ELGIN — In Gia Tummillo’s dual-language classroom Friday at Otter Creek Elementary School, several second-grade students sat at their desks, quietly reading books to themselves. Those books had titles such as “La vida en los océanos” (“Life in the oceans”) and “Una niña llamada Helen Keller” (“A girl named Helen Keller”).
Two girls curled up on the floor at the back of the classroom with a bag of books, taking turns reading to each other. Another trio of second-graders sat on brightly colored cushions listening to a book read aloud through bright blue headphones. Still others, all at the same reading level, read with their teacher around a small table.
Upstairs, in Katie Stan’s third-grade room, the same scene played out, the titles in English. One boy, sitting near the chalkboard with a stopwatch and word sorting puzzle, plunged two fingers into the air excitedly.
Two seconds, Stan explained. He’d been timing himself to see how fast he could complete the puzzle all week.
It’s called “The Daily Five,” an hour of independent reading, buddy reading, listening, writing and word study, meant to give students some choices and engage them in reading, according to Otter Creek Principal Jeff Bragg.
“One of the biggest pushes for our school and our district has been around literacy,” Bragg said.
That push has brought up Otter Creek’s standardized test scores in reading by as much as nearly 10 points at some grade levels. But that’s still not enough for the school to make adequate yearly progress under the federal No Child Left Behind Act.
In fact, no Fox Valley school districts made AYP again in 2011, according to State Report Card data made public today by the Illinois State Board of Education. That includes Elgin School District U46, Carpentersville-area Community Unit School District 300, Burlington Central Community School District 301 and St. Charles Community Unit School District 303.
BARTLETT — The Elgin Paranormal Investigators had been at the railroad crossing on Munger Road here no more than a half-hour on a recent Saturday night when they experienced what investigator Krystiena Kurtz called the stuff of “our worst nightmares.”
There were screams from the railroad tracks, all kinds of activity, flashing lights, and then … .
“OK, everybody get in the car and leave. This place isn’t haunted. It hasn’t been haunted for 40 years.”
… there were the Bartlett police.
If the railroad crossing is haunted, as urban legend and the recent locally filmed movie “Munger Road” claim, it is haunted by teenagers. They come out at night, taking pictures, trying to park cars on and along the tracks and shrieking as their tires bounce over the rails.
“We’ve seen a huge increase since the movie came out,” Bartlett police Cmdr. Michael McGuigan said. “It was something we anticipated. It was something we expected.”
In case you missed it, here’s a little sneak peek of my article coming Sunday in The Courier-News investigating all the urban legends set on Munger Road, on the border of Bartlett and Wayne in suburban Chicago.
The first part of the veto session in the Illinois Senate ended Thursday without a vote on Senate Bill 540 and with a promise for when that session resumes next month from Community Unit School District 300 Superintendent Michael Bregy.
“We will have a bigger and more productive presence than we had this week. We’re working out those details as I speak,” Bregy said.
ALGONQUIN — Pheonyx Simmons hadn’t yet circled any words on the word search about energy that she and her classmates were working on when their second-grade teacher interrupted to announce a special guest.
She didn’t recognize him at first, her expression blank for a moment after she turned away from her desk, according to her teacher, Wendy Gentile.
U.S. Army Spc. Wayne Simmons surprised his 7-year-old daughter Wednesday at Algonquin Lakes Elementary School here, the first time they’d seen each other after he was stationed in South Korea more than a year ago.
Gentile had conspired with Pheonyx’s mother, Aubree Simmons of Algonquin, to bring Spc. Simmons to the school at 1401 Compton Drive, where he presented his daughter with a pink rose, then took questions from her classmates.
That’s because, Aubree Simmons said, “It wasn’t supposed to be this way. That’s why it’s been so hard for us. One day, Dad was there, and one day he was gone. It was traumatic.”
Spc. Simmons enlisted in the Army early last October after he and his wife both lost their jobs — his in construction, hers in manufacturing — within three months of each other, she said. They lost their house, everything, she said.
“He joined to provide for us,” she said.
The family was surprised when Spc. Simmons immediately was sent to South Korea.
He’d left late at night, after both Pheonyx and her now 4-year-old sister Pheobe were asleep, Aubree Simmons said. They thought it’d be easier that way. And they didn’t know he’d be gone so long.
For the rest of the story (and photos of their happy reunion by photographer Andrew Nelles), visit The Courier-News.
Hey, remember the part when Joel and I got married this summer? Our wedding coordinator, Kristin “K. Pea” Cavarretta of Sweet Pea Wedding Studio in Chicago, just posted some sweet words about it on her blog. Check it out!
SPRINGFIELD — Anna Augustyn, 15, of Algonquin said she’s been learning about Senate Bill 540 in her sophomore AP Government class at Jacobs High School in Algonquin.
An amendment to that bill would extend tax breaks for the economic development area surrounding Sears corporate headquarters in Hoffman Estates for another 15 years. And that could cost her school district, Community Unit School District 300, about $14 million a year in property taxes that go instead to the EDA, according to the district.
But Anna didn’t come to the Illinois State Capitol just to learn about that bill’s progress through the General Assembly. Standing outside the domed building with a flagpole balanced on her hip, the color guard member was there to participate in the process.
“We’re having a lot of budget issues because of this. For example, our winter guard was cancelled,” she said. “We shouldn’t be denied the right to something we enjoy.”
Fellow color guard member and sophomore Jacque Mattes, 16 of Lake in the Hills interrupted, “The pursuit of happiness.”
By bus, car, train
The Jacobs color guard members were two of about 1,000 students, parents, teachers, administrators and school board members from District 300 who traveled to the Capitol in Springfield Monday, according to estimates from the district and the Capitol Police. Hundreds came by bus, others by car, still others on the train from Chicago.
They gathered around the Abraham Lincoln statue in front of the Capitol building at noon, marching and chanting and waving colorful posterboard signs at cars passing by. Several people brought bullhorns. Somebody brought a bass drum.
The Jacobs color guard waved the American flag and the flags of the village of Algonquin and state of Illinois — something “neutral,” according to Anna. That’s because they “just want a change that is beneficial for everybody … our country, our state and our town.”
“This is bigger than I expected it to be,” District 300 Superintendent Michael Bregy said. “I definitely think this will have a significant impact that we do matter.”
ELGIN — Alex Rodriguez parked his car just after 7 a.m. last Friday on Maroon Drive, across the street from Elgin High School.
It was the first time the 18-year-old had driven a trio of friends from down the street to school at 1200 Maroon Drive, including junior Kimberly Perez. Although, at 16, Kimberly is just old enough to drive herself, she said, the thrill of the privilege already has worn off.
“I’m kind of used to getting rides to school. Before, it was awesome,” she said.
That may be partly because that privilege comes at a price tag steep for many high school students — the parking permit for the school parking lot. It’s something school districts across the Fox Valley require students who park in high school lots to buy, at varying prices.
That’s why Rodriguez said he parks on the street.
“You have to pay $100 to park there,” the Elgin senior said, gesturing toward the school parking lot.
“When my brother was here, he paid $50. It’s kind of lame.”
CHICAGO — After four days of testimony in the racial discrimination trial against Elgin School District U46 this week, Judge Robert W. Gettleman said Thursday, “I’m trying to understand how this three-year exit plan would ever succeed at all.”
That plan to remove all English Language Learners students from the program after three years was at the center of witnesses’ testimony as plaintiffs continued their case this week against U46.
The lawsuit, which first went to trial in March, is being decided in a bench trial in U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago. It alleges U46 discriminated against black and Hispanic students by placing them in overcrowded schools in its 2004 school boundary plan — argued in phase one of the trial in March — and not offering them access to gifted and advanced programs or appropriate help to ELL students.
Following the cross-examination of expert witness Alba Ortiz, who audited the Elgin school district’s ELL program in 2008, Gettleman said there still “is some question what” that plan “is or was.”
CHICAGO — Alba Ortiz said she’d thought about Elgin School District’s SET SWAS program a lot since she was asked to audit the district’s English Language Learners program in October 2008.
“And I’ve tried to figure out, ‘What sense does it make?’ ” Ortiz said.
Ortiz is one of two consultants who came to different conclusions after auditing the Elgin school district’s ELL program. Both presented those conclusions Wednesday on day three of the racial discrimination trial against U46 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago.
The lawsuit alleges the district discriminated against black and Hispanic students by placing them in overcrowded schools in its 2004 school boundary plan and not offering them access to gifted and advanced programs or appropriate help to English Language Learners.
SET SWAS, or Spanish English Transition School Within A School, was the Elgin school district’s gifted program for students who had left its ELL program. That program was separate from SWAS, the program for general education students who were identified as gifted.
Ortiz, of the bilingual education faculty at the University of Texas at Austin, said if SET SWAS students were proficient in English, “I would consider that an example of institutional discrimination.”
But Lorraine Plum, who audited U46’s gifted program in 2006 and later its academy program, said SET SWAS students still needed language interventions.
“These children still had some difficulty understanding the advanced vocabulary. … It was challenging for them,” Plum said.
CHICAGO — “Student X” was about two grade levels behind in reading when she was forced to exit School District U46’s English Language Learners program, according to Dawn McCusker, the student’s fifth-grade bilingual teacher at Illinois Park Elementary School in Elgin.
When McCusker encountered Student X two years later at Lincoln Elementary School in Hoffman Estates, the girl still was behind. In fact, Student X had been held back a year in general education classes and still was in sixth grade.
That was one of the effects that plaintiffs’ witnesses described of a 2002 directive that attorneys claim came from U46 administration — to exit all ELL students after three years in the program — on day two Tuesday of the resumed trial against the Elgin school district.
CHICAGO — Dionnes Rivera, then director of bilingual education in School District U46, had one meeting with Superintendent Connie Neale shortly after Neale joined the Elgin school district in 2002.
“I went home crying. I could imagine the impact on the kids’ lives,” Rivera said.
Rivera said Monday the former superintendent had directed her to remove all U46 students from the English Language Learners program after they’d spent three years in it.
That testimony came as the plaintiffs’ evidence in phases two and three of the racial discrimination lawsuit against U46 started in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois in Chicago. These phases allege the district did not offer appropriate help to English Language Learners or access to gifted and advanced programs to Hispanic and black students.
Judge Robert W. Gettleman heard phase one, which alleged the Elgin school district’s 2004 school boundary plan discriminated against Hispanic and black students by placing them in overcrowded schools, in March. He declined to rule on that phase until he’d heard the rest of the case.
“The reason we’re here today is because of the overlap of these issues,” Gettleman said.
She’s never been happy without students, she said. And she’s never been far from them, either, in her 99 years.
When Solyom wasn’t a student herself, putting herself through college teaching French, she was a teacher at Abbott, Ellis and Larsen middle schools in Elgin and Central High School in Burlington. She even tutored and audited courses at Elgin Community College through her 80s.
Maybe that’s because “I always want to learn,” Solyom said.
“I always want to know something. My brain requires information — not entertainment, but information,” she said.
Solyom became a teacher, though, because it was one of only three careers available to women when she entered college. She was too squeamish to be a nurse, she said, and not patient enough to be a secretary.
ALGONQUIN — More than half an hour before Community Unit School District 300’s informational meeting about Senate Bill 540 Thursday night, hundreds of students already were marching around the Jacobs High School parking lot.
They chanted, “No way, EDA!” and “Schools over profit. Stop it!” They wore T-shirts that read “D300 wants EDAs, too: Education Development Areas. They’re called schools,” and, “23 years is long enough.”
They carried signs that said, “Is it worth my future?” and “We won’t go quietly into the night.”
That’s because “I personally think it’s selfish of them,” Dundee-Crown High School sophomore Akemi Almeida of Carpentersville said. “They know we’re in a deep hole.”
Her classmate Dustin Kopp of West Dundee, taking video of the protest on his phone, added, “We’re in deep poop.”
That’s because, District 300 has said, an amendment to that Senate bill will cost the cash-strapped school district about $14 million a year.
About 3,000 people turned out for the District 300 meeting, a rally against Amendment 3 to Senate Bill 540, which would extend tax breaks for the economic development area around Sears Holdings Corp.’s headquarters in Hoffman Estates. That included students, teachers, parents, administrators, school board members, former District 300 Superintendent Ken Arndt, state senators Michael Noland and Chris Lauzen and state Rep. Mike Tryon.
And that’s a crowd District 300 Superintendent Michael Bregy encouraged to continue the protest — maybe in Springfield, he suggested, or outside the Thompson Center in Chicago.
“We are one school district, and we are one school district that will not go quietly into the night,” Bregy said.
For the rest of the story, as well as a photo gallery of the rally, visit The Courier-News.
ALGONQUIN — It wasn’t supposed to be complicated once it got going. At least, that’s what Community Unit School District 300 CFO Cheryl Crates said more than a year ago.
But then, the Carpentersville-area school district also was supposed to own 13 wind turbines — enough to operate a 19.5-megawatt wind farm — by the end of last year.
The District 300 Board of Education discussed a resolution Monday night to revive its plan to offset the cost of its electricity use with its share of revenue from a school wind farm consortium with two other suburban school districts.
“It isn’t quite what we thought we would do, but, in the end, there is no up-front cost,” Crates said.
The school board had approved an intergovernmental agreement in August 2010 to form the School Wind Consortium Agency with Keeneyville Elementary School District 20 and Prospect Heights School District 23.
That was supposed to be the final piece to allow the three districts to fund and operate the state’s first school district-owned wind farm. That farm was planned for Stark County.
But the consortium was unable to garner any interest in a revenue bond to fund the project from investors, according to a memorandum from Crates to District 300 Superintendent Michael Bregy. So it issued a request for proposals in July.
The School Wind Consortium now is discussing entering into a 20-year purchase agreement of renewable energy with Chicago-based Invenergy LLC, after interviewing seven respondents.
Community Unit School District 300 has crashed a Hoffman Estates Village Board meeting with signs and T-shirts protesting the possible extension of tax breaks for the economic development area surrounding Sears Holdings Corp.’s corporate headquarters in the village.
The Carpentersville-area school district also has passed a resolution against an amendment to Senate Bill 540 that would do that; hired a government counsel; formed a Board Legislative Committee; partnered with community group Advance 300; and posted three videos to its new YouTube channel. And by Friday, it had collected more than 4,000 signatures on both paper and online petitions.
But for all District 300’s opposition to extending tax incentives for the EDA surrounding the company’s 200-acre Prairie Stone headquarters, Superintendent Michael Bregy said, “It isn’t just a Sears issue.”
“It’s not that anybody is against Sears. Our own parents in our district work at Sears. We’re not drawing a line in the sand against Sears,” Bregy said.
In fact, whether the tax incentives are extended affects much more than just District 300 and Sears. That decision, which state legislators will make during their veto session later this month, also will impact the village of Hoffman Estates, Elgin Community College, Elgin School District U46 and other taxing bodies within the EDA.