Consent decree progress report filed with court

Consent decree progress report filed with court

CHAMPAIGN – The Champaign school district outlined successes in meeting the goals of its federal consent decree in a report filed Friday with the U.S. District Court.

And it pointed to existing plans that will help it fulfill its obligations, and new steps to speed up its progress.

Champaign school Superintendent Arthur Culver called developing the report a "good reality check" on the district's progress.

"It really brought to the forefront of our attention the significant progress we have made, and it was clear to us, although we've made a lot of progress, there is still a lot of room for improvement," he said. "But it's clear we are going in the right direction."

U.S. District Judge Joe Billy McDade, who is overseeing the district's consent decree case, ordered the district to outline its plans to meet the goals of the consent decree, which is scheduled to end after the 2008-09 school year.

McDade said he was concerned about the district's schedule for complying with the consent decree, which aims to eliminate racial disparities in achievement, discipline, gifted and special education.

The report notes the following achievements, among others:

– Preliminary ISAT results for this year show improvements in math scores for black students in the third, fifth and eighth grades.

– Stratton, Kenwood and Carrie Busey elementary schools were named Spotlight Schools by the Illinois State Board of Education for meeting certain guidelines on academic performance.

– The percent of black students in upper-level courses has increased from 9 percent in 1997 to 39 percent in 2005.

– Three of 11 elementary schools met the 95 percent attendance target for black students, and the other eight elementary schools and two middle schools were within 2 percent.

– A decrease in disciplinary incidents at the elementary level.

– The district hired 20 black teachers last year, a 25 percent increase over the previous year and the largest number of black teachers hired in a single year. The number and percentage of black teachers and administrators have both increased for three consecutive years.

"When I look at where we are now and compare it to where we were in 2002, we've made great strides," Culver said. "Now we're not going to be working so hard to develop and establish the programs and systems we need to improve. They are already there. It's a matter of effectively monitoring and making adjustments as needed."

The report refers to various initiatives the district has in place. It also spells out some new measures to meet its goals. They include:

– An attendance task force established last spring.

– Increased focus on tracking the effectiveness of enrichment courses through students' test scores, and recognizing successful black students in gifted programs to provide role models for other students.

– A look at alternatives for struggling students before assigning them to special education.

– Alternative methods to address tardiness and truancy.

"Many of our suspensions started out with attendance (problems) or truancy, where the child was assigned a consequence of Saturday school and failed to attend that, and it escalated up," Culver said.

– Middle school and high school officials will review and analyze discipline data weekly, and they'll do so monthly with an assistant superintendent.

– A pilot peer jury program at Central High School.

– A recently formed minority teacher retention committee.

A particular challenge of the consent decree is adding elementary seats in the north part of Champaign, Culver said.

"That's nothing we can do ourselves internally. We depend on voters to attain the necessary funding to establish those seats," he said. "It's hard for district personnel to totally control."

The district plans to hold "intense negotiations" with plaintiffs' representatives beginning in mid-October to resolve the issue.

Culver said working with the plaintiffs' representatives on the plan was beneficial for school officials.

"We found that to be a very worthwhile experience," he said. "It allowed us to get feedback from them. They had really good ideas and suggestions they shared, and we incorporated some of those into the plan."

He said a priority for the plaintiffs' representatives was ensuring there was accountability in the plan. All the goals are tied to a specific administrator, and how well the district performs in each area will be a factor in their evaluations, Culver said.

He said one of the most important things the district got out of preparing the report is a stronger system of monitoring how well it is doing in meeting the consent decree goals. He said he's confident the district will meet the requirements in the next three years.

The court will hold a hearing in the case to review the district's progress on Oct. 19 at the University of Illinois College of Law, 504 E. Pennsylvania Ave., C.

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