SD 163 Board Receives Many Reports, Celebrates The Good, At May Meeting

Park Forest, IL–(ENEWSPF)– The Finance Committee and Regular Session board meetings held on the evening of May 2, 2011, once again revealed Park Forest – Chicago Heights School District 163 to be a community committed to excellence in the classroom.

However, not all board members seem equally committed to the endeavor. (More near the end).

Board members and administrators present that evening included: Walter Mosby (President), Cheryl Franklin (Secretary), Dr. Joyce Carmine (Superintendent), Denise Faris (Clerk), Phil Conboy, Lance Jefferson, Jacqueline Jordan, Margaret McDannel, Shirley McDonald, and Melvin Pumphrey.

The true strength of District 163 remains in the efforts teachers make every day in the classrooms. On the first Monday of the month, community members have the opportunity to witness what “best practices” are going on inside district classrooms. One of the biggest questions asked in English classrooms is, “What does it mean to be a good reader?” On May 2, Blackhawk Intermediate Center fifth grade teacher Erin Elliot presented videos of her students not only engaging in good reading strategies but also combating bullying at the same time.

In a combined fourth and fifth grade project, teachers and students created a talk show-esque program entitled The Favor Show. On the talk show, student Favor interviewed the authors (played by her fellow students) of her favorite children’s books. The books/authors discussed included: Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo, The Watsons Go to Birmingham by Christopher Paul Curtis, and Tales of a Fourth Grade Nothing by Judy Blume. Student audience members asked questions of these authors. Through these questions – developed both by Ms. Elliot and student helpers from her Response to Intervention (RTI) groups – students were able to reflect on valuable and advanced reading strategies such as: summarizing, determining main ideas and theme, making connections between one’s own life and the text, between texts, and between the text and the author’s life, asking questions to clarify meaning, asking open-ended questions, and discussing character motivation while providing textual evidence for one’s theories.

Ms. Elliot and her fellow teachers have also found ways to integrate creative activities and technology into instructional activities in order to take what students are learning beyond the classroom walls. Ms. Elliot has had students use graphic organizers to rewrite story endings, websites to communicate with authors, and blogs to discuss texts with classmates and make predictions. Such strategies will not only assist students in tackling the questions presented on standardized tests but also encourage students to engage deeply with what they read and, hopefully, develop a lifelong love of reading.

In between author interviews, other students provided staged public service announcements on how to deal with bullying. In a post-Columbine America, bullying cannot be taken too seriously. District 163 teachers are finding creative ways to help students deal with bullying through positive means and peer intervention – even establishing the motto “Think Twice. Be Nice.”

Through activities like those going on in Ms. Elliot’s classroom, District 163 is at the forefront of best practices for the teaching of reading and English. In addition, district students have the opportunity to see highly educated adults as readers.

At the board meeting, Superintendent Dr. Joyce Carmine took the opportunity to speak with several students involved in Ms. Elliot’s project. Student volunteers in attendance May 2 came ready to answer questions of board members. These young people shared their favorite reading strategies, answered questions intelligently, and even dressed to impress – the girls wearing nice blouses and the boys wearing suits. Seeing adults as readers is essential to encouraging young people to become lifelong readers. Dr. Carmine demonstrated she too uses good reading strategies when she shared her own text-to-self connection. Carmine explained that she once had the opportunity to speak with author Christopher Paul Curtis, and he told her that everyone should be read to two years beyond their current reading level. Dr. Carmine also encouraged teachers to take literary analysis activities to the next level by examining President Barack Obama’s speech on the death of Osama Bin Laden for the use of detailed language. District teachers continue to seize teachable moments to connect classroom learning to the real world.

The Finance Committee meeting also covered business matters. Phil Conboy reported changes made to the district’s Risk Management Plan. Every year, the district must adopt a new plan to tell the business manager how to allocate funds. At the advice of the district attorney, District 163 decided to remove coaches from the list of expenditures. Doing so will get the balance down so that there will be fewer tax objections, according to the attorney.

The board also discussed the Prevailing Wage Act Resolution. Through the Prevailing Wage Act Resolution, the board – on a yearly basis – promises to ensure that those entities the district does business with provide employees with the prevailing wage.

Other items discussed included the IMRF rate (last year 9.38%; this year 10.06%) and the Ombudsman Service Agreement. Last year the district had one slot. The recommended increase this year is that the district have one slot with an increase of 3% ($5,387). The committee also approved the resolution to make transfers between various items in any one fund. If the transfer is over 10%, the board must make a budget amendment.

Finally, the board also discussed issues in regards to the rental of school space by SPEED. SPEED currently rents two rooms at Mohawk Intermediate Center. With the district realignment of grade six, room will no longer be available at Mohawk or Blackhawk Intermediate Center. Only Forest Trail will have room, but problems could arise with accessible dining arrangements. SPEED students would have to go downstairs for breakfast and lunch, and the stairs could be an issue. Depending on what SPEED states its requirements are, the board should have a recommendation for action at the June meeting. Dr. Carmine argued that this is just another reason to consider a new multipurpose cafeteria that is accessible for students with disabilities.

Once the Finance Committee adjourned, the board opened the Special Session / Public Hearing. One major agenda item at this session was the election of the board president, vice president, and secretary. After nominations and voting, the board made the decision to re-elect Walter Mosby as President, elect Melvin Pumphrey as Vice President, and elect Jacqueline Jordan as Secretary. These officers will serve from April 2011 to April 2013. The group will re-adopt all of the policies, resolutions, rules, regulations, and contracts of the previous board, but new committee appointments will be discussed at the June meeting. Board meetings will remain the first Monday of the month in 2011, but the Finance Committee meeting will be held at 6 p.m. with the Regular Session beginning at 7 p.m.

The district touted many achievements. The attendance report provided by Dr. Carmine was promising. District 163 students maintained wonderful attendance records, Carmine said, with Mohawk Intermediate Center at 96.38%, Forest Trail Middle School at 95.48%, Blackhawk Intermediate Center at 95.32%, 21st Century Preparatory Center at 95.15%, Algonquin Primary Center at 91.18%, and Beacon Hill Primary Center at 92.36%.

The board also honored two employees who have been with the district for 25 years – Linnea Fritz and Judy Breem. Linnea Fritz works in accounts payable, and Judy Breem currently is a physical education teacher at 21st Century Preparatory Center. In addition, the district approved the retirements of 8th grade math teacher Martha Brennan (retirement effective 2011-2012), social worker Mary Ellen Lufrano (retirement effective 2013-2014), and special education teacher Patricia VanderKrabben (retirement effective 2010-2011).

District 163 schools are in the midst of many activities – most notably Forest Trail’s Haiti Relief Project. Forest Trail co-principal Cheryl Muench stated that Forest Trail students are filling a bus with supplies for an orphanage in Haiti. Students will also decorate the outside of the bus which will then be driven to Miami and shipped to Haiti.

The school is still in need of donations of goods and money for this endeavor.

Other items voted on and approved at the meeting include the Interest Earnings Resolution, a working cash fund transfer, the RISE Safe Schools Application Agreement, and the Hazardous Crossing Report. The board also agreed to the preparation of the budget for the 2011-2012 fiscal year, the amendment of the 2010-2011 calendar, and the determination of the last day of school. The board approved the 2011-2012 school calendar, an administrative intern, the Springfield trip, the lease for the bus garage, and district policy.

Even with the numerous advancements, not all board members seemed equally committed. Board member Lance Jefferson arrived at 7:50 p.m. A member of the Finance Committee, Jefferson arrived almost an hour after his own committee meeting began. As board member Cheryl Franklin also arrived tardy and only one other Finance Committee member (Margaret McDannel) was present, the group initially lacked a quorum to vote on any substantial issues.

Without a quorum, the committee can discuss agenda items but cannot take any action on those items.

At the April 6 board meeting, this reporter observed that Jefferson seemed in a hurry to leave.

Whenever Regular Session voting begins, Jefferson has a tendency to cut off other board members as they read the motions. A nominee for vice president, Jefferson was observed looking at his cell phone while board members were voting on his nomination.

It is uncertain where Jefferson needed to be on May 2, but it was clearly not at this board meeting.