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New teachers welcomed at Tuscola schools

Left to Right: Nicolle Shay, Emily Scribner, Stephanie Hackett, Dean Gjerde, Julia Judson, Neal Garrison, Breanna Yantis, Erica Mentock, Jeremy Rodebaugh, Beth Gibson and Bryan Thomas stand in front of the Tuscola High School library. Photo by Dominik Stallings.

By Dominik Stallings
Tuscola School District CUSD 301 is starting off the new school year with several new hires. They hired seven teachers and a social worker. They also employed a new technology director and East Prairie athletic director.

North Ward hired one new teacher this year with Jo Grgurich, who teaches special education. 

The district also hired a new elementary school counselor, Breana Yantis. She previously worked at Paris Crestwood, Arthur and Charleston. One of her inspirations and mentor during her undergraduate and graduate school years was Brenda Garriot who was a school counselor in Charleston for many years.

Yantis said she is looking forward to meeting students and families from North Ward in order to help students in the best way possible.

East Prairie Middle School welcomed four newcomers to their school.

Beth Gibson is teaching special education at East Prairie this year, she’s originally from the Mt. Vernon area. Gibson said working at East Prairie is great since there are wonderful students and professionals. She’s looking forward to the basketball games later this year, especially after receiving a DeMar DeRozan basketball card from a student last year.

Jeri Cardiff is the new Choir teacher for East Prairie and also Tuscola Community High School. She also teaches sixth and seventh-grade music appreciation. Cardiff has been working in schools for a long time, with a total of 17 years of teaching. That doesn’t mean she isnt doing new thighs each year. She said she is teaching an honors choir at the high school level for the first time this year.

Cardiff said she is looking forward to having concerts and performances with the choirs this year. Due to the pandemic, students haven’t been able to audition for the Illinois Musi Education Association District Honors ensembles for the last few years. Cardiff said,

“There are far too many stories to share! I’ve been blessed with outstanding students in years past, and could write an entire book on fun stories and watching students succeed.” 

Fifth- and sixth-graders are also getting a new special education resource, Bryan Thomas. Thomas taught at Villa Grove for the last nine years, but he’s been in special education for 23 years. He coaches swimming and soccer in Tuscola. 

Thomas said, “One thing I have learned over the years is that students learn best when they are valued as people and individuals first then academically afterwards,”

The high school received three teachers and also a new social worker, Neal Garrison.

Garrison worked as a school counselor at Mahomet-Seymour high school for the last two decades and has worked in several positions in education before that. Garrison is a Mahomet native, but said he has enjoyed his short time in Tuscola so far, “The students, teachers, administration, and community have shown themselves to be amazingly kind and caring people,” said Garrison, “This really is a special town and I am so fortunate to get the opportunity to work here.”

He’s looking forward to working with the students and helping them through their high school careers.  Students aren’t the only ones who learn with Garrison, he said he learned many valuable lessons from students himself “I think being around students has helped me to be a better person as I have watched them show compassion to each other over the years.”

Tuscola High Schoolers will see two new faces in the classrooms Sarah Schoon in Agriculture class and Dean Gjerde will teach social studies.

Schoon is from White Heath and went to Monticello High School, while a new face. She said the staff members have been welcoming and helpful. She’s excited to build up the schools FFA program and teach students more about the agriculture industry. Schoon said the school is trying to expand the FFa program this year and become more involved in career development events. Expanding the program would mean they would add new events as a Chapter and participate in more FFA State conferences, contests and workshops.

Schoon said,” The exciting part about teaching high school is that it always keeps you on your toes, no day is the exact same.”

Gjerde is a first-year teacher who graduated recently from Eastern Illinois University. He’s originally from the Joliet area, but no lives in Charleston.

As a he’s teaching for the first time this year, Gjerde said he is looking forward to teaching everything in his social studies class. Gjerde said he comes from a family of teachers, which helped inspire him to become an educator himself. Another person who influenced this choice was Dan Jerdy, a teacher from his high school days.

The school district hired a new director of technology, Jeremy Rodebaugh. Rodebaugh has a long history of teaching in Douglas County, he taught at Arthur as a high school teacher for five years and was the technology director there for 11. He was the principle for 7th to 12th graders in Cerro Gordo.

Rodebaugh said he wasn’t involved in tech for the last five years but is now coming back into the field “I’m really excited to get back into my expertise again,” said Rodebaugh.

Nicolle Shay is the new Jr. High Athletic Director, teaches junior high girls physical education and sixth grade health and also coaches seventh grade girls basketball. Shay said this will be her 14th year in education. Shay is originally from La Place and graduated high school from Cerro Gordo in 2004.

Shay said she’s looking forward to helping students find new ways to enjoy exercise.

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