AMBOY - Some additional clarification was given on the issue of weighted classes at Amboy High School. During open forum at the Feb. 21 board of education meeting, Eileen Piper asked if the board planned to discuss the policy regarding a weighted grading system for Advanced Placement (AP) and dual enrollment classes. Currently, grades are weighted for AP classes, which are taken at the high school, but not dual enrollment classes, which are taken at Sauk Valley Community College. The issue of allowing grades to be weighted for dual enrollment classes was initially raised at the January board of education meeting by AHS seniors Zach Piper and Rachel Vaessen. At that time, board president Lori Setchell said the board would consider their request.
Eileen Piper said although any changes would not affect this year’s seniors, it would impact students in the coming years. “This is something that has been questioned for many years,” she commented. “Is there a reason? When did it happen?”
Superintendent Jeff Thake explained that in 2009, a committee was formed to discuss weighted grades at AHS. The 15-member committee included students, teachers, administrators, parents and board members. Thake said the committee asked many questions in order to make decisions based on the best interests of individual students. “How do we challenge students to their full potential? How do we celebrate success with students? What incentives do we offer students to gain momentum as they’re leaving high school?” Thake recalled.
One goal in 2009 was to begin offering AP courses at AHS. Thake said they decided on AP U.S. history and AP English literature and some teachers received training to teach the advanced classes. As an incentive to enroll in the more rigorous courses, the committee considered whether to add weight to the AP classes. They also discussed adding weight to the dual enrollment courses.
“I credit students for bringing this up again,” Thake said. “Four years later, it’s time to reevaluate.”
In 2009, the decision was made to weight the AP courses but not the dual enrolled. “The reason was because you’re not ensured college credit unless you get a 3, 4 or 5 on the AP examination. It was $84 just to take the exam,” he explained. “With dual enrollment courses, students will receive college credit if they make a satisfactory grade in the course. The rationale of the committee was overwhelming. There was only one vote for weighted grades for dual enrolled and 15 for AP.”
Thake also noted that after researching 15 other high schools, AHS Principal Ron Gruber found that seven of them weighted AP classes but not dual enrolled and seven others weighted them both (one high school did not offer dual enrolled).
Thake said in 2009, the rationale to not weight dual enrolled was because students were already receiving college credit. “We have a large percent of students in the dual enrolled courses but we also want to encourage the AP,” he said, adding that a lot of research suggests AP carries a bit more rigor.
Thake repeated his belief that the issue needs to be revisited, however. “The high school is still in the process of evaluating the situation,” he said. “It is still being taken into consideration.”
Board president Lori Setchell pointed out the importance of offering a rigorous schedule at AHS because not all students are not financially able to take dual enrolled classes at Sauk. “We’re trying to make sure everyone has the opportunity to excel and to grow and if we try to pigeonhole ourselves by only offering Sauk classes or offering weighted Sauk classes, the kids will want to do that and there won’t be anything available here for the children who don’t have those opportunities,” she said. “It’s a balance that we have to maintain.
“We always want to put the kids first – that’s our job,” she added. “If there was an easy answer, we would have had it already. That’s why we’ve struggled with it.”
Thake said the district’s finances are where they should be at this time of year. “Some strong financial decisions have been made over the years and we’ve done a good job of maintaining those decisions,” he said. “We’ve experienced financial success as a district; that’s something we want to continue”.
Two areas of financial uncertainty remain for schools, however. The first is pension reform. “The state is talking about shifting the cost from .5 percent to 1 percent of the state share per year until the entire cost is completely shifted to school districts,” Thake said. “There’s a district wide expenditure of pension of about $450,000. If we were to inherit the entire state share of pensions, that would be about a 7 percent increase per employee. It would grow to about a $770,000 expenditure overnight.”
The other issue concerns the Affordable Care Act, which goes into effect in 2014. Thake said he has been advised by the district’s broker to project at least a 20 percent increase in insurance premiums. “That’s something else we’re trying to take into consideration,” he said. “Our district is at an exceptional position financially but these two huge factors could have serious ramifications.”
Principal Mary Ann Redshaw, Central Elementary, thanked Central’s teacher leader teams for attending workshops on the Common Core Standards. Math teacher leaders include Linda Klein, Laura Dickinson, Joanie Zimmerly, Mary Knowles and Pamela Kurz. English Language Arts teacher leaders are Anna Willis, Jenni Shafer, Emily Kastner, Valarie Ackert and Linda Grady
The Problem Solving Team met on Feb. 19 and expanded to include parents. Redshaw said Central has improved data collection and use of evidence to help drive decisions.
Redshaw pointed out that schools in Illinois currently have 63 more mandates than were required in the 2007-08 school year. “When you hear about all these new items, it is a little overwhelming and rapidly changing,” she said.
Central School's Spelling Bee was held Feb. 1 with participants Brianna Blaine, Logan Wood, Trevor Vaessen, Matt Dinwiddie, Brian Murphy and Samantha Goldman. Classroom finalists not present due to illness were Zachary Winters and Joe Ogan. Fourth grader Samantha Goldman was the winner and runner-up was Matt Dinwiddie. Goldman tied for ninth place at the county spelling bee on Feb. 21 at Dixon High School.
A free dental clinic was held on Feb. 6 with 34 students seen.
Attendance at Central’s Fourth Annual Family Literacy Night on Feb. 7 was much lower than anticipated due to the weather. Redshaw thanked the committee, guest readers, guest presenters, storytellers and staff for their work on the event.
Central School's PTC met on Feb. 11 with seven members present. They discussed the Pancake/French Toast and Sausage Breakfast fundraiser to be held on Sunday, March 10.
Principal Joyce Schamberger, Amboy Junior High School, said ISAT testing will take place the week of March 4-8.
Student of the Month awards were handed out at an all school assembly. The "Cool Tool" for the month was respect and all staff members gave awards to students they felt showed respect.
The W.A.I.T. program, which helps children with social skills, reasoning, anger management and reducing aggressive behavior, has started for AJHS students who need a behavior intervention. The class meets three days with Mr. Full and Mrs. Jaquet as instructors. Students are recommended for the program based on office referrals. “I’m happy to say we’re one of four schools in the State of Illinois chosen to do this program through a grant at Sinnissippi,” Schamberger said.
The Student Council’s Sweetheart Dance was held Feb. 8. All students not on the weekly fail list were invited to attend. Kyle Gascoigne and Elizabeth Starr were crowned 8th grade prince and princess.
The AJHS Spelling Bee champ, 8th grader Kylie Highbarger, reached seventh place at the county spelling bee on Feb. 21. Mary Thompson, 6th grader, was the AJHS runner up.
The 6th grade class won best attendance for January and earned a snack paid for by the AJHS PTC.
Schamberger congratulated 8th grader Hannah Grady, who was nominated for the IESA Scholar Attitude Award. Grady was nominated based on good citizenship, leadership ability, grade point average and participation in IESA activities. Grady submitted an essay on the importance of good sportsmanship and Schamberger said they are waiting for the results.
Principal Ron Gruber, Amboy High School, said two teams of teachers attended workshops at the Lee/Ogle Regional Office of Education (ROE) to help with implementation of the Common Core State Standards. Teachers in English language arts are Liz Scriven, Amie Wiseman, Priscilla Soto and Erika Kelly; and in math, Jane Nehring, Cyndi Carlson, Chris Newsome and Deb Goy. These teachers led a "close read" of the ELA standards and a review of the mathematical practices with AHS staff during the teacher's institute on Feb. 15. The teams will meet at the ROE two more times.
In March, a group of AHS faculty will attend the Google Apps for Education Summit in Northbrook. The summit will help with implementation of Google Apps and Chromebooks. The AHS team includes Sarah Landers, Amie Wiseman, Joe Drover and Gruber.
The AHS spring musical "Grease" will be presented March 8, 9 and 10.
The annual Foreign Language Fair will be held at AHS on Wednesday, March 13.
Gruber thanked Chris Shaw, Adam Johnson and Theresa Maltby for their work keeping the school clean. “They do an outstanding job and the faculty and staff appreciate their efforts,” Gruber said.
Central Elementary teacher Carol Schnaiter expressed her appreciation to AHS ag teacher/FFA advisor Sarah Landers and her students for hosting a petting zoo for Central students. “Central students got to come over today and see the animals. The high school kids did a wonderful job and our students were able to touch and hold the animals,” Schnaiter said. “We really appreciate it.”
With the onslaught of technology, Thake commented that schools are now preparing students for jobs in the future that do not even exist yet. “I’ve been an educator for 17 years and with all the educational reform initiatives taking place, I think there have been more changes in the past two years than in the previous 15,” he said.
As an example, Thake said Common Core Standards will require proficient keyboarding skills by the time students are in 5th grade. “Those are some huge challenges that are going to be facing us as a district,” he pointed out. “We want to make sure students are ready. There are a lot of changes but they are all interconnected and related. In some ways, that makes the changes a bit easier.
“Administratively and instructionally as educators, we’re trying to stay on top of these changes as much as we possibly can and I credit the educators in our district for doing a good job.”
The next board meeting will be held at 7 p.m. on Thursday, March 21 at Amboy High School.