Most impactful stories of 2019: 2019 had many big changes in store in Danville Schools

Published 6:17 am Saturday, December 28, 2019

Editor’s note: This is the fourth of five stories chosen by The Advocate-Messenger’s staff as the most impactful of 2019.


2019 was a transformative year for the Danville Independent School District.

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The first half of the year concluded the district’s first year under a reorganized school structure, with one primary school for younger students and one intermediate school for second- through fifth-graders, instead of three separate elementary schools.

The second half of the year saw the beginning of the first year for Hogsett Primary School in its newly renovated building; the return of a school resource officer position from Danville Police Department; and the first year for new principals at Hogsett and Danville High School.

In the middle of it all, the district bought the former American National University building next to Danville High School and turned it into the district’s central office and alternative school space.

Also over the summer, the district negotiated new in-school health program contracts that officials say give Danville one of the best health programs in the state; and changed course with how the district’s education foundation is run.

School board members voted for a tax increase in August; and began discussing the need for budget cuts late this year.

Here are some of the biggest moments for the Danville Schools over the course of 2019:


Jan. 24: Big plans for ANU building


The American National University building is seen lit up at night last January, shortly ater the Danville school board voted to buy the building. (File photo by Ben Kleppinger)

When Danville Independent School District acquires the current American National University building on Lexington Avenue later this year, the school district will get the whole kit and caboodle.

For $820,000, the district is getting the 10,700-square-foot building, the 2.36 acres it sits on, all of the existing furniture, all of the technology such as classroom projectors and even curriculum materials, such as ANU’s health science skeletons and models.

“It’s pretty much move-in ready,” Superintendent Tammy McDonald said. “… We would literally bring students in today and use this facility. It’s amazing.”

The Danville Board of Education voted Tuesday night to enter into an option to buy the ANU building pending approval from the Kentucky Department of Education.

“This building was not something that we sought out,” McDonald said. “It became available, so it became an opportunity for us.”

McDonald said the ANU building offers the district myriad opportunities and benefits:

  • The district will be able to consolidate its alternative school classes from the middle- and high-school levels in a single area away from other students, and use classrooms already outfitted with chairs, desks and technology like projectors.
  • The front section of the building will house the district’s central office, with enough additional space to relocate some staff with district-wide responsibilities from their current offices in specific schools.
  • The ANU building and the curriculum materials that come with it can help the district expand its career pathway offerings, particularly in the area of health science, and students at the high school can easily walk to the adjacent ANU building for any classes.
  • A rear basement area will provide the district with valuable storage space for records.
  • The parking lot behind the ANU building will allow the district to park all of its buses on-site, next to its garage, and could provide space in the future for a new bus maintenance facility.
  • A room in the front basement area will give bus drivers a better office space in which to complete paperwork and do training.
  • There will be at least three conference-room-style spaces that can be used for staff training and school board meetings.

“This building solves so many problems within the district,” McDonald said. “… I’m not finding a negative at this point.”


Feb. 13: School resource officer position restored


Danville Schools has formed a partnership with Boyle County Sheriff’s Office and Danville Police Department to provide School Resource Officers in the upcoming school year. In making the announcement on Tuesday, Danville Superintendent Dr. Tammy McDonald talks with Deputy Charlie Parks from the Sheriff’s Office and Officer Ben Ray with the Danville Police Department who will be the SROs next year. Photo by Robin Hart

The Danville Police Department will once again be able to provide a school resource officer in the city schools beginning in the next school year, due to an increase in officers on the force. And because the school district needs two SROs, the Boyle County Sheriff’s Office will provide the second officer.

“We are extremely excited about the partnership with both the city police and the sheriff,” said Danville Schools Superintendent Dr. Tammy McDonald when making the announcement on Tuesday.

Danville Assistant Police Chief Glenn Doan said, “It’s going to be a joint effort starting in the 2019-2020 school year. We’re glad to be back. And we’re glad the sheriff was able to provide two (SROs) in our time of absence, and now we’re ready to help him out and get another officer in here.”

Doan said when the Danville Police Department had to end its SRO program last year, “we were in a position where we did have to remove the school resource officer from the school system, but the sheriff was able to step in when we were struggling with some staffing issues. Now we’ve got our numbers back up and replenished our ranks a little bit. We’re ready to step back in and assist.”


Feb. 20: Growing preschool program


Danville Independent School District is growing its preschool program by a third next school year, and some of the new seats will be open to any preschooler whose parents can pay tuition.

When the renovated Hogsett Primary School opens for the 2019-20 school year, it will have four preschool classrooms, instead of the three the district currently has, Superintendent Tammy McDonald said.

Each preschool classroom will have 40 seats — 20 morning seats and 20 afternoon seats — for a total of 160 seats.

“We have to serve our at-risk students first,” McDonald said.

Danville provides preschool to all kids in the district who qualify as “at-risk” because of their parents’ income and/or the children’s educational needs. “Currently, we’re only a few students shy of maxing out the classrooms that we have,” McDonald said.


March 14: District beginning to look at in-school health program


The Danville Independent School District would double its nursing staff, add a full-time nurse practitioner and expand dental services for students — all without spending any money, under a proposed contract announced Tuesday night.

“I’m so excited about this program,” said Superintendent Tammy McDonald, as she laid out the details for school board members.

Danville could partner with Healthy Kids Clinic, which is a regional school health program run by Cumberland Family Medical Center. The non-profit would match Danville’s current funding for school nurses, allowing the district to grow from two nurses splitting time between the district’s four schools to four nurses — one full-time nurse in each school, McDonald said.


March 21: Local health care pros competing for health contract


The Danville Board of Education had planned to vote this week on a contract with Healthy Kids Clinic, a program run by Cumberland Family Medical Center. At no cost to the district, the contract would add two nurses for a total of four — one for each of the district’s schools; place a full-time nurse practitioner in the school district; and upgrade and expand dental services for students. There would also be an option of HKC providing a mental health professional if the school district funds a new caseworker position.

Superintendent Tammy McDonald said after news of the planned contract broke, she had a meeting with Danville Pediatrics.

“It was my understanding that they were going to try to reach out to the hospital to try to come up with a proposal that would be similar to the proposal we have on the table from Cumberland,” she said. “… Of course we always want to hear from our local supporters to see what they are able to provide. I will say that Cumberland Medical Clinic … has a proven track record in 13 districts and 87 schools and they have developed a full model that works within a school district.

“I think that through our local medical community, that they would be creating a proposal from scratch.”


April 18: Danville Pediatrics makes its pitch


Dr. Josh Wigglesworth presents a plan for Danville Pediatrics to provide health care services in the Danville Independent School District Tuesday night. Photo by Ben Kleppinger.

Danville Pediatrics and Healthy Kids Clinic both gave their pitches to the school board Tuesday night on what they had to offer.

Josh Wigglesworth, a doctor at Danville Pediatrics, told board members his practice, which is owned by five board-certified pediatricians, is already the “medical home” for “the vast majority” of children in the area, including many students in the Danville Independent School District.

The practice has more than 5,000 patients who are school-aged children with addresses in the Danville zip code, Wigglesworth said.

“Based upon those numbers, we suspect that 90 percent of students enrolled in any school within the Boyle County area are our patients, and we can say without a doubt that the majority of students here in Danville’s school district have a medical home at Danville Pediatrics,” he said.

Wigglesworth said Danville Pediatrics partnered with Ephraim McDowell Regional Medical Center, Danville Pediatric Dentistry and Webster Orthodontics to come up with a clinic program he said would put Danville Schools head and shoulders above most other school districts in the state in terms of health care services offered to students.

Wigglesworth said because so many Danville students already go to Danville Pediatrics, the doctors they would see if they get sick at school would be the same ones they see on visits outside of school. And there would be no issues with continuity of medical records, because Danville Pediatrics would maintain them across school and office visits.

“A clinic run by Danville Pediatrics, where already 90 percent of the parents of these children have chosen Danville Pediatrics, is going to be a clinic that’s going to be utilized well,” Wigglesworth said. “A clinic not run by Danville Pediatrics when their parents have chosen Danville Pediatrics — I don’t know how that works.”


May 3: Leo

Kendra Peek/
Leo Labrillazo, principal at Mary G. Hogsett Elementary School, has been named the principal at the Mary G. Hogsett Primary School for the 2018-2019 school year.



Hogsett Primary Principal Leo Labrillazo is retiring at the end of this school year, after 29 years in education.

“As I look back on my career in education, that’s one of the things that kind of still is astounding is how quickly it’s gone by,” Labrillazo said during an interview in his office Thursday morning. “I don’t feel like it’s been 29 years. Even my time here in Danville Schools doesn’t feel like five years.”

The Hogsett school council is conducting interviews for three principal applicants today and the next principal could be chosen as soon as next week, Superintendent Tammy McDonald said.


May 10: Farmer chosen as next Hogsett principal


Suzanne Farmer will be Hogsett Elementary School’s principal next year.

Hogsett Primary School Principal Suzanne Farmer, peeks around someone’s shoulder wearing a birthday head band in celebration of the school’s grand opening Tuesday evening. (Photo by Robin Hart)

Farmer, the current assistant principal at the school, has lived in Danville for 15 years and has worked for 18 years as an educator.

The Hogsett council voted unanimously Wednesday to offer the job to Farmer, one of 10 applicants and three interviewed for the position.

“It’s not quite the same, but when my husband asked me to marry him, I said, ‘Of course,'” Farmer told the council members with a smile.

“This is what I want. It’s the work I believe in. It’s my town, my community. My kids are here. … It’s always been a dream of mine to do this work here in Danville.”


May 11: Rumors precede leadership change at DHS


Reports began circulating Thursday that the principal and two guidance counselors at Danville High School would not be returning in their current roles next school year.

Danville High School Principal Haley Ralston smiles as graduates walk onto the stage during the school’s 2019 graduation in May. Ralston will not be returning as principal next year; instead, she will be working as an education recovery leader for the state. (Photo by Ben Kleppinger)

A parent posted on social media that Principal Haley Ralston and both counselors were told they would not be returning next year. Another person said they were informed about it by students; a parent said they were told by teachers.

The rumors were not confirmed or denied by the school district.

“I am not going to talk about a personnel issue. I cannot talk about a personnel issue,” said Superintendent Tammy McDonald.


May 16: Danville Pediatrics chosen for in-school health


The Danville Board of Education is expected to finalize an agreement Monday with Danville Pediatrics to provide in-school clinic services at no cost to the school district. And the clinic solution comes along with what Superintendent Tammy McDonald called an “amazing” plan for the school district to house a permanent dental exam room, which would be staffed by local dentists.

McDonald announced Tuesday night that the school district had negotiated changes to Danville Pediatrics’ original proposal that satisfied the district’s desire to make available in-school medical services and immunizations, among other things.

Another organization, the Healthy Kids Clinic run by Cumberland Family Medical Center withdrew its offer to provide in-school clinics once it learned a local option that fully met what the district was looking for was available, McDonald said.

Cumberland, which operates clinics in 13 school districts, also offered to help Danville Pediatrics with any questions it may have as it enters into the business of running an in-school clinic program, McDonald said. And Cumberland has also offered to provide Danville Pediatrics with all of the medical forms it uses.

“They don’t have to reinvent the wheel; they can take those forms and tweak them to meet the needs of Danville Schools,” McDonald said. “It’s pretty exciting. Not only did staff at the central office … work with all of them … we also have Cumberland stepping up and saying, ‘We want at the end of the day what’s best for students, so we’re going to help you make this work because now you have two equal proposals on the table.’ So it’s just a win-win for everybody in the community.”


May 21: Principal selection meeting confirms rumors


The Danville High School council will hold a special called meeting to discuss the process, procedures and timeline for principal selection tomorrow at 5:30 p.m.

“It’s a procedural thing we do every time we get ready to select a principal,” said David Davis, the district’s coordinator for site-based decision-making councils.

Superintendent Tammy McDonald declined to comment on the called meeting.

The meeting indicates current Principal Haley Ralston will not be returning in her current position next school year.


May 22: Reasons for principal change remain private


Following the council’s special called meeting Tuesday, Superintendent Tammy McDonald would not say why she declared a vacancy in the principal position, meaning current Principal Haley Ralston will not be returning in that position next school year.

Asked if she would ever be able to state on the record why the vacancy was declared, McDonald shook her head.

“I will not talk about personnel and that’s to protect the employee. And it’s in the law. Any employee,” she said. “I will not talk about individual personnel issues. It’s for the protection of the employees.”

Asked whether any other positions at the high school were now open as a result of whatever led to declaring a principal vacancy, McDonald said she can’t talk about personnel. She also explained that many people have not yet received notification of renewal for their position next year, but that doesn’t necessarily mean they won’t be coming back.

“People are connecting things that are not connected,” she said.


June 9: Elmore chosen as next DHS principal



Danville High School’s next principal is William Thad Elmore. The high school council chose Elmore after spending Sunday afternoon interviewing three finalists for the position. 

“We were really impressed with the amount of experience he would bring to the table,” said Kathy Merryman, a parent representative on the school council. “These are always tough choices that we have to make, but we all want what’s best for Danville High School and as a parent, I am fully confident he will do a great job.”

Elmore comes from Marion County, where he has been the high school principal for two years. Prior to that, he was a high school principal in Washington County for three years. His 20-year career in education includes three years teaching at the elementary level, four years teaching at the high-school level and seven years in administration, as well as numerous years working with students at the middle-school level. 

Elmore, who officially starts Monday, July 1, said he is very excited about his new job and passionate about helping ensure good education in an independent school district. 

“I like the size and the closeness of the smaller district,” he said. 


June 14: Wellness counselor planned


The Danville Board of Education could vote Monday to add a school wellness counselor to the district’s budget for 2019-20.

The counselor would be another new health care option added next school year, along with an already approved in-school clinic program from Danville Pediatrics and Ephraim McDowell Health, and a planned in-school dental exam room that would be staffed by area dentists.

Superintendent Tammy McDonald told board members this week that the district will be getting one new licensed clinical social worker as part of its school clinic arrangement. The new school wellness counselor position would also be a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW), who would focus on the district’s new combined alternative school, which will operate out of the newly acquired central office building next to Danville High School.

“We believe both of these individuals … will have full case loads and we’ll still have students on a waiting list,” McDonald said.


June 19: Ralston ‘on loan’ to state


Former Danville High School Principal Haley Ralston will continue working as an employee of the Danville Independent School District next year, but she will be “on loan” to the state Department of Education, Superintendent Tammy McDonald confirmed recently.

Ralston said Tuesday she will be working as an “education recovery leader” in a struggling school somewhere in Kentucky.

According to a job description for her new position, the education recovery leader, or ERL, “will be responsible for mentoring of and guidance to the principal in low-performing schools … with any and all functions relating to instructional leadership and school improvement.”

Ralston said she starts ERL training in July before heading to the school she is assigned. She could find out next week what school that will be — probably one either in the central region of the state near Louisville or one in eastern Kentucky.

“They work to try to keep people as close to home as possible, but there will be driving,” she said. “… It will be a change from being a principal and an assistant principal, and I’m looking forward to the training we’re going to get on being recovery leaders. I’m excited about it. It’s a new adventure.”


July 10: Board looks for better results from foundation


Multiple Danville Schools officials say they need to see stronger fundraising results from the school district’s education foundation or else they need to re-evaluate funding the executive director position for the foundation.

The foundation is currently costing the district more than it brings in, according to Superintendent Tammy McDonald. The district began paying the foundation’s Executive Director Phil Osborne $60,000 annually as a private contractor in March of 2018, and that contract renewed in March 2019 for another year, she said.

“We’re 15 months in (to the current arrangement) and the first 12 months was actually a negative if we look at it from the school district side,” McDonald said during an update on the foundation’s work that was part of a six-hour school board “retreat” at Shaker Village on Tuesday. “So, we’re now three months into the second year and still at a negative. … My suggestion would be to think about a timeline and how long do you go in the negative before there’s a limit, that this is the time that we should now see ourselves in the positive here?

“… I don’t think it’s in the best interests of the board to continue with something that is putting us in the negative, because to be honest, that sum in that contract could do quite a bit within the school district.”


July 23: Foundation director contract terminated


Phil Osborne, executive director of the Danville Schools Education Foundation, discusses what he was able to fundraise for the district.

Phil Osborne, executive director of the Danville Schools Education Foundation, discusses what he was able to fundraise for the district. (Photo by Ben Kleppinger)

The Danville Board of Education voted unanimously to terminate its contract with Education Foundation Director Phil Osborne Monday afternoon.

Osborne was being paid $60,000 annually to head up the Danville Schools Education Foundation and Alumni Association. He was first hired by the board in March 2018 and has been paid $75,000 since that time, Superintendent Tammy McDonald said.

The board hired Osborne intending for him to fundraise enough money that an endowment could be created that would provide funding in perpetuity from the interest earned off the principal. That hasn’t happened; McDonald said based on Osborne’s accounting, the foundation has brought in just over $15,000 since he came on board — $60,000 less than Osborne has been paid so far.

The board voted 4-0 during its special called meeting Monday to give Osborne 30 days notice, as required by his contract, that it would be terminating the arrangement.

“It is not easy to do this. Mr. Osborne is a fine man. I’ve known him a long time,” said board member Paul Smiley, who made the motion to terminate the contract. “But I think that the feedback I’ve got from the community is that we’ve got to — as board members, we’re responsible for paying all the bills and watching the money and doing the best we can.”


Aug. 10: Hogsett renovations nearing completion


Christy Denny explains to Billy Curtsinger where the stacks of blocks are to be taken. (Photo by Robin Hart)

The Mary G. Hogsett Primary School will be ready for its preschool, kindergarten and first-grade students by Wednesday, which is the first day of school for the Danville school system. But on Friday, construction workers, school maintenance and custodial crews, painters, playground installers, HVAC professionals, cleaners, carpenters, teachers and high school students were working furiously to get the building ready for the upcoming school year.

Thursday morning, the DHS boys soccer team loaded trucks and trailers with boxes packed with classroom items from the former Jennie Rogers school, where preschool, kindergarten and first-grade classes were held last year while the Hogsett renovation and expansion was in progress.

The girls soccer team unloaded the boxes at the new Hogsett building and stacked them according to grades in the flex room at the new school.

On Friday, about 50 DHS football players and coaches packed two 26-foot U-Haul vans and a couple of trailers at Jennie Rogers; while nearly as many teachers, school staff and clients from the Shepherd’s House loaded furniture and boxes at the new Hogsett building.


Aug. 29: Property tax increase


Danville Schools will collect more than $400,000 in additional property taxes this year. The school board voted 4-1 Wednesday night to increase its real-estate property tax rate from 94.6 cents per $100 of assessed value to 98.5 cents — the maximum increase allowed by state law without triggering a potential voter recall.

The increase means a homeowner with a $100,000 property in the Danville Independent School District will pay $39 more — $985 instead of $946.

Board members Paul Smiley, Glenn Ball, Troy McCowan and Lori Finke voted for the increase following a half-hour public hearing, during which no one from the public signed up to speak. Board Chair Steve Becker cast the lone vote in opposition.

Prior to the vote, Superintendent Tammy McDonald warned the board that the district’s current financial trajectory was unsustainable. The district has been operating at a loss for multiple years in a row: This fiscal year, it expects a deficit of more than $240,000; last year, it outspent revenues by more than $1.35 million; the year before that, it was in the red by almost $790,000.

The district’s general-fund reserves have declined as a result: It started fiscal year 2018 with $5.1 million; fiscal year 2019 with $4.36 million; and this fiscal year with $2.9 million.


Dec. 18: Budget cuts being considered


The Danville School Board may need to decrease its spending next year to 3% less than what it receives in 2020 tax revenue, in order to replenish its dwindling general fund and meet state requirements.

Possible cuts offered by Danville Superintendent Tammy McDonald Monday night included slight reductions in the number of contract days for teachers and a reduction in per-student SEEK allocations to individual schools.

McDonald and Teresa Osbourn, director of finance and human resources, found that four of the past five years, the board had spent more than what the previous year’s tax revenues had brought in.

McDonald said their research showed that the board had not been given the previous year’s tax revenue amounts when they were making budget decisions.

“In the board’s defense, as I really dug deep and looked, I’m not necessarily seeing that comparison to the year before,” she said.

On Tuesday, Board Chair Steve Becker said the board made budget decisions for the past few years based on the previous financial officer and superintendent’s recommendations.

“It was a leap of faith,” Becker said. “That piece (previous revenues) was missing. Looking back, that was a pretty vital piece of information.”

After hearing the auditor’s draft report, McDonald said she asked him, “For us to be healthy and move our reserves back to where it needs to be, what do you suggest, what should our budget look like?” His answer was to save $1.1 to $1.5 million over the next three years, McDonald told the board.

“My recommendation as superintendent is to make some cuts in our budget this year,” she said.