School district focusing on new teaching practices

After hearing several groups of teachers report on their efforts to incorporate Standards Aligned Classroom teaching practices, the Vandalia Board of Education discussed a number of personnel issues in a two-hour executive session on Tuesday.

The district began the SAC program last year, and Superintendent Rich Well said that more teachers will be trained each year. “It’s our goal to get all our teachers through the program,” Well said. “It meshes well with our curriculum mapping, and we feel it’s been very beneficial.”

Teacher Amy Jackson told the board that the SAC program has been good for teachers because it keeps them focused on what they want the students to learn.

“We set a target for what we’re going to teach, and the students know what the target is. Then, we try to make what we test them on the same thing we taught them. It helps keep us aligned with what we want them to know.”

Following the SAC presentations, Well gave the board a report on the district’s finances. Funding uncertainties from the state remains the main problem, he said.

“We’ve still only received one of four of our categorical payments from the state for this fiscal year,” Well said. “The last word we’ve received is that stimulus funds will make a stop in Springfield – that they’ll be used to fill in where the state wasn’t able to fulfill.”

After the meeting, Well said that the district has been told that it could be receiving as much as $150,000 in stimulus money. If that happens, he said it would be used to improve classroom technology – specifically, to buy smart boards to enhance instruction.

“But who knows,” he said. “There’s no guarantee we’ll see any of that money.”

He also noted that the district may need to do an amended budget because of the state’s financial condition. A tentative amended budget is on display at the district office, he said.

Because of the uncertainty surrounding state funding, Well said that the district has decided to purchase only one of the two new buses it had ordered. Those vehicles cost about $75,000 each. “If the state money comes in, we’ll go ahead and purchase the second bus,” he said.

District expenditures are on target with expectations, Well said.

The Apr. 17 financial report showed a positive balances in most accounts. The total balance is $3,999,466, with the balance in the four operating accounts (education, building, transportation and working cash) being $3,268,118. Those balances will be used to get the district through the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends on June 30.

Following the financial report, the board went into a two-hour executive session to discuss personnel issues.

When the board returned to open session at 9:50 p.m., it took the following action:

• Approved the district’s membership in the Illinois High School Association and the Illinois Elementary School Association.

• Approved the second reading of Illinois Association of School Board policy updates to be included in the district policy manual.

• Approved the resignations of Mary Wall, VCHS cook; Randy Carroll, Jefferson Primary School custodian; and James Sanders, VCHS assistant girls basketball coach.

• Approved the transfer of Meggyn Sytar from VJHS special education teacher to VJHS language arts teacher.

• Approved the employment of the following: Nancy Meyer as a half-time JPS custodian; Terry Porter as a JPS custodian; Dick Lentz as a VCHS custodian; Ashlee Gibbs of Gillespie as a VCHS math teacher; and Ruth Chesney as a VJHS special education teacher.

• Approved the employment of the following teacher aides: Heidi Miles as early childhood special education at JPS; Deb Kelly in TLC/cross categorical primary program at JPS; Mary Eisenbarth in TLC/cross categorical elementary program at VES; Candy Marshel in TLC/cross categorical junior high program at VJHS; and Mary Beth Hudson, Deb Pruitt and Sherry Dunahee in TLC/cross categorical high school program at VCHS; Deb Eulert in behavior itinerant with vision/hearing screening training at JPS; Eric Lux in vocational high school program at VCHS; and Brenda Schrage in vision impaired at VCHS.

Well said that the aides formerly were hired through Mid-State Special Education, but that structure has now been decentralized so the district hires the aides directly.

The other action coming out of the closed session was a directive from the board to VJHS administrators to address needed changes in scheduling at the school.

When asked about that directive after the meeting, Well said that the schedule changes are part of an effort to improve the school’s language arts instruction by expanding the time students have in language arts classes.

Well said that the district report card shows that sixth graders receive 48 minutes of language arts instruction per day, compared with the state average of 104 minutes. Likewise, eighth graders receive 48 minutes daily, compared with the state average of 93 minutes.

With the hiring of an additional language arts instructor for the 2009-10 school year, the district plans to increase the local daily time to 84 minutes.

“This is part of our school improvement plan,” Well said. “It’s now the responsibility of the principal and assistant principal to develop the schedule.”

The board set a special meeting for Monday, May 4, to canvas the votes from the recent school board election, elect school board officers and approve the hiring of a language arts teacher at the junior high school.

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