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Summer school rehab projects highlighted at District 161 meeting

Several updates, ranging from repairing district facilities to possibly offering an additional foreign language to junior high students to enrollment projections for 2017-18, were all presented to the Flossmoor District 161 board of education at its committee of the whole meeting Monday.

District-wide facility improvements were reviewed as the administration recommended the board approve a bid from Kee Construction of more than $960,000 for life safety work and other summer projects. Also, the board will soon consider a bid of $1,118,567 from Crowther Roofing & Sheet Metal for a partial roof replacement at Parker Junior High School.

The projects in the bid from Kee Construction include new door systems, some exterior building and masonry repairs and new door safety hardware in all student occupied spaces. The dual-cylinder door locks would allow teachers to lock classroom doors during a lockdown without needing to open the door.

Administrators provided an update of the district’s Title I processes and programs. Title I is designed to improve the academic performance of disadvantaged students.  Frances LaBella, associate superintendent of business operations, covered processes such as grant writing, compliance reporting, auditing and payment and reporting of expenditures. Amabel Crawford, director of learning and instruction, discussed her role in grant writing and implementing grant programs.

LaBella said Title I allocations are determined by the Illinois State Board of Education using small area income and poverty estimates provided by the U.S. Department of Education. She added that Title I schools are identified by using free/reduced lunch figures as reported on the National School Lunch Program April claim.

The board also heard a report on the status of special education programs. Over 300 students are currently in the programs including 317 with Individualized Education Plans. The board was briefed on resources being used for the students, both in- and out-of-district.

Activities at Parker were a common element through the various presentations.

Mandarin Chinese could be coming to the junior high school. Crawford presented a survey of parents which will be conducted soon in an effort to determine the interest in offering Mandarin as a foreign language. The survey will also include parents of third, fourth and fifth graders to gauge interest in exposing students to Mandarin in the lower grades.

Board member Michelle Hoereth asked, “What constitutes a lot of interest?  What effect will there be on other languages we offer?”

Interim Superintendent Michael Popp said there will be an impact on the number of students enrolled in French and Spanish. Crawford added that “if we get 20 students” that would indicate a lot of interest in Mandarin. Crawford also stated that when Homewood-Flossmoor High School added District 161 students to its Mandarin Chinese I class “it took away” from French classes. Mandarin has been offered at H-F since fall 2015.

The board also heard reports on the work schedule next year at Parker, including factors such as having an adequate number of sections to accommodate growth; meeting the needs of all students, including those with special needs; and ensuring teacher collaboration and planning time. 

“Having adequate time to implement student interventions with fidelity” was highlighted as a necessary element in next year’s work schedule by Vicki Person, Parker’s interim principal.

After school programs at Parker were also discussed. Person stated the school’s sports teams have enjoyed success and there is participation in the music programs and new chess team. Administrators are also working on after school academic programs.

Popp reported that Parker’s eighth grade boys basketball team finished second in the recent state tournament. The squad compiled an overall 19-3 record. Popp said a more formal recognition of the team will be made at a future board meeting.

Stephen Paredes, the board president, said it’s impressive “that so many graduates from Parker have received some sort of special honor during their time at the school,” which highlights the need for continued after school programs.

While making enrollment projections can be an inexact science, LaBella took a stab at it for next school year. A five-year average would suggest enrollment of 2,161 next year, a three-year average would indicate enrollment of 2,150.

“We’ve seen more accuracy using a five-year average,” LaBella stated.

Enrollment this school year is 2,190 students.

Enrollment in District 161 has been volatile in recent years.

“District enrollment increased by as much as 20 percent four years ago and 16 percent the year before that.  We also have seen a drop of four percent this year and eight percent in 2010-11,” LaBella said.

She said the next steps are to translate the projected enrollments into class sections within each school.  This will determine whether current staffing is over or under what will be needed in 2017-18.

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