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HHS prepares to crown Winter Homecoming royalty

Amid the highly-anticipated preparations for the 2021 Winter Homecoming, students at HHS have elected Mitch Bryan, Makayla Pilcher, Dylan “DJ” Sample, Abigail Lowe, Jack Rosa and Nicole Stueve as their Homecoming Court.

Nominee Abigail Lowe describes her thoughts on the honor.

“I was so excited when I heard the news,” she said. “Since I was a little girl, like most, I wanted to be a princess. Homecoming royalty is the closest thing to that; whether I win or not, I am extremely grateful that I was nominated.”

Jack Rosa adds, “It was super exciting to be a part of the winter homecoming court.”

Upon receiving the news of the nomination, Nicole Stueve said she was excited.

“We all got called to the office, and I was like, ‘Well, I could be either in trouble, or nominated.’ I was hoping it was the second option… I was really excited,” she said.

This year’s nominees represent a wide range of activities within the school. Bryan and Pilcher both play basketball, Lowe and Stueve are a part of the cheer squad, Sample participates in Scholar’s Bowl and Powerlifting, and Rosa is in Pep Band. In addition to these, all six nominees are members of the National Honor Society, as well as many other activities.

The King and Queen are set to be crowned at halftime of the boy’s varsity basketball game. The Hawks will battle the Holton Wildcats for Friday’s Homecoming showdown.

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School Board moves forward on repairs to Hawthorne House - final fate still undecided

The Hiawatha School Board voted to move forward on repairs on the brick at Hawthorne House, but the ultimate fate of the home that was once part of the historic Hiawatha Academy is still unknown.

Board members heard an update from District Maintenance Director Chris Morey at Monday night’s meeting. The board has been discussing the future of Hawthorne House for several months now — since the last tenants moved out last summer. The historic home and land was deeded to the USD 415 School District by E.N. Morrill for the use of education. The land cannot be sold, but the house can be given away and moved off the property. During the era the Hiawatha Academy was open, the Hawthorne House served as the home for the school administrator.

For several years the district has rented the house to school staff. Over the years maintenance issues piled up and in recent months the board asked Morey to look into these issues.

Morey has reported to the board at the last couple of meetings about maintenance and upkeep needed at the house. Last month he came to the board and told them he had a contractor look at the house and the general consensus was that it was still a very sound home for a century-old one, but the porches needed replaced, some drainage issues needed addressed and tuck-pointing would need completed on the brick exterior in some areas. Inside more cosmetic issues would need taken care of, including some replacement of rotting floor boards, new carpet and paint.

Years ago, when the district still had a home remodeling class, many of the projects were focused on the Hawthorne House. It has been several years since that class was offered and no other work had been done on the home.

The board is still undecided if it wants to be in the landlord business, but all agreed they needed to be good stewards of the house and have some of the work completed.

Monday night, Morey brought an estimate of $27,000 for work that would include the tuck-pointing of the brick, drainage work outside and replacement of the porches.

There was additional discussion of moving the house — at which time the porches would need replaced anyway, so the board was reluctant to put money into those at this time until a final decision was made on what to do with the house.

Board member Ian Schuetz said he was in favor of moving the house — possibly to a vacant lot and possibly exploring the idea of revitalizing the school’s home remodeling classes to have it worked on. However, ultimately, the house still could not be sold.

Schuetz said he really felt the school district should work to maintain the structural integrity of the house until board members made a decision on the final fate.

While board members still pondered possibly uses of the house, they still wanted to have some maintenance performed on it. There was discussion of the district maintenance crews taking care of some of the drainage issues that were caused by a large slab of concrete that had served as a patio area. The concrete had come away from the house and water was seeping into the basement. Morey said the suggestion of the contractor was to remove the concrete slab and build up the dirt, seeding grass to divert the flow of water away from the house.

Board members voted to have Morey obtain bids on the brick tuck-pointing project only, to return next month with those for a possible vote.

In other business:

Board members again discussed the Hiawatha Elementary School parking lot and set a special meeting for 10 a.m. Tuesday, Feb. 16 to potentially make a decision on adding a new entrance and exit.

Board members have agreed for a while now that the traffic situation at HES was a concern. There is a separate bus lane now, which does work well, however staff or parents wanting to just park in the parking lot have to follow the drive all the way around before they can enter the parking lot. This can take quite a while if parents are dropping students off at the front entrance.

Morey presented a design to add a separate entrance and exit, adjacent to the current entrance. This could take a portion of the bus lane. There was also discussion on the flow of traffic — recently a sign was posted for “right turns only” as the flow of traffic comes out of the parking lot and drive. This is hopefully going to help with the flow, but board members said they still felt a separate entrance and exit for those only wanting to enter and exit the parking lot would help even more.

They asked Morey to return with a more specific plan for review at the special meeting Tuesday.

Junior Class sponsor Kathy Kliewer spoke to the board to get approval for moving forward on plans for prom, scheduled for April 17. She said she had many ideas to make the celebration safe and feasible in light of concerns over COVID-19 and just needed the green light to go ahead and finalize those.

Board President Tom Simmer said the district needed to do everything possible to make sure students were able to have a prom this year — especially since it was canceled last year.

Kliewer said there are 124 students in the combined junior and senior classes and typically there is an 80-90 percent attendance. There would be outside dates allowed as well.

The board gave their blessing for Kliewer to finalize plans and return to present them next month.

The board heard from District Curriculum Director Jean Brintnall with updates on standardized testing and student achievement. She noted that this year was considered “an asterick year” — meaning when comparing to other years, it wasn’t apples to apples.

She said data from this year’s standardized testing would look similar to normal years, but noted it “is an unusual year.” She said the district has continued to utilize the standard curriculum despite challenges of remote learning due to the pandemic. She said they have made a great deal of effort to continue the district curriculum.

Board member John Wright said he wanted to recognize the Booster Club for $25,000 in donations that funded uniforms and equipment for teams. He said they did a lot of work to raise money for the athletic teams.

The board heard good news from district nurses, learning there were currently no positive cases in the district and only a handful of students in quarantine at the high school. Active cases in the district were only at six as of Monday. There was discussion of immunizations and it was reported that 113 staff members had so far received the first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine. Superintendent Lonnie Moser said this was about 60 percent of the staff.

When asked by Wright if the district would require shots, Moser said “No.” He also mentioned that Kansas and the Hiawatha district “were ahead of the curve” compared to other locations still awaiting availability of vaccines.

Moser also reported that future remote learning programs could change and the district was looking into a program through Greenbush. He also advised that remote learning options could affect school enrollment for next year.

The board approved the 2021-22 school calendar.

Following an Executive Session, the board voted to accept the resignation of fourth grade teacher Inessa Hood, effective at the end of the current academic year.

Also following the Executive Session, the board voted to extend Moser’s contract to through the 2022-23 academic year.

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Robinson man charged with criminal use of explosive, possession of drugs

A 31-year-old Robinson man was arrested Feb. 5 on several felony charges that included criminal use of an explosive along with drug charges.

According to the Brown County Attorney Kevin Hill, Nicholas Juarez was arrested following an extensive investigation by the Brown County Sheriff’s Office.

Hill said deputies responded in the early morning hours of Feb. 5 to a dispatch concerning a male individual, identified as Juarez, who had allegedly threatened to burn another individual’s house down. Hill said the residents further reported that Juarez was in possession of a device commonly referred to as a “Molotov cocktail” and had lit the same and allegedly thrown it at their trailer.

Hill said following the execution of two search warrants by the Brown County Sheriff’s Office, items consistent with methamphetamine and construction of a Molotov cocktail were discovered.

Juarez was charged by the Brown County Attorney’s Office in a six count complaint this morning with felony counts of Criminal Use of an Explosive, Attempted Aggravated Arson, Two Counts of Criminal Threat, Possession of Methamphetamine, and Possession of Drug Paraphernalia.

He is currently being held in the Brown County Jail on an $85,000 bond, awaiting further hearings.

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Arctic blast settles over region for the week - dangerous wind chills expected

While the Northeast Kansas area received anywhere from 4-6 inches of light and fluffy snow over the weekend that definitely contributed to closings of area schools and other services on Monday — the big news is the Arctic temperatures that have settled in for the week.

Thanks to Punxsutawney Phil’s prediction of six more weeks of winter, a blast of Arctic air swept into the central states over the weekend with temperatures dipping below 0 degrees Fahrenheit later this week. This will make wind chills especially dangerous.

On a more scientific level, the blast of cold air is thanks to the Polar Vortex. According to the National Weather Service, the term “vortex” refers to the counter-clockwise flow of air that helps keep the colder air near the Poles. Many times during winter in the northern hemisphere, the polar vortex will expand, sending cold air southward with the jet stream. This occurs fairly regularly during wintertime and is often associated with large outbreaks of Arctic air in the United States.

According to the National Weather Service, the very cold weather is expected to remain in the region into next weekend as temperatures remain below freezing. Wind chill readings are likely to be in the 0 to -15 degree range just about every morning. There are also several chances from light snow this week.

“If you have to be out and about, wear multiple layers of clothing including a hat and gloves. And slow down and take your time getting to the destination.” ~ National Weather Service out of Topeka.

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Hiawatha Elementary teacher passes away

The USD 415 Hiawatha School District notified parents and patrons of the death of a Special Education teacher at Hiawatha Elementary.

On Monday, Superintendent Lonnie Moser sent a letter to parents and patrons of the district.

“It is with sadness we report that USD 415 and Hiawatha Elementary School lost a valued family member today,” he said. “Janice Kneisley, first and second grade teacher, passed away after a courageous battle with cancer. Mrs. Kneisley taught special education and was a true teacher to the end. Janice’s dedication and positive influence will be deeply missed.”

Moser said USD 415 and H.E.S. faculty are committed to ensuring students and staff have needed support during this difficult time. Counselors, social workers and other personnel will be present for the days ahead to assist students and staff with their emotional needs.

“Please keep Mrs. Kneisley’s family, friends, and colleagues in your thoughts and prayers,” he said.

Services are being arranged by Chapel Oaks Funeral Home. Visitation is 4-6 p.m. Thursday and services are at 2 p.m. on Friday at the funeral home. Go to www.chapeloaksfuneralhome.com for full obituary.