POPLAR GROVE, Ill. — Students in the blue and gold jackets
made the case.
Neatly groomed and wearing the familiar jackets as part of
their official FFA dress, Travis Hughes and Bri Dawn Brunschon looked only a
little nervous at speaking before the large crowd.
“Today we want to talk to you about the importance of
agriculture education, also known as ag ed,” said Brunschon, reporter for the
North Boone FFA chapter.
The students attended the meeting to make the case for
maintaining the agriculture teacher position as a full-time position.
Earlier in the year, the school board voted to take the
position to 0.6 or less than a full-time position based on enrollment in ag
classes for the 2014-2015 school year.
“A full-time teacher is needed to facilitate all of our
(Supervised Agricultural Experience programs) and work with the Farm Bureau and
the FFA organization to make it all happen. Miss Timmons has developed this
program into something great. It would be a shame to lose what we have,”
Sarah Timmons will leave her job at North Boone at the end
of the school year and take a position as agriculture teacher and FFA adviser at
Ottawa Township High School.
The job she will go to also was the subject of board debate
and an effort by supporters to maintain the program after teacher Kevin Cleary
announced his retirement.
“It is hard to believe we would even consider cutting ag ed
from our schools. Agriculture education is not only for farmers,” Brunschon
“I often think of how grateful I am for the people who put
the food on the table every single day. I’m not talking specifically about my
mom and my dad. I’m talking about the people who grow the food, the people who
package the vegetable seeds, the ranchers who raise the meat, the agronomists
and scientists who keep our food supply safe and healthy,” said Hughes, a senior
at Genoa-Kingston High School.
Their presentation drew loud and sustained applause from the
larger-than-usual audience at the April 28 meeting.
The board has been under fire from parents and teachers for
what they claim is a failure to communicate with parents and teachers before
decisions are made.
The board voted earlier in the year to reduce its teaching
staff, which included the reduction in the agriculture position.
In response, the Winnebago-Boone Farm Bureau sent a letter
to the board and Superintendent Steven Baule, voicing concern over the
possibility that agriculture education could end at North Boone.
“We think it’s important because, in reality, agriculture is
one of the bright spots of our economy, and we’re starting to see a shortage of
young people in agriculture. If the FFA program can serve as a stimulus for
getting somebody excited about agriculture, that’s what is important,” said Earl
Williams Jr., president of the Winnebago-Boone Farm Bureau.
Williams said the bureau board was concerned that with a
part-time position, it might be difficult to get enough teacher involvement.
“The FFA program requires classroom time, but there are also
the field trips and the lab work and the other activities that go with making a
successful program,” he said.
Williams noted that by maintaining vocational and
agriculture education programs, schools can provide options for all students,
not just the college-bound students.
He called the response that the board received from Baule
“One of the things he said is that the problem they are
having is getting kids interested in the program. He made a suggestion that we
should work harder to get more kids into the vocational ag program,” he said.
Baule made the same suggestion to Hughes and Brunschon, as
well as the other students and their parents at the meeting.
“To address the FFA, as we look at enrollment, particularly
at the high school, we have an entirely enrollment-driven curriculum. A couple
of years ago, the decision was made that to offer a class, we have to have 20
children sign up for that class,” Baule said. “This year, for instance, we had
20 sign up, but we had 13 students in some of our ag classes.
“The reason we’re reducing from five sections to three
sections in our ag program is because we had seven students sign up for the
fourth class and only one student sign up for the fifth class,” Baule said.
Several parents voiced concerns that the board was acting
without consulting with or taking input from parents or teachers.
“As someone who’s been watching for the last couple months
what’s going on and if I didn’t know anything else and just looked at the votes,
I would say that North Boone values tablets, phone upgrades, a new
administrator, football stadiums, administrative raises and more computer
classes,” said Joe Haverly, a North Boone parent who teaches biology at Rock
“What you don’t seem to value — libraries and librarians,
reading specialists, with the recent (reductions-in-force) — teachers,
teacher-parent input, band and ag,” he said.
Also at the meeting, which included two closed sessions,
teachers announced that their union had taken a “no confidence” vote in Baule.
Luke Allen, agriculture program adviser for Facilitating
Coordination in Agricultural Education at the University of Illinois College of
Agricultural, Consumer and Environmental Sciences, said the 0.6 designation of
the position would mean that the teacher would be teaching three to four
sections of agriculture.
North Boone High School has seven class periods in a day,
including two prep periods for teachers and five periods for classes.
Students and parents also had an informal meeting with high
school Principal Jacob Hubert, who explained why the position was taken down to
less than full time and who assured them he was working to find a candidate to
fill the part-time teaching position.
That might be difficult, Allen said.
“All of our positions are going to be difficult to fill this
year, based on the low numbers of teaching candidates we have graduating.
However, I’m optimistic that our industry partners will help us spread the word
about the shortage,” he said in an email.