H-F’s applied academics programs at their limits

Students and two business representatives came before the District 233 board of education to laud the Applied Academics Program at Homewood-Flossmoor High School, but board members learned program expansions aren’t likely because of lack of space.
 
The welding program has a waiting list. There are currently 22 students enrolled and only 18 work stations. Metal manufacturing had two sections in 2015 and now has four, and one class is overloaded. Automotive now has six classes and a small engines class and pre-engineering is running eight classes, teacher Benjamin May told the board. 
 
“So you need more space to meet the demand,” said member John Farrell. “I am told that many kids have been drawn to these programs. There’s an energy now that didn’t exist before.”
 
Students told board members the programs have made a difference in their career choices. They gave credit to teachers who have inspired them not just in developing skills but also in fostering their work ethic. They cited instruction on how to deal with customers and bosses, having dedication, dressing appropriately for business and communicating effectively. 
 
Dane Hartmann, owner of Pete’s Auto in Homewood, has been working with students for most of the 10 years he’s been in business.  He told board members “each (student) is something special. We just hope we’re doing our part to help out. Technicians are really hard to find.”
 
Bruce Hemminger, a manager at Van Drunen Ford in Homewood, said students coming from H-F are prepared for the workforce and have skills so they can be put to work immediately.
 
H-F is known for its strong academics with students being accepted at Ivy League and Big 10 colleges, but May said the Applied Academics Program is a good fit for the segment of students who want to be prepared to go into trades.
 
“We want to plan a legacy for this school,” so that all students can have advantages once they leave H-F, May told board members. He thanked them for their continued support for applied academics and recognized that H-F is one of the few schools offering a four-year curriculum. Many have reduced programs to two years or eliminated them. 
 
“We’re already phenomenal,” counselor Jeremiah Harris said. “We’re looking for ways to enhance what we’re doing.”
 
In other business, Peter Hallam of Homewood accused the board of being “less than transparent” and argued the board is making decisions without sharing details or asking for community input. 
 
He was especially upset by the way the board in September rolled out proposed additions to the South Building, without announcing it on the agenda. The plan includes a black box theater and art studios, classrooms and offices. He said it seemed the plans overlooked the music department. 
 
Hallam said the board hasn’t asked the community if it wants the additions. 

“People are upset by their taxes, and you’re going to build this without input from them?” he said.
 
Board member Jody Scariano pointed out the district will not incur any additional tax burden with the work. Money for the project, estimated between $11 and $16 million, is in reserves.
 
“We have the money in reserves and we plan to keep our Triple A bond rating,” she told Hallam. The board is considering “how best to go about this so it will last for a very long time, like we did with the North Building” field house addition.
 
Superintendent Von Mansfield said the board has been talking to students and faculty in band, choir, orchestra, the arts, theater and media to learn what could be better at H-F. Those discussions were tied in to the board’s decision to organize the MVP (media, visual arts, performance) Academy, a new curriculum designed for students in the arts approved by the board in January 2016.
 
Drawings by architects are a conceptual plan, he said. 

“The project is slated to go to the finance committee in November," Mansfield told Hallam, adding, changes may be made to the initial proposal.

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