Rhonda Miller

Reporter

Rhonda Miller joined WKU Public Radio in 2015.  She has worked as Gulf Coast reporter for Mississippi Public Broadcasting, where she won Associated Press, Edward R. Murrow and Green Eyeshade awards for stories on dead sea turtles, health and legal issues arising from the 2010 BP oil spill and homeless veterans.

She has worked at Rhode Island Public Radio,  as an intern at WVTF Public Radio in Roanoke, Virginia, and at the South Florida Sun-Sentinel and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Rhonda’s freelance work called Writing Into Sound includes stories for Voice of America, WSHU Public Radio in Fairfield, Conn., NPR and AARP Prime Time Radio.

She has a master’s degree in media studies from Rhode Island College and a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Boston University.

Rhonda enjoys quiet water kayaking, riding her bicycle and folk music. She was a volunteer DJ for Root-N-Branch at WUMD community radio in Dartmouth, Mass. 

Kentucky Wesleyan College

Kentucky Wesleyan College received a $3 million gift from an Owensboro dentist who was not a graduate of the school.

Dr. Willard Gillespie died in July at age 92 and designated the money to the college in his will. Kentucky Wesleyan College President Bart Darrell said the dentist often spoke of his support for the school’s mission.

“We really do combine, and this is something that Dr. Gillespie really believed in, we really do combine the practical career end game type education, but at the same time, everything we do is guided by what we call the Wesleyan Way, four principles of honor, support for each other, competition with integrity and then love for each other,” said Darrell.

Darrell said the dentist appreciated the school’s dedication to providing career training and the importance the college places on character building, integrity and community.

Institute of Southern Jewish Life

A synagogue in Owensboro, Kentucky is preparing to hold services for the High Holy Days that begin at sundown on Oct. 2. 

The synagogue was built in 1877 by 13 founding families. There are currently seven member families, as well as a few non-members who participate.

The effort to keep the synagogue functioning is led by two Jewish members who open the doors for a Friday evening study session. Through those open doors have come several non-Jews drawn to the Jewish teachings.

“Come let us welcome the Sabbath. May its radiance illumine our hearts as we kindle these tapers,” said synagogue President Sandy Bugay, as she recently lit the candles that mark that start of the Jewish Sabbath that begins at sundown Friday and ends at sundown Saturday.

Bugay led the Hebrew blessing for the half-dozen people gathered around a table in a meeting room at the synagogue:

Simpson County Schools

The Simpson County School District is seeing a rise in the number of students who don’t speak English as their native language.

The overall percentage of the district’s 3,000 students who don't speak English as their first language remains small, but has more than doubled in the last couple of years.

Superintendent Jim Flynn said the need to add staff for those students became clear.

“We’ve really increased from probably having about 15 or 20 students to now we’re somewhere between 40 and 50 students.”

The district has added another teacher this academic year for English Language Learners, to go along with another part-time teacher working with ELL students.

Flynn said the ELL teachers travel among the county schools from pre-K through high school. He says some of the students they help have had breaks in their formal education.

ADANI

The Daviess County Detention Center has a new state-of-the-art body scanner to help cut down on contraband.

Jailer David Osborne says Daviess County has problems common to most jails and prisons – the continuing and increasing amount of contraband being smuggled in, especially drugs.

“It seems that nowadays people are getting smarter about how they try to smuggle it and most of the time now it’s actually in body cavities. Even in the jail, once they’re in here, they just keep it stored there, if you can imagine, in balloons or in plastic bags or whatever.”

The body scanner is similar to the machines used at airports, but it has two views from different angles to help detect hidden drugs or other items.

The scanner has advanced technology called DruGuard. The software component outlines the part of the body of the person being scanned where drugs may be concealed.

Osborne says the scanner is especially important for inmates who leave the jail for work assignments,  where they sometimes try to arrange drug deals.

“You name it, they’ll smuggle anything in and everything in here , you see, is valuable. And it’s dangerous, because it causes the inmates to want to fight each other to get that drug. Or when they get high it causes problems for our staff."

Osborne says the $150,000 scanner is an important step to increase safety. He says the new technology may eventually allow the jail to do away with strip searches.

Daviess County Emergency Management

The first solar-powered weather siren in Daviess County is taking the emergency warning system a step forward in green technology.  The siren is at Shively Park in Owensboro.

John Clouse is deputy director of emergency management for Daviess County.  He says all 40 sirens in the county are powered with battery back-up and this first solar one is a test project.   

“So charging that with solar energy versus an electrical charge from one of the companies just seemed to make sense. We have a lot of sunshine and the new solar technology is very good at being able to collect and generate energy even on cloudy days now.”

Clouse said the solar-powered siren is tested regularly and so far, so good.

“To this point it’s been working great. We have had no problems with it at all. We test the sirens usually about three times a week, most notably on Friday at noon when we have the audible test. The siren has been behaving as it should since it’s been installed.”

Daviess County Public Schools

Some students in Daviess County Public Schools are taking part in a first-year program aimed at helping those who are new to the U.S.

The Newcomer Program is launching this year at Apollo High School and College View Middle School.

Students at other Daviess County schools who qualify for the program take a school bus to the Newcomer Program and spend the day there. 

Jana Beth Francis is assistant superintendent for teaching and learning for Daviess County Schools. She said the goal is a balance between basic English language skills and immersion.                                  

“They spend half the day in the Newcomer Program and then the other half of the day they are integrated into the regular school, where they get a chance to be with English-speaking students and start to get some of their core classes.”

Orchestra Kentucky

Orchestra Kentucky is beginning a national search for its next executive director. 

Darrell Edwards left the post with the Bowling Green-based group earlier this month after 12 years on the job.

Orchestra Kentucky Music Director Jeffrey Reed credits Edwards with helping transform the group, which began as a chamber orchestra doing about six concerts a year.

“When we hired Darrell we had just existed for three or four seasons, so we were in our infancy. He gave us experience and vision, helping us realize we really could step out and grow the organization.” 

In the past 12 years, Orchestra Kentucky’s annual budget has increased from $50,000 to $900,000. The group now does about 15 concerts a year that include classical and popular music.

Ohio County Economic Development Alliance

Ohio County is launching an innovative business center with the goal of bringing  new jobs that have most of the commuting done online.

Chase Vincent is executive director of the Ohio County Economic Development Alliance. He says the business incubator is a way to offset the expense of bricks-and-mortar for startups.

“The concept of an incubator is that they come together and share experiences and advice and learn together. It dramatically increases their rate of success for becoming a long-standing business in the community.”

Vincent points to the increasing popularity and viability of remote work as confirmation of the timeliness of the Ohio County project. He says all the pieces are in place for the incubator. 

“We were recently approved for $100,000 from the Ohio County Fiscal Court to purchase property in Hartford to be used as an incubator, training center and co-work space.”

Grayson County Sheriff's Office

Sheriff’s deputies in Grayson County have discovered a crop of marijuana planted between rows of corn and they’ve sent a message to the unknown grower on Twitter.

The message is #WeGotYoWeed.

WFIE TV reports deputies found 254 marijuana plants in a cornfield a few hundred feet off Highway 54. The estimated value of the marijuana is $600,000.

The deputies left a handwritten note in the field that says, “Thanks for the weed. If you’d like to claim it, you can come by the office.”

The Grayson County Sheriff's Office said an anonymous tip led deputies to the field. So far, no arrests have been made.

Somerset Community College

Somerset Community College has received a $200,000 grant from the National Science Foundation to expand the reach of its 3-D printing program.

The main focus of the grant is to advance biomedical applications for 3-D printing in the region.

Eric Wooldridge is associate professor of 3-D printing at Somerset Community College.  He says the technique is already playing a big role in biomedical field.

“We actually can take full body MRIs and select sections that we want to print off. It can be the actual organs. It can be the bone structure. Whatever a surgeon or physician may need to better prepare for surgery or plan diagnostically what they’re going to do.” 

He says the process uses different types of materials to create physical forms.

Land Bank of Evansville

Evansville is creating a nonprofit land bank under a new Indiana law that went into effect this month.

Kelley Coures is executive director of the Evansville Department of Metropolitan Development. He says the land bank gives the city a way to demolish vacant buildings that are not valuable enough to be renovated and are not bringing in tax revenue.

“The land bank functions just like a regular bank, instead of money it takes in property. We’re hoping that developers will see that we have lots of available land, or we will have, after we clear out all of these vacant and blighted structures. And we can build things like new homes, affordable housing.”

He says the vacant properties are sometimes used by homeless people or drug dealers and that creates safety issues in neighborhoods.

“Ten percent of all fires in cities like Evansville occur in vacant and abandoned structures. Homeless people, vagrants come in, start fires to try and keep warm or people making drugs, people cooking methamphetamine get in these houses, since there’s no occupant, and make drugs there.”

Coures says Vanderburgh County loses $2 million a year in unpaid property taxes from the properties that have no current owner. The Evansville City Council gave final approval to the land bank this week.

Kentucky Mesonet

If you’ve been outside lately, you know it’s hot.

The National Weather Service has issued a heat advisory for most of our area through the weekend.

High temperatures will be in the mid-to-upper 90s. Those temperatures are not the only thing to be concerned about, says Patrick Collins, a meteorologist for the statewide weather monitoring system called Kentucky Mesonet.

“Be careful of the temperature, as well as the heat index, which is the temperature added to the amount of humidity in the air."

Over the next few days, that combination will produce a heat index that feels more like 105-to-110 degrees. A heat index of 105 or higher is especially dangerous for children, the elderly and people who work outside. 

It’s been an intense summer in Kentucky weather-wise.  Before the heat wave, Kentucky had heavy rains that broke records in at least one location in the state.

Megan Schargorodski is operations manager for  Kentucky Mesonet, which has  66 weather stations.

“Earlier in July we had an event in western Kentucky, in Marshall County, that experienced about 8 inches of rain in 5 hours. According to climatological charts, that's about a 1,000- year event.”

That means the area is only expected to get that much rain in that amount of time only about every 1,000 years. 

Daviess Co. Public Schools

Transportation managers are interviewing, hiring and training at Daviess County Public Schools.  They’ve gotten a good response to their recruitment campaign that advertised a job that comes with “a company vehicle."

That vehicle is a bus.

Lora Wimsatt is a spokesperson for the school district. She said with 117 daily bus routes that carry 7,000 students, the district has to keep up its staff of trained drivers.

“I had worked with our transportation director and we were concerned that the number of applicants for open school bus driver positions had decreased over the years. So we wanted to do something new and exciting that would get people’s attention and get people talking.”

The recruitment for bus drivers started this past April. The district posted colorful banners that said, “Now hiring school bus drivers, benefits, paid training and company vehicle provided.”

Greater Owensboro Federation of Advanced Manufacturing Education

A program to address the shortage of skilled workers for advanced manufacturing is expanding in the Owensboro area.

The project is called GO FAME, which stands for Greater Owensboro Federation of Advanced Manufacturing Education. 

It’s a collaboration among regional businesses and Owensboro Community and Technical College. Students are trained as advanced manufacturing technicians in an 18-month apprenticeship program.

William Mounts, president of GO FAME and vice president of Omico Plastics in Owensboro, says companies are doing their part to improve the future workforce by investing in the students.

“We pay them a minimum of $12 an hour and we pay a minimum of half their tuition. Some organizations pay full tuition. Some organizations, like mine, we pay half the tuition plus books. We would have paid full tuition for one student, but we wanted to take two.”

GO FAME launched in March 2015 with 12 businesses and 15 students. It’s expanded to 22 businesses training 35 students.

Rhonda J. Miller

About 125 people attended a public hearing in Bowling Green on June 28 to get an overview and offer comments on Gov. Matt Bevin’s proposed changes to Kentucky’s Medicaid program.

Vickie Yates Glisson is secretary of the Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services. At the public hearing, she said one of the major proposed changes is that instead of copays for medical services, those on Medicaid will pay a small monthly premium. Glisson said the proposal also seeks to include services that address Kentucky’s most critical health issues. 

Cardiovascular health, we have the fourth highest in the nation in heart disease. We have the highest rate of cancers, so we’re addressing lung cancer, smoking cessation, slash lung cancer. We have an out of control drug abuse problem.”

Some at the hearing expressed concern that even a small monthly premium would be barrier to health care for low-income residents. 

Another area of concern that some expressed is that dental and vision care are not included in the basic health care plan.

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