DANVILLE – Last year brought some changes to Danville District 118, and a three-year strategic plan that is now in the works will undoubtedly bring about some new recommendations for the new year.

Assistant Superintendent of Secondary Education Beth Yacobi said one of the most significant additions to Danville High School’s curriculum in 2019 was a newly enhanced Career and Technical Education (CTE) program.

During the 2018-2019 school year, the district launched a three-year plan to expand its CTE program at DHS. The program gives students real-world skills and connects them to postsecondary education and careers after high school by tailoring their ninth, 10th, 11th and 12th grade years to a career or college.

Freshmen take an introduction to careers and technology course, which entails spending nine weeks in each of four classes: computer-aided drafting (CAD), automotive technology, woodworking and welding.

At DHS this school year, which is the second year of the expansion plan, the CTE program offers students:

• Ten dual-credit courses – five business, three computer and two industrial technology – in which DHS students will earn high school and Danville Area Community College credit simultaneously;

• Twenty sections of industrial technology courses, including Geometry in Construction and welding;

• Sixteen computer courses and 13 business courses;

• Three workforce development courses that include the Work Experience and Career Exploration Program (WECEP) — which allows up to 25 DHS students to land employment opportunities at four Danville employers — and a Global Careers & Professions (GCP) internship course, which allows DHS juniors to job shadow and participate in work study at Danville businesses.

The third year of the CTE program’s expansion plan will add an electronics and robotics lab, and a career lab where students can come in for resources and work on their LinkedIn pages or on Microsoft and OSHA certifications.

But the biggest addition that is expected to be unveiled during the 2020-2021 school year is a business incubator where teams of two or three DHS students would develop projects that they would present to Shark Tank-like experts.

Another initiative at the high school that launched in August encourages students to volunteer and perform more community service.

“At the beginning of the school year, we gave back their extracurricular fee and asked them to do community service,” Yacobi said. “We never set a minimum or limited their community service hours.”

Just in the first semester, members of DHS’ athletic teams, including cheerleaders and pompon squad, completed 509 volunteer hours.

Other district highlights from 2019:

• The district expanded its prekindergarten program this school year and began offering all-day prekindergarten in December after receiving a $341,000 Preschool for All Expansion grant.

“We identified 4-year-olds as needing a readiness for school,” Assistant Superintendent of Elementary Education John Hart said. “We knew there was a great need out there for that.”

The grant allowed the district to add three full-day prekindergarten classrooms at Edison Elementary School to accommodate 55 4-year-old children.

• North Ridge Middle School and Mark Denman Elementary School were named AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) Spotlight Schools.

“They were recognized by AVID as being exceptional schools by implementing the expectations,” Yacobi said.

Meade Park and Garfield elementary schools and Kenneth D. Bailey Academy all joined the AVID program last year, making District 118 one of the first school districts in Illinois to offer AVID to all children in kindergarten through 12th grade districtwide.

“We’re the only alternative school AVID site in Illinois,” Hart said.

With the AVID program, Yacobi said, “kids know they’re going to be something.”

“We have momentum and consistency (through the AVID program), and we’re building a structure for kids so they have a plan postsecondary,” Yacobi said.

• The district expanded opportunities for DHS students to attend several summer camps at the University of Illinois, which included camps in engineering; electrical engineering; bioengineering; nuclear, plasma and radiological engineering; aerospace engineering; mechanical engineering; material science and engineering; chemical engineering; and environmental engineering.

“We offered camp for everyone,” Superintendent Alicia Geddis said. “These opportunities existed and we paid for our kids to go. The Board of Education paid for them.”

• DHS added bowling as an extracurricular activity last year.

“It is an IHSA-sanctioned sport and there are scholarships for it,” Yacobi said of bowling.

“It is co-ed now, but because there’s such a strong response, we might have two teams next year: men’s and women’s,” Yacobi said.

• The Raptor Visitor Identification System was installed during the summer at Danville High School and North Ridge Middle School. Visitors relinquish their driver’s license or state identification card so it may be checked in the sex offender database. Visitors then are issued a temporary picture ID that denotes their destination in the school.

“It allows us to have more control over who enters our building and is interacting with our staff and students,” Geddis said.

The Raptor system was recommended by the district’s safety committee after touring other schools in the state that used the system.

Looking ahead

Work is under way to develop a three-year strategic plan for District 118 from 2020-2023. The school board last approved a five-year strategic plan in 2011. That strategic plan set goals for the district from 2011-2016.

In November, the board approved a strategic plan steering committee and operating budget of $24,580. The steering committee consists of retired District 118 superintendent Mark Denman, former principal Janet Alexander and former state Sen. Judy Myers.

Of the $24,580 that was budgeted, an estimated $17,500 was earmarked to pay consultant Liz Small, who is the founder and president of Chicago-based Small Insights.

Small is a DHS graduate who will run two focus groups per school building in the district for a total of 22 focus groups. She also will gather the data.

“Liz has been meeting with parents, staff and students,” Hart said. “She’ll have additional focus groups in January and February.”

Retired District 118 teachers, who will be paid a stipend for their time, will act as facilitators of the focus groups that will include community members, community organizations and local churches.

The information that will be gathered during the focus groups will answer three basic questions: What is going well in the district? What are the greatest challenges facing the district? and How may the district better serve your needs?

“I think we’ll get some good information and be able to set some priorities,” Geddis said. “The strategic plan will be instrumental in developing ongoing goals for the district and the Board of Education.”

In addition, Geddis said the district is working with the Vermilion County Regional Board of Education to develop alternative pathways to graduation and has hired a consultant to help boost math scores districtwide.

“We made a concentrated effort to look at our math scores on standardized tests and hired an outside consultant to work with our teachers,” she said.

“We’re looking at a comprehensive math program for K-12,” Hart added.

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