The Commercial-News, Danville, IL

April 24, 2013

District 118 rejects, then resurrects proposal


DANVILLE — After a one-hour long closed session, the Danville District 118 school board Wednesday took a second vote, finally approving a plan to improve student achievement at Danville High School.

The plan for transformational change at the high school is part of the application process for a $6 million federal school improvement grant administered through the Illinois State Board of Education.

This is the first time that DHS has been eligible for the grant. Eligibility for the grant is based on a school’s performance on the Prairie State Achievement

Exam. The district must apply for the grant by Tuesday.

The competitive school improvement grant would infuse $6 million during three years to improve teaching and learning at DHS.

Although the plan had been revised since being presented at a public study session last week, the board initially voted 4-2 to not accept the plan because board members still questioned the usefulness of a 30-minute enrichment/intervention period, saying the committee that developed the plan did not provide any alternatives.

Board members Gina McGuire, Dan Brown, Frank Young and Bill Dobbles cast the dissenting votes. Board member Steve Bragorgos was absent.

Some of the changes to the plan included the additions of an after-school tutoring program, a family involvement liaison and a mentoring program supported by Big Brothers/Big Sisters.

In regard to the board’s concerns about the 30-minute enrichment period, Dobbles told the committee members, “You’ve given us no alternatives. Are there alternatives or did you not want to give us alternatives?

“I’m in favor of the grant. I’m extremely upset that there’s not enough time to make changes,” he said.

Phil Cox, who will become DHS principal in July and has been involved with the development of the plan, said, “We weighed the pros and cons and this (enrichment period) was the best option.”

According to Cox, the committee explored creating an enrichment/intervention room where select students would receive additional support in math or English, but it was too similar to DHS’ Victory Classes.

Cox said with the Victory Classes “we could add the students but we found it difficult to remove them and put them back in the regular classroom.”

Cox added some schools have intervention periods on certain days or for a certain number of weeks, but that arrangement “doesn’t meet the grant requirements for additional instructional time for all students.”

Young said he did not understand how the 30-minute enrichment period would help students who are deficient in math and/or English.

Dr. Sharon Desmoulin-Kherat, who will become associate superintendent July 1 but has been involved in the development of the plan, explained that students actually will receive 90 minutes a day of “intensive support” from the enrichment period and a “double dose” of math or English, which is also part of the plan.

“It’s not a brand new initiative. It’s a continuation of what was started in 2008,” Desmoulin-Kherat said, referring to when the high school established the house structure.

When Cox and Desmoulin-Kherat asked for direction from the board on how to change the enrichment/intervention component of the plan, Young said part of the problem with the plan had to do with a memorandum of agreement the committee had with the Danville Education Association.

Brown concurred, “We’ve been trying for nine months to get a (teachers’) contract, but we received a memorandum of agreement from them (union) in one day.”

Dobbles defended the DEA, saying, “The DEA has been extremely flexible in meeting the needs of this grant.”

After discussing in closed session how the memorandum of agreement would affect contract negotiations, the board voted unanimously to approve the plan.

The district’s plan for transformational change at DHS includes:

The plan proposes to improve student achievement by implementing curriculum aligned to Common Core State Standards, develop and implement common assessments schoolwide and develop academic and behavioral interventions.

The grant requirements include:

The proposed changes at DHS outlined in the plan include:

If awarded, the grant would fund several new positions at the high school to implement the transformation model, including the transformation officer, behavioral interventionist, a data analyst and lead teachers. In addition, the Consortium for Educational Change (CEC) — a nonprofit partner selected by the district — would guide the district through the process of including student growth in teacher evaluations and would provide a full-time position onsite at DHS to support the reform efforts.