ROCHELLE — At Tuesday's monthly meeting of the Rochelle Elementary School District Board of Education, Superintendent Jason Harper said that enrollment numbers are up across the district.
From kindergarten to eighth grade, the district has seen an increase of 50 students total. Declining enrollment has been an ongoing concern for the district in recent years, and it was partly the cause for the recent closure of May School and the shift to an attendance center model. As of this month, there are 1,417 students across the district. Last September, the number was 1,367.
“We were happy to see that increase this year,” Harper said. “Our incoming kindergarten and first grade classes are larger than some of the running averages that we've had. As I've said publicly and privately, having more students with us obviously presents a challenge with just numbers, but we like to see our enrollments steady or rising. That's where we're at this year."
Board President Dave Casey and Board Members Javier Zepeda and Steve Builta were absent from the meeting. Board Member Trisha Vaughn served as board president for the meeting.
District Assistant Superintendent Tony Doyle presented the district's improvement plan for the year to the board during the meeting. Instructional practices improvement will be the priority for the district for the next year.
“Even before COVID-19 times, we wanted to hone in and settle down,” Doyle said. “A lot of new things have been coming at these teachers and students for several years. We picked this year coming out of COVID-19 to take the initiative to do that. Our goal is simply stated: We want to improve on our existing instructional practices.”
The goal’s progress will be measured through student, teacher and community feedback along with student data. Among the changes this year is a new teacher mentoring program, which includes more intensive orientation for new teachers. Literacy essentials is also a priority and the district plans to have a presentation on reading at an upcoming school improvement day.
Student growth will be a priority as well, including improving standards-based grading and evidence collection for curriculum. The district now uses standards-based grading from kindergarten to seventh grade.
“This is seventh grade's first year with that,” Doyle said. “We're almost all the way up. It's taken several years and a lot of hard work. That's just the end product. The actual mark that students get is not everything that standards-based grading is about. There's feedback to it and teaching teachers how to collect data. I believe it's been paying off, especially in the feedback category and explaining the why.”
Doyle said the district also has target areas in its curriculum that it wants to address and it’s working to implement Friday meeting days for teachers to work on student data and collaboration. Those meetings will start in October.
The board held a public hearing for and unanimously approved the fiscal year 2023 budget.
During the budget hearing, District Business Manager Kevin Dale went over estimated revenues and expenditures for each fund.
Across all funds, the estimate is a total surplus of $17,959 in the current budget.
“That's the estimated look at the budget based on the numbers we currently have,” Dale said. “If things change or the state gives us money or we get a percentage of what they said they were going to do like they've done in years past, that will adjust accordingly. This is our best estimate right now.”
Administrators from each school in the district introduced each of their new teachers for this year. Lincoln School has three new teachers, Central School has five, Tilton School has two and Rochelle Middle School has four.
Harper said the district recently overhauled its new teacher orientation program and it's now expanded to a multiple-day format to get teachers more accustomed to working in its schools.
The board unanimously approved the certificated employment of Tracy Alford (reading specialist, Lincoln School), Holly Schatz (fourth grade teacher, Tilton School) and Katie Sullivan (long-term substitute teacher, Central School) along with the support staff employment of Andrea Oleson (paraprofessional, Tilton), Julie Richolson (paraprofessional, Tilton) and Alva Valle (HUB Program, Lincoln) and the extracurricular resignation of Seth Richolson (assistant wrestling coach, RMS) and employment of Anthony Grek (head wrestling coach).
After meeting in executive session, the board approved issuing a notice of remedial warning to a district tenured teacher with modifications to directives one through three.
Harper said that the Crawford Foundation, which supports education within the district, will be holding a pancake breakfast on Oct. 15 from 7 a.m. to noon at Lincoln School. All proceeds raised by the Crawford Foundation go directly back to the district to provide education for students.