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April 18th, 2021

school board swansonCottonwood Elementary School fifth grade teacher Kasie Swanson talks to the USD 480 school board at its most recent meeting Monday evening about the school’s project-based learning work. Swanson said it has been a great way for students to learn about multiple concepts at the same time. L&T photo/Elly GrimmELLY GRIMM • Leader & Times


There was a bit of a shakeup in the USD 480 school board announced during the board’s most recent meeting Monday evening with the resignation of Sarah Mersdorf-Foreman. 

Mersdorf-Foreman, who had served as the board president since January, submitted her resignation to Superintendent Renae Hickert late last week. Near the end of Monday’s meeting, the board ultimately voted to appoint Stu Cauble to the president position and Naomi Vargas to the vice president position. 

“Sarah has tremendous passion for the health, education and well-being of children. Her commitment to children was evident in her service to the district as a board member and as president,” Hickert noted in a separate release from USD 480.

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“Mrs. Mersdorf-Foreman was a strong advocate for all students and was particularly passionate about the needs of marginalized students and students with disabilities. We appreciate her leadership on the board,” Deputy Superintendent Dr. Todd Carter noted in the USD 480 statement. 

As a result of the vacancy, the board voted to approve Resolution 04-05-2021, which authorizes USD 480 Board Clerk Jerry Clay, to notify the public of the vacancy in the Leader & Times. 

“Once the resolution is published, the board of education must wait 15 days after the publication date to take any formal action in accordance with K.S.A. 25-2022,” Clay said during discussion of the matter at Monday’s meeting. “That  authorizes the board to fill the vacancy left by any board member who does not complete their term; however they see fit, until the next election cycle. You can either take applications and appoint someone after that period, or you can wait until the next election in November to see who gets actually voted in. It’s up to the board to decide what to do as far as all of that.”

The board ultimately voted to open the vacant board position to interested community members via an application process. The process and due dates will be announced at a later date.The board also heard from Cottonwood Elementary School about the building’s project-based learning work. 

“This is a great way for the students to learn about multiple things at once and see how it all ties together,” Cottonwood Elementary School fifth grade teacher Kasie Swanson said. “We give them an initial guiding question, we give them some background and let them ask questions to get them started, and then we teach them how to add to their projects so they can ultimately answer some of their own questions. Project-based learning has been great because again, it’s a great way for the kids to learn about multiple things at once. For example, the fifth graders’ guiding question was about the ability to build a sustainable colony on Mars should the need arise. Through that, we learned about the formation of colonies as well as the American Revolution. They also had to learn a little about Mars itself and research what different resources would be needed in order to survive. They also had a ‘budget’ to work within – they had a happiness budget and an actual financial budget. They had to meet a certain level of happiness or else the colonists would be depressed, and they also had to have a certain level of power used, and they learned about energy conservation because in the context of the project, they had to make sure their energy didn’t run out. They had a certain amount of ‘money’ to stay within in order accomplish what they wanted. After all of that, we ran through different scenarios to see whether or not these colonies presented would survive.”

There were several other aspects to the projects, Swanson said. 

“As we were learning about the American Revolution, President Mettlen and the soldier teachers ‘tortured’ them – by that, I mean there were taxes levied, things were just taken, and things like that,” Swanson said with a laugh. “Admittedly though, if you ask the students, that part of the project was torture. But it was all to give them an idea of what happened during the American Revolution and give them a glimpse of what people lived through during those times.”

After a video was shown to demonstrate the projects, the board gave praise to the work done. 

“I’m very impressed with all of this,” Vargas said. “They really took up these projects as their own and they know what all of this means now. I know some of this stuff will be brought up again for them in their high school history/civics/government classes, and this will be a way for them to remember some of that. It’s a great way for them to be learning, and it’s something I’d like to see us keep doing. I can tell you all worked really hard.”

“We also had a lot of help while we were working on all of this,” Swanson said. “We had Ms. Mettlen’s help as president, and when we talked about the Battle of Lexington-Concord, the P.E. teachers helped with that. We also had a couple other people come into our class while we were doing all of this work. We definitely had a lot of great help with this.”

After the administrator reports, the board moved on to new business. During this portion of the meeting, the board approved several board policies and also approved changes to several of the handbooks for the 2021-2022 school year. The board also approved some recommendations from the Health Insurance Committee and voted to renew the membership with KASB for  $16,220.27. The board also approved the asbestos abatement  to remove the existing roofing panels covering the glass blowing shed at Liberal High School. and the work will be done by ACM Removal from Wichita in the amount of $4,960. 

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