The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

July 18, 2013

School board hires administrator to oversee new program


DANVILLE — The Danville District 118 school board on Wednesday approved 5-1 the administrative appointment of a high school transformation officer.

Ericka Uskali of St. Joseph will fill the new administrative role as transformation officer, a new position required through Danville High School’s $6 million school improvement grant.

Her annual salary will be $75,000, prorated, plus benefits, for a 237-day contract. She also has requested a waiver from the district’s residency requirements for administrators, which didn’t sit well with a few school board members.

Board member Frank Young said he was against the residency waiver, saying that Danville is a nice place to live.

Board President Bill Dobbles also chimed in, saying, “I strongly disagree with the recommendation. There was a better candidate.”

Board member Dr. Randal Ashton said, “I wish they lived here. We’ve got to get tougher with the residency requirement.”

Board member Lon Henderson cast the dissenting vote on the appointment.

As the transformation officer, Uskali will serve as a liaison between the district and DHS, oversee budgetary concerns and work collaboratively with the high school administration to ensure the school improvement plan is being followed.

The officer will provide support to staff, principals and assistant principals at the high school.

Uskali has served as a professional development consultant and statewide system of support coach for the Regional Office of Education SchoolWorks from 2006-2013.

Previously, she served as assistant executive director of the Association of Illinois Middle Schools from 2001-2006, and from 1991-2001 she was a middle school teacher.

Also on Wednesday, school board members:

 Heard about an initiative to increase student attendance by hiring a consultant for $30,000 to develop a districtwide attendance plan.

The Leadership Matters Attendance Initiative, which would be grant funded, would help the district design an attendance plan that includes interventions and incentives.

Student absenteeism has a major impact not only on lost instructional time resulting in poor student achievement but also in a loss of general state aid to the district.

According to the 2012 School Report Card, District 118 had an attendance rate of 93.4 percent with a student population of 6,207, meaning an average of 410 students were absent from school each day amounting to a loss of 2,458 hours of instruction each day.

During the year, this equated to 72,160 days of absences districtwide or 432,603 lost hours of instruction. In addition to lost instruction time, the district lost a significant amount of General State Aid since state funding is determined by student attendance.

Increasing the attendance rate by 2 percent districtwide could result in an additional $500,000 in state aid. Graduate rates also increase as attendance rates increase.

With the help of the initiative, the district hopes to achieve 95 percent or higher per school building.

The attendance plan would include developing a marketing plan with a catchy slogan and yard signs to remind students to go to school.

Teachers also would play a role in the attendance plan by calling home when students have been absent for a few days.

Young and Henderson said they didn’t think hiring an attendance expert for $30,000 covered by a grant was necessary.

“Don’t you think our own people could come up with an attendance plan and implement it?” Young asked associate superintendent Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat, who presented the proposal. “I don’t buy it.”

Henderson said, “Our buildings have a lot of support now with social workers and counselors. The most effective way of getting kids to school is that personal touch.

“If you’ve worked with this group before in Peoria, don’t you know some of the tricks in their bag?” Henderson asked Desmoulin-Kherat. “Just because the money is in the grant, it doesn’t mean it needs to be spent. It’s still taxpayer money.”

Denman supported hiring an attendance consultant, saying, “Our attendance will be the same unless we do something dramatically different.”

Ashton agreed. “I think we should bring in some fresh blood and pay for the expertise.”

 Heard an update on the district’s five-year strategic plan that outlines goals and accomplishments from 2011-2016.

The district is halfway through its goals for 2012-2014.

The plan covers academic achievement and curriculum; communication and marketing; facilities: infrastructure and technology; finances: funding and cost containment; human resources: staffing; parental involvement and community involvement; and safety and discipline.

The district has completed reading and math alignment with Common Core and implemented standards-based report cards from kindergarten through second grade.

A standards-based report card has been developed for grade 3 through 5 and will be implemented in the fall.

Writing also will be a big focus in the district this school year.

Implementing a longer school day is another goal that will be met this fall when elementary students will receive an additional 25 minutes of instructional time and DHS students will see a new 30-minute flex period.

Other goals that have been met include increasing the graduation requirements for DHS seniors, pursuing a Junior ROTC program and changing the principal evaluations so a significant portion is based on student growth. Teacher evaluations will be changed similarly starting in 2015.

Also on tap this school year is completing the East Park Elementary School renovations, improving the curb appeal of every school building, continuing the implementation of nutrition program for students and parents/guardians that promote making healthy nutritional choices both at school and at home, updating all of the public address systems, using teacher evaluations to reward high performers and remediate and/or dismiss low performers, continuing technology training for faculty and staff, increasing the number of free after-school events at each school and developing and implementing curriculum to teach children about conflict resolution and the prevention of violence.

Approved 5-1 the modified curriculum for the following DHS classes so they are aligned to the Common Core standards: freshman English, sophomore English, junior literature, GLOBAL senior English, minority literature, speech, advanced composition, journalism, algebra 2/trigonometry and algebra 2/trigonometry honors.

Dobbles cast the dissenting vote, saying he had a problem with the curriculum because it didn’t outline the minimum requirements and competency standards for students. 

Reviewed a first reading of job descriptions for two new positions at DHS: secretary to transformation officer and DHS family involvement liaison.

The positions are grant-funded and are requirements of the $6 million federal School Improvement Grant administered through the Illinois State Board of Education that the district recently learned it will receive over the next three years.

Approved seven new positions at DHS, which include behavior interventionist, secondary literacy coach, secondary math coach, transformation officer, instructional teaching assistant and CAN/LPN special teaching assistant.

Dobbles voted against an eighth new position — teacher leader high school — because he said the “teacher leader adds a level of bureaucracy we don’t need.”

Approved hiring District 118 retirees Valarie Gilbert, Mark Neil and Marla Bauerle-Hill at $37.50 an hour to serve as mentors for the district’s four new principals: Phil Cox at DHS, Kimberly Norton at Northeast Elementary Magnet School, Sharon Phillips at South View Middle School and Kelly Truex at Garfield Elementary School.

Accepted a bid and awarded a contract to Spear Corporation of Roachdale, Ind., for $71,789 to replace the DHS pool filtering system.

Coming up

District 118 school board members will meet in special session at 12:30 p.m. Monday in the Jackson Building, 516 N. Jackson St. The purpose of the meeting is to consider accepting a bid from Shick School and Office Supply of Danville for $30,937 to purchase 125 desks, 210 chairs and 18 tables for East Park Elementary School.