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Program in transition after long absence of Ag Mech teacher

The Ag Mech shop has often sat empty while students were unable to work due to a lack of certified supervision. Photo by Zach Fink

At the end of the second week of the 2019-20 school year, Ag Mechanics Teacher and FFA Advisor Morgan Perry went on an unexplained leave of absence from the classroom, leaving Bruins and parents concerned about the future of the program. 

With second semester in full swing, officials say there is still no permanent solution, with several questions and concerns yet to be fully addressed. According to administration, Ms. Perry’s return date is still unknown at this time, but temporary solutions have been put in place for the time being.  

“The date of return for Ms. Perry, at this time, is unknown,” said Bear River Principal Christopher Roberts. “We are still waiting on certain things to happen with the process we find ourselves in, to be able to make some decisions that would be considered permanent decisions. Everything for right now is going to be temporary as needed, but yeah, no permanent fixes yet.”

Nevada Joint Union High School District Superintendent Brett McFadden and Ag Science Teacher Steven Paasch declined to comment on this story. Ms. Perry did not respond to The Current’s request for comment. However, Principal Roberts expressed his feelings about the loss of a teacher from the Career Technical Education (CTE) Program. 

“Losing a teacher with a specialized area of instruction is always difficult,” said Principal Roberts. “I was a Spanish teacher, and when I was out for any reason and needed a sub it was tough to find someone who spoke Spanish and could run the class the way I wanted it run.” 

Students such as Senior Brinley Jeffers are frustrated and annoyed by Ms. Perry’s sudden absence, due to it taking away from the class atmosphere and purpose.  

“I honestly feel really annoyed,” said Jeffers. “I know absolutely nothing about her absence but since I am in a class that relies on her needing to be in there, it’s frustrating because I have been trying to be in her Ag Mechanics [class] since my sophomore year. I really want to learn the things and techniques about that particular class.”

Junior and FFA Sentinel Connor McGehee explained why other students may feel the same as Jeffers. 

“I feel that there is a certain level of uncertainty that makes these kids kind of scared, just because they don’t know what’s going on,” said McGehee. “At the beginning of the year, they had this teacher, then she just disappeared and we haven’t heard much since. I feel bad for the kids who took Ag Mech this year and were really genuinely looking forward to learning those skills that had to be a part of this rough transition period. They just wanted to get CTE experience but, instead, have had a lot of substitute teachers, and bookwork.”

Bruin Alumna Kassidy D’Andrade has been helping out as a sub off and on so that the shop can be opened, as she is certified in Ag Mechanics. For a brief period, she had to go cover a position at Lincoln High School. During this time, the teacher who started the Bear River Ag Mechanics program years ago, Danny Kemp, came into the classroom to keep things in motion. 

According to Principal Roberts, Ms. D’Andrade is set to cover the position full time until the end of the year, with Mr. Kemp staying on as a consultant coming in one-to-two days a week. 

“Although it’s not permanent, it will be temporary, we have somebody that is capable and willing to do it til the end of the school year,” said Principal Roberts. “… We don’t know what is going to come of the situation with Ms. Perry. Until we have resolution there, we can’t make a specific decision one way or another. [Ms. D’Andrade and Mr. Kemp] are prepared to stay for the remainder of the school year if we need them to.”

With all the transitions, there have been some classroom behavior issues over the past semester, but Principal Roberts said these issues are improving.

“I think [student behavior] was initially [a problem], but Mr. Kemp has kinda put a squash to that over the time that he’s been there,” said Principal Roberts. “[Vice Principal Cathy] Peterson and I have not dealt with too many issues with that class. [Mr. Kemp] has reached out to parents and contacted parents if there’s been any issue with behavior. I think there were some inconsistencies there … but I think that Mr. Kemp has done a good job in getting that back to where we know it should be.”

McGehee commented on his fellow students’ behavior. 

“With Perry gone, unfortunately a lot of kids have seen this as a chance to goof off and not take the class or the Ag Department seriously as a whole, and as a Chapter Officer I have seen less and less involvement of the new kids,” he said. 

Bruins commented on what they have done over the last semester to fill the extra downtime. 

“We had nothing to do in Ag Mech on the days Kassidy or Kemp weren’t there or making the lesson plans,” said Sophomore Molly Fowler. “They are finally able to make lesson plans now, but before … I have been going over to Paasch’s Ag Science class and seeing if he needs help. We have been organizing cabinets and helping wherever we can.”

Ms. Perry’s absence has also caused gaps within the FFA program as a whole, such as advisor duties and coach duties. Principal Roberts commented on how a long-term sub’s duties end at the classroom, and therefore do not extend into the FFA program.

“The responsibilities of a long-term sub aren’t much after their classroom responsibilities are over,” said Principal Roberts. “So, overseeing competitions and FFA advisory isn’t mandatory for them to do.” 

He also commented on how Mr. Paasch would be expected to fill in the gaps to the best of his abilities.

“Paasch may be able to fill that void as well,” said Principal Roberts.  

McGehee commented on what extra stress that might cause for Mr. Paasch.

“As an officer, I have seen how Mr. Paasch has had to take on a lot of the responsibilities as the sole employee in the Ag Department here on a regular basis,” said McGehee. “He has had to register Ag Mech and the other teams that he normally hasn’t been in charge of for competitions, and it’s just a whole lot on his plate right now.”

To help with this, administration has hired Jason Lorenzo, father of FFA President and Senior Katelyn Lorenzo, as the new Ag Mechanics coach, who has already started coaching his four-member team. The team took third in their first competition of the year, with individuals placing as well. 

While here, Ms. D’Andrade has helped out with the FFA program and even organized a fundraiser for the Ag Mechanics program to help them get back on their feet. 

Another question raised by Ms. Perry’s absence is what will happen to the sixth period Advanced Ag Mechanics class, which was set to be a dual enrollment class throughout second semester. Unfortunately, there is still no definitive answer. 

“We are in conversations with Sierra College about [the dual enrollment class], but we have not yet received back an answer,” said Principal Roberts. “We have to look at credentialing and we have to look at qualifications for that teacher, and the teacher that we have coming in may have the proper credentials to be able to do that. So we have to verify that. Our hope is yes, we will be able to offer that, and if not you know, it kinda is what it is. I will take full responsibility for that, because of the position that I’m in.”

Principal Roberts wanted to reassure parents that the class is back on track, and that students should stick with it. 

“I would turn the question [to the parents] and say, ‘how have you felt about Mr. Kemp in place since the end of November, and have you felt that the class is making progress?'” Principal Roberts said. “‘Do you feel like he’s an adequate teacher for the position?’ Because he will continue to be a part of that, and the teacher we have coming in is highly qualified to be able to fill that position for the immediate future. So although the students may be behind a little bit, my feeling is that the teachers that will be in place in that classroom from now until the end of the year are extremely qualified to take them to where they need to be. … I’m actually extremely excited about the direction that our program could be going in the next year to two years.”

“We want this school year for all our Ag Mech students to be a great one,” said Principal Roberts. “We are working hard to make that happen. I apologize for the circumstance we find ourselves in.”

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Program in transition after long absence of Ag Mech teacher