Elementary board: Facilities update presented, committee established
District parent survey results discussed
ROCHELLE — At its monthly meeting Tuesday, the Rochelle Elementary District Board of Education heard an update from administration on the state of its facilities. An ad-hoc committee including Board President Dave Casey and Board Member Trisha Vaughn was established to provide direction on facilities going forward.
District Business Manager Kevin Dale talked about upgrades that are needed at Tilton School, which was built in 1949, that include window repairs, replacing the HVAC system that still includes the original 1949 boiler, and replacing the flat portion of the roof.
“The estimated cost for those things and technology at Tilton is $4-5 million,” Dale said. “We also need to address security and safety updates. We had surveys done and hope to get results by next month for all the buildings. To effectively do those changes, we're asking the board to create an ad-hoc committee to help give the administration guidance and direction on where they'd like to go with this so we can start that process.”
District Assistant Superintendent Tony Doyle said the district’s maintenance shop on Cherry Avenue is in “bad, bad shape” and is a safety issue for employees and equipment. He said repairs to the building would be in the six-figure range and relocating to a different building would be in the seven-figure range. He asked the committee to provide direction on that as well.
The drop-off, pick up and parking situation at Tilton School also needs to be looked at for improvement, Doyle said.
“That's been the case at a lot of our elementary schools,” Doyle said. “At Tilton for our buses, parents and kids walking, it needs to be addressed and we'll have to come up with a plan to do something there.”
The district is looking at its facilities as they age. Central School was built in 1939 and May School was built in 1959.
“It is what it is,” Superintendent Jason Harpers said. “Buildings were built in a different way back then. We will work through the committee model and continue to be focused on this issue, as it's a big concern. We want to make sure that our facilities are able to appropriately provide great teaching and learning experiences for our students and staff.”
Doyle updated the board on results from a recent district parent survey. The survey saw 124 respondents, including equal representation for each building, he said.
“Overall, parents indicated a high level of satisfaction,” Doyle said. “The satisfaction rating was 85 percent rating us in the two top levels of satisfaction. That made us feel good. People had the chance to put in comments. In those, topics included increased communication, what's happening on a day-to-day basis in the classroom, how parents can improve on supporting the students' learning at home and more education on standards-based grading and what to expect from it.”
Doyle said the feedback will go through the administration and eventually to building and individual meetings. He said the feedback will be used to improve systems, especially with the amount of change education has seen in recent years. The results of the survey can be found on the district’s website.
Casey remarked during the meeting that he’s glad communication will be among improvement priorities from the survey.
“I think communication is always something that can be improved on,” Casey said. “That's where 90 percent of our problems come from is miscommunication. I'm glad that's on your radar to get taken care of.”
Doyle also provided an update to the board on student mental health supports. The district is in its second year of having an additional counselor and the ability to have at least one in each building.
“That helps to support students and families,” Doyle said. “We know through society that social emotional learning concerns are up and our counselors and staff are working hard every day to meet the needs of our students. We also try to keep in mind the needs of our families. Counselors are working on different trainings for families. They do a monthly newsletter to try to target those in need.”
Schools have worked to provide social activities for students including monthly family assemblies and staff give daily support through classroom morning meetings with individuals or small groups. Sinnissippi recently started to come back to Rochelle Middle School after it was heavily involved before the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Overall in the district I really like that we're trying as hard as we can, either formally or informally, for every kid to feel like they have at least one person to go to that they can count on,” Doyle said. “Because not everybody has that. And we're also always talking about the social emotional needs of adults as well, because that's a real factor.”
The board voted unanimously to add five additional early release days in 2023-2024 to allow for a different model of professional learning communities (PLCs) for staff. Harper said PLCs are used widely in education and staff collaboration correlates to student and school success.
The shortage of substitute teachers has caused the district to have to change its model to allow for staff time for PLCs.
“Getting that number of subs again is not a reality,” Harper said. “What we've settled on for next year is a model that calls for five more early release days. We already have five of those in our schedule and we'd like to strategically place five more. We'll continue to work on this and improve our implementation plan. We know we need some more professional development to leverage this time and maximize it. We may have more modifications in the future.”
Following meeting in executive session, the board accepted retirement letters and approved retirement contracts for both Doyle (after 2026-2027 school year) and Dale (after 2027-2028 school year).
The board also unanimously approved employment changes including rehiring first, second, third and fourth-year teachers for 2023-2024.
The board unanimously approved a permanent easement for the City of Rochelle to place utility equipment on the northwest side of the Tilton School property. Rochelle Municipal Utilities will place two pieces of equipment on the easement, which will not pose any danger or create any disruptive noises. The easement will not inhibit any future parking lot addition at the school should the district pursue that.
Harper recognized outgoing Board Member Eric Van Hise, who has served on the board for eight years.
"On behalf of the board, district, administration, staff and students, we'd like to say thank you for your service and we very much appreciate it," Harper said. "We wish you the best of luck in all that you do and whatever ways you find to continue serving the community."