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VCHS truancies, disciplinary cases drop dramatically

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Closing the campus is among the factors

By Dave Bell

After a full semester of operating Vandalia Community High School with a closed noon hour, administrators are crediting that change for a dramatic decline in absenteeism and other disciplinary problems.

Citing numerous comparisons between this fall’s statistics and those from a year ago, Brian Kern, assistant principal at the school, told the Vandalia Board of Education on Tuesday that the results were “surprising.”

In the case of truancy or skipping school, his term was “unbelievable.”

Those offenses dropped from 146 last year to 18 this year.

Tardiness declined from 356 incidents last year to 133 this year.

And fighting completely disappeared – with 11 recorded last year and none this year.

In all, the number of recorded disciplinary incidents fell more than 44 percent. Last year’s first semester total was 1,019; this year the total was 570.

“We were pleasantly surprised,” Kern said after the meeting.

“We thought (the closed campus) would have a positive impact on the kids, but you never know until you do it.

"With the open campus, it was too easy for kids to decide that they wouldn’t go back to school in the afternoon.”

Kern noted, however, that the closed campus wasn’t the only factor contributing to the improvement.

“We made several other changes this year,” he said. “The data shows that if you set expectations for kids, their behavior rises to those expectations," he said.

"I’m proud of our student body. They’ve reacted to change with very little disgruntlement.”

Superintendent Rich Well said that the response to the new policies is encouraging. “You always wonder about what kind of real-life effect this kind of change will have. What we’ve seen is tremendous.”

Also at Tuesday’s meeting, the board heard a proposal from the VCHS English teachers about changes they’d like to see in the department’s curriculum.

Those changes spring from a new state requirement that – beginning with this year’s freshman class – all graduating seniors will be required to have four years of high school English rather than the three years currently required.

In a paper submitted to the board, the teachers said that VCHS’s staffing level is adequate to handle the fourth year of English for college-bound students, but the new requirements for every student to take English would be impossible with the current staffing.

They pointed out that the VCHS student-to-teacher ratio is higher than those in surrounding districts.

Vandalia’s ratio is 130 to one (496 students to 3.83 English teachers). The average of the other districts surveyed was 94 to one, with Litchfield having the lowest ratio of 78 to one (470 students to six English teachers).

The teachers proposed the addition of a grammar course in the junior year as well as a course called Media Literacy during the senior year for students who are not planning to attend college.

The paper concluded: “As our society is becoming more and more concerned with success in state testing and the need for more graduates who possess aptitude in writing and literary skills, the English department of VCHS feels these changes are necessary for our district to continue to be competitive in preparing Vandalia students for post-secondary education and the job market.”

Tuesday’s meeting also included a 40-minute executive session for the discussion of personnel. No action was taken when the board returned to open session.

As the meeting concluded, the board took the following action:

• Approved a resolution of sale for the Okaw Area Vocational Center’s 35th building trades house. The house, located at 2215 Brian St., was sold to Robert J. Smith, a Vandalia native who currently lives in California. The winning bid was $175,000.

• Approved the seniority lists for school employees.

• Approved a maternity leave for Jill Jewell, effective immediately.

• Approved Dave Bell as volunteer assistant boys track coach at VCHS.

• Approved the resignation of Darrel Holbrook as the “Just Say No” sponsor.

• Approved the destruction of audio recordings of school board executive sessions older than 18 months, as allowed by state law.

• Approved the second reading of the district’s policy updates.

• Set a school board retreat for Jan. 29 at 6 p.m.

The board meeting was adjourned at 8:20 p.m., after a meeting of 80 minutes.

Board member Jay Smith was absent from the meeting.