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The best tool for surviving times of trouble and disruption? Empathy

The Flossmoor School District 161 Board of Education followed through on a plan to reduce the educational support staff by seven positions as its schools have remained closed to large-scale in-person learning amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The school board voted 6-0 on Monday, Dec. 14, to honorably dismiss two in-house bus drivers and five custodians 30 days following the action. Officials have said they have struggled to find work for those positions when students are not in session.

Board member Stephen Paredes was absent when the vote was taken but appeared later in the meeting. Though the board has had prior discussions on the matter, Christina Vlietstra was the only member to comment on the issue Dec. 14, saying she wanted to make sure it can be undone if the board so chooses before that 30-day window concludes.

“We can undo it,” Superintendent Dana Smith confirmed.

Smith explained that the board can rescind the action Jan. 4 if it opts for an in-person return in early February. He previously described this as an “off ramp” for the board and said that action in December was important because of the holiday break, scheduling of meetings and unknowns about the return situation.

“It’s not something I take lightly,” he said on Nov. 30. “We know tough decisions have to be made. This decision gives us a bunch of off ramps. … Ideally, we avoid this altogether and look back at this conversation as us doing our due diligence.”

The seven staff members are to continue working and receiving salaries in the 30-day lead-up to their dismissal, according to a report from Eric Melnyczenko, the district’s director of human resources. Reducing these positions will allow for roughly $16,000 in monthly salary savings, he wrote.

Staffing for 2021-2022 school year

“If this year’s unprecedented, next year is going to be even more unprecedented,” Melnyczenko told the board Dec. 14. 

Melnyczenko asked the board to look ahead to the fall for reopening to full in-person learning. He said the expectation is that the district’s youngest learners are going to need a lot of extra attention to help them catch up. That means more teachers as the district adjusts staffing levels in Grades 1-3, he said.

“We wanted to throw some more resources at the lower grades to catch them as early as possible before they move up through the intermediate and junior high,” Melnyczenko said. “If all of this goes according to plan, we’re looking at a net plus-two teachers going into next school year.”

Because incoming kindergarteners have not been in school yet, Melnyczenko said administrators did not see the need for an adjustment at that level.

Smith added that the idea is to maximize the small group learning experience for students who may be struggling. A first-grade class that has 20 students rather than 25 offers a better opportunity for teachers to see those children, he said.

“Our perspective is as we’re realizing savings this year, it makes sense to invest in those classes at the lower levels,” he said.

Some board members voiced concerns about other grade levels, too. Vlietstra asked about rising fourth-graders in fall 2021 who might not have not been in classrooms since the end of their second-grade year. Carolyn Griggs pointed to students in grades 6-7 who already have shown drop-offs in learning, especially in math. She questioned focusing only on the younger levels.

“Will you re-look at middle school and the gaps that could be created?” she asked administrators.

Recognitions

Parker National Junior Honor Society members recently made and planned to donate blankets to area children in need through Project Linus.

PJH NJHS coordinators Beth Senodenos and Kathy Fotopoulos were recognized, along with the students who took part: Bih Sana Abeh, Ikeoluwa Adeyemi, Bryan Ahrendt, Gianni Alberico, Brooklyn Aldridge, Londyn Anderson, Oscar Ayala, Tolani Babawale, Remington Bergeron, Cameron Brooks.

Ofelia Castanon, Vivial Clark, Amare Corbin, Noelle Dolan, Zaria Douglas, Isabella-Re Egonmwan, Rachel Griggs, Madison Harris, Julia Henry, Lauren Higgins.

Lauren Hines, Morgan Kimmons, Mason Kleinfelder, Annelise Latham, Caden Levy, Leigha Lickert, Ashlynn Magee, Flannery Marak, Raquel Martinez, Vianney Martinez.

Meave McGrory, Eryn Odom, Kyla Pope, Lyndon Proby, Jovohn Ratliff, Angelina Rivero, Benjamin Rodriguez, Madeline Sampson, Ava Scott, Casey Siengo.

Tracey Skinner, Mary-Kathleen Stalling, Elodie Sullivan, Nina Taylor, Matilyn Terrell, Kiersten Thomas, Griffin Trobridge, Oliver Wachtel, Oliver Weberg and Cameron Williams.  

The board also recognized its December #AboveAndBeyond winners: Rosalynd McWhorter, of Parker Junior High, and Lisa Martin, of Serena Hills. They were honored for their hard work and dedication to District 161.

Donations

The school board voted 6-0 to accept two donations as part of its consent agenda.

One saw Bernie’s Book Bank of Lake Bluff donate six new and gently used books for every child at Flossmoor Hills, Heather Hill and Serena Hills, as well as pre-kindergarten and early childhood education for Western Avenue, and sixth-grade students at Parker Jr. High.

The Chi Lambda Lambda Chapter of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc. donated 10 frozen turkeys and one grocery bag of other non-perishable food items to be given to families in need. 

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