Members of the Community Unit School District 7 Board of Education on Monday night renewed Supt. Joe Tieman’s contract for another year and made several other, more minor personnel decisions, but it was the district’s recent financial and academic achievements that took center stage.
High School Principal Shane Owsley reported to the board that he was recently contacted by the Vandalia School District to send a contingent of teachers to Gillespie High School to learn more about the local district’s math curriculum and teaching practices.
“They looked at our SAT scores and our demographics, and they couldn’t figure out how our kids are scoring so much higher in math than theirs,” Owsley said. “They are actually going to meet with our teachers to find out what kind of magic they’re doing to make sure our kids do well in math.”
In a similar vein, BenGil Elementary Principal Angela Sandretto said the Carlinville School District “reached out to us to compliment us on our test scores.” The Carlinville Primary School, she said, is sending a team of teachers, along with the Primary School principal, to consult with BenGil teaching staff “to see our procedures, our curriculum and the programs we have in place.”
Later in the meeting, Supt. Tieman reported that the State Board of Education had officially given CUSD 7 a financial profile of 3.7—the highest score the district has ever received. School districts scoring 3.5 or greater qualify for “financial recognition” status. Financial recognition, Tieman said, is the highest level of financial strength recognized by the State Board. School districts with a financial recognition status are school districts that require “little or no financial oversight” by the state, according to the State Board’s classification system.
“As recently as three or four years ago, we were under a financial early warning,” Tieman said. He credited the School Board for its direction and for “assisting me in managing money and making sure we are using our money in an appropriate way.”
“As recently as three or four years ago, we were under a financial early warning,” Tieman said. He credited the School Board for its direction and for “assisting me in managing money and making sure we are using our money in an appropriate way.” At a time when CUSD 7 faced consecutive years of deficit spending largely due to dwindling state aid payments, the board and administration implemented an austerity program that included not filling teaching and staffing vacancies, along with cutting other expenditures. Those measures, coupled with additional revenue from the county School Facilities Sales Tax Fund and a new “evidence-based” state aid funding formula, have put the district’s financial house in order. In addition to having a balanced budget, Tieman said the district is maintaining reserves the district can tap into in the event of an emergency.
Regarding the district’s academic achievements, as evidenced by “school report cards” issued by the State Board of Education in November, Tieman said student performance is a turn-around from just a few years ago.
“When I hear about schools coming to visit our school,” Tieman said, “I think back to a meeting three years ago.” At the direction of the School Board, then Supt. Paul Skeans challenged administrators and staff to significantly improve student scores on state performance tests. Tieman said some teachers were offended “but the Board was saying something had to be done and the Superintendent was saying ‘I’m tired of being mediocre. Why can’t we be the academic leader?’ Our teachers have responded, our students have responded and our parents have responded. Who would have thought that in three years we’d have schools reaching out to us” to learn more about CUSD 7’s teaching methods and programs.
“My two main points tonight are that not only are we now an academic leader, we are also a financial leader,” Tieman said.
“My two main points tonight are that not only are we now an academic leader, we are also a financial leader,” Tieman said.
DISTRICT FOCUS EYES STUDENT ACHIEVEMENTS
After noticing that principal reports to the board often focused on athlete excellence, High School Principal Owsley said he wanted to present a District Focus emphasizing student achievements in the classroom. “You don’t often have a chance to see some of the great things that take place inside the classroom,” he said.
He introduced a team of five vocational students who appeared before the board with a sofa table they had built in shop class. Owsley said that when Mark Goldasich, vocational instructor, showed him a photograph of the piece he “assumed it was something that had been brought in to be refinished or redone but then I was informed these young men had actually built the piece from the ground up.”
The students—Kaleb Crider, Nolan Hayes, Jake Carter, CJ Frensko and Jaylen Ronald—told board members it took about one semester to build the piece. When a photo of the table was posted on Facebook, Owsley said, it elicited dozens of positive comments from area residents. “It was amazing the amount of interest it generated.”
Another student, Dominic Maykopet, attended the meeting with a Nativity creche he built before Christmas for Owsley. Owsley said his father died last year and this was his first Christmas without him. He said he started thinking about Christmas decorations from his childhood, one of which was a Nativity set. Through Ebay, he was able to buy a Nativity set that “was an exact match to the one we had growing up.” The problem was that the set he acquired had no stable.
Owsley said he found a photograph of a stable online, which he showed to Goldasich about two weeks before Christmas break. Goldasich said one of his students could build the stable for him, and Maykopet took on the challenge.
On the day of semester exams, the last day of school before Christmas break, “Dominic came running out to me and said it wasn’t done but he wanted me to have something to take home for Christmas. The student stayed after school to finish the project so Owsley would have it in time for Christmas.
“This is not something you’d see on a Friday night on the football field or the basketball court, but what they are able to do probably is going to make them a lot more money than what they’re doing on the athletic field.”
“I love having the Nativity scene, but the story of Dominic staying and spending extra time to make sure I had it for Christmas makes it even more special,” Owsley said. He said he’s seen similar stables online selling for $300 or more “and you can tell the difference” between them and the one Maykopet made.
“These guys do some amazing things,” Owsley said. “This is not something you’d see on a Friday night on the football field or the basketball court, but what they are able to do probably is going to make them a lot more money than what they’re doing on the athletic field.”
Although the student was unable to attend the meeting, Owsley also presented a piece of art created by art student Kennedy Clark, which recently received a Gold Key Award in a student competition into which teacher Nikki Brawner entered it. Owsley said it was one of only 63 Gold Key Awards given out of more than 1,000 entries. The work will be displayed through Feb. 27 at the Springfield Art Association, after which it will be sent to New York for judging at the national level.
Owsley also showed the board a prototype Miner cellphone cover created by student Eric Johnson in Eric Bogle’s desktop publishing class. He said Bogle is looking into the cost of having several of the cellphone covers manufactured for class members.
POSSIBLE FOOTBALL CO-OP WITH BUNKER HILL
The board informally directed Supt. Tieman to “at least explore” the possibility of entering into an agreement with the Bunker Hill School District for a cooperative football program after Owsley reported he had been approached by Bunker Hill Principal Matt Smith about the prospect. Bunker Hill reportedly had considered a similar agreement with Mount Olive, but Mount Olive has since entered into an agreement with the Staunton School District.
Tieman is expected to report back to the board with the relative pros and cons of entering into a co-op with Bunker Hill. If the board opts to co-op with Bunker Hill, the agreement would be effective with the 2019 season for a minimum of two years.
While two years would be the minimum length of the agreement, Owsley said Bunker Hill is interested in a more long-term contract.
At least one board member, Bill Carter, expressed reservations about the prospect. With Gillespie High School’s long-term enrollment trends, Carter said, the agreement would be likely to move the local team from 2A to 3A competition. That change, he asserted, could result in longer distances for the team to travel in order to play other teams in their class.
“Most of the schools in our conference are 3A schools,” Owsley said. “I’d hate to cheat anyone out of an opportunity to play football.” Creating the co-op would make the local team 3A, possibly 4A, he said. In terms of travel, he said the schedules he has seen include schools as far north as Auburn to schools south of St. Louis.
“I think we can explore the option,” said Board President Mark Hayes. “We’re not making a decision.”
“I need to know from the board if this is a directive for something you want us to explore,” said Tieman. “What I’m hearing to at least explore it.”
The board adopted a series of policy recommendations from the Illinois State Board of Education’s Policy Recommendation Education Subscription Service, a service that periodically provides policy recommendations to local school districts. The list of policy recommendations ranged from policies regarding students bringing technology into the school to notifications for free and reduced-price lunches. PRESS policy recommendations are routinely enacted, but the board took the unusual step of excluding two recommended policies dealing with student behavior and administering medications to students.
Tieman said he recommended excluding the two policies because of potential liability issues and the possibility that one of the policies could jeopardize the district’s federal funding.
One of the policies, dealing with administering medications to students, would allow a school district “if it chooses to do so, make medications available to students essentially 24/7,” Tieman said. “The issue with that is that once you agree to that policy, that medication has to be available all the time.”
As an example, he said, students attending an after-hours function on campus would have a right to access their medication stored at the school. That would mean coaches, teachers, and staff would have to have to have keys to access the medication at any time students are present.
“Our attorneys are telling us you can’t do that,” Tieman said, noting it would make teachers and staff liable for student access to medications. “We don’t want to do that and just as important, I don’t want parents to assume that medicine is available so they can make other plans.”
Additionally, the policy makes reference to the so-called Ashley’s Law which would make medical marijuana among the medications to which students would have access. That provision, Tieman said, could put federal funding at risk for the school district.
The student behavior policy also made reference to Ashley’s Law, indicating students with behavioral issues would have access to medically prescribed marijuana on campus.
“I’m not willing to recommend these policies at the risk of putting our federal funding in jeopardy,” he said.
Following an executive session of 80 minutes, the board agreed to extend Tieman’s five-year contract by one year at the same salary as he currently earns. The newly extended contract will be effective through 2024.
On a motion by Jenni Alepra, seconded by Carter, the board voted unanimously to hire Paige Niemeyer as an assistant high school girls soccer coach.
The board also hired Beth Fields as a high school softball coach on a motion by Alepra, seconded by Hayes.
On a motion by Alepra, seconded by Carter, the board accepted the resignation of Nikki Stoecker as the GHS yearbook sponsor and posted the position as vacant. The board also accepted the resignation of Keri Bailey as a full route bus driver, on a motion by Don Dobrino, seconded by Becky Hatlee, and posted the position as vacant.
Middle School Principal Jill Rosentreter reported that the newly constructed STEM Lab is being used extensively by teachers and students and that she has scheduled an Open House for members of the public to view the lab on Feb. 27.
“Our students are enjoying it tremendously,” she said. “Our teachers are absolutely thrilled, and there are some amazing things going on in that lab.”
Tieman agreed, saying he had visited the lab and observed students engaged in experiments and demonstrations.
“I know it carried a hefty price tag,” Rosentreter said, “but if you could see what’s going on in there, it’s absolutely priceless.”
Tieman reminded the board and the public that “95 percent” of the cost of the lab came from revenue generated from the County School Facilities Sales Tax. He lauded those who advocated for passage of the sales tax referendum. “Without those funds, there would be no lab,” he said.
Rosentreter also offered praise for Gerald Brand, representing the Macoupin-Montgomery Chapter of CrimeStoppers, and Resource Officer Jason Stinnett for their work in connection with obtaining emergency buckets for each of the district’s 130 classrooms. CrimeStoppers donated the buckets and Stinnett is actively seeking donations to fill them with emergency supplies such as first aid supplies, flashlights and bottled water.
The buckets, which would be used in the event of an active shooter situation or other emergency, are a step toward “making our entire district safer,” Rosentreter said.
Rosentreter also pointed out that Stinnett has “made great contributions in a short period of time” toward improving school safety. In addition, Tieman said Stinnett is working toward addressing issues with student truancy.
Tieman reported that the district is receiving an annual donation of $3,000 from TDS Transport, Staunton, for two annual $1,500 scholarships in memory of the company’s founder Lynn Schmidt. Tieman said a committee has been formed to pick two recipients, one male and one female. Carter said the scholarship is not aimed at high academic or athletic achievement but will be targeted at otherwise deserving students.
Tieman also reported that he administered a donation of $724 raised by the high school volleyball team. That money, he said, was split between two families in need for Christmas gifts and food.
Tieman said the district received one request under the Freedom of Information Act last month. That request from the Illinois Retired Teachers Association asked for a list of teachers retiring in 2019.
“It was an easy request to fill,” Tieman said, “because there are no teachers retiring in 2019.”