School Board Ponders Curriculum Changes

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Members of the Hillsboro School Board discussed changes that will affect next school year–including a potential new elementary reading curriculum–during their meeting on Tuesday, April 9, at the unit office.

"This has been several years in the making," Beckemeyer Principal Zach Frailey said in asking the board to consider a new language arts curriculum for elementary school students.

Grade school teachers Hope McBrain, Beth Harnetiaux, Ann Tester and Shelley Neely described what they saw as substantial benefits to using the "Wonders Balanced Literacy" curriculum from McGraw-Hill. The program includes reading, writing, listening and speaking, word study, and assessment components.

"We like that this curriculum gives us all of these components," McBrain said.

Neely and Harnetiaux explained the benefits of the curriculum for kindergarten, first and second graders.

"This program has also teamed up with Sesame Street," Harnetiaux said of the awarding winning educational program. "We thought that was a plus."

Tester explained the benefits for third, fourth and fifth grade students.

"The biggest benefit is that it's a cohesive program," she said, pointing out that it uses Chromebook labs.

Near the beginning of the meeting, Frailey had told board members that a grant has provided two new Chromebook labs at Beckemeyer.  That means that every fifth grader now has daily access to a Chromebook. 

The cost of the proposed new curriculum? "The quote is now $159,000 but we're going to work on that," Superintendent David Powell said.  "We want to make sure the things we pay for are the things we're going to use."

Working on the cost will continue until next month's meeting, and board members will take a more in-depth look at the new curriculum before an anticipated vote in May.

The board approved a recommendation by Coffeen Principal and pre-K director Marci Gutierrez for returning to a full-day pre-K classroom for children who will be in kindergarten the following year, and, in her words, "need a little extra oomph." Doing so would require moving some students in the pre-K program to other locations, and moving one instructor from part-time to full-time. Cost-wise, "the grant will support it," Gutierrez anticipated.

A school district goal of improving vocational education has suffered some hurdles, the superintendent told board members.  After searching for potential vocational teachers has come up empty, Powell asked the board to consider beginning with a "content expert who is not a certified teacher" to begin a shop program on a part-time basis beginning next fall with a provisional certification. He will advertise for such a person and ask the board to take action when a suitable applicant is found.

Choir teacher Amy Lemons asked for the board's blessing for a six-day choir trip in November 2020 to either New York or Orlando.  The plan would be the same as last year's to New Orleans.  The cost would be from $1,000 to $1,200 per student; those students will likely spend the next two school years fundraising and vote on the choice of destinations.  A board vote will be on the May agenda.

All Mid-State Special Education certified staff received "reduction in force" notices two weeks ago, the superintendent said in updating the board about a reorganization process that will eventually bring those employees into district employment.

"That was part of the plan," Powell said.  "I spoke with each teacher individually."

Those teachers will eventually go from being Mid-State employees to employees of the school district in one of two ways: via a transfer agreement–and another negotiation meeting is scheduled for April 15–or if no agreement is reached, they will have to apply for positions in the district.

A meeting is scheduled for Thursday, April 11, in the high school gym to finalize plans to replace bleacher seating and handrails. Board members–and the superintendent–said they have heard positive comments from the community asking the board to proceed with the project.

"If all goes as planned, we would like to do that work this summer," Powell said.  "I don't have any specific project or cost that I'm asking approval on; I'm just asking if we can go forward and bring those back to the May meeting for your approval."

He got that by way of nods from board members.

High school Principal Patti Heyen shared commendation she has heard regarding the high school band and the high school baseball team.  One was a letter from a Vandalia resident about how polite and well-behaved high school baseball players were when dining at a restaurant there.

As part of the consent agenda, the board renewed its annual membership in the Illinois Elementary School Association.

After a closed session, the board increased pre-K teacher Shelby Martincic's employment from half-time to full-time to accommodate a decision they made earlier in the meeting regarding the pre-K program.

They filled a junior high school vacancy next school year by reassigning Beckemeyer fifth grade teacher Amy Hacke to seventh grade, and reassigned Beckemeyer third grade teacher Emily Zimmerman to the fifth grade.

The board hired three new grade school teachers for next year: Hannah Wiggins and Carley Brown to fill third grade classrooms, and Brooke Gorowski for kindergarten.  They also accepted the resignation of Joe Vanzo as athletic director, and the retirement of Barb Darnell as aide at Beckemeyer effective at the end of the school year.

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