Top 2022 education stories included new leadership, funds for new school – Sterling Journal-Advocate

As the year winds down it’s time to take a look at some of the top stories in 2022 and this year local schools had plenty of news, both good and bad.

Interim Superintendent Dr. Martin Foster, center, visits with David Portenier, left, the then chief financial officer, Ron Marostica, the then interim superintendent, and school board president Steve Shinn, right, prior to the start of the board meeting Monday, June 20, 2022. (Callie Jones/Sterling Journal-Advocate)

RE-1 Valley sees a change in leadership

In February, the RE-1 Valley School Board decided to terminate the contract of Superintendent Shila Adolf without cause in a 4-0 vote and appointed Ron Marostica as interim superintendent. The previous month the board had heard from the South Platte Education Association, who said RE-1’s workforce was reaching a breaking point with conditions that existed in the district. In between those two meetings, two board members, Jodene Borner and Jill Browner, abruptly resigned and were later replaced by Joel McCracken and Makayla Chartier.

With new members in place, the board got to work looking for a suitable replacement and interviewed two candidates but in the end, they decided those individuals weren’t the right fit for the district. Instead, in June, the board hired Dr. Martin Foster, who previously worked for RE-1 for 17 years, including several years as superintendent, to serve as interim superintendent for this school year. During his short time in the district, he has been busy working to get the appropriate staffing in place and address problems with the certified salary schedule.

Dr. Foster is only serving as an interim though, meaning that as 2023 gets underway the school board will need to resume its efforts to find a permanent leader for the district.

The superintendent wasn’t the only new face on the district’s administration team this year. Joe Vergilio took over as Caliche School’s principal and following the resignation of Sterling High School Principal Cindy Lystad in October, Mark Appelhans was appointed interim principal and Joe Skerjanc was hired as assistant principal.

Merino School Board member recalled

RE-1 wasn’t the only district with a bit of drama this year. In the spring, the Buffalo RE-4J School District began a search for a new superintendent to replace Rob Sanders, who accepted the Morgan County School District superintendent position. While Merino High School Principal Lonnie Brungardt was ultimately selected to fill the position, board member Sonya Hutchison was accused of “going rogue” during the superintendent interview process and causing one of the three finalists to drop out.

In July, a petition to recall Hutchison from the board was submitted to the Logan County Clerk and Recorder. The petition was able to gather enough signatures to be placed on the Nov. 8 ballot and voters approved the recall 256-211, with Mike Kirschbaum approved by voters to fill the seat.

A floor plan diagram for Peetz School's renovation and improvement project was on display at a community collaborative design meeting Monday, Dec. 5, 2022. (Callie Jones/Sterling Journal-Advocate)
A floor plan diagram for Peetz School’s renovation and improvement project was on display at a community collaborative design meeting Monday, Dec. 5, 2022. (Callie Jones/Sterling Journal-Advocate)

Peetz School District moves forward with new school

It was a good year for Peetz School. In June, it was announced that the district would receive a $23 BEST (Building Excellent Schools Today) grant from the state to build a new school and in November, after a failed attempt last year, voters finally approved an $11.85 million bond to cover the matching funds needed to be able to use the grant.

In early December, the district held a day of work sessions to get community input on the project. A groundbreaking ceremony for the project is expected to take place in mid-May.

NJC President Mike White listens as Jennifer Wagner, of Big Iron, gives remarks about Cal West before presenting a $10,000 donation to the college in West's memory, to be used for agriculture and diesel student scholarships, during an open house celebration for NJC's Applied Technology Campus expansion project Friday, Sept.  23, 2022. (Callie Jones/Sterling Journal-Advocate)
NJC President Mike White listens as Jennifer Wagner, of Big Iron, gives remarks about Cal West before presenting a $10,000 donation to the college in West’s memory, to be used for agriculture and diesel student scholarships, during an open house celebration for NJC’s Applied Technology Campus expansion project Friday, Sept. 23, 2022. (Callie Jones/Sterling Journal-Advocate)

Northeastern Junior College welcomes new leader

There are several changes in local educational leadership this year, including at Northeastern Junior College, where Mike White took the helm as president in January. He was greeted with a warm welcome from staff and students, many of whom expressed their excitement about him being selected as the school’s new leader and their appreciation for his leadership so far.

Among White’s duties as president has been overseeing NJC’s Applied Technology Expansion Project. In February, the project was approved by the Capital Development Committee as one of the top higher education projects to receive state funding and in September the college celebrated the beginning of the project as well as a new scholarship opportunity for students. However, in November, it was announced that work on the project won’t begin quite as soon as was hoped for because new flood plain maps from FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) have that campus now lying under the 100-year flood line, which will require some revisions to the project design.

One project that was able to move forward though is a new soccer field at Plainsmen Park, which will be used by NJC’s men’s and women’s soccer teams as well as Sterling High School’s teams starting next year.

This year also brought about the launch of the T-Prep program, a partnership between NJC and CU Denver’s School of Education and Human Development, allowing students to take classes at NJC to earn an associate’s degree in education and then complete their following two years at NJC to earn their bachelor’s degree from CU Denver without having to leave the area.

Strong winds created significant snow drifts and limited visibility across Sterling and the northeast Colorado region Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2022. (Sara Waite/Journal-Advocate)
Strong winds created significant snow drifts and limited visibility across Sterling and the northeast Colorado region Tuesday, Dec. 13, 2022. (Sara Waite/Journal-Advocate)

Schools closed for four days due to a blizzard

On Tuesday, Dec. 13 area schools closed for a blizzard that shut down all highways in Logan County, as well as Interstate 76. Wind gusting up to 50+ miles per hour combined with the snow created drifts as tall as 12-15 feet south of Peetz. Snow continuing to blow from the drifts made it difficult to keep roads open for several days, resulting in the closure of area schools for four days total.

Conditions were so poor the day the blizzard hit that Colorado 4×4 Rescue and Recovery deployed in northeast Colorado and responded to 60 different calls for rescue in five different counties – Weld, Logan, Sedgwick, Morgan and Washington in just 24 hours. They were also requested to respond back to Logan County on Friday, Dec. 16, for additional stranded motorists as roads were once again closed.

Fortunately, schools were already out for Christmas break late last week when a cold front brought frigid temperatures as low as -50 degrees with windchill and again closing roads.

Children at Early Childhood Council of Logan, Phillips and Sedgwick Counties' Logan County launch celebration for Dolly Parton Imagination Library were treated to root beer and coke floats Sunday, July 24, 2022. (Callie Jones/Sterling Journal-Advocate)
Children at Early Childhood Council of Logan, Phillips and Sedgwick Counties’ Logan County launch celebration for Dolly Parton Imagination Library were treated to root beer and coke floats Sunday, July 24, 2022. (Callie Jones/Sterling Journal-Advocate)

ECCLPS launches Dolly Parton Imagination Library

This year was an exciting one for the Early Childhood Council of Logan, Phillips and Sedgwick counties. In April, the organization celebrated its 25th anniversary with the unveiling of a new logo and in July, ECCLPS, with help from Highline Electric Association, Basin Electric Cooperative, CoBank and Dolly Parton Imagination Library Colorado, brought Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library to Logan County, Giving children ages 0-5 the opportunity to receive a free book every month. If you have not signed your child up, you can do so at https://imaginationlibrary.com.

New childcare center opens

A shortage of childcare services has long been an issue in Logan County and across the region, so it was especially exciting in June when the Logan County Childcare Collaborative opened a new Sunshine Childcare Center at Northeastern Junior College. The center created 40 new infant and toddler slots in Logan County.

For more information about the center call 970-526-6198.

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