By DEBRA RAWLINGS
Rantoul Press correspondent
RANTOUL — A prickly discipline issue raised at the March meeting of the Rantoul Township High School board appears to have been resolved.
Parent Mary Brown and community member Debbra Sweat said then that students were treated inconsistently as the five “non-negotiables” were applied. Sweat questioned if students of color had been targeted and said it appeared that a disproportionate number of those students had been referred for in-school suspension. In particular, Sweat was concerned about the effect of the “no back-and-forth” non-negotiable. The women requested parents be involved when discipline policies are created.
The issue was addressed again at the April 8 regular board meeting.
“I was really confused (about the reaction),” Superintendent Scott Amerio said. “The reason we went to the (non-negotiables) was to have a common set of standards.”
Amerio, Principal Todd Wilson and Assistant Principal for Attendance and Discipline Brooke Billings met with Sweat and parents to discuss the non-negotiables.
“What we found was we had some teachers who were not implementing things as they should. We fully understood why, then, some kids were feeling targeted,” Amerio said.
The non-negotiable causing the most concern was the “no back-and-forth.” Its purpose was to eliminate arguments between students and teachers that ate into instructional time. The arguments were often caused by inconsistencies in policy from one teacher to another, for example, about cell phone use.
Amerio said the teachers who were not implementing the non-negotiables consistently were identified and the issue addressed with them. It was also addressed with the faculty as a whole.
Sweat thanked Amerio and emphasized the importance of school, parents and community working together. Once more, she pointed out the diversity of the student population and the importance of a faculty and staff who are diverse and who understand what it is like to be a member of a minority.
“Rantoul is no longer predominantly Anglo,” Sweat said. “The school is over 50 percent minority.”
She urged administrators to recruit teachers from historically black colleges and universities. She also wanted to know if the school would participate in the April 12 Day of Silence, which recognizes the harassment and bullying of LGBTQ students; and if teachers were trained in trauma-informed education.
“It’s not a big secret that we don’t have a very diverse teaching staff,” Amerio said. “It’s difficult (to recruit), which is not to say we do not try.”
Amerio said Wilson has contacted the top 10 historically black colleges and universities Sweat had identified and is trying to have RTHS positions posted on their web sites. Amerio also said the entire staff will participate in cultural sensitivity training later this month. Board members were invited to participate. In the fall, school social workers will provide training about trauma to staff.
Parent Nicki Weekley, whose son is a recognized basketball player, spoke to the board about athletic scholarships. It was also discussed at the parent meeting.
“I can’t afford for my child to go to college,” she said. “We have some of the best talent in the area, but we are not getting out there to show it.”
Amerio described the process of getting in the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) as a system. If parents do not know how it works, students will miss opportunities, he said. He hopes to have an NCAA representative speak at a parent night in the fall.
“A lot of kids think college coaches reach out and say, ‘You come play for me.’ It’s the opposite. The kids have to reach out,” Amerio said.
He said the parent meeting had been helpful. A second meeting is scheduled later this month to discuss the student handbook.
“It will be really beneficial, the revitalization of a parent group, which is something we haven’t had in a long time,” Amerio said.
The monthly faculty presentation was made by the social studies department.
“Some good things are happening, and some things look bad,” team leader Beth Carsley said.
The department is not meeting its goal to have 85 percent of students pass the three required classes: U.S. History 1 and 2 and U.S. Government. Carsley attributed the drop from previous years to the switch to standards-based grading. She said she hadn’t realized how many assignments in the government class she taught were there solely to help students improve their grades rather than achieve mastery. She expects the passing rate to improve as the “fluff” is removed.
Wilson backed up Carsley’s conclusion.
“What I notice here is that when you start standards-based grading, you see an initial decline, and then you see that jump,” he said.
The good news is social studies intervention study hall was expanded to three teachers, allowing the number of students served in a week to double to 120. Students are divided according to the class for which they are seeking help, which improves teacher focus, Carsley said.
‘It’s going really well,” she said.
And, she reported, advanced placement class scores are still above the national average.
Hiring for the coming school year is in full swing. Amerio said the math department is fully staffed at this point, but finding Spanish and ESL teachers is a struggle.
“We’re seeing a new phenomenon,” Amerio said. “We’ve had (five) people decline offers who are from the suburbs and because of student debt, can’t afford to move out of their parents’ home.”
He attributed it to tuition having been raised so colleges and universities could pay their bills during the two years when the state did not have a budget.
The board accepted resignations from math teacher JeeYeun Kim, ag teacher Megan Vogt and science teacher Elina Ahn, all effective at the end of the school year; as well as counseling center secretary Patty Early, who plans to retire August 10, 2020.
Hires for 2019-2020 include special education teacher Anna Frerichs, English teacher Anthony Cantu and math teachers Colin Sullivan and Emily Floyd. Lakimya Wade was appointed head varsity volleyball coach.
Posting of summer school positions was approved. Billings said remedial intermediate algebra and remedial chemistry will be added along with two enrichment classes — art foundations and clothing.
“We found that students who were interested in architecture had no opportunity to take the art class, especially students who were in band,” Billings said. “They can’t do both. If they can get art foundations out of the way (in summer school), they move on to the next level (in art).”
Wilson said there are not enough spaces in the art and clothing classes next year for the students who have signed up.
“This is a great opportunity to get those classes for those kids,” he said.
The classes will be held only if 10 or more students sign up, and are open to any student, Billings said.