DANVILLE – The Danville District 118 board was asked Wednesday night to consider using a portion of coronavirus-related funding to improve access to technology within the district.
Curriculum Director Mary Ellen Bunton said the One to One Institute conducted a readiness assessment of the district more than a year ago to assist the district in developing a plan to issue a laptop computer to every student in the district.
The board was asked to allow the district to use its portion of the $3.5 million in ESSER (Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief) Grant funding from the CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) Act to fund the district’s one-to-one plan.
The money also could be used for additional remote learning training, streamlining the remote learning platforms the district uses, and conducting a Parent University session to train parents on the technology.
A portion of the $3.5 million also will be shared with non-public schools within District 118’s boundaries based on the number of students who come from homes with lower incomes.
When remote learning was launched in District 118 after schools were shut down statewide in mid-March, only a few hundred Chromebooks were available to distribute to Danville High School in late April.
“We were able to get Chromebooks out to many, but not the needed technology to all,” Superintendent Alicia Geddis said. “We need to be better prepared to meet the needs of students this fall.
“The priority for this money is to be ready with remote learning in the fall,” she said.
Board member Lon Henderson and others said they were concerned about using the district’s portion of the $3.5 million solely on technology.
“If we increase the number of computers, the cost to replace them in three years will increase,” Henderson said.
“The list of needs in this audit is a lot, and the money won’t come close to meeting those needs,” Board member Darlene Halloran said.
“I don’t want all of the money to be used for technology,” Henderson said. “We’re going to need PPE for the children and the teachers if they have to wear face masks.”
Board members voted 6-0 to use only a portion of the district’s allotment of the $3.5 million to fund technology needs using data from the one-to-one audit as a guideline.
Also on Wednesday, the board:
• Discussed the results of a remote learning survey given to the teachers at the end of the school year.
Teacher reported that communication between teachers went really well, but what did not go well during the last two months of the school year was “the lack of engagement from students and parents,” Bunton said.
“They didn’t participate in activities,” she said, summarizing the teachers’ survey responses.
When asked what platform they preferred if remote learning is continued in the fall, Bunton said the teachers responded: “They just want us to choose one.” Bunton suggested going forward with Google Classroom as that one platform.
When teachers were asked what they were most concerned about, Bunton said the teachers responded that “they’re worried about not being face-to-face with their students and how to teach a child to read remotely.”
• Heard an update on the buildings and grounds’ summer projects including cleaning the schools.
A new pool dehumidifier unit for the DHS natatorium is in the parking lot awaiting installation.
“It will be lifted by crane and installed June 8,” Buildings and Grounds Director Skip Truex said. “Hopefully the weather will cooperate.”
The new unit will replace an old one.
“It will bring in a larger percentage of outdoor air and ventilate the chlorine fumes,” Truex said.
Also during the summer, the metal roof at Southwest Elementary School will be replaced. The roof sustained damage during the May 2019 hailstorm.
“We have a lot of projects around the district, but they’re small and we’re doing them ourselves,” Truex said.
“The staff also is following CDC (Centers for Disease Control) cleaning requirements in the buildings,” he added.
• Heard an update on the district’s strategic plan, which was started last fall before the COVID-19 outbreak.
Consultant Liz Small, a DHS graduate who is the founder and president of Chicago-based Small Insights, had been meeting in January and February with 22 focus groups consisting of parents, staff and students to help develop a three-year strategic plan for the district for 2020-2023.
Geddis said she will contact Small and ask for a summary of her work.
• Heard about possibly refinancing the district’s debt.
The district has been working with Stifel and PMA Financial Network, which provide financial services to the district, about refinancing the district’s debt.
“With the low interest rates, it would definitely benefit the district to refinance,” Assistant Business Director Narcissus Rankin said.
Rankin said the district would realize a cost savings of $2.4 million over the remaining 10 years of a 2011 bond it sold to fund the renovations of North Ridge Middle, South View Upper Elementary and Mark Denman Elementary schools.
• Discussed summer food service and the continuation of the food distribution program and the McDonald’s program.
Geddis said the district’s weekly food distribution on Tuesdays at the high school has experienced a decline in participation, so the board agreed with her recommendation to reduce the hours of distribution to one hour a week, from 10-11 a.m. on Tuesdays.
Food Service Director Sue Barnes said 11,000 meals a week were being distributed at the start of the food distribution program in March, but now that number has dropped to about 4,000 meals a week.
“The McDonald’s program will continue through the end of July,” Geddis added.
The board also approved entering into an agreement with the Danville Family YMCA to provide 15 meals a week for the Y’s summer programs.
• Heard about the district’s summer school plans. Summer school will take place remotely and meals will be distributed to the students in the program.
Summer school will start in mid-June for DHS students and in late July for K-8 grades.
• Renewed the district’s contract with Embrace for $13,460 for online Individualized Education Program (IEP) and Section 504 Plan development.