Kimberly Foster

New health director begins during pandemic
Posted on 08/25/2021
Kimberly Foster

An internal applicant has begun her new career leading the nursing department of Poplar Bluff Schools during a global pandemic – a story, no doubt, to tell future grandchildren.

Kimberly Foster was hired as R-I director of health services by the Board of Education during the March meeting to succeed Sheryl Talkington, who has retired after serving over a quarter of a century.

Having previously worked as the district’s traveling registered nurse, Foster was uniquely positioned to shadow Talkington through the public health emergency, as the department’s function changed entirely last school year.

“Throughout a very difficult 2020/21, Ms. Foster’s presence was in the forefront, while we were making these impactful decisions of how the district moves through the health crisis,” said Dr. Scott Dill, R-I superintendent. "Ms. Foster's hand and voice were always there to help guide us, and get the work done with fidelity.”

In order to help keep a seated option for students, Foster and her predecessor administered COVID-19 tests for hundreds of employees and dozens of students. The duo interfaced regularly with the Butler County Health Department in contact traces, which had gone from over 600 quarantines within the campus community at the height to just three, last recorded. Two contact tracing positions were soon established to unburden the nursing staff, who were also busy isolating symptomatic students as well as performing regular duties.

“We had rough patches, but golly, it made us stronger as a school community,” Foster recollected. “We prepared for the worst, but did what we needed to do at that time.

“We never made a decision in the office off an opinion. We would find the correct answer.”

Foster began with the district in 2017 as a long-term substitute RN and asthma educator, before accepting a full-time position, leading a small health staff at the Middle School for two years. Her career in the medical field started as a surgery nurse at Poplar Bluff Regional Medical Center for five years, after which she took a job as a traveling nurse with hospitals across the region through Concentric Healthcare Staffing.

A Van Buren native, Foster earned her bachelor’s degree in health sciences from Central Methodist University in Fayette, and her associate in nursing from Three Rivers College. Her husband, Chris, works in the surgery and specialty services unit at Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis. They have a daughter, Eva-Charlotte, who will attend Oak Grove Elementary.

“I hope to continue the great department that Sheryl started,” Foster commented. “She was a respected leader, and did it with ease, but I know it took 27 years to make it like that.”

The R-I nursing department is comprised of a team of 16 staff members. One of Talkington’s final acts was ensuring that each school campus has a licensed nursing position. Exceptions remaining include the Early Childhood Center, since it is now connected to the Kindergarten Center, and Mark Twain School, which currently receives emergency coverage from Foster’s successor in her previous post. Foster said her goal for the coming school year is to do whatever is necessary to help take care of students and staff so that instruction can be delivered in person.

She said she “feels 100 percent prepared,” being familiar with current guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services. Foster noted that she had a fast track to building relationships with school officials since she has been on the frontlines.

“It’s comforting to know, especially in the midst of our circumstances, that we have someone in charge who previously helped weather the storm,” Dill continued. “By virtue of her experience moving in and out of our buildings, she has the innate familiarity with the recent history of the school district and how we conduct the business of keeping schools open during a health crisis.”

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