Urbana High School may drop remedial-level courses

Urbana High School may drop remedial-level courses

URBANA – Many of Urbana High School's remedial classes aren't working, said Principal Laura Taylor, and the answer isn't in fixing them, it's in dropping them altogether.

She said the classes have not prepared students with enough information or set high enough expectations for them.

At a Tuesday evening school board meeting, Taylor said the classes are mainly composed of black and low-income students, and students in these classes – unlike the school's college-preparation classes – have not been passing their state tests.

"We're not presenting the students with the opportunity to learn," she said. "They're in courses that are not preparing them for the test. ... They are not meeting standards."

The school, unlike the middle and elementary schools, does not yet have final test scores from 2006. However, if UHS does not make adequate yearly progress, or AYP, for five years in a row, it is in danger of restructuring.

"In two years, if we don't make AYP, we will have to come up with something," Taylor said. "The option of failing is not an option."

Taylor proposed making level one algebra a mandatory class for first-year students, with a supplemental class offering extra help in math and reading to those who might otherwise take remedial classes.

She proposed tailoring additional extra help classes to sophomore and juniors. She also suggested making speech – now a graduation requirement at Urbana – an elective course instead, allowing additional time for students falling behind to study core subjects.

Taylor also suggested encouraging some students to postpone foreign language studies until junior and senior years, when they have a more solid reading foundation.

"They have to get this elemental basic foundation or they are going to be lost," said Superintendent Gene Amberg.

School board member John Dimit said raising standards for the lower-achieving students was good, but said it shouldn't lower the bar for the higher-achievers.

"The health of this district requires that we have a high school that challenges all types of kids," he said. "Urbana High School is still a place where our top-notch students will be challenged."

Making ISATs, taking apart the pizza

Urbana Middle School Principal Nancy Clinton presented results from the school's Illinois Standards Achievement Tests, or ISATs, which enabled the school to make adequate yearly progress. The tests also showed large improvements in the test scores of black and low-income populations in reading and math.

The school board also heard from Piper Harvey and Sandy Powers of ARAMARK, the food service contractor for the district.

Powers, ARAMARK's regional manager, said the company must meet all USDA school meal requirements and that it exceeds some nutritional requirements. She said foods like pizza are served in a lower-fat version and that nothing is deep-fried. "We are very particular about exactly what goes into these products," Powers said.

Harvey said that though ingredient lists are not printed on menus, they are available to any student or parent who asks. She also said the company is working to include more whole grains, a change school board President Joyce Hudson said was "good to hear."

School board member Mark Netter cited a Monday article in The News-Gazette that quoted eighth-graders giving their opinions on school lunches.

"I was shocked to hear that they found hair in their food or plastic in their food," Harvey said. "This was never brought to me."

"We will make sure that we find out where the problems are and address (them)," Powers said.

Three long goodbyes

The board accepted requests for retirement at the end of the school year of three longtime employees: Jonell Hastings, a learning disability teacher; Carmelita Thomas, director of human resources; and Wiley Elementary School Principal Joan Fortschneider.

"Just those three ladies have 100 years between them in our school district," Amberg said. "We are so pleased of all of the energy and time you have committed to this community and these students."

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