RANTOUL — ‘Staffulty’ (staff and faculty) at Rantoul township High School have committed to empowering students as the school year begins.

At the Aug. 12 board meeting, teachers Laura Billimack and Ashley Bryan described the work of the Culture Club, formerly the discipline committee, to develop empowering relationships between students and ‘staffulty.’ Teacher A.J. Richard, who is not a member of the Culture Club, reported on his attendance this summer at a Jostens convention that focused on empowering students.

Billimack said the discipline committee had decided to rename itself because the old name “had a negative feel to it.”

“(Culture Club) has a great vibe to it,” she said.

This year, the club is launching three projects. The first is repurposing a display case near the east wing doors.

“It has probably remained unchanged since I have been here,” said Billimack. “It had vintage things in it that are lovely to look at and lovely to change to make new for our population.”

Three sections of the display case will be filled with student and staff recognition, information about current events and recognition of clubs and activities. The content of the fourth will be determined by students and ‘staffulty.’

A second project is intended to show teachers differently. Outside their classrooms, teachers will display three fun facts about themselves. An example Bryan gave was “Ask me what’s on my mix tape.”

“We want them to know us on a deeper level,” Bryan said.

The third project is ‘toilet talk.’ Plastic-covered flyers about school events and activities will be posted in restroom stalls.

“It’s a great way to get kids reading about what’s happening in school when they are sitting down for a bit,” Billimack said.

“Or standing,” Richard added.

Richard said the message he and other RTHS teachers took home from the conference was that empowering was about “making those students feel like you as a teacher are on their side.”

“Can you be a human being with these kids, because that’s what gets them to buy into what you’re saying,” Richard said.

Board member Monica Hall asked Richard if the conference had included diversity training. Richard said the conference had focused primarily on empowering every student.

“It sounds like you want to connect, and that’s awesome, but another teacher may need a little help,” Hall said.

Billimack said the club took off in an empowering direction second semester last year with the development and introduction of the five non-negotiables. The club brought in a group of students to identify needed changes. The students’ input matched needs the club had also identified. Billimack declared the non-negotiables a success.

“We are super proud of the change they started,” Billimack said.

Board member Kelly Foster wanted to know if the club had data to support its claim of success.

“When I say success, we don’t have the data to back it, but we feel it was a success. There was a hiccup with the wording about the ‘back and forth,’ but that was good. People were buying in and questioning, and we were flexible enough to change. So the overall feeling was success. But I agree we need to go over the data,” Billimack said.

The hiccup occurred when parents raised concerns that the ‘back and forth’ wasn’t consistently enforced and that minority students were disproportionately disciplined as a result. It was later reported that teachers were not enforcing the policy consistently and that the problem had been addressed.

“We really were the issue,” Billimack said. “The teachers took ownership, and we realized we needed to teach the kids those five things and reteach them. We had a united front.”

New teachers have been introduced to the non-negotiables and taken through various scenarios earlier that day, Billimack said.

Board member Jeremy Larson said he thought “Culture Club” is an appropriate name and its efforts should be applauded.

“You are building the culture of the school. It’s not a dictatorship — you guys are obviously showing compromise and are willing to negotiate.”

In financial news, the tentative 2019-2020 budget was approved at a special board meeting Aug. 5. It shows total anticipated revenues of $12.8 million and total anticipated expenditures of $12.4 million.

Budgeting has presented a special challenge this year, as Superintendent Scott Amerio is unsure if the district will received its full county property tax extension due to a delay in the mailing of bills earlier this summer. Amerio told the board previously that the annual audit will likely show a deficit.

A budget hearing will be held at 6:45 p.m. Monday, Sept., 9 in the RTHS board room.

However, there was a bright spot of financial news at the Aug.  12 meeting when Amerio announced the district will receive $386,788 in new state funding this year. That amount will be rolled into the district’s base funding next year, and as long as education is fully funded by the state legislature, the district will continue to receive it.

“The administrative team will go back to take a look at the school-improvement plan we worked on last year and identified areas we need to put resources in,” Amerio said.

“That’s mainly the English learners population and free-and-reduced-lunch population.”

The funds may be used for new positions or new programming, as long as those items are justified by research. If new positions are created, the district could find itself in a dilemma.

“The challenge is more timing than anything,” Amerio said. “We know it would be great to have a couple more ESL teachers, but we can’t find them. (Filling) teaching positions is really tough right now.”

Breakfast fees were raised a dime from last year’s fees. Students will pay $1.25 and adults will pay $2.00.

On behalf of the downtown beautification project, business owner Loise Haines presented a $500 donation to the art department. Art students painted a mural on Haines’ building. Haines said there have been two more requests for murals from downtown businesses.

Amerio reported the district received $50,385 in monthly receipts from the county school facilities 1-percent sales tax. That is more than was received last August, continuing an upward trend this year.

In personnel matters, the board approved the resignations of Darren Taylor, assistant football coach, and Joshua Patrick, ESL teacher. New hires include Ashley Garcia, Christopher Billings and San Juanita Zaragoza, paraprofessionals; and Casey Roelfs, special education teacher.

Appointments include Laura Baker, assistant prom sponsor; Amy Bock, flag corps; Devin Kyler, assistant volleyball; Morgan Reese, volunteer cross country; and Anna Frerichs and Emily Floyd, class of 2023 sponsors. Also appointed were Reach teachers Kevin Beebe, Laura Baker, Tony Cantu, Ashley Bryan, Emily Floyd, Colin Sullivan, Amanda Wernert, Errol Root, Rachel Heckel, Tom Hess, Melanie Deem and Kaleb Wachala as advisor.

A health technician position was approved at the Aug. 5 meeting.

The board approved adoption of eight school board policies including powers and duties of the school board; organizational school board meetings; revenue and investments, transportation, facility management and building programs, targeted school violence prevention, school accountability and remote educational programs.

Board member Roger Quinlan noted that 1993 graduate Lee Smith was recognized by sportscaster Jim Nantz during national coverage of a recent golf tournament at Liberty National Golf Club in New Jersey. Smith is managing director of the club.

Recognition of former board member Doug Jordahl was delayed to the Sept. 9 board meeting.