New Vicksburg teaching staff introduced

Hugh Thiel, new math teacher.

By Jef Rietsma

Six new members to the Vicksburg Community Schools family were introduced at the board of education’s Dec. 14 meeting.

Superintendent Keevin O’Neill said it’s traditional to introduce the district’s new hires at the board’s final meeting of the calendar year.

The new employees are Jay Bennett, music instruction at Vicksburg middle and high schools; Shannon Reed, interventionist and English as a second language at the middle school; Hugh Thiel, middle school math; Amber Cousins, third grade at Sunset Lake; Nikki Taplin, Begindergarten at Sunset Lake; and Kim Parsons, virtual first grade at Indian Lake Elementary.

High school principal Adam Brush said Bennett, who fills a retirement position, did his student teaching in Vicksburg. He has also worked with the district’s marching band. “Very positive, an extremely hard worker and very personable,” Brush said.

Bennett said he went to high school in a building that had 2,500 students. Working in Vicksburg provides a close-knit feeling in a district that values the fine arts. He added that he is especially eager to see the district’s middle school students grow from young teens to young adults.

Middle school principal Matt Vandussen introduced Reed and Thiel. He said Reed, who came to Vicksburg from Centreville, brings 21 years of teaching experience and did her teaching internship at Tobey Elementary in the late 1990s. “She’s knocking it out of the park … I love having her here,” he said, musing that Reed came from one Bulldog family to another.

Vandussen said Thiel is a seventh-grade math teacher who is a first-year teacher. A Hope College graduate in 2020, Thiel has “hit the ground running,” Vandussen said. “He brings a great attitude every day … Hugh has not disappointed,” Vandussen added.

Amie McCaw, Sunset Lake principal, said she had the good fortune of landing a pair of high-quality teachers who bring extensive experience to the classroom. She said Cousins served at Indian Lake during a long-term maternity leave this past spring before taking a long-term post at Sunset Lake this fall. Cousins, a VCS graduate, fills a retirement position at the third-grade level. “She’s done a phenomenal job,” McCaw said. “She helped us with some supervision and whenever we needed something, Amber was the one who said, ‘Sure, I can do that.’”

McCaw said Taplin started as Begindergarten teacher during remote learning last spring. McCaw said with a few exceptions, Taplin has not met face-to-face with most of her current students.

Supt. O’Neill, whose 50th birthday was acknowledged earlier in the meeting, said he taught Taplin while a chemistry instructor at Portage Northern High School.

Ruth Hook, Indian Lake principal, said Parsons “turned on a dime” without much advance warning. Parsons has taught in Battle Creek and Kalamazoo.

“It means a lot to me to be finally working for Vicksburg and to be a Bulldog,” Parsons said. “I love my families, I love this community and the support has been huge.”

Board president Skip Knowles said he is proud the six joined the district and he appreciates the strengths they bring to Vicksburg.

In a separate matter, board members acknowledged Wil Emmert, who joined the board in 1993 but fell short in his bid for re-election. Knowles said Emmert has been a great resource to the board and the school district. Other board members, meanwhile, gave accolades to Emmert and said his contribution to the district will be missed.

“Your commitment to VCS and the students has not gone unnoticed, Wil,” O’Neill said. “Thank you for your 27 years of service.”

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