board hired Shanna Connor as a math teacher, Casey Edgerton as a science teacher, and Jessica Kelly as an English/language arts teacher for the Gillespie Middle School summer school program.

The board hired Ashlee Gibbs as a high school summer school math teacher, contingent upon student enrollment, and hired Jennifer Brown as the high school summer school driver’s education teacher. Penny Feeley and Janice Hammann were hired unanimously as summer school food service workers.



The board accepted without comment the resignation of Dalton Barnes as a physical education/social studies teacher, and as Gillespie High School head football coach.

The board authorized Supt. Owsley to seek bids for several capital improvement projects related to student safety for which plans are still being developed. In January, Owsley reported to the board the district was successful in its application for a $466,365 state-funded Safety Grant. Matching the grant money with $155,000 in local funds, gave the district more than $600,000 in funding for capital improvements related to safety.

Owsley said architects are continuing to develop plans and bidding specifications for several projects, including installation of a new fire alarm system, installation of a new intercom system, installation of bullet-proof glass in the office area, and application of a bullet-resistant film on exterior windows. The Superintendent said he would advertise for bids as specifications become available.


On a motion by Weye Schmidt, seconded by Bill Carter, the board voted to direct Supt. Owsley to prepare a tentative budget for fiscal year 2025, which will run from July 1 this year through June 30, 2025. The new budget typically is presented to the board in August with final approval coming in September.

In a related action, the board approved expenditures from fiscal 2025 funds to cover operating costs from July 1, when the new fiscal year begins, until the new budget is adopted.

Though not a given, the board could amend the fiscal 2024 budget in June in the event actual revenue and expenditures for the current fiscal year differ significantly from projections made in the budget approved last summer.


Board members approved an intergovernmental agreement between CUSD 7 and Lewis and Clark Community College to offer dual credit courses at Gillespie High School. Under the agreement, Gillespie students can take college-level courses that will count as credit toward an LCCC associate’s degree. Teachers offering dual credit courses at GHS must hold a master’s degree and offer a curriculum approved by the college.


In a District Focus segment, the board was introduced to several High School FFA members who have excelled this year in competitions.

“These kids are doing some amazing things,” said High School Principal Jill Rosentreter. “They are going to competitions and bringing home trophies right and left.”

Payton Bertolis reading a statement thanking the board, adminstration, Wills and FFA members for the opportunity to participate in FFA and FFA competitions.

FFA sponsor Kayla Wills said she has led the program for six years. “This is the most outstanding group we’ve had since I’ve been here,” she said.

Wills introduced two teams––the Parliamentary Procedure team and the Ag Mechanics team––that have ascended to state competition set for May 2.  Team member Emily Hauser explained the areas of expertise on which the Parliamentary Procedure team will be judged. Caleb Oberfall spoke about the Ag Mechanics team.


The Ag Mechanics team includes a carpenter, a welder, a surveyor, an electrician and a mechanic, according to Wills.

“These kids have worked really hard and put in a lot of time,” Wills said. “I am very proud of them.”


A former district cook and current substitute cook, who identified herself as Mandy, addressed the board on behalf of district cooks regarding the possibility of contracting with Opaa! Food Management, Inc. to provide meals in the local district. Opaa! representatives offered a detailed sales presentation to the board last month.

“I worked for Opaa! at Staunton,” she said. “You need to look into them. They’re not what they say they are.”

She alleged the “homemade meals” are not homemade, and are, in fact, the same quality as any other food provider.

“I’ve been in food services for a long time and I know what food should look like,” she said. “It shouldn’t look like dogfood.”

The fact the company offers choices, she said, is a good thing but is a double-edged sword. If a child doesn’t care for the main selection on a particular day, they can have a peanut butter sandwich or salad instead.

“But if little Johnny doesn’t like peanut butter or salad, he doesn’t eat that day,” she said.


Having worked in the local district, she said she could attest that the food services staff cares about students.

In a related matter, Union Secretary Jennifer Parker read a statement from the food services staff thanking the board and Supt. Owsley “for the opportunity to continue to pursue options to bring more choices to the food program.”


In other action, the board:

  • Voted to renew membership in the Illinois Elementary Schools Association (IESA).
  • Approved a finalized calendar for the 2024-25 school year. Owsley said the calendar is unchanged from a tentative calendar presented to the board earlier, except “snow days” have been designated as “emergency days.”
  • Approved a fee schedule for the 2024-25 school day. Owsley said the new fee schedule is nearly identical to the fee schedule used this year except that the cost for adult breakfasts and lunches is increased by 10 cents. In addition, the district will now offer free breakfast and lunch to students in all grade levels thanks to a federal reimbursement grant for districts with high numbers of students from low income households. In the past, free breakfast and lunch was available only to kindergarten, elementary, and middle school students. This year, Owsley said, the high school also qualified for reimbursement. According to Owsley, the reimbursement program is locked in for four years, after which the district may again apply. “Hopefully, this will help our parents and students,” Owsley said.

Share this story



Continue Reading



We need your support. If you value having timely, accurate news about your community, please become one of our subscribers. Subscribe