Dixon Public Schools work to fill last open special education teacher position

Board also approves list of hires, resignations and changes in status at Wednesday night meeting

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DIXONDixon Public Schools is paying a stipend to recruit special education teachers, a position that school officials say is getting more difficult to fill.

At the Dixon School Board meeting Wednesday, June 26, Superintendent Margo Empen reminded the board, “it’s been increasingly difficult to recruit special education teachers.” On a positive note, she added, all those positions are filled except for one.

For the 2024-25 school year, the district has been providing a stipend of $12,000 to be paid on each payroll in equal portions to any new hire or existing district employee transferred into a special education position. The stipend works as an incentive to entice those with a Learning Behavior Specialist 1 endorsement – the training required by the Illinois State Board of Education to teach special education – to move or transfer from their current roles to fill district needs.

“This has been working beautifully with the folks that we’re hiring. They are very appreciative and they understand that it’s for one year,” Empen told the board.

Board member Linda Wegner agreed that these incentives are needed to fill special education teaching positions.

All of the positions have been filled except one. An existing DPS employee was transferred, a new hire was recruited from southern Illinois and another was recruited for Dixon High School. Per terms of an agreement with the Dixon Education Association, if the district was unable to fill all special education teaching positions by June 25, 2024, the district can use a contracted service to help fill the role. That position will remain posted online. The district will also continue to contact colleges and universities in hopes of recruiting an employee, Empen said.

“I am hopeful that we will continue to attract and maintain quality folks,” she said.

During a special board meeting set for 6 p.m. Wednesday, July 31, the district will announce the remaining hires for the upcoming school year who are new to the district.

In other staffing news, the board:

  • acknowledged the retirement of Washington Elementary Principal Jeff Gould after 24 years in the district. Gould began his career at Lincoln Elementary teaching third grade in 2000 and was principal at Washington for 11 years. Empen said Gould was made for Washington and “his gentleness and soft-spoken approach has worked magic on our 4- to 6-year-olds.”
  • announced three new hires at Dixon High School: James Hodder, full-time custodian, effective July 1; Tayla Schwarz, social studies teacher, pending certification, effective Aug. 12; and Beth Dennis, special education teacher, effective Aug. 12.
  • announced 12 new hires at Reagan Middle School: Christopher Hansen, band, effective Aug. 12; Natalie DeWitt, science teacher, pending Illinois certification, effective Aug. 12; Ashley Baert, science teacher, effective Aug. 12; Gabby Kitzman, special education teacher, pending Illinois certification, effective Aug. 12; Lani Rogers, physical education teacher, effective Aug. 12; Christopher Bishop, technology teacher, pending certification, effective Aug. 12; Kolten Dorty, physical education teacher, pending certification, effective Aug. 12; Debbie Sneek, secretary/office assistant, effective Aug. 2; Sydney Bittner, secretary/office assistant, effective Aug. 2; Damien Beck, paraprofessional, effective Aug. 12; Carissa Aldridge, paraprofessional, effective Aug. 12; and Bernadette Lybarger, lunchroom assistant, effective Aug. 14.
  • announced one new hire at Washington Elementary: April Sharp, nurse and health assistant, effective Aug. 5.
  • announced two new hires at Thomas J. Dempsey Therapeutic Day School: Christine Olson, paraprofessional, effective Aug. 12; and Rhonda Zink, paraprofessional, effective Aug. 12.
  • announced four resignations: Michael Breedlove, part-time custodian at DHS, effective May 24; Jack Doane, full-time custodian at Washington School, effective May 22; Jerry Jones, lunchroom attendant at Jefferson School, effective May 30; and Courtnay Fiedler, second-grade teacher at Jefferson School, effective Aug. 11.
  • announced facilitators beginning at the start of the 2024-25 school year: Jamie Brigl, math department at DHS; Wendy Fitzanko, electives department at DHS; Sara Dunne, K-12 music department; Jessica Martin-Graber, fifth grade; and Ashley Almquist, physical education/specials curriculum at RMS.
  • announced nine employees’ change in status effective Aug. 12: Megan Hildreth, from PE teacher at RMS to PE Teacher at Madison Elementary; Charlie Bishop, from tech teacher at RMS to business/technology teacher at DHS; Nicole Huys, from paraprofessional at Madison to paraprofessional at Washington; Ruth Straw, from paraprofessional at Madison to paraprofessional at Washington; Billie Martoccia, from paraprofessional at Madison to paraprofessional at Washington; Brianna DeWaele, from paraprofessional at Washington to paraprofessional at Jefferson; Clara Thorpe, from prekindergarten teacher to kindergarten teacher at Washington; Alyssa Bonnette, from kindergarten teacher to prekindergarten teacher at Washington; and Stacie McCullough, from prekindergarten teacher at Washington to second-grade teacher at Jefferson.
  • announced new DHS coaches, effective for the 2024-25 school year: Ben Lightner, fall play producer; Grace Wadsworth, assistant fall play producer; Zack Heitz, head summer strength coach; Brad Winterland, assistant summer strength coach; Tyler Matteson, assistant summer strength 1⁄2 stipend; Darien Thorpe, assistant summer strength 1⁄2 stipend; Jared Shaner, head football coach; Brad Winterland, assistant football coach; Brandon Woodward, assistant football coach; Luke Ravlin, assistant football coach; Kyle Lawrence, assistant football coach; Tyler Matteson, assistant football coach; Laiff Jacobson, assistant football coach; Jon Empen, assistant football coach 1⁄2 stipend; Zack Heitz, assistant football coach 1⁄2 stipend; Alicia McPhillips, head cheer coach; Makenzie Simpson, head dance coach; Lee Eastman, head golf coach; Bunyan Cocar, head volleyball coach; Darien Thorpe, assistant volleyball coach; Steve Carlson, assistant volleyball coach; Alicia Eastman, assistant volleyball coach; Simon Thorpe, head girls cross country coach; Jamie Brigl, head girls tennis coach; Rick Kent, assistant girls tennis coach; and Josh Brigl, head boys soccer coach.
  • announced the DHS volunteer coaches for the 2024-25 school year: Kasi Bass, cheer; Jana Halfacre, cheer; Ryan Harrison, golf; Ryan Deets, golf; and JD Gieson, football.
  • announced the RMS coaches effective for the 2024-25 school year: Cassie Buhlig, sixth-grade volleyball coach; Sarina Venier, seventh-grade volleyball coach; Don Randick eighth-grade volleyball coach; and Evan Thorpe, head cross country coach.
  • announced one coaching resignation: Courtney Bond, cross country and track at RMS, effective at the end of the 2023-24 school year.
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Payton Felix

Payton Felix

Payton Felix reports on local news in the Sauk Valley for the Shaw Local News Network. She received her Bachelor of Arts in English from the University of Illinois at Chicago in May of 2023.