Ditching Urbana High's deans would be bad idea, school board told

Ditching Urbana High's deans would be bad idea, school board told

URBANA — Tuesday night's Urbana school board meeting was standing-room-only as members of the public and district employees came to discuss a controversial plan proposed by district officials earlier this week.

Educators told board members they felt blind-sided when, during a staff meeting Monday, it was announced that the district plans to eliminate its deans at Urbana High School, as well as overhaul the district's disciplinary system.

"The impression is that deans are there to just give out negative consequences," said UHS technology coordinator Kevin Erlinger. "This could not be further from the truth."

Among other responsibilities, deans work in different capacities to promote student academic progress and personal development, as well as maintain building safety. Although the role includes a disciplinary aspect, educators opposed to the board's proposal emphasized that punitive measures do not constitute the majority of deans' role.

Julie Erlinger, a 24-year veteran teacher at the high school, suggested that the board's idea stemmed from a misconception of the role as being mostly punitive.

"Many of you have no idea what the life of a dean is," she said. "Have you ever spent a day shadowing them? How many assumptions are being made about how punitive they are without seeing the work that they do? Bottom line: They care for our students, and they keep our building safe."

Superintendent Don Owen said the district does not plan to leave the deans out of a job.

"We are not firing these individuals," he said. "And we are not saying they have not done an excellent job."

But Owen said the district's use of restorative practices, which focus on solving student issues instead of punitive discipline, means the position may have to evolve into something different.

"When we talk about deans, the primary function of a dean has been dealing with student discipline," Owen said. "We want to do that in a system that doesn't have deans because our restorative practices will be so strong. That doesn't mean these individuals don't have a place in our system."

Part of the frustration educators said they feel comes from confusion surrounding the board's decision. Staff members told the board they were concerned at the lack of explanation of the reasons behind it, as well as the fact that they learned about it only after it had already been seriously considered by the board without staff or public input.

"No clear reasons were given," said high school math teacher Daniel Bechtel. "Only the vaguest of plans were in place. What teachers, parents or building staff were asked?"

Staff also told the board they did not understand why the proposed changes would be implemented so quickly.

Matthew Murrey, a librarian at Urbana High, said his understanding of the board's decision was that, if it decided to eliminate the positions, that would happen by August.

"Why was there a plan that will require a complete overhaul of policies and procedures with only five months of lead-up time before it will be implemented?" he asked. "Over half that will be summer break."

Educators said they were also concerned that six new positions the district is planning to implement could be filled by noncertified staff. Board President John Dimit said members did not address the public comment at the meeting because it is not board policy to do so.

Among other items, the board has also been asked to consider approving $560,000 worth of working-cash projects at its March 13 meeting. These include a pool-pack HVAC system for the aquatic center, as well as replacement of the gym floor at the high school and resurfacing of the athletic complex's track.

Action items the board approved Tuesday included the renewal of the district's print-shop management and operational services contract at its current rate of $8,859 per month, as well as entering a five-year lease with RK Dixon to get new copier equipment across the district at a rate of $7,210 per month.

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chief21 wrote on March 07, 2018 at 12:03 pm

This is all part of the "equity" thing. Severe discipline problems at both high school and middle school....Deans on the hit list because of so called jump on minority idea. You have got to go to this school and see some of the senseless , behavior.