On January 5, Illinois State Superintendent Tony Smith said the state had decided on November 23 to award a contract for 11th-grade testing of the state’s students against college-ready benchmarks by mandating that all students take the SAT, administered by The College Board. ACT Inc., however, which makes the other college admissions test, the one the state had been using for several years, filed a protest on December 16, and the procurement for a college entrance exam remains open as the Chief Procurement Office considers the merits of the protest. Once this process is complete, the CPO will issue a written determination. There is no set time frame for a determination, but the state board of education has made the CPO aware of the urgency of this procurement.
In addition to ACT’s protest, the decision as to which test to use is also hampered by the fact that Illinois’s General Assembly hasn’t been able to produce a complete fiscal year 2016 state budget. As a result, the board of education doesn’t know if any money will be available to fund the cost of providing a college entrance exam to students this spring.
Arts are fine in Illinois
The marching band from Bloomington High School, under the direction of Max Chernick, competed and won a trophy that stands 6 feet tall at a New Year’s Eve parade at Ybor City in Tampa, Florida, the Bloomington Pantagraph reports. “It was one of the largest crowds we’ve ever seen at a parade,” the paper quoted the director of the 160-member marching unit as saying. “It was so fun for the students and the crowd really energized their performance. As we lined up for the parade, the kids seemed a little intimidated by the other groups warming up, but it inspired them and motivated them to step up the performance.”
The Illinois Theatre Association produced the 41st annual Illinois High School Theatre Festival at Illinois State University, Normal, on January 7–9. This is, by far, the largest and oldest non-competitive high school theater festival in the world, with three packed days and more than 4,000 students, teachers, university representatives, exhibitors, and volunteers coming together to put on about two dozen high school productions and conduct more than 150 workshops. The festival takes place every year and alternates between ISU and the University of Illinois, Urbana. This year’s productions included:
St Joseph-Ogden, Our Town
Glenbard West, Godspell (2012 Revival)
Glenbard East, Wii Dance through the Night
All-State Production, Rent (school edition)
Johnsburg, The Diary of Anne Frank
Oak Park-River Forest, Little Shop of Horrors
Walter Payton College Prep, 1984
Elk Grove, She Kills Monsters
Homewood-Flossmoor, Funk It Up about Nothin’
Keith Country Day, Grey Gardens
Bloomington, These Shining Lives
Senn, The 4th Graders Present an Unnamed Love Suicide
Niles West, Songs for a New World
Belvidere, The Complete Works of William Shakespeare (Abridged)
Kankakee, Darcy and Elizabeth
Barrington, To Freedom Fighters Everywhere
Harrisburg, James and the Giant Peach Tya
Crystal Lake South, The Ash Girl
Weapons in school & zero tolerance
An Arlington Heights sixth grader was suspended for 10 days because he brought a bullet to school, which is considered a weapon, the Chicago Tribune reports. His mother criticized both the punishment and the way District 25 handled the situation. “I think there’s been a great deal of overreaction,” she was quoted as saying. “Because of your not telling the parental community in a timely manner, to save face, my son gets an extreme punishment.”
A Spanish teacher at Deerfield High School faces misdemeanor battery charges in connection with allegedly placing her hands around a student’s neck during a discussion in class before Thanksgiving, the Chicago Tribune reports. One of her students filed a complaint with the Deerfield Police Department, which said the incident occurred on November 18. Carrie Benito, 45, who lives in Mundelein, is scheduled to appear in Lake County Circuit Court on January 15.
A Collinsville High School student was in custody after he allegedly brought an unloaded gun to school on January 7, the Belleville News-Democrat reports. Charges were pending in St Clair County against the student as a juvenile, so his identity was not released. “At no point during the investigation or prior to was there ever a threat conveyed to harm any students or faculty, and we do not believe that this student intended to use the firearm,” said a statement from police.
A retired math teacher at West Aurora High School has been charged with child pornography, exposing himself to a child, and soliciting a sex act from a child under the age of 13, according to the Aurora Beacon-News. Robert L James, 61, of Aurora, stands accused of two counts of child pornography and other charges in Kane County. In addition to teaching math, he served as the faculty advisor for the student council at the west-suburban high school for 30 years before retiring in 2014. There’s no connection, police said, between the victims and West Aurora High School in District 129.
A Naperville middle school teacher has also been charged with sexually assaulting a teenage boy in her home, the Naperville Sun reports. Christine Taylor, 44, is charged with one count of aggravated criminal sexual abuse. She’s a sixth-grade language arts and social studies teacher at Jefferson Junior High School, and the 16-year-old boy she allegedly abused on New Year’s Day isn’t a student at Jefferson. Ms Taylor has been placed on administrative leave, pending the outcome of this investigation.
Keeping students safe on buses and elsewhere
The School Security and Standards Task Force issued an interim report to the General Assembly about keeping pupils safe in Illinois classrooms, the Associated Press reports. The task force came together after the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in December 2012, and members say the interim release offers a range of options schools can use to promote student safety, such as adopting guidelines for securing the schoolhouse, building trust in students to come forward with suspicions, and consulting regularly with local police. A final report is expected in July. (Principal’s webinar on January 12.)
A Waukegan School District 60 school bus was involved in a crash with a Honda Civic at about 9 AM on January 8, the Chicago Tribune reports. The 72-year-old driver of the Honda was taken to a local hospital with non-life-threatening injuries, and two students were taken to a hospital as a precaution. The two students were the only passengers aboard the bus, and the bus driver was treated at the scene. No tickets were issued in connection with the crash, but a preliminary investigation suggested the Honda driver crossed into opposing traffic while driving east on Grand Avenue in Lake Villa.
A rollover accident occurred involving a school bus and three other vehicles on January 5 on Rollins Road near Sheldon Road in northwest-suburban Grayslake, the Chicago Tribune reports. No students were riding in the bus, which is assigned to Round Lake School District 116, and three people were treated for minor injuries at the scene. A Grayslake police commander said a vehicle coming from the opposite direction as the bus tried to pass another car and lost control. The passing vehicle crossed the center line and struck the bus, causing it to roll over on its side, and then, two other cars hit the first accident in a chain reaction.
A water treatment company, contracted by Elgin-based School District U46, Illinois’s second-largest district, is recommending that the district perform tests at least quarterly for the bacteria that causes Legionnaire’s Disease, the Elgin Courier-News reports. Two schools and an administrative center had to be closed in September after unsafe levels of Legionella were detected in cooling towers.
The editors of the Belleville News-Democrat opine that President Obama’s recent executive order forcing more gun sellers to obtain background checks on those who buy their weapons won’t make schools like Sandy Hook any safer from violent offenders. “It is easy to understand the imperative to ‘do something,’ but unabashedly bypassing Congress is not the way our nation was intended to work. Obama vilifies the National Rifle Association and its clout in Congress, using that as an excuse to act unilaterally. The democratic path of convincing a majority that his measures are correct and will be effective is too steep for this late-term president and his low approval ratings. … If you were to extend the logic that background checks will create safety, then only universal checks would work. What’s democratic or effective about treating some sellers and buyers differently just because they are at a store or gun show or private home? … The greater threat may be bypassing democracy so you can create the illusion of safety.”
Movers and shakers
Eureka High School boys’ basketball coach Tim Meiss celebrated his 1,000th game, with the Hornets losing to Pontiac 43-40, bringing his overall record to 597-403 in 39 years, 31 of which have been at Eureka, the Bloomington Pantagraph reports. Brandon Martin, Pontiac’s head coach, used to play on Meiss’s team at Eureka. “He means so much to the game, especially here in Eureka,” Martin was quoted as saying. “Personally he means so much. He’s a mentor to me and I respect him for everything he does for the kids both on and off the floor.”
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel appointed Jaime Guzman, who once supervised Chicago Public Schools’ office for privately operated schools, to the Chicago Board of Education, the Chicago Tribune reports. Mr Guzman, 40, is executive director at the Taproot Foundation in Chicago and also serves on the Illinois State Charter School Commission, a post he is expected to resign upon being named to the Chicago school board. He also serves as the city’s program director for Teach For America.
It looks like three Catholic schools in Chicago will close at the end of this school year, according to a report in the Chicago Tribune: St Agatha Catholic Academy, an elementary school in the Lawndale neighborhood; St Peter, an elementary school in northwest-suburban Antioch; and Seton Academy, a high school in South Holland. The archdiocese says low enrollment and financial difficulties caused the decision to close the schools. “It was pretty much expected,” the Tribune quoted Rev Larry Dowling, pastor of St Agatha, as saying. “We’re at a point (where) the community is inundated with pre-K programs. For me it just gives us an opportunity to reconstitute how we’re going to use the building for community outreach. It does present some possibilities for a different sort of outreach for families and youth.”
Southbury Elementary School in far west-suburban Oswego has a new sister school in Africa, a private Catholic school in Katakyiase, Ghana. “My hope would be the kindness, empathy, and caring we would want our kids to grow up having will become strong,” the Aurora Beacon-News quoted Southbury Principal Lindsay Allen as saying. She just returned from a trip to Ghana and hopes to send school supplies and fill a library with books at the school, treasures she says will be among the first books students at the school will have ever seen. The school serves students through junior high.
The Alden-Hebron School District 19 board approved a land-purchase contract for about 80 acres of land just down the street from the district’s 90-year-old high school, My Suburban Life reports. The high school is said to be old and incapable of supporting the electrical and communications needs of students in the 21st century, and the district has reportedly been thinking about expanding that capability for years. “The driver is the middle/high school building; the driver is not growth,” the paper quoted district Superintendent Debbie Ehlenburg as saying. “It’s the cost of updating and expanding vs potentially building.” Right now, the high school sits on a five-acre lot, while the elementary school has 25 acres. Some athletic facilities as well as the transportation pool are located on the elementary school lot due to lack of space on the high school side.
Peoria School District 150 is seeking funds to make improvements in 25 school buildings in the near future, the Peoria Journal-Star reports. Improvements include installing pavers at Manual Academy to make the high school’s parking lot more environmentally friendly, assuming the district wouldn’t be charged additional stormwater drainage fees, and providing more complete air conditioning at Sterling, with a cost of about $1.4 million.
Students at East Elementary School in Alton found what appeared to be a dead body in the woods near their school at recess on January 6, the Belleville News-Democrat reports. The white male was identified in other reports as Justin D Joyce, and parents were notified of the incident, according to news reports.