The Southwestern schools will launch a program to provide ground beef for community members struggling to put food on the table.

Through the new Community Calf Project, which was created by agriculture teacher Greg Schneider, students will raise and care for calves until the animals reach maturity and can be taken to a processor. Once the animals are slaughtered, the meat will be given to the Gleaners Food Bank at Southwestern. 

Schneider said the need for such a program exists in Jefferson County. At Southwestern, 54 percent of the student body is on free and reduced lunches.

"I really think we've got a great thing in the works," he said, adding that he has not heard of any school with a similar program. "I think this really has the opportunity of being a pilot program that other communities can incorporate."

The school board approved the program 4-0 Monday night, with Deanna Liter absent.

Superintendent Steve Telfer said he wanted the town of Hanover to check on zoning regulations first before moving forward.  

For the program, the school will transform the current crop-growing area on campus into an area to keep livestock. Animal science and veterinary science students will raise the calves until the animals are weaned - which occurs at about six to eight weeks.

After that, the calves will be placed with a host farmer and raised to maturity. The school will provide feed for the farmers, and students will conduct farm calls. Schneider said the school also will seek donations from the public to care for the animals.

He said he hopes to begin the program in February. Once the steer are processed, the cycle will repeat itself every two to three months. Schneider said he initially thought of more than 30 farmers who could act as hosts for the calves, as to evenly distribute the burden of housing the animals.

Also at the meeting, the board continued to investigate offering a daycare and preschool program.

Margaret Thornton, who has worked for more than three years at Pope John Elementary School daycare and preschool, attended the meeting to offer her services for the program.

Telfer said the school first needs direction from the board regarding the design of the program. He said one major issue is that the board needs to decide whether to run the program as a business or an extension of the school. In addition, he said the school needs to review the proper licensing.  

The school board recently sent out a questionnaire to the community to gain feedback about the possible program.

Laura Bolderly said so far they have at least eight families interested in the program.

Thornton also said she would bring at least six children to the program. When asked by the board about costs, Thornton said she would charge about $135 a week for a full-time child and could run the service from 6:30 to after 5 p.m.

Board President Kevin Brierly said he believes the program would benefit the school and attract potential students. If the program is pursued, Telfer said he hoped it could start next school year.

In other business:

• Boldery reported that the school's 2013 budget has been approved by the state Department of Local Government Finance. The certified budget contains total appropriations of $14.4 million, which is up from last year's total budget of 12.9 million. Bolderly said she was pleased with the budget and does not foresee the need for a reduction in force.

• The board swore in Jodi Gray and Michael Hicks. Hicks, a former Southwestern principal, took over Narci Burress' seat at the first of the year, while Gray returns to the board. Both ran unopposed in the November election.

• The board re-elected Kevin Brierly as board president, while Cree Green was elected vice president. Jodi Gray was elected as the board secretary.

• The board will again meet once a month on the final Monday of the month for the rest of the year, though a few dates were rescheduled around breaks. However, the board switched the regular meeting time from 6 p.m. to 5 p.m. The dates are Jan. 28, Feb. 19, March 4, April 29, May 20, June 24, July 29, Aug. 26, Sept. 30, Oct. 28, Nov. 26, Dec. 16.

• Southwestern Clothes Closet was awarded $5,000 as part of Wal-Mart's 12 Days of Giving holiday campaign.

Over 12 consecutive days, Wal-Mart awarded a total of $1.5 million to 140 organizations across the country that provide basic needs and services such as food, shelter, clothing and medical care.

The organization awarded nonprofits from 14 different states a total of $70,000.

The grants resulted from more than 21,677 nominations from Facebook users who submitted descriptions of each nonprofit's impact in its local community.

Southwestern Clothes Closet is located in Southwestern Elementary School and is available to anyone in the community.