ELGIN — While they waited for the rest of their class to arrive on the first day of preschool, Carol Prieur’s students lined the hallways of Huff Elementary School, sitting cross-legged on colored dots on the floor.
Twins Haylie and Kaylie Gallegos, wearing pink ribbons in their matching side ponytails, swapped the board books they’d chosen from a plastic bin with each other. Meantime, Keila Vellegas named the animals on the cover of her book, “Opposites,” which showed an elephant on a see-saw with …
“A bunny!” she exclaimed. “He’s too little.”
That’s one way Illinois’ second-largest school district is renewing its focus on early education this school year, according to Julie Kallenbach, Elgin School District U46 director of Early Learning Initiatives.
“We’re trying to use every minute of every day,” Kallenbach said.
Preschoolers started class at eight schools Wednesday across District U46.
And with that, the school district has started toward its goal to bring first-graders up to reading level. It’s also started partnerships with private preschool programs and other community groups, hired seven new preschool teachers, added 280 new preschool students and expanded its preschool program to three new locations.
That’s all because U46 made early education a district priority in Destination 2015, which the U46 Board of Education approved in December, according to Kallenbach.
“When you make that a district priority, that affects the decisions you make,” she said.
Marianne Palczewski, 17, of Bartlett never would have thought she could use a compound mitre saw, she said.
And Serena Patel, also 17 and of Bartlett, summed up her experience in the lab: “All the guys are like, ‘Oh, no! She’s got a tool!’ ”
“But it feels really good to be able to do it by myself,” Serena said.
That’s the confidence both girls have gained at the Bartlett High School Academy of Science, Engineering and High Technology, where they now are seniors. The academy — a special academic program at the school, at 701 Schick Road — has been pushing science, technology, engineering and math — STEM — since it opened in 1997.
This year, all high schools in Elgin School District U46 are focusing on those four subjects through a new math curriculum and new technology, increased science-related activities and a $50,000 grant to study and close gaps between male and female students and other underrepresented groups.
ELGIN — The issue with a training tower 15 miles away from the city of Elgin is that having firefighters head there during a regularly scheduled shift “effectively stripped the city of having those firefighters available should a larger emergency have happened.” That’s according to Elgin Fire Capt. Robb Cagann.
If those firefighters train while off-duty, the full-time and union fire department has to pay them overtime, Cagann said.
Those were issues that Cagann noted the Elgin Fire Department had with sending its staff to train at the nearest tower in Huntley. The department did in-service training there about two years ago and some off-duty training there twice since then, he said.
And those issues are why it “remains to be seen” whether Elgin emergency responders will use the training facilities at Elgin Community College’s proposed Public Safety and Sustainability Center in Burlington, even farther from the city than Huntley, Elgin City Manager Sean Stegall said.
“I think the city submitted a proposal (to be home to the center) because we felt like we were the ideal location. We wouldn’t have been involved if we didn’t,” Stegall said.
“We certainly respect the decision and have no quarrel with it. We were certainly disappointed. I’m sure the others who submitted are as well.”
What’s an Elgin-headquartered church doing in NORTH KOREA?!
The answer is pretty “fantastic.” And it’s one of those stories I haven’t been able to get out of my head since I started reporting on it.
ELGIN — Howard Royer admits the story sounds “fantastic”: A Korean-American, imprisoned as a suspected spy while helping with famine relief in North Korea in the 1990s, later is asked by its government to create the country’s first private university.
And yet the Church of the Brethren, headquartered in Elgin, now supports that university, which is in itself fantastic — “very strange and phenomenal for North Korea because it’s so closed,” Royer said.
Pyongyang University of Science and Technology opened in North Korea’s capital and largest city in October 2010, offering classes taught entirely in English. It’s funded by donations largely from Christian denominations and groups from both the U.S. and South Korea and staffed entirely by volunteers from around the world.
Several of those volunteers gathered Thursday to discuss their work at the university at the Church of the Brethren General Offices, 1451 Dundee Ave.
“I think the Church of the Brethren looks at it as a reconciliation effort,” said Royer, manager of the church’s Global Food Crisis Fund. “We’re certainly interested in agriculture and feeding hungry people and making sure people can feed themselves.”
“We try to be very circumspect in what we do and what we don’t do. The hope behind it is the walls would come down.”
Royer said the Global Food Crisis Fund first became involved in North Korea during the famine in the 1990s. Agglobe Services International Inc. had appealed to the Church of the Brethren for help creating sustainable farms to relieve the famine, he said.
That partnership led to an introduction in 2004 to James Chin-Kyung Kim, the Korean-American invited by the North Korean government to found a university there following his success with a similar university on the country’s border in China, Royer said. That university would include a school of agriculture and life science.
“It was a dream of Christians in South Korea. It was a long time in getting accomplished,” he said.
Now in its second year, Pyongyang University of Science and Technology has about 300 students, all men, and 30 faculty members on a campus Royer described as “not unlike” Elgin Community College.
Church of the Brethren members Robert and Linda Shank will return Monday for their third term at the university, where Robert is dean of the School of Agriculture and Life Science and his wife teaches English. Linda said the couple has a mailing address in Elgin but hasn’t lived in the U.S. for more than 20 years, working in Liberia while the country still was at war, as well as Ethiopia, Nepal and Belize.
“It started with the adventure,” she said. “An adventure becomes something else when you meet such outstanding students.”
Robert remembered meeting PUST students on the first day of school.
“When they came in, they were all dead-faced, eyes straight ahead, so we started clapping. They started clapping and swaying side-to-side and smiling at their new professors,” he said.
The students are polite and respectful — and very tall, he said. They wear business suits to class every day.
Linda said she has learned so much more about them from the journals they keep in her English classes. Most have never lived away from home or met someone from outside North Korea, she said.
The Shanks are hesitant to discuss the politics of North Korea. But Royer admitted there are some regulations on the school, and noted, “You just put up with things you don’t understand.”
“As Christians, we can’t look at the obstacles and say, ‘Because of the government, we can’t do that,’ ” Church of the Brethren Executive Director Jay Wittmeyer said.
“We have to look at doing what we can.”
Copyright 2011, The Courier-News. All rights reserved.
Sure, I could have done the first day flag raising story. But I wanted to give readers a sneak peek at the big issues coming up this school year…
ELGIN — Just after 6 a.m. Wednesday, Jacob Ellis and Darion Grant already were circling the foggy Sheridan Elementary School playground, backpacks hanging from their shoulders.
Jacob and Darion both are 14 and freshmen this year at Elgin High School, but they were catching the bus there from Sheridan, 510 Franklin Blvd. That’s only about a block from Jacob’s house, but he said he got to the elementary school an hour before his 7:18 a.m. bus, “because I didn’t know where my bus stop was.”
Wednesday wasn’t just the first day of class in Elgin School District U46. It also was the first day of Illinois’ second-largest school district’s controversial plan to save money by busing high school students from their nearest elementary or middle schools, rather than from neighborhood bus stops.
And, U46 spokesman Tony Sanders said, “Overall, I think it was a very successful day. Kids were in classrooms. They were learning.”
For the rest of the story (which includes an arrest and some adorable kindergarteners in U46’s new dual language program), visit The Courier-News.
ALGONQUIN — Community Unit School District 300 unveiled a proposal Monday to lengthen the school day and move from a four-block to an eight-period daily schedule next school year at its three high schools.
“We’ve talked a lot about high school schedules. Tonight, we want to show you what we are proposing,” said Ben Churchill, District 300 assistant superintendent for high school teaching and learning.
That proposed schedule would split the school year into two semesters for high-schoolers in the Carpentersville-area district, starting in the 2012-13 school year. Each day of the semester would be split into eight 45-minute periods, according to Churchill.
Currently, high school students’ year is split into four terms, each with four 85-minute blocks and a required advisory period of 20 to 30 minutes.
On Mondays when the Community Unit School District 300 Board of Education meets at Westfield Community School in Algonquin, your friendly neighborhood mobile journalist works from nearby Cafe Firefly, 301 S. Main Street, Algonquin.
Yesterday was one such Monday.
The school board presented a not-quite balanced 2011-12 budget, even after all those controversial cuts, at that meeting. You can read my article about it — “D300 budget comes up short" — on The Courier-News website.
But the biggest news that came out of Algonquin yesterday is this…
Jesus appeared to me in the pattern on the tile floor in the women’s bathroom at Cafe Firefly.
ALGONQUIN — Even if Community Unit School District 300 receives all the money it is owed by the state of Illinois for the past school year, its budget for the new school year starts out $6.3 million in the hole.
That leaves the Carpentersville-area school district’s 2011-12 tentative budget $500,714 short, according to District 300 CFO Cheryl Crates.
Crates presented a budget with $191.5 million in revenues and $192 million in expenditures to the school board at its regular meeting Monday night.
That shortfall comes after the school board struggled to make about $6.1 million in sometimes controversial cuts to its budget.
The women behind the Fried What! booth at the Illinois State Fair declined to explain how one fries Kool-Aid — “It is what it is,” one told me this weekend — but “Chicken Charlie,” the California man who claims responsibility for the treat, told TIME he starts with a “thick, sherbet-like mix of the drink powder, flour and water.” That ends up a meatball-looking cake ball sprinkled with powdered sugar that Elginite Gary Percy, who has tried fried Kool-Aid elsewhere, has described on Twitter as smelling of homemade Play-Doh.
BARTLETT — Gary Percy is just “another cynical, disgruntled parent.”
That’s how Percy put it last week in an email to Elgin District U46 officials and Board of Education and Citizens Advisory Council members in which he resigned from his position as vice chairman of the CAC.
The last straw for him, he said, was the district’s decision to cut all bus stops for high school students this school year and pick up those students at nearby elementary and middle schools. The 2011-12 school year begins Wednesday in U46.
“For a District and a Board that preached involvement, inclusion, and engagement, to treat parents this way is inexcusable!” he said in his email.
Percy, whose oldest daughter will be a freshman at Elgin High School this year, isn’t the only U46 parent who felt blindsided by the Elgin school district’s changes to its high school transportation. Many have posted their concerns in a number of threads on the “School District U-46” Facebook group since the changes were announced last month.
And more than 100 parents turned out for a raucous community meeting about the new transportation plan hosted by the district Wednesday night at Bartlett High School, 701 W. Schick Road. Parents questioned U46 Chief Operating Officer Jeff King, Safety Officer John Heiderscheidt and Transportation Director Andy Martin about the plan for more than an hour and a half.
CARPENTERSVILLE — It was the first day of preschool in Community Unit School District 300.
But preschoolers didn’t arrive Wednesday just at the deLacey Family Education Center, 50 Cleveland Ave., as in some years past.
This year, District 300 has expanded its preschool program to include classrooms at seven additional elementary schools. And that means it will be able to enroll more than 1,000 preschoolers for the first time, according to deLacey Principal Terri Cronin.
That “is exciting, because this is our 20th year of preschool in the district,” Cronin said. “Mrs. deLacey would be so proud of how far we have come.”
For the rest of the story (and a photo gallery by yours truly!), visit The Courier-News.
While both my school districts are celebrating “statistically significant” increases in their ACT scores, it’s important to note both still are just behind state and national averages. And those scores show three of four high school graduates are not ready for college. The Sun-Times has more on that in its report.
Composite ACT scores are up this year in both Elgin School District U46 and Carpentersville-area Community Unit School District 300.
Those scores, released early Wednesday morning by ACT, jumped 0.3 percentage points over the past year in U46, from 19.6 to 19.9; and 0.4 percentage points in District 300, from 20.4 to 20.8. And scores at every high school in both districts improved, according to officials of both districts.
That’s enough to be “statistically significant” in District 300, Superintendent Michael Bregy said. It’s enough to be significant to both school districts, where scores have held steady the previous two years.
And it’s increasing more quickly in both districts than the national trend. Composite scores in English, reading, math and science on the college readiness exam gained only 0.1 point nationwide this year, hitting 21.1. The national average had lost 0.1 point in 2010.
“It’s a huge, huge celebration for us,” Bregy said.
HAMPSHIRE — Jonathan Ramirez of Hampshire hit the floor first.
That’s because he likes pushups, the 8-year-old said. And third-grade teacher Mike York was explaining to his classroom at Hampshire Elementary School how to do the “mountain climber”: Drop into a pushup position and bring your knees up into your chest, like you’re climbing a mountain, York said.
The mountain climber was one of several exercises hidden behind squares students tapped, game show-style, on the interactive whiteboard at the front of the classroom. The third-graders also completed several seconds each of sprinting in place, ski sits and bicycle crunches — part of 10 minutes of exercise at the start of every day in every classroom at Hampshire Elementary.
“Pretty good job for the first day,” York said. “Now you’re all loosened up, ready for gym.”
It was an energetic start to the 2011-12 school year Monday morning in Community Unit School District 300.
It was “a perfect start” for the Carpentersville-area district’s 20,000-plus students, said Superintendent Michael Bregy, knocking on a desk in the Lake in the Hills Elementary School office.
And it comes after a gloomy end to the last school year, which saw student walkouts at all three district high schools, contentious union negotiations, and 363 teachers cut as the school district slashed millions from its budget for the second straight year.
“The walkouts ended on the worst note possible. It was painful,” said Ami Engel, principal at H.D. Jacobs High School in Algonquin.
For the rest of the story (and a back-to-school photo gallery), visit The Courier-News.
Here’s a little sneak peek at what you can expect of the 2011-12 school year, starting today in Capentersville-area Community Unit School District 300…
HOFFMAN ESTATES — What could possibly get a roomful of teachers more excited about the start of a school year than a marching band?
How about all three of Community School District 300’s high school marching bands together in one unprecedented performance?
Or Dundee-Crown High School’s marching band performing Michael Jackson’s “Thriller,” complete with dance break?
Or an adorable Lake in the Hills Elementary School first-grader named Jeffrey Wojnarowski doing a crazy dance while wearing a tiny tuxedo?
All of those things happened at the D300 Staff Rally Friday morning at the Sears Centre Arena, 5333 Prairie Stone Parkway.
But the thing District 300 teachers said excited them most was the vision for the district and the 2011-2012 school year, which starts Monday, that new Superintendent Michael Bregy and his staff shared during the event.
“It’s my seventh year with the district, and I’ve never been in a room with all the other schools in the district. It was exciting,” said Teresa Burger, a third-grade teacher at Golfview Elementary School in Carpentersville.
All 3,000 District 300 staff members attended the rally, according to district spokesperson Allison Strupeck. Board members, substitute teachers, representatives of both food provider Aramark and transportation provider Durham School Services and other contract employees also were invited.
“We haven’t done a staff rally in eight years, and we’ve grown significantly and changed since then. It’s about time we had a party,” Strupeck said.
But the event was more than just a pep rally. Its purpose, Bregy said, was for the district’s educators to “reconnect, recharge and refocus.”
Members of the superintendent’s new Teaching and Learning Leadership Team shared some of its priorities for the coming year. They include the district’s new education services department and its restructured special education program. Part of the idea behind that department is “every student is the responsibility of every teacher in the district,” according to Shelley Nacke, assistant superintendent for teaching and learning-education services.
Other priorities include RtI and PBIS, intervention programs for students struggling with learning or behavior; aligning curriculum and testing with the Common Core Standards adopted last year by the state of Illinois; and Quantum Learning. Quantum Learning is a five-part teaching and learning methodology that addresses all learning styles many district educators already have been trained in.
But even as he and his staff explained their vision for the future of District 300, Bregy said, “I can’t forget that last year happened.”
Last school year, the district announced Bregy, then principal of Jacobs, would succeed longtime superintendent Kenneth Arndt. Its board also made considerable budget cuts for the second straight year, including cutting 363 teachers (since recalled) in case it could not reach $5 million in concessions with its unions.
“I couldn’t help thinking, ‘I’ve gone from the best of times to the worst of times,” he said.
The superintendent also said it felt like the new role “took the teacher right out of me.”
That’s part of the reason Bregy said he plans to continue his involvement in the national School Administration Management program as superintendent. SAM encourages principals to get out from behind their desks and into classrooms, which Bregy did at Jacobs by adopting the role of a student once a week.
As superintendent, he’ll swap roles with a different teacher at a different school once a week, he announced Friday. Meanwhile, the teacher will observe a classroom in a school very different from his or her own.
That excited Lynnie Hoffman, who teaches chorus, band and orchestra at Gary D. Wright and Hampshire elementary schools, both in Hampshire. On Friday, she wore a Hampshire jersey over a tie-dyed Wright T-shirt, her hair temporarily dyed purple to show spirit for both schools.
Hoffman called Bregy’s teacher swap idea “progressive” and said that teaching in different buildings is part of what’s helped her grow as an educator.
It will be good for the new superintendent, too, she said, “especially if he’ll do it in elementary schools, because he was a high school principal.”
“A lot of us teachers feel like at the elementary level, we’re kind of forgotten. The high schools are the big names, the big bands,” she said.
Katie Nole, a second-grade teacher at Golfview, said she was excited to hear all the ideas Bregy and his staff shared — and she hopes all the district schools will adopt them.
“I think it was nice to get everybody on the same page — kind of start off on the same foot,” Nole said. “Before, it felt like every building did its own thing.”
Copyright 2011, The Courier-News. All rights reserved.
ELGIN — The best viewing of the Perseid meteor shower will be Friday night, with the moon at your back, according to Peggy Hernandez, School District U46’s planetarium teacher.
She modeled what the sky will look like late Friday night on the dome of the Elgin School District U46 observatory and planetarium, using the Star Lamp that’s been part of the building at 312 Watch St. since the 1960s.
But the light that flickered briefly across the dome Wednesday evening wasn’t a shooting star, nor was it part of her demonstration, Hernandez said.
“That’s one of the drawbacks to adding a projector to the dome — you get some weird reflections from time to time,” she said.
About 200 people turned out Wednesday night for the debut of the planetarium’s new digital projector.
U46 had planned two screenings that night of a short educational film about telescopes called “Two Pieces of Glass,” shown in 360 degrees on the planetarium’s dome using the new projector. It quickly added a third as lines stretched out the door and down to the sidewalk after the planetarium was filled for the second show.
Time for back-to-school clothes. For new notebooks and folders and freshly-sharpened pencils. For lunch money jangling in pockets or plastic-wrapped sandwiches brought from home.
And it’s time for head lice.
The tiny insects made KidsHealth.org’s list of the top five conditions that are likely to keep a kid home from school during the coming school year. Others include pinkeye, strep throat, pneumonia and a skin rash with a name out of the Harry Potter series.
Several of those are common in Elgin School District U46, Director of Health Services Debbie Miller confirmed. Others aren’t, she said.
And head lice is no reason to keep kids home from school any more, she said.
Illinois’ regional superintendents of schools agreed this past week to continue working, more than a month after Gov. Pat Quinn eliminated their salaries from the state budget.
But Robert A. Daiber, superintendent of the Madison County Regional Office of Education and president of the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools, said he’s not sure how long that agreement will last. And, he said, he’s not sure what effect that could have on the start of the new school year.
“Is there going to be a statewide shutdown? I can’t say. Will they say at Labor Day, ‘I’ve had enough?’ I don’t know,” Daiber said. “There are people very, very disgruntled about missing a third paycheck.”
The state’s 44 regional superintendents met Wednesday in Springfield to resolve the “salary crisis” with the governor’s office and Illinois State Board of Education, according to a written statement from the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools.
None has been paid since the governor signed the state budget in June. Already, they’ve missed two paychecks and expect to miss a third at the middle of the month, according to IARSS.
ELGIN — Madeline “Maddy” Stone, 19, of St. Charles was one of about seven Elgin Academy graduates and current students laying out breakfast for two dozen or so clients on a recent early morning at PADS of Elgin.
It was a small act — like one St. Therese of Liseux described when she said, “Pick up a pin for the love of God, and count the day well spent.”
It was an act that might have gone overlooked, except for the video camera.
But the documentary Stone is making this summer isn’t about her own volunteer work, even though as a high-schooler she had helped coordinate Elgin Academy volunteers to prepare breakfast Thursday mornings at the shelter. She also expanded the school’s efforts over the summer months, with help from her family.
Rather, she said, “I want to spotlight an organization that really is effective.”
“It’s something that’s important to me, and I’ve always wanted to do a project around it. I wasn’t sure what to do until Ryan suggested a documentary,” Stone said.
CHICAGO — “Maybe we’re just kicking the can down the road a little bit,” Judge Robert W. Gettleman said.
But on Thursday, the judge denied without prejudice School District U46’s motion to rule on phase one of the racial discrimination lawsuit against the district. That phase alleges the Elgin school district’s 2004 school boundary plan discriminated against black and Hispanic students by placing them in overcrowded schools.
“I would rather be fully informed,” Gettleman said.
“I want to have enough grasp (on the case) to make an informed decision because this is so important to the district and the parents.”
That’s why, the judge said, he first wants to hear phases two and three of the trial before ruling on the phase one motion. Those latter 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.
That evidence may “bolster” the discrimination case already presented by plaintiffs’ attorneys Futterman Howard Ashley and Weltman, the judge said.