Eighth-grade promotion time to remain same despite objections

Rantoul City Schools board members, from left, Joe Robinson, Andy Graham and John Brotherton are  sworn in by Saundra Uhlott during Thursday’s meeting. Uhlott was chosen as president pro-tem to temporarily run the meeting until the board elected Bill Sweat as president.

RANTOUL — Members of the public voiced disapproval at the Rantoul City Schools board on Thursday about the time of the eighth-grade promotion ceremony at J.W. Eater Junior High School.

The board approved the restoration of the ceremony last February, and the event is scheduled to be held at 9 a.m. Friday, May 24. In earlier years, prior to the event being terminated, it was usually held on a Thursday evening.

At the meeting the board was met with questions on why the ceremony was changed to a Friday morning.

“We talked about reinstating graduation as it was,” Wendell Golston, president of Concerned Citizens of Rantoul, said. “The vote was 6-0. We had the board meeting on the 23rd, and I understand, but we need to have some fairness here. The best thing for these children is to see us together, and we are trying to support the education system.”

Golston had a petition with 318 signatures requesting the ceremony be changed back to its original time.

Rantoul resident Jack Anderson said having the event on Friday morning would not be convenient for all family members who may have to work at that time.

“It’s reasonable to say that the majority of people who do hold jobs work in the daytime,” Anderson said. “Having an evening or early evening would be more conducive to their attendance, and I would be in support of that change if it is possible.”

After the meeting, Superintendent Michelle Ramage said student attendance is often low at evening events.

“It is most important that students can be in attendance at their own event,” Ramage said. “When held during the day, greater student attendance is possible since it is a regular school day with regular transportation. Being in a village with factories, we also have parents who work second and third shifts, so no time is convenient for everyone. Plenty of notice was provided so arrangements could be made.”

The board did not vote to change the 9 a.m. start time.

BOARD OFFICERS ELECTED

The board elected Bill Sweat as president by a 4-3 vote, edging the other nominee, Andy Graham.

Sweat succeeds Joan Fitzgarrald as president

Saundra Uhlott will again serve as vice president. She defeated Graham, also by a 4-3 vote.

John Brotherton was picked for secretary. He was the only member nominated.

New board member Joe Robinson was sworn in along with incumbent Brotherton and Graham, who was appointed to the board last year. All three were elected in April 2 balloting.

It was the last meeting for Fitzgarrald,  who gave a tearful farewell to her colleagues, thanking the board members and staff for the all the work they have done, specifically Ramage.

“I would like to thank Michelle for helping build a respectful and caring relationship with me as board president, and with the other board members,” Fitzgarrald said. “I feel like I can talk to her about anything. I can depend on her and she always carries through. Thank you."

BILINGUAL PROGRAM IMPROVEMENTS APPROVED

The board voted 7-0 for improvements to the bilingual program

Dr. Scott Woods, principal at J.W. Eater and bilingual director, said the biggest changes for the district will moving bilingual students from Broadmeadow and Northview elementary schools to Eastlawn Elementary.

“The main reason we need to do this is our resources are being spread across four buildings,” Woods said. “But we are needing to increase the amount of bilingual services we are providing to all of our bilingual students. By consolidating into the two schools, we are going to see some significant programming changes that are beneficial to the students and I think the families.”

Woods said next year Eastlawn will have seven bilingual teachers in place for K-5.

“That’s up from two or three total this year at Eastlawn,” Woods said. “We also added staff at Pleasant Acres; it’s not as significant, but we are also not changing the number of students.”

No positions will be added as Woods and his staff have been replacing teachers with bilingual teachers.

“We do not anticipate a direct cost for this program to be implemented as far as beyond what it already costs,” Woods said.

Parents of students enrolled in the district can indicate that they speak a second language as well as qualify for the services to have the option to accept the services of the bilingual program.

“They can decline services at any time,” Woods said. “I do anticipate that we will have some families at Northview and Broadmeadow that will decline services in order to stay in their home school.”

SOME PARENTAL CONCERN

There was concern from parents about having to move their children from the school should the program be moved in the upcoming years.

“Parents expressed, 'Don’t change this next year,'” Woods said. “There is a historical concern of moving the bilingual program and moving those students. They are looking for stability. I believe we were able to communicate that this is the right choice for the right reasons. We want to put it in place and keep it in place.”

Rantoul resident Nelson Cuevas, director of Cultivadores Latino Center, said parents are aware of the program and haven’t been “left in the dark.”

“The bilingual item is not a secret,” Cuevas said. “We do have access to parents in Northview, Broadmeadow, Pleasant Acres and Eastlawn. The response is that we are supporting as a community and as a whole, the recommendation that Dr. Woods, the superintendent and the district approve this because it is really necessary. It’s going to help the scores go up, the grades go up and get parents involved.”

The board also approved moving the pre-K program into one building at Pleasant Acres, as well as changing the attendance hours for the convenience of family and staff.

The pre-K program hours will be from 7:50 a.m. to 10:20 a.m. and 11:50 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.

“Starting this fall Pleasant Acres will house our preschool program,” Assistant Superintendent Jennifer Frerichs said.

HOURS CHANGE

The board also approved changes in student attendance hours for all of the elementary schools and J.W. Eater.

Elementary students will start the day at 7:40 a.m. and end at 2:30 p.m. J.W. Eater will start at 8:05 a.m. and end at 3:05 p.m.

“We are hoping that this will help increase some instructional time because the students will be in there,” Frerichs said. “This won’t be a change for students who come already for breakfast. It’s just making sure that the community is aware for those families who maybe drop their student off around eight o’clock. When the doors open at 7:40 a.m., that’s when they will come in straight to the classroom and get started.”

Frerichs said teachers like students having breakfast in the classroom as it can reduce behavior issues in the students.

“Students tend to be more relaxed, and they sit down while they eat their breakfast,” Frerichs said. “They do their seat work and are not rushed. It is more of a family setting when you are in your classroom.”

The board approved amending the First Student transportation extension contract, which will add four buses for the pre-K program that will run at the same time as other elementary routes.

“The good news is that this is not going to cost any additional than what we budgeted this year for pre-K,” Frerichs said.

PERSONNEL REPORT

The board approved the following hires that will be effective July 29, Amy Hayden (Pleasant Acres pre-K director) and Wendy Starwalt (Pleasant Acres principal); effective Aug. 13, Keila Torres (Eastlawn bilingual teacher), Kaleigh Clark (Broadmeadow teacher) and Alexis Gatses (Pleasant Acres social worker).

The board also approved the resignations of Elizabeth Brooks (Broadmeadow and Eastlawn nurse), effective April 16; Jennifer Staggs (Broadmeadow teacher), effective at the end of the school year; Sarah McElroy (J.W. Eater teacher), effective May 29; Peter Hahn (tech coordinator), effective June 30; Chasity Thompson (speech language pathologist), effective May 29. Sherri White will be retiring as certified school nurse at the end of the 2019-2020 school year.

Also the following changes were approved by the board: Olivia Delaney (Broadmeadow teacher to literacy specialist), Kellyn Sirach (JW Eater teacher to literacy specialist), Cheryl VanHoy (Northview teacher to literacy specialist) and Rebekah Lightly (Pleasant Acres teacher to literacy specialist).

— Pre-K will have 94 students moving up to kindergarten, which will bring the total number of registered students to 124, an increase from 114 in 2018. The total enrollment in pre-K as of April 19 is 165 students, an increase from 94 in 2018.

— The board received a $25,000 General Mills grant to purchase equipment and supplies for K-8 classrooms. Broadmeadow also received a $3,600 grant from Dart Foundation.

— The village was awarded a $200,000  Safe Routes to Schools grant, which is a collaboration between the village of Rantoul and RCS. The district signed an agreement last fall that RCS could provide up to $56,000 toward this project if the bids come in higher than expected.

“We are one of a few districts that received the Safe Routes to Schools Grant,” Ramage said.    

The board released the results from the Big Brothers/Sisters Bowl for Kids Sake fundraising event, which raised $20,200, an increase of almost $11,000 from last year.

“Of all of the Big Brothers bowlathons in central Illinois, only two met their goal.” Uhlott said. “I honestly didn’t think we would meet $20,000. That was our goal. We did it, and I would like to personally say thank you to the Rantoul City school staff, the administrators and the teachers that came out.”

—  The board will have its next meeting 6:30 p.m. Thursday, May 23 at J.W. Eater Junior High School.

btheobald@rantoulpress.com