School Board Debates New High School Grading Scale

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Members of the Hillsboro School Board spent much of their last meeting before schools adjourn for the summer preparing for next school year on Tuesday, May 14, at the unit office.

Board members approved a new grading scale, advanced placement computer science course and overnight cheerleading and choir trips at the high school, hired new teachers, set school fees and breakfast and lunch prices, approved student handbooks with minimal changes, changed when students begin band, and approved next year's school calendar.

Before that, though, the board paused to honor and thank staff that will be retiring at the end of the school year, as well as staff who achieved 20 years of service to the school district.  Retirees are Brian Hart, Donna Youngless, Cathy Gabeau, Donna Luck and Barb Darnell.  Those with 20 years of service are Mark Garmon, Patricia Heyen, Carol Naylor, Shawn Perkins, Andrew Stritzel, Kim Watson and Alycia Morford. Each was presented a momento by Superintendent David Powell before the board paused for a brief reception in their honor.

The meeting began with the installation of board members Barbara Adams, Dan Tester, Bryce Rupert and Matt Lentz who were re-elected in April.  After that, the board re-elected Greg Bellaver as school board president, Adams as vice president, Earl Meier as secretary (Meier abstained from that vote) and Dan Wilson as treasurer. Heather Greenwood of the district office staff was reappointed as recording secretary.  Meetings will remain at 7 p.m. on the second Tuesday of each month at the unit office, except in cases of a calendar conflict.

After lengthy, circumspect discussion, the board gave approval to a student-suggested plan for a new high school grading scale at the top (100-90 for an A, 89-80 for a B, 79-72 for a C, and 63-71 for a D), while keeping the same scale at the bottom "so we are not dropping our standards to pass students," Principal Patti Heyen said.  Students had suggested the new scale to the board because they felt the present scale put them at a grade point average (GPA) disadvantage when competing for scholarships against students from other high schools with grading scales similar to the new one.

The new scale passed 6-1; board member Bryce Rupert voted against.

"I'm having a hard time buying the premise that our students are at a disadvantage with the current scale," Rupert said.  "I think we're cheapening excellence and lowering the bar for expectations."

"Regardless of the scale, there is an arbitrary nature in this," Powell said about classroom grades, telling board members that he had no strong feeling one way or the other.

"This is a hybrid plan," President Bellaver said.  "It doesn't lower the passing grade."

"We could have 12 valedictorians," board member Barbara Adams pointed out as a downside.

Hillsboro High School sophomore Tad Daniels, who had proposed the idea to the  board at a previous meeting, said he understood the board's reservations, but pointed out that he asked students who already have a 4.0 GPA (straight As) on the current grading scale "and they are totally on board with this."

Heyen reassured  board members that the new grading scale will not diminish standards at the high school.

The board also approved a before-school "high-end" advanced placement computer coding class.  After a closed session, they hired Jordan Hewitt to teach it.

In addition to Hewitt at the high school, after a closed session, the board also hired Tony Marcolini as half-time industrial arts teacher, Evan Malloy as science teacher, and Gina Currie as classroom aide.  At Coffeen, the board hired Beth Harnetiaux as Title I instructional coach, Amy Knodle as life skills teacher, Lacey Heldebrandt as K-5 resource teacher, and Laura Lessman as fourth grade teacher.  Ruth McCario was hired to replace Lessman as special ed teacher at the junior high, and at Beckemeyer, Abby Reynolds and Elizabeth McMahon were hired as K-5 resource teachers, and Brittany Millburg was hired to teach first grade.

Approval was also given for a choir trip to New York in November 2020.  Fundraising will begin between now and then.  The board also gave approval for 16 cheerleaders to attend cheerleading camp at Southern Illinois University at Edwardsville July 11-13.

The board finalized next year's school calendar, except one item.  The fallout from new state rules may require some daytime parent-teacher conference hours next fall, Assistant Superintendent Kyle Hacke told board members.  He will meet with the calendar committee and have a recommendation for the board next month.  School will begin on Aug. 19 for teachers and Aug. 21 for students.  School will end on Dec. 20 for Christmas break and resume on Jan. 6 for teachers, Jan. 7 for students.  The final day of school–if every pre-planned snow day is needed–is June 5.

The board also approved a plan developed by band director Jeremy Stevens and presented by the superintendent to begin band instruction in the sixth grade instead of the fifth grade.  Powell said that the band director–who was not present at the board meeting which fell on the same night as the annual spring concert–felt that musical instruction time would be better spent enhancing sixth grade instruction by section, five days a week, utilizing time now spent instructing fifth graders in 20-minute time increments once a week.

School fees will remain the same next school year, as will school breakfast and lunch prices, the board decided.  Hacke said Hillsboro currently charges $2.65 for lunch, even through the state recommends a $3 price.  The maximum allowable year-to-year change is ten cents, and Hacke said that would net only $4,800 for the food service program.

Both lunch prices and school fees have remained the same for the past four years, Powell pointed out, adding that the increases on either do not apply to students on free or reduced lunch plans.  That's over half of the students in the Hillsboro School District.

Under the agenda item set for "recognition of audience," Beckemeyer teacher Carol Naylor asked the board to reconsider an earlier decision to not replace a first grade teacher at the grade school.

Naylor said 11 students will enter first grade next year with special educational needs, and 12 more are on the watch list.  Many need one-on-one instruction, she said, and will be divided between either two or three of the four first grade classrooms.

"We are academic from the start of the day to the end of the day," she told board members. "Those academic building blocks need to be there."

At the recommendation of district maintenance supervisor Fred Butler, the board accepted the lowest of three bids to replace the oldest rooftop HVAC at Beckemeyer.  The winning bid was from Hiller Heating and Cooling in Hillsboro for $45,486.  Other bids came from Vandalia and Springfield.

Junior High Principal Don VanGiesen named the students from his school that advanced to the state track meet; their accomplishments were applauded.

Heyen read notes from community members praising Food for America, the operetta, the National Honor Society induction, and building trades work at the new library.

Beckemeyer Principal Zach Frailey said grants have now provided enough Chromebooks that every third, fourth and fifth grade student has access.

"American Made By Third Grade is the name of our booth," Beckemeyer teacher Donna Youngless reported about students who will have a booth at American Made Day downtown on Saturday.  Proceeds will benefit the Hillsboro Summer Lunch Program and Camden's Crew for Camden Burke.  Coffeen Principal Marci Gutierrez said her third graders made cookies and lemonade to sell on Wednesday to benefit Montgomery County Animal Control.

The board also reappointed Denise Kistner, Earl Meier and Amy Patton to three-year terms on the Hillsboro Education Foundation Board.

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