Board Briefs – November 2017

The District 58 Board of Education held its regular business meeting on Monday, Nov. 13, 2017.  

View the agenda and presentation links. Highlights from the meeting include:

Flag Salute and Presentation: Hillcrest

Michelle Rzepka, principal of Hillcrest School, introduced Student Council sponsors Jennifer Skolimowski and Sue Anderson. Student Council officers Sofia, Molly, Owen and Lily led the audience in the Pledge of Allegiance to the flag. The officers shared some past and future Hillcrest activities and service projects, including a “Be Thankful” campaign, Random Acts of Kindness week, and Pennies for Patients, which raised over $4000 for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Hillcrest celebrated Red Ribbon Week with various spirit days to encourage healthy decision making, and plans to sell Jolly Holiday grams in the winter. Student Council also plans a winter clothing drive for DuPage PADS and a “Hugs and Kittens” event to collect items for the West Suburban Humane Society.

Jennifer Haselhorst, Hillcrest PTA Co-President, shared how Hillcrest PTA is raising money through fun events such as the Hillcrest Game Night, which raised approximately $25,000, a mother-daughter dance-a-thon, father-child movie night, and fun run. The PTA continues to try to reach more parents in the community by emphasizing how the PTA supports kids by funding in-class experiences, field trips, and other activities.

Principal Rzepka and Assistant Principal Melissa Sawisch presented a video showcasing the Hillcrest Families program. The monthly small group “family” meetings, made up of staff and students across all grade levels, foster positive social relationships and a sense of community among everyone at Hillcrest.

Spotlight on our Schools: Assessment for Learning

Justin Sisul, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction, explained the different types of assessments: standardized, summative and formative. He noted that all district staff receive training in the Seven Strategies of Assessment for Learning.

View the presentation here.

James Eichmiller, Director of Innovative Technology and Learning, provided an overview of the district’s common assessments in math, explaining that the data from these assessments gives a high level view across the district of student performance in an entire grade level, school by school, on a particular topic, allowing adjustment of instructional strategies, resources, and assessment design.

Continuing education on assessment is built into professional development for teachers and administrators. Ongoing review of math assessments will continue within the Math Committee at at grade level and department meetings. Mr. Sisul and Mr. Eichmiller also shared a video that illustrated many of the innovative ways District 58 teachers assess their students’ learning.

View the video here.

Superintendent’s Report

Dr. Kari Cremascoli shared the following updates with the board:

  • School Board Members Day is Nov. 15. Dr. Cremascoli thanked board members for their time and efforts serving the students of District 58.
  • Parent-teacher conferences are scheduled this week.
  • Nov. 27 is the next Teacher Institute Day.
  • The 5Essentials survey, an ISBE requirement, will be administered to staff and students in grades 4-8. Parents will complete the district school environment survey, which will be available from after Thanksgiving break until Winter Break.
  • The district is preparing to launch a new strategic planning effort. There will be several opportunities in January to engage and have your voice heard, from parent and community forums to an online survey.
  • The District 58 Education Foundation has awarded grants to teachers to support innovative school projects. The recipients will attend the January board meeting to be recognized and show examples of their projects.

Business Report

  • The board received business reports, the investment report, and revenue and expenditure summary reports for the month ending Oct. 31, 2017. Assistant Superintendent for Business/CSBO David Bein reported that:
  • The State of Illinois has paid nearly all the funds due to the district for last fiscal year. The outstanding balance is down to approximately $94,000. In comparison, in April the state still owed the district $2.5 million. For this year, the state has vouchered but not yet paid approximately $416,000 for special education and transportation funding.
  • Federal tax reform proposals, if enacted, could affect District 58 by eliminating advance refunding of tax exempt bonds as of January 1, 2018. Future debt restructuring would require taxable bonds, which would increase borrowing costs.
  • At the state level, House Amendment 2 to Senate Bill 851 has passed the House and is pending action in the Senate. The amendment implements a mandatory two-year property tax freeze, increases homestead exemptions by 60%-67%, and proposes to make the extension limitation 0%, rather than the Consumer Price Index (CPI), for levy years 2017 and 2018. The rate currently applicable for the 2017 levy is 2.1%, and the CPI rate applicable for the 2018 levy is currently about 2.2%. If enacted, the legislation will cause a reduction of approximately $750,000 in revenue for this year from taxes collected in the spring, and a reduction of $1.6 million in revenue next year. The five-year impact to District 58 is estimated to be $8.9 million in lost revenue. “I would encourage you to take time over November and December to call or meet face to face with our elected officials to share what a two-year freeze will mean for the district,” said Bein.
  • The board will consider the final 2017 levy adoption in December. The Downers Grove assessor is expecting a 4.78% increase in assessments overall. The tentative levy will cover approximately $35 million of new construction.
  • The federal Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) mandates that school districts report expenditures, including centralized expenditures such as district administrator salaries, by source of funds at a school building level beginning with the 2018-2019 school year. ISBE is working with an advisory group to prepare guidance for districts on what may be a significant change in reporting.
  • The 2016-2017 fiscal year audit is complete. Bein introduced Betsy Allen from auditors Miller, Cooper & Co., who highlighted key points from the audit. Allen noted that of the $26 million in long-term liabilities, $12 million are pension liabilities for IMRF and TRS. She also emphasized that of the few minor deficiencies in practices for collecting student fees and disbursing Student Activity funds, none were found after January 2017, indicating that the district successfully modified its practices after receiving last year’s audit report. Finally, Allen encouraged the district to maintain an awareness of data security and be proactive in mitigating risk.

Board Committee Reports

Meet and Confer Strategic Plan Committee

Member Elizabeth Sigale reported that the committee met twice since the October board meeting, on Oct. 12 and Nov. 9. The committee’s mission has evolved, and it is now working to support efforts of strategic planning facilitators from Hazard, Young & Attea (HYA). At the most recent meeting, the committee discussed ways to connect with community members. HYA will begin interviews with individual board members and district administrators in November. Over 40 focus groups and an online survey will follow in January.  A strategic plan draft is expected to be presented in March, with a final plan ready for board approval in April.

Discussion: Enrollment

Dr. Cremascoli reviewed the enrollment discussion from the Oct. 10 board meeting in response to current and forecasted growth at Highland School. She also noted the importance of making sure the new strategic plan helps to inform future decisions regarding educational programming, facilities, and enrollment.

Of the four options presented to the board in October, the board eliminated two options (school-wide redistricting and district-wide policy change) and asked for further details on the remaining two options. At that time the board expressed the importance of maintaining school assignment for currently-enrolled students and families. Family togetherness is also important to the board, and the board would support options that grandfather in current students and their younger siblings.

Dr. Cremascoli presented the refined Option 2, a boundary adjustment affecting only new and future students. New students within the current Highland attendance area north of Ogden Ave. and west of Main St. would attend Belle Aire School. All current students and their younger siblings would be grandfathered into Highland. Cremascoli noted that although this option has a limited impact on current students and families, it may not actually yield the desired change in enrollment because it is based on forecasted numbers. The roll-out would be lengthy and the effects would not be realized immediately.

Option 4 allows for case-by-case enrollment adjustments based on board Policy 5102. In this case, kindergarten enrollment at Highland would be capped at 56 students, and enrollment would be capped in 1st, 3rd and 4th grades for the 2018-19 and 2019-20 school years. New students unable to enroll at Highland would be administratively transferred to Belle Aire with transportation provided by the district. This option would have an immediate effect on class size and total enrollment while maintaining the neighborhood and limiting the impact on current students and families. Transportation cost is not a significant factor because the current bus routes to Belle Aire have sufficient capacity to accommodate administrative transfer students.

Dr. Cremascoli recommended the implementation of Option 4 for the next two years, with the possibility of revisiting the option of a boundary adjustment in two years in light of actual enrollment as well as the new strategic plan. She emphasized the need for a decision at the December board meeting so that the district can communicate options regarding the upcoming school year to families as soon as possible. Either option will benefit from an early Kindergarten Round-Up, and younger siblings of current Highland students would have the first option to enroll.

The board discussed its concern that waiting another two years before committing to a boundary adjustment would amount to postponing a solution to high enrollment. The board then discussed the possibility of implementing both Option 2 and Option 4. This would allow time for the boundary adjustment to take effect, while the enrollment cap would immediately address class sizes. No matter which option is pursued, the board and administration agreed that clear and early communication to the community is necessary. The board indicated that it supports moving forward with Option 4, and will decide at the Dec. 11 meeting whether to move forward with Option 2 as well.

Discussion: PARCC

Dr. Cremascoli gave some background information about the PARCC assessment in District 58.

  • PARCC is the required state test by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE).
  • Students take the assessment in the spring, but the district does not receive the results until the following fall.
  • Standardized testing, the PARCC in particular, has been a hot topic of discussion; many in the community have expressed concerns over the PARCC assessment throughout the past three years and several families have chosen not to have their children take the exam.
  • State assessment does affect other factors, such as school ratings on real estate websites.
  • There is a significant discrepancy between District 58 PARCC results and student achievement as demonstrated on other measures.
  • The district still values the education of whole child, rather than a focus on test preparation.

Mr. Sisul stated that, as a result of the discussion about PARCC at the recent board Curriculum Workshop, he had conversations with teachers and administrators across the district regarding our approach to and value of PARCC. The first theme that emerged from those conversations was that students have the perception that PARCC does not matter. It has received negative attention in the media and community, some students opt out or witness other students opting out, and there is no immediate access to the results. The second theme that emerged revolved around the unfamiliarity of the test format. Many questions are multi-step and require in-depth reading and writing, although the size of the text box presented for their answer may visually suggest concise responses instead of detailed responses. Furthermore, unlike the MAP assessment, students can skip questions and continue with the test.

Sisul shared that although 2018 is the last year of the current ISBE contract with PARCC, the ISBE media relations director was recently quoted as saying, “The state will continue administering the accountability assessment and will remain a part of the PARCC consortium…”

Member Darren Hughes noted that the new ELA curriculum includes assessments more aligned to the PARCC format. He stated that a small investment of time in familiarizing students with the format can make big impact in students’ perception of the test.

Member John Miller emphasized that the state standardized testing requirement is not going away, and that regardless of which test is administered, students should be expected to give their best effort.

Member Greg Harris pointed out that PARCC data affects how the community views schools. These data are an important output of our schools.  

The Board expressed appreciation for the district’s and administration’s investigation into students’ performance on PARCC and requests that the district pursue options to encourage students’ best effort, participation and familiarity with the exam in preparation for this spring’s administration. The Board expressed support for the administration’s recommendations for next steps relative to the PARCC.

During the meeting, the Board also:

  • Recognized the 2017-2018 Student Council officers in District 58.
  • Approved minutes from the Oct. 10 Regular Business Meeting and Oct. 23 Curriculum Workshop.
  • Approved all items on the Consent Agenda as presented in the packet materials.
  • Adopted the American Education Week Resolution.
  • Accepted the 2016-2017 Audit Report from Miller Cooper & Co., Ltd.
  • Approved the issuing of bids related to the Lester addition project.
  • Approved the contract with Wight & Co. for architect and construction management services, including a guaranteed maximum price for the Lester addition of $2,242,000.
  • Approved the agreement with PMA Securities, Inc., to provide financial advisory services.
  • Approved the Closed Session minutes from Oct. 10.

Upcoming events:

  • IASB/IASA/IASBO Joint Conference – Chicago
  • Policy Committee, Tuesday, Nov. 21, 2017, 7:00 a.m. – ASC
  • Staff Meet & Greet with BOE, Monday, Nov. 27, 6:15 p.m. – Highland School
  • BOE Financial Workshop, Monday, Nov. 27, 7:00 p.m. – Highland School
  • Meet & Confer Strategic Plan Committee, Thursday, Dec. 7, 2017, 7:00 a.m. – Longfellow Center
  • Regular Board Meeting, Monday, Dec. 11, 2017, 7:00 p.m. – Downers Grove Village Hall