Two weeks after accepting the resignation of Vice President Jenni Alepra from the board, the Community Unit School District 7 Board of Education on Monday night named Amanda Ross, Gillespie, as Alepra’s successor and elected Weye Schmidt as the board’s new Vice President. Alepra resigned last month after nearly two decades of service to the board.
The vote to appoint Ross was unanimous with President Mark Hayes, and members Schmidt, Becky Hatlee and Bill Carter voting in favor. Jack Burns voted “present” but declined to explain his reasons for abstaining. Dennis Tiburzi was absent.
Ross was selected from among three applicants, each of whom were interviewed by the board in executive session for approximately 30 minutes each. Other applicants were J.O. Kelly and Kimberly Rossini. Ross was sworn in and seated immediately after her appointment.
“I want to say ‘thank you’ to all three of you for showing an interest in the school district,” President Hayes commented before asking for a vote. “It was a very hard decision to make. If you’re not chosen, I want to encourage you to continue to stay involved and maybe run for the board later.”
“You guys were all phenomenal,” Schmidt echoed. “I wish we could appoint all three of you. You are the kind of residents we need serving on the board.”
Ross said she was excited about her appointment.
“I’ve been eyeing it (seeking a seat) for a while, knowing there was an election coming up,” she said. “When Jenni Alepra resigned, it was an opportunity for me to apply. I’ve excited for the district and community.”
Ross said she has no agenda coming to the board, saying she plans to “get her feet wet” and learn more about the district’s direction for the future.
A life-long resident of Gillespie, she was a 2002 graduate of Gillespie High School. She graduated from SIU-Edwardsville in 2006 with a Bachelor of Science degree in nursing. She currently is a Registered Nurse employed as the Emergency Department Manager at Carlinville Area Hospital. She and her husband, Josh, have two children, one of whom is completing Kindergarten this year and another who is enrolled as a first-year pre-Kindergarten student, both at Ben-Gil Elementary School.
After Ross was sworn in and seated, Hayes nominated Schmidt for Vice President. With no other nominations, Schmidt was elected by acclamation.
Also during Monday’s special meeting of the board, board members voted unanimously to hire Ben McCullough as a middle school/high school choir director/sound technician, pending a background check and verification of certification. McCullough will step into a position currently held by Alex Weinberg, whose resignation was accepted in March. McCullough is expected to graduate this spring from Eastern Illinois University, Charleston, with a degree in music education.
The board also appointed Jay Weber as a volunteer head high school cross-country coach and posted a vacancy for a volunteer assistant cross-country coach.
On motions by Carter, seconded by Schmidt, the board voted to post vacancies for an elementary school special education teacher and a high school social science/physical education teacher for the 2022-23 school year.
Casey Sholtis, representing the teachers union, read a brief statement thanking the board and administration for providing “an opportunity to discuss staffing needs” for the district. During a committee meeting last week, board members heard from teachers representing each of the district’s three attendance centers who described specific staffing needs for the coming year. In general, teachers cited a need for more special education teachers to maintain the legally required ratio of teachers to students as the number of special education students continues to increase, and administrative changes or additional personnel to deal with disciplinary issues. Teachers said there has been an increase in disciplinary problems after students returned to classroom learning after months of remote learning necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the suggested possibilities was the creation of an assistant principal position at the elementary level to relieve Ben-Gil Principal Angela Turcol of some of the responsibility for disciplinary students.
The next regular meeting of the board is set for Monday, May 23.