Members of the Community Unit School District 7 Board of Education committed Monday night to spend upward of $90,000 to implement a new student assessment testing program and a second program to interface with students and parents, manage fee payments and manage other aspects of the school operation. Both programs should be in place and functioning before the start of the 2019-2020 school year.
In other action, after meeting in executive session for nearly three hours, the board narrowly voted to extend the contract of High School Principal Shane Owsley, and voted unanimously to extend the contracts of Middle School Principal Jill Rosentreter and Elementary Principal Angela Sandretto.
Following an extensive presentation and discussion on Skyward, an education program that manages fee payments, registration and other aspects of the academic environment, the board voted unanimously to enter into a three-year contract with the Bloomington-based company on a motion by Board President Mark Hayes, seconded by Jenni Alepra.
“I think Skyward is the way to go,” said Supt. Joe Tieman. “It’s cutting edge. It’s what most schools we contacted are using. But it does come with a hefty price tag.”
To launch Skyward locally, the district will pay $74,882 for set-up, data transfer and training. Tieman said the largest percentage of the initial fee is for training and that the contract requires district staff to participate in the training. “That’s something I’ve never seen in a contract before,” he said, adding that provision seems to demonstrate the company’s commitment to ensuring staff members are properly trained to use the program before it is implemented.
In addition to the initial fee, the district will pay $27,187 annually for the Skyward program and service.
Tieman said the pricing represents a “significant increase” over what the district has been paying for a similar but more limited program called STI, which recently was acquired by the California-based Power School company. Administrators also researched a school management program offered by Infinite Campus, based in Minnesota, before settling on Skyward as their recommendation to the board.
According to Tieman, the district currently pays $10,000 annually for STI, plus another $3,000 or $4,000 for software to manage school lunch payments which will be incorporated into the new program. He said the increase in cost will amount to about $19,000 annually.
All three building principals were unanimous in recommending Skyward.
All three building principals were unanimous in recommending Skyward.
Middle School Principal Rosentreter said Skyward is the software of choice for surrounding school districts in Macoupin County and districts near Macoupin County. “We didn’t hear any negative comments from any Skyward users,” she said. “I have four teachers who came from Skyward-using schools and they are excited” about switching to the Skyward platform.
Once in place, the program will facilitate management of attendance reports, discipline reports and scheduling. It also will be used for processing payroll and financial reports, accepting fee payments and school lunch payments. Additionally, it will manage health information on individual students.
Program modules will provide an interface between the school district and student parents or guardians. Tieman said that among the advantages of the parent portal is an option for parents update their own contact information, reducing the possibility of encountering outdated contact information when school officials find it necessary to contact a parent. The program also will facilitate disseminating alerts to parents and guardians in the event of an emergency, schedule change or other issue.
Skyward also will enable the district to offer for the first time an option for parents and guardians to register students online in lieu of registering them in person. Elementary Principal Angela Sandretto said parents will have an option of registering in person or online, and that parents who choose to register their students in person will be “walked through” the online process so they can take advantage of that option in the future if they so desire. Ultimately, she said, the option may allow the district to reduce the number of days and time slots it offers each summer for on-site registration before the start of the school year.
Principals also cited the program’s ability to integrate with other programs the district uses including MAP (Measures of Academic Progress), a student assessment program also approved by the board Monday night.
Board member Don Dobrino worried openly about how the move toward more technology may impact the school district’s relationship with the community. “Are we losing our closeness to the community by doing this?” he asked.
“We talked about that,” Sandretto acknowledged. Parents registering students, she noted, will have the option to register their children in person or use the online system. “At this time we don’t know how many parents are going to want to take advantage of that option.”
“Our world is becoming more data-driven,” Tieman observed.
The board unanimously approved entering into a contract for the MAP testing program at a cost of $16,000 per year on a motion by Board President Mark Hayes, seconded by Dennis Tiburzi. MAP will replace STAR, a student testing program currently used by the district at an annual cost of $14,000.
STAR, she noted, tracks student performance and growth in reading and math only while MAP provides student assessment in those areas, along with language arts, science and social studies.
Response to Intervention Coordinator Lisa Ballinger described MAP, offered by the not-for-profit Northwest Evaluation Association (NWEA), as far superior to STAR (Standard Test for Assessment of Reading) offered by the Renaissance Learning. STAR, she noted, tracks student performance and growth in reading and math only while MAP provides student assessment in those areas, along with language arts, science and social studies.
Moreover, MAP provides more diagnostic data to pinpoint the causes for students underperforming in specific academic areas, facilitating the development of specific teaching strategies to meet individual students’ needs. STAR can identify students who are underperforming in math and reading but MAP provides more information “when it comes to drilling down and finding the causes” for substandard student performance. Moreover, the program can assist in analyzing data to guide college preparation or career choices for students starting as early as the fifth grade.
PRINCIPALS REHIRED FOR COMING YEAR
The board voted to extend principal contracts by one year at the “appropriate salary schedule” following two executive sessions totaling about two and one-half hours. The votes came after board members met for about two and one-half hours in executive session to discuss personnel issues. The board typically meets in executive session for one hour prior to convening the open session. On Monday night, however, the pre-meeting executive session went for 90 minutes before the board convened the open session at 7:30 p.m. The board then took the unusual step of meeting again in executive session for about one hour at the conclusion of the open session.
Upon returning to open session at about 10:20 p.m., the board voted unanimously to extend Rosentreter’s contract by one year. The board voted 6-0, with Dennis Tiburzi voting “present,” to extend Sandretto’s contract by one year.
The board also voted narrowly to extend Owsley’s contract as High School Principal by one year. Board members Dobrino, Tiburzi and Alepra voted “no,” while Board President Hayes and members Weye Schmidt, Becky Hatlee and Bill Carter cast affirmative votes. Owsley, who previously served as Dean of Students and as a coach in the North Mac School District, was hired last April on a three-year contract after the board declined to renew the contract of former High School Principal Lori Emmons. No reasons were immediately given for the dissenting board members’ objections to extending Owsley’s contract.
In other personnel action, the board:
- Voted unanimously to post vacancies for the 2019-2020 school year for a high school science teaching position and middle school special education teaching position.
- Unanimously voted to accept the resignation of middle school math teacher Karen White and post the position as vacant for the coming school year.
- Voted unanimously to appoint Mary Kirk as high school yearbook sponsor for the coming school year.
- Voted 6-1, with Dobrino voting “no,” to hire Kerri Bailey as a full-route bus driver.
- Voted unanimously to accept the resignations of Kim Henderson as middle school Student Council sponsor and Gina Frensko as middle school cheer coach, and to post both positions as vacant for the 2019-2020 school year.
- Voted 5-2 to accept the resignation of Tammy McCollum as a full-route bus driver and to post the position as vacant. Both Schmitt and Dobrino voted “no.”
IN-SCHOOL DETENTION PROGRAM DISCUSSION
The board took no action nor did administrators ask for action after hearing a presentation by Brett Berry, a North Greene High School teacher and coach who coordinates an in-school suspension program. The program—called ARCC, an acronym for Accountability, Repairing Harm, Community Service and Communication—is an alternative to removing students from the school setting for disciplinary purposes.
“It keeps them in school,” Berry said, “instead of running the streets.”
Teachers refer students to Berry when students commit infractions that warrant in-school suspensions. While under Berry’s supervision, the students are required to keep up with classwork “instead of staring at the wall or reading the newspaper.” They also meet with school counselors to address behavior issues. Each student completes an “entrance form” acknowledging the behavior that landed them in detention. When they complete the detention, they complete an exit form describing how they plan to adjust their behavior in the future. The exit form also documents possible penalties for future infractions.
The program includes a community service component requiring students to pick-up litter or work with the janitorial staff.
“In our opinion, this has worked very well,” Berry said. Students in detention often are reticent about talking about problems at home or in their lives that may contribute to behavior issues, he said. “This gives them an avenue to talk to someone.”
He likened North Greene demographics to the Gillespie area and many other rural schools.
“We’re like an urban school set out in the middle of the country,” he said. “We have the meth labs, we have kids living in places with a dirt floor.” Normal discipline strategies are unlikely to work with students from such backgrounds. “They’ve been being yelled at all their lives,” he said.
Berry appeared at the invitation of High School Principal Owsley. While no request was made for the board to consider such a program locally, administrators may present a measure to hire an in-school suspension coordinator at a future meeting.
BAND OF BROTHERS
While taking no formal action, the board tentatively endorsed a proposal from the Band of Brothers motorcycle club to sponsor a “backpack” run to collect backpacks and school supplies for students who cannot afford basic school needs. Troy Eaker, speaking for the club, said club members were exposed to the idea last year in Moline, where a local motorcycle club collected three pick-up loads of backpacks and supplies during a “backpack” run.
Eaker said the club is veteran oriented and typically sponsors activities to benefit veterans and raise awareness of veterans’ issues.
“We wanted to do something to give back to the community,” he said.
The club has tentatively set July 21 as the date for the run. Participants will donate a backpack in lieu of paying an entry fee. Backpacks and school supplies will then be donated to the school district. Eaker said Fox Channel 2 News and KSHE radio personalities have both agreed to attend and promote the event. The event also will feature food and other activities for non-cycling supporters who want to participate.
“If they don’t want to go on the run,” he said, “they can stop by” and participate by donating school supplies or a backpack.
Tieman suggested the club work with Elementary Principal Sandretto to coordinate its efforts with a similar school supply drive sponsored by the school. Eaker said one issue the club would want to work out is ensuring that the supplies it collects are offered to students free of charge. Sandretto said the school-sponsored program asks for a voluntary token donation of $3 to be used for buying supplies that may not be donated, but she said she was sure they could work out arrangements to meet the club’s conditions for free distribution.
“With everything we do, we don’t charge anything,” another representative of the club said. “It’s all free of charge. With the way the economy is these days, everyone is struggling.”
FUEL BID ACCEPTED
On a motion by Alepra, seconded by Schmidt, the board unanimously accepted a low bid from M & M Service Co. to supply fuel for the 2019-2020 academic year. The bid basically calls for the district to pay 14 cents in excess of the daily “rack price” for diesel fuel and gasoline.
M&M Services was the low bidder for gasoline and the only bidder on diesel. Sieveking, Inc. offered a bid for gasoline at a fluctuating rate of 18 cents over the daily rack price.