Travis Hughes and Bri Dawn Brunschon make the case for agriculture education and FFA at North Boone High School at the North Boone School Board’s April meeting. The district, faced with declining revenues and lower enrollment in agriculture classes, is seeking an agriculture teacher. The position will be reduced to half time from the current full-time status. The new teacher will replace Sarah Timmons, who will leave at the end of the 2013-2014 school year to take a job as agriculture teacher at Ottawa Township High School.
Travis Hughes and Bri Dawn Brunschon make the case for agriculture education and FFA at North Boone High School at the North Boone School Board’s April meeting. The district, faced with declining revenues and lower enrollment in agriculture classes, is seeking an agriculture teacher. The position will be reduced to half time from the current full-time status. The new teacher will replace Sarah Timmons, who will leave at the end of the 2013-2014 school year to take a job as agriculture teacher at Ottawa Township High School.
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,” Brunschon said.

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 said.

“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.

Feeling Left Out

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 “reasonable.”

“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.

Parents’ Concerns

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 Valley College.

“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.