IL school snapshots in a quick minute: Oct. 22

Here are the news briefs for Illinois schools, a twice- or thrice-weekly feature on the Voxitatis Blog, for October 22, 2015.

Being prepared to stay safe

  1. Schools in the suburbs are conducting active shooter drills, the Chicago Tribune reports. As much as I don’t like teachers taking time away from learning and enrichment activities to possibly frighten students in preparation for what they might have to do in a bad situation, these prep drills have become necessary today. Bad people are out there; some have guns.
  2. For the past four years, Lombard’s police department has been providing training for staff at Lombard Elementary School in District 44 in the ALICE program (Alert, Lockdown, Inform, Counter and Evacuate), said Ted Stec, assistant superintendent for finance and operations. Another program used in some schools (Run. Hide. Fight.) was designed by the Houston mayor’s office for businesses and adults, and the program may not work as well in child-oriented settings, said Kenneth Trump, the president of the National School Safety and Security Services, a consulting firm specializing in school security and emergency preparedness training. Plus, “schools don’t like the idea of their teachers having to make that type of critical decision under that kind of stress, and they think it’s safer to have a straight lockdown and evacuation plan,” said Scott Nadenoff, a deputy police chief in Cary.
  3. College campuses around the country have engaged in heightened debate on the subject of preparedness training since the shootings earlier this year at a rural Oregon community college. One professor said she “resents how the burden of gun violence is being placed on educators.” Yet, that is the reality of our world, although based on 2013 data, people are more likely to be killed in a motor vehicle accident than by a gunshot. Given the horror that follows any mass shooting, though, I think the preparedness measures by schools, in the form of drills and plans, are like regular fire drills in that active shooter drills prepare us for just one more unlikely event in our kids’ lives.
  4. A student at Ellis Elementary School in Belleville’s Harmony District 175 brought a toy gun to school last week for show and tell, the Belleville News-Democrat reports. Superintendent Pam Leonard said in an email that parents should stress the importance of not bringing toy guns to school. The district’s handbook prohibits firearms in schools, as well as “any other object that can reasonably be considered, or looks like, a weapon.” The principal at Ellis said the toy wasn’t a BB gun but otherwise couldn’t provide any information about it.
  5. Students and staff at Plainfield North High School are mourning the death of Sue Cunningham, 47, a math teacher who was stabbed in her home Tuesday night, October 20, WLS-TV (ABC affiliate) reports. In a strange twist, the suspect in her stabbing, her husband Craig, whom she had married about a year ago, was killed as he wandered onto Interstate-55 near the couple’s home, the victim of an apparent suicide.

Real-world actions keep students safe

  1. DeKalb police say a clean-shaven, blond-haired man in his 20s, riding a red and orange bicycle, blocked the way of a girl who was riding her bike to school, took her hand, and forced her to touch him in a sexual manner, the DeKalb Daily Chronicle reports. The girl fled the scene and wasn’t physically injured, according to news reports. She reported the incident right away.
  2. The Associated Press has a similar story from Antioch, California, but this one has a happy ending, thanks to an observant teacher’s aide, who stopped the alleged kidnapping of an 11-year-old girl at Sutter Elementary School Friday, October 16. The woman said she noticed the girl with a man in the front seat of a car, a man police say followed her as she was walking to school. He allegedly lured her over to his car, grabbed her by the wrist, and forced her in. The teacher’s aide, who wasn’t named, pulled her car in front of his to block him in until police arrived.
  3. Kane County officials want to improve traffic safety near Kaneland High School, so the Transportation Committee voted to ask the county to change a 50-mph zone on Keslinger Road to a 45-mph zone. The change, they think, will better transition the traffic to the 35-mph school zone in front of the high school, My Suburban Life reports.

Non-fiction and fiction come to life

  1. Students from Stevenson High School in Lincolnshire spent part of October 21—Back to the Future day, as depicted in the 1989 film Back to the Future Part II—ooh-ing and ahh-ing over a DeLorean “time machine” brought to the school by Vernon Hills business owner Mike Schrimmer, the Chicago Tribune reports. “I’m amazed how the young kids are so into it,” he said about the “Doc Brown”-style DeLorean he parked in the school’s circle drive. “I’m happy for all the people involved in the movie. It’s obviously a classic.”
  2. Crystal Lake Elementary School District 47’s Lundahl Middle School won a grant that will help fund non-fiction book clubs for sixth-, seventh- and eighth-graders this year, My Suburban Life reports. Given through the Illinois School Library Media Association, 20 schools in the state will receive grants like this one. “Through partnership and paired text, I hope students and staff will continue to see the library as an extension of their classrooms,” said Kim Copeland, the school’s media center director, who applied for the grant. Involvement in non-fiction book clubs, she said, “will build stamina, promote collaboration, and foster success.” The aim is to help students read, discuss, and analyze informational text.

A little jazz in Aurora

  1. The 285 members of the marching band from West Aurora High School will perform all the songs they played this past football season in the school’s main gym on October 27. To raise funds, the band program will also hold a garage sale at the school on Saturday, October 24. In addition, several free concerts are planned over the next few weeks, including a “jazz café” by the four instrumental jazz ensembles on November 23 at 7 PM in the cafeteria.
  2. Waubonsie Valley High School, also in Aurora, will present Java Jazz on Thursday, November 19 at 7 PM at the high school. The event comes just five days after the Illinois Music Education Association’s senior jazz festival at St Charles North High School. WVHS has been named a GRAMMY Signature School semifinalist every year since 2012.

Property tax issues

  1. The Illinois House and House committees have called for votes on about a dozen property tax relief bills and amendments this year, but so far, none have passed both full chambers. SB 318 passed the Senate but is now stalled in the House, but it’s about as close as any other bill (HB 680; HB 681; HB 693, which failed to get the three-fifths vote needed; and HB 697). SB 318 would freeze property taxes collected by school districts and municipal governments for the next two years at their 2015 rates if it passes and is signed by Gov Bruce Rauner, the Commercial News reports. Also see HB 4247, which hasn’t gone anywhere since it was introduced in July.
  2. In hopes voters in Streator will approve a tax hike on the ballot this time, the Streator Grade School Board voted 5-2 to put a referendum on the March ballot that could help the district reduce a $2.5 million deficit. The district is asking for a 75-cent increase, which would add about $375 a year in property taxes to the owner of a $150,000 home. Superintendent Matt Wilkinson told The Pantagraph that if the district didn’t ask for the full amount, which was emphatically defeated last year, unpopular cuts to school programs would be required.

Board member out of state

  1. If you don’t actually reside in Illinois, you’re not allowed to hold elected office in the state, but one school board member in Crete may be violating that rule, the Daily Southtown reports. The Will County state’s attorney is looking into the matter of Crete-Monee School District 201U board member Edward J Anderson. “We need to find out if [he] meets the legal definition of a resident or if he doesn’t meet it so the appropriate steps can be taken to remove him if he fails to meet the requirement,” fellow board member Mike Turay said of his colleague who hadn’t been to a board meeting since the summer. “I still find it difficult to believe that an elected official could be absent from the state for years, according to lawyers, and legally hold his elected office. That’s just not right, even if it is legal. Something needs to be done about that.”

The Crystal Lake bleachers

  1. The bleachers are coming down, a little bit anyway, in Crystal Lake, the Chicago Tribune reports. Despite a court battle that led Community High School District 155 all the way to an appeal before the Illinois Supreme Court, the school board approved a conceptual plan on October 20 to lower the bleachers at Crystal Lake South High School, which were built without city approval, to just nine rows. The district spent hundreds of thousands of dollars fighting neighbors, but not one judge ruled in their favor.

Now attending classes, or not

  1. Most students are back in school after getting meningitis vaccinations in Bloomington, the Pantagraph reports. About 177 students were kept out of school because they had failed to get a new meningitis vaccine that became part of the required vaccination regimen for sixth and 12th graders just this year. “I think families got into the swing of school and might have forgotten about the deadline,” said Dayna Brown, communications director for Unit 5 schools in Normal. “That’s why we are big proponents of first-day exclusion. If we didn’t have to push back the deadline, our numbers would have been smaller.”
  2. Teachers and School District 189 in East St Louis have still failed to reach a deal in a teachers’ strike that began there on October 1. Today was the 16th day of school students have missed, and more than 6,100 students are affected, the Belleville News-Democrat reports. Despite the long strike, teachers are getting more support from the community, KMOV-TV reports.
  3. Woodstock North High School experienced a temporary power outage on October 20, My Suburban Life reports. Someone digging near the school hit a ComEd line at about 8:20 Tuesday morning, according to a ComEd spokesperson. Some classes had to be moved to rooms with windows, and the lunch menu was modified. Other than that, though, emergency generators kicked in, and there was no danger.

Truancy fixes

  1. Staff members at Mattoon High School are making adjustments to the school’s discipline procedures in hopes of reducing truancy among the few students at the school who are chronically absent without a valid reason, the student newspaper, The Mirror, reports via The Journal-Gazette & Times-Courier. “We added an extra step” for truant students, Assistant Principal Michael Shaffer said. “We are asking counselors to [talk to students about] the roots of truancy.” Those roots, he explained, come in four categories: difficulty with success, difficulties with home life, difficulties with peers, and personality conflicts with staff.

Graduation rate data

  1. Most states are showing an increase in high school graduation rates, the Associated Press and Peoria Journal-Star report. Information is drawn from preliminary data by state released October 19 by the Obama administration. The Education Department says 36 states saw higher graduation rates for the 2013-2014 school year, with the biggest gains coming in Delaware, Alabama, Oregon, West Virginia, and Illinois. Normally, Voxitatis would make this a story on its own, but graduation rate data is significantly delayed, making its value as news limited, and it’s so formula-driven that most educators don’t even understand how it’s computed. We tried to explain it a little, but I think we confused people more than we helped them.

Gardening volunteers needed

  1. Make A Difference Day is a celebration of neighbors helping neighbors. Thousands, or perhaps millions, of volunteers from around the world will unite in a common mission—to improve the lives of others—on Saturday, October 24. HandsOn Suburban Chicago invites you to volunteer to help move a current garden at Jane Addams Elementary School on Sayles Drive in Palatine to a new location. Volunteer projects include murals, landscaping, and constructing garden beds and benches. Between 75 and 100 volunteers are needed.

About the Author

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.