Board Hears Summer School Plans

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The Litchfield School Board got an in-depth look at a robust summer school plan the district is planning this year, as part of their regular monthly meeting on Thursday evening, Feb. 18, at Sihler School in Litchfield.

Board member Ron Anglin was absent from the meeting. Superintendent Dr. Greggory Fuerstenau introduced Joletta Ellis to the board. She will replace Doug Hoster as the principal at Litchfield High School when he retires this year. Ellis is currently the principal at Pana Junior High School.

Funded through federal CARES Act dollars allocated due to the ongoing pandemic, the district’s summer school program will run Monday through Thursday June 1 through July 1, and will be offered to all students in the district.

At the pre-K through fourth grade level, Camp Panther will focus on literacy, with special activities from community partners as well. The program will run from 8 a.m. to 1:30 p.m., and will include both breakfast and lunch. Administrators hope to have 40 to 80 students participate, as a chance to catch up on skills lost this year due to the pandemic.

“We are trying a different approach,” said Madison Park Principal Adam Favre. “It’s not your typical summer school.”

The morning session will feature literacy activities, while the afternoon will include fun things through community partners, like Litchfield Unlimited, the YMCA, University of Illinois Extension and the Litchfield Public Library. They are also hopeful for some field trips to go swimming or go to the movies.

Transportation will also be provided, and there is no cost to participate in the program. Favre added that teachers and support staff were also supportive of the program.

Each participant will receive a T-shirt and other rewards, and administrators hope to continue this program every year. Registration is open Feb. 19 through March 26, and families can sign up online.

Board member Mike Fleming applauded administrators for the program, and suggested they reach out to the Litchfield Chamber of Commerce about community business partners. Board member Gregg Hires asked if the camp would all be held in one location, and Favre said it would and kids would be separated by grade level.

Board President Julie Abel asked if the camp would be flexible to work around family vacations, and Favre said it would. She also asked if there would be homework, and he said no. Favre said that students who are in danger of not moving up a grade are encouraged to participate in the camp. Participation does not ensure grade promotion, but if a student can show a proficiency in skills, that will be taken into account.

At the fifth through eighth grade level, summer school will look more like a traditional summer school, targeting kids with the greatest needs. Litchfield Middle School Principal Dr. Russ Tepen said he continues to track MAP test scores to see where students fall. Their program will focus on literacy and math.  It will also be offered Monday through Thursday.

At the high school, summer school will be primarily offered as a way for students to make up credits. In addition to standard courses, the program will also feature a cross-curricular course, built around Lake Lou Yaeger. Freshmen who have struggled this past year, will be required to attend in order to move up a grade level.

Other Business

In other business, the board unanimously approved the consent agenda, which included paying the bills and the treasurer’s report. Board members approved bills totalling $385,730, including $158,594 from the education fund, $66,690 from operations and maintenance, $29,263 from transportation, $121,992 from capital projects and $9,192 from tort.

As of Jan. 31, the total of all district funds is just over $31 million, including $8.8 million in operating funds, $13.4 million in capital projects and $7.6 million in health life safety.

Dr. Fuerstenau said things were tracking where they needed to be. He reported the governor’s budget address includes flat funding for school districts, with no extra evidence-based funding. He added that categorical grants, like transportation and early childhood, were also expected to remain flat. In a final note, Dr. Fuerstenau said they continue to track an additional third stimulus package from the federal government, which could provide additional funding to schools.

In other new business, the board unanimously approved an intergovernmental agreement with the Regional Office of Education for safe school and alternative school programs. It is an annual motion that allows the district to participate in the programs if they have students who qualify.

Information Items

The monthly enrollment report included a total of 1,203 students in the district. Dr. Fuerstneau said they continue to have students return from remote learning.

The superintendent had high praise for the buildings and grounds crew who had worked hard to have the buildings ready during the snowstorm last week.

Buildings and Grounds Director Bob Witter reported they fixed a burst pipe in a weight room bathroom that left two inches of standing water.

In addition, he is working with Synergy on security cameras in the bus parking area, which will also monitor the auto shop and the trades building. With increased theft of catalytic converters from vehicles, they hope the cameras will be a deterrent or will help catch those responsible. Witter said the Hillsboro district had six stolen off buses recently.

“We definitely need to have another set of eyes on that,” said Dr. Fuerstenau.

In his report, Dr. Fuertenau said that particular day, they only had five students out in quarantine. He added that the rapid test program in the schools was going well too.

Dr. Fuerstenau had high praise for staff members for working hard to host safe Valentine’s Day parties in the classrooms, trying to keep things as normal as possible for students.

At the high school, Student Council will be hosting a Homecoming Week March 2 through March 5, including a fun day that Friday and the coronation of a king and queen. The school is also planning to host an outdoor Prom on April 24, at Walton Park. They are also planning for an outdoor graduation May 21, with the possibility of indoor seating in the gym for some if the weather gets too hot.

In her report, Curriculum Coordinator Jennifer Thompson said they had good participation in the monthly Title I night, noting she’s excited when they can meet in person again. Thompson said they continue to finalize a change to the math textbook curriculum and will present that to the board in March. In a few final notes, she said the Capturing Kids Hearts program returns to the district on March 8 for a traction visit, and reminded the board there are still some internet hotspots available for families who need internet access.

Hires praised the district for hosting remote learning days on the snow days, and said he heard a lot of positive comments from parents. He added students had plenty of time to do their work and still have time for snow day fun.

In a few final notes, Dr. Fuerstenau reminded the board that the district hosted the second dose COVID-19 vaccination clinic for Litchfield and Panhandle teachers on Saturday. He also thanked unit office secretary Kris Adamson on her work with the ROE compliance report. Adamson thanked everyone in the district who helped her gather information for it.

Closed Session

Following nearly an hour in closed session, the board unanimously approved the monthly personnel report. It included approving family medical leave for elementary teacher Jenna Stewart from April 2 through May 24. The board accepted the resignation of Megan Stewart as middle school girls track coach and hired Mitch Hughes to fill the position.

They approved the team of Jon Yoch, Jamie Mortensen, Stacy Carter, Scott Zobrist and Scott Durbin as Prom sponsors for this year.

The board also hired Candice Mazza as parent engagement coordinator, Hilary Wagenblast as the assistant high school principal for the coming school year and Chris Kuntzman as technology director, starting on March 22.

In addition, the board tabled a motion to approve a purchase of property at 120 W. St. John in downtown Litchfield, which is the current home of Litchfield Sports, Inc., and is adjacent to the property the district has already purchased as the site of a new elementary school.

Dr. Greggory Fuerstenau said the purchase of the property would allow the district additional options, adding they continue to work with the city on the school project. During the public input portion of the meeting, Fleming expressed his frustration at working with the city on the project.

“We are getting the run around with city hall,” Fleming said. “It would be great for the businesses downtown to have it there, but we are wasting a lot of taxpayer dollars. I understand there are rules for a reason, but it’s something we need to think about. Maybe we could go to the edge of the district or over the county line. It’s just getting to the real point of frustration with the city.”

In addition, Fleming had high praise for everyone in the Litchfield School District for keeping schools open this school year, as many schools around the country struggle to stay open.

The meeting adjourned at 8:15 p.m. Board members will meet again on Thursday evening, March 18, beginning at 6 p.m. at Sihler School in Litchfield. Board members will hear an update on the career technical education project. In April, the board will hear an update on the district’s literacy program.

“We have a lot of really great things going on here, even with COVID,” said Dr. Fuerstenau.

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