Education

School district picks new principal for Belleville elementary school

Belleville junior high students prepare to say goodbye to dean of students

During the Belleville, IL, District 118 School Board meeting, Kelly Harter was chosen to be Westhaven Elementary School's new principal starting July 1. Harter is currently the dean of students at West Junior High School in Belleville, IL, in Sout
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During the Belleville, IL, District 118 School Board meeting, Kelly Harter was chosen to be Westhaven Elementary School's new principal starting July 1. Harter is currently the dean of students at West Junior High School in Belleville, IL, in Sout

Kelly Harter has wanted to be a principal since she was a new teacher at Union School.

About nine years later — on July 1 — she’ll begin her first school year as a principal at Westhaven Elementary School, which is also in Belleville District 118. Harter, 31, said she was drawn to the position because she saw the effect that principals could have on students. She hopes to create a “positive culture and climate” in the school through her new role.

She began working as a special education teacher at Union School in 2008 after graduating from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville. She later earned a master’s degree from McKendree University.

Harter currently works as the dean of students at West Junior High School. Before the District 118 School Board voted to approve her new position during its Tuesday night meeting, one of her students who was in the crowd joked that “you can’t let her leave.”

Harter said it will be difficult to say goodbye to “the West Junior High family.”

“I’m a big believer in forming positive relationships and connections with students,” she said. “And I get more out of those relationships than sometimes I think the kids do.”

But Harter says she’s excited to get to know the students and staff at Westhaven this summer as she transitions into her “new home.” She will replace Westhaven Principal Geoff Schwalenberg, who is leaving to take over for Douglas School’s retiring principal, Teresa Case.

Superintendent Matt Klosterman said Harter will bring energy and “a great work ethic” with her to the new job.

“She’s a doer,” Klosterman said. “She’s one that sets those dreams but then gets stuff done.”

As Harter aspired to take on this administrative role, she said it was important to her to remain in District 118.

“Since the day I stood in this room to accept my first teaching position nine years ago,” Harter said during the school board meeting, “I felt the love of the entire district.”

Harter grew up in Swansea and continues to live there today with her husband and two children, a 4-year-old and 1-year-old.

Klosterman said the district will begin working with West Junior High Principal Gustavo Cotto to replace Harter as dean of students.

I’m a big believer in forming positive relationships and connections with students. And I get more out of those relationships than sometimes I think the kids do.

Kelly Harter, dean of students at West Junior High School

The future of bus services

Tuesday night, board members learned that District 118 officials are exploring the possibility of joining forces with Belleville District 201 to offer bus services in the future instead of contracting with a bus company.

“That would be something new for us,” Klosterman said. “As long as I’ve been here, we’ve contracted services.”

Both school districts are considering three options as their joint transportation contract with First Student, Inc., comes to an end this year. Those options are to extend the current contract one year, take on that responsibility themselves or put the service out for a bid to hear from other bus companies.

Klosterman said the elementary and high school districts want to be cost effective while offering transportation services of the same quality. School board members have not yet been asked to vote on any of the options.

In other business, District 118 board members voted to abate real estate taxes by $250,000, which Klosterman said is something the district has done for the last several years.

The school board also recognized the eighth-grade boys basketball team from West Junior High for finishing its season with a 26-1 record. The team went all the way to the state championship where it finished in second place.

At the start of the meeting, the school board observed a moment of silence for 14-year-old Libby Rittmeyer, who died Friday after a fall from a stormwater retention tank. Libby was a student at West Junior High School. According to her obituary, she loved learning and planned to take honors classes in high school next year.

Visitation services took place Tuesday in Belleville.

Lexi Cortes: 618-239-2528, @lexicortes

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