School board, administrators hold retreat
CHAMPAIGN — The Champaign school board, which has several new members, got an in-depth look Monday at several aspects of how Superintendent Judy Wiegand plans to meet the goals of her contract.
Various administrators, including Superintendent Judy Wiegand, gave the board reports about Wiegand's goals for high academic achievement, building and maintaining district facilities that are "safe, sustainable and allow equitable access," and align the district's priorities and resources through a "community-involved planning process."
The retreat, which ran from 3 to 6 p.m. Monday at Central High School, didn't allow enough time to cover three more of Wiegand's goals: using the district's diverse population to create a "rich academic and social environment" in the schools, retaining highly qualified staff and creating community partnerships.
The school board will have another retreat, probably in August, to talk about the rest of Wiegand's goals.
School board President Laurie Bonnett said the retreat gave board members a lot of information to digest.
"I thought it was a good idea" to have the retreat, Bonnett said, and she's hoping the next one will be later in the day, in hopes that more community members can attend.
Wiegand and the district's assistant superintendents spent a lot of time going over academic theory, including what Wiegand called "non-negotiable goals" for student achievement.
The school district will use the new Illinois state standards, known as the Common Core standards, to create scales that will measure students' growth.
The standards should be understandable for students and parents, Wiegand said, and students should be able to keep track of their own progress.
Using that system, teachers and others can tell if students aren't making progress and can find different ways to help those who are struggling.
The standards will be districtwide, Wiegand said.
"There are certain things that are going to be unique to certain schools, and they should have that flexibility," Wiegand said. "But there will be common goals throughout the district."
Assistant superintendents Susan Zola, Angela Smith and Laura Taylor explained the frameworks the district's elementary, middle and high schools use — basically, the nuts and bolts of how teachers teach.
That educational theory is the basis for the school district's goals of improving student achievement, Wiegand said.
Zola, Smith and Taylor shared test scores, how Champaign elementary and middle students compare with national standards when taking a test in fall, winter and spring that measures their progress.
Wiegand emphasized that Unit 4 is comparing students with national standards, rather than the state's standards. The state standards are lower, Wiegand said.
"I do believe we need to put out there to show how students compare to peers nationally," she said, so the school district can "begin addressing the rigor of our curriculum and our instruction."
They shared data from kindergartners, third-graders and fifth-graders, as well as sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders. The charts were broken down by reading and math and by demographic groups. Notably, about 23 percent of black students meet national norms in math. In sixth grade, about 21 percent of blacks meet norms, as well as about 20 percent of black eighth-graders.
Zola also shared what's called a "growth table" for some elementary students, which show how students are making progress.
"Even some of the students who may not be on track are making progress," she said.
But those who are behind need to make more progress, Wiegand said, or else the achievement gap will never close.
Wiegand said the school district will continue to look at students' rates of improvement and at various gaps within certain student groups. She expects to provide a progress report in February on the topic, she said.
Smith said the school district also needs to look at its professional development, to make sure teachers know "what the best practices are for teaching students."
Taylor also shared high school test scores, using data from the ACT and the PLAN test, which predicts student performance on the ACT. She compared it with the state's standards, because not many states around the nation require all students to take the test. In many other states, primarily students who want to attend college take the test.
Growth from the PLAN test to the ACT at both high schools is higher than average, Taylor said.
The school board also heard reports on suspensions, which are down overall but still high for black students.
In the Champaign schools, black students are seven times more likely to be suspended than students of other ethnicities, a ratio Wiegand said "has to go down."
The school district will work with Eddie Fergus, the deputy director of the Metropolitan Center for Urban Education at New York University, to look at the district's data on race and suspensions, as well as other things, like reading at grade level and getting into honors classes, Wiegand said.
Orlando Thomas, the district's director of pupil services, also talked about working with the Champaign Coalition and the Regional Planning Commission to provide centralized services for students who have issues with truancy or have families with mental health issues, help them find services and then follow up with them.
The board also heard about the school district's facilities and financial health, although not quite as in depth as it did about academic achievement.
That portion of the retreat took part in a toasty classroom on Central's third floor, where John Ayers, the district's director of operations, explained that Central had just gotten new lights that gave off less heat.
The school district has a 10-year plan and budget for capital improvements, Ayers said, that are paid for with money from the school facilities sales tax. Projects are mapped out throughout the 10 years, he said, but are sometimes shuffled depending on necessity.
The school district continues to talk about a plan for what to do with Central High School and about possibly asking voters for a property tax increase at a future election to pay for a new high school.
The school district's finances are in good shape, said Director of Business Services Matt Foster, but state funding and changes to teacher pensions continue to be a worry for the school district.
Sequestration is also a worry for certain programs, Zola said, and could possibly mean 5 to 10 percent of cuts specifically for Title I.
The school district saved some money this year by cutting its budget for elementary summer school, which is paid for with Title I money, from $230,000 last year to $110,000 this year. It's possible that the program may have to look at cutting personnel in the future, Zola said.
"It's one of the things we'll have to look at as we move forward," she said.