Operations & Business Services Newsletter

Vol. 15                                                          Issue 37                                        May 26, 2021

 

ISBE Food Service Audit Passes With Flying Colors

Mary Newman from the Illinois State Board of Education conducted an audit of our Summer Food Service Program with representatives from Arbor Management, Inc. and the district participating in the audit review. Prior to the audit Mary had requested documentation from Arbor Management, Inc. and the school district. She praised the district for entering into an intergovernmental agreement with DuPage School District 45 to provide breakfast and lunch service for our students and any child age 18 and under.

Next school year the district will change from the Summer Food Service Program to a  Seamless Summer Food Service Program, a variation of what we have been doing this year.  This also means students will receive free breakfast and lunch every day. The difference between the two programs is non-students age 18 and under will be allowed to eat in the school during the grab and go breakfast and lunch periods instead of picking up five breakfasts/lunches once a week as is currently done for remote eLearning and others 18 and younger. Next year the Illinois State Board of Education wants all students in-school for their educational programs.

Xtivity Engineer Suggests Our WiFi Access Point Distribution Is What A Hospital Would Use

One of the engineers from Xtivity, the company that maintains and monitors our WiFi equipment came to Albright Middle School last week to check out several rooms that had reported spotty WiFi. After checking his on-site monitoring equipment, he questioned if our district WiFi coverage is too good for a school district. He said that our coverage is what a hospital needs to run their computerized medical equipment like IV pumps, scanners, and ventilators in a hospital room. The signal coming from our access points is so strong that users are getting moved from one access point with lots of traffic to other access points with less traffic. When a Chromebook is used to look at a document the user does not notice it. However, if the device is looking at a video the change is noticeable and could result in a loss of connection.

The engineer said that our troubles appeared to begin when students came back mid-April full time in-school with their devices and also teachers added streaming to students remaining on remote eLearning. Prior to that only half of the students were in the classroom at a time during AM and PM hybrid instruction. The district moved to one-to-one device deployment several years ago, but device use was limited and all devices were not on at the same time. The engineer also said that Xtivity may have to do a major on-site analysis of each classroom and office access point to determine strength, direction of the signal, and whether some access points need to be moved or removed.

How Some Districts Are Planning To Spend ARP Funds

K-12 Dive reports Federal aid from the American Rescue Plan, which provided nearly $123 billion through the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund, is making its way to states. Jeff Dillon, superintendent of Wilder School District 133 in Idaho, says he will be using his pot of money to hire staff for one full or two half pre-K days, and that the district plans to conserve funds by purchasing used modular classrooms to serve as pre-K classrooms. Michael Hinojosa, superintendent of Dallas ISD, expressed caution on how the money is spent. "We have to be very careful because, when this money runs out there is going to be a funding cliff, and so we have to be very careful not to hire a lot of people." Hinojosa's wariness of taking on new staff mirrors that of many other district leaders. As a result, the superintendent, who says it was difficult to cut loose staff after federal American Recovery and Reinvestment Act aid expired under the Obama administration, is hiring strategically and with full transparency. He noted it's easier to hire people on stipends or give existing staff extra pay for additional work.

Many districts are “looking to invest in summer programs.” Scott Muri, superintendent of Texas’ Ector County Independent School District said, “For decades, we’ve been using summer school money ineffectively. I think the traditional view of summer school is a place where students who are not successful go to.” Muri “hopes to transform summer school this year, with sustainability built into existing summer school funding.” All students PK-5 “will have an opportunity to go to school for an additional 30 days this and next summer.”

District 48 is offering a three-week summer school experience at no cost to parents including transportation this summer. We are also offering a two-week summer boost experience to pre-Kindergarten students who have enrolled for Kindergarten this Fall to give them a boost prior to school beginning in August. Transportation will also be provided by the school district at no expense to parents.

The Compound Benefits Of Greening School Infrastructure

Center for American Progress reports across the country more and more students are returning to their classrooms after what has been, for some, nearly a year of online learning. The school closures brought on by COVID-19 have underscored how critical the physical environment is to student well-being and educational success. And yet, for large populations of students, particularly those in communities with fewer resources and in Black, Latino, and other communities of color, going back to school means going back to broken-down facilities with poor insulation and outdated ventilation systems. According to a 2020 report by the Government Accountability Office (GAO), 54% of U.S. school districts, a bulk of which primarily serve students of color, need to update or completely replace multiple building systems in their schools. The Center for American Progress says that, following the short-term relief provided to schools in the American Rescue Plan, Congress should shift to providing long-term funding to adequately and equitably update school infrastructure, equipping schools to withstand potential climate change-related disasters ahead, and to participate in the clean energy transition. “Strong and targeted federal investment will enable the education sector to lead the country in its transition to a more equitable and just 100% clean future, including, and perhaps especially, for the country’s youngest generations,” it argues.

District 48 has invested in new unit ventilators at Salt Creek Primary School and Stella May Swartz School as part of the $8 million Repair Bond Referendum proceeds. In addition the district installed iWave ionization air purification equipment in all classroom unit ventilators and air handlers over Spring Break. The oldest unit ventilators in the district are in Albright Middle School and they were installed in 2005.

States Legislating On How Teachers Can Discuss Race

Education Week reports states are passing legislation that could limit how teachers can discuss racism, sexism, and other controversial issues. Legislation signed into law in Idaho and Oklahoma, and awaiting the governors’ signatures in Iowa and Tennessee, bans teachers from introducing certain concepts, including that one race or sex is inherently superior, that any individual is consciously or unconsciously racist or sexist because of their race or sex, and that anyone should feel discomfort or guilt because of their race or sex. Supporters of these laws say they’re designed to get schools to stop teaching critical race theory, an academic framework that examines how racism has shaped the U.S. legal system. Opponents say they fear such legislation will stifle discussion of how racism and sexism have shaped the country’s history and continue to affect its present, by threatening educators with the possibility of legal action.

Teacher Shortages Impact Plans For Expanded Summer Programs

K-12 Dive reports school districts are using incentives, bonuses, and competitive salaries to draw teachers back to campuses to support summer learning programs, but even with the attractive packages, some districts are struggling to fill spots. Summer School teacher shortages could limit the number of students a district can invite for summer activities, as well as hamper a school system’s plans for programming that combines accelerated learning opportunities and social and emotional supports in response to pandemic-related disruptions in education. Many believe the summer teaching shortage is due to the heavy workloads educators have had as they adapted to varying virtual, in-person, and hybrid learning formats. “Quite frankly, teachers are burned out,” said Lynn Holdheide, senior advisor with the Center on Great Teachers and Leaders. “This last year and a half has been really tough, and teachers have gone above and beyond.”

District 48 is currently recruiting teachers to provide the three-week summer school and two-week Kindergarten Summer Boost programs.

AFT President: ‘It’s Time For In-Person Learning’

NPR spoke to Randi Weingarten, president of the American Federation of Teachers (AFT), about schools reopening in the fall while coronavirus cases continue to rise in some areas. The leader of America’s second-largest teachers union discusses how officials are working to convince people that COVID vaccines are the path for normalcy, the need to maintain social distancing measures in elementary schools, and whether there should still be an option for virtual instruction, to cater to parents still concerned about whether campuses are safe places to send their children to.

District 48 schools are planning for a normal in-person program for the 2021-2022 school year. The Illinois State Board of Education Board has approved a resolution that all Illinois schools are to be back to in-person programming for the 2021-2022 school year.

Schools Should Be Open ‘Full Blast’ In Fall, Fauci Says

The Hill reports Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser, said that schools in the fall should be open 'full blast' five-days a week, after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) announced that people who are fully vaccinated against COVID-19 can resume life without masks or other restrictions. The agency said it was making the revisions based on the latest science indicating that being fully vaccinated cuts the risk of getting infected and spreading the virus to others, in addition to preventing severe disease and death.

In an interview with CNN, Fauci said he agrees with American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten that school life should return to normal this year. Weingarten had earlier cited expanded eligibility for coronavirus vaccines, her own visits to schools carrying out federal safety guidance for reopening, plus hundreds of billions of dollars in federal aid now being delivered to K-12 schools as reasons to reopen campuses to full-time in-person instruction. She said that the union will run a $5 million “back-to-school for everyone” campaign this summer to persuade teachers and families to return. “The United States will not be fully back until we are fully back in school,” she said.

CDC Advises Schools To Continue Mask Use

The New York Times reports the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) clarified coronavirus advice for American schools, recommending the continued, universal use of masks and physical distancing, after the agency’s sudden announcement that vaccinated Americans could forego masks indoors. "Our school guidance to complete the school year will not change," CDC director, Dr. Rochelle P. Walensky, said, adding that the agency would work over the summer to update its school guidance for the fall. Two recent scientific findings were significant factors in the CDC’s decision to change its advice on mask-wearing for vaccinated people: few of those vaccinated become infected with the virus and transmission seems rarer still, and the vaccines widely used in the United States appear to be effective against all known variants of the coronavirus.

Separately, Education Secretary Miguel Cardona has reiterated that he expects all schools to fully reopen in the fall. At the same time, he sought to ease any political pressure on schools, saying whether to open and how to open shouldn’t become a political battle. "I do believe that this isn't a partisan issue," Cardona said. "It's a student issue. We need to get our students in school as quickly as possible. But I also know that we can't compromise safety to do that."

District 48 schools will open with all students wearing masks since vaccinations for elementary aged children is not expected to begin until December 2021 or January 2022. Middle School aged children ages 12 and up are now able to receive their COVID 19 vaccinations.

Illinois Schools To Continue Following Masking Rules

Chalkbeat reports officials clarified the state will “continue to require students and educators in Illinois schools and daycares to wear masks.” The clarification on schools came “after Gov. J.B. Pritzker announced on Monday that Illinois residents who have been fully vaccinated can stop wearing masks and practicing social distancing in more indoor and outdoor settings, aligning with the Centers for Disease Control’s guidance last week.” According to Chalkbeat, Chicago Public Schools “has not yet spelled out its fall requirements and Pritzker’s recent announcement did not address the next academic year.”

Teachers Stress Rising Despite Vaccination Push

Education Week reports educator vaccination rates have increased in the past month and so has the share of district leaders who say they’re providing COVID-19 testing. Yet even with these promising developments, educator stress levels are on the rise. The latest COVID-19 survey from the Education Week Research Center, found that 80% of teachers, principals, and district leaders have now been fully vaccinated, up from 65% a month earlier. An additional 2% are either partially vaccinated or report that they have made a vaccine appointment. At the same time, 92% of teachers said teaching is more stressful now than prior to the pandemic, up from 81% a year earlier. Teachers in the Midwest are significantly less likely to say teaching has grown a lot more stressful in the past year (34%), compared with their peers from the Northeast (40%); the South (49%); and the West (50%).

District 48 reports that 92% of employees and contracted employees (custodial, transportation, and food service) have been fully vaccinated. The district cooperated with regional vaccination clinics earlier this winter and spring to provide employees with multiple opportunities to receive vaccinations.

New Report Calls For Inclusive, Holistic Summer Learning

K-12 Dive reports a recent report from the Learning Policy Institute and Spencer Foundation explores opportunities for creating equity in summer learning programs and beyond as the public education system recovers from COVID-19. The study suggests six design principals to adopt in order to avoid returning to the "old normal," including: centering learning on relationships; creating a culture of affirmation and belonging; building on students' interests for a holistic learning approach; engaging students' and families' knowledge for disciplinary approaches; providing creative and inquiry-based learning; and addressing educator needs and learning. Summer programs have been touted as especially important in the K-12 recovery from COVID-19 learning disruptions. A five-year study published in July in American Education Research Journal showed 52% of students lost an average of 39% of their total school year gains over the summer months.

District 48 is offering a three-week summer school experience at no cost to parents including transportation this summer. We are also offering a two-week summer boost experience to pre-Kindergarten students who have enrolled for Kindergarten this Fall to give them a boost. Transportation will also be provided by the school district at no expense to parents.

Biden Provides Funding To Boost School Nurse Numbers

U.S. News & World Report the Biden administration is providing $7.4 billion to expand the nation's public health capacity, a sum that includes $500 million for hiring school nurses who could play a key role in vaccination now that the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine has been cleared for use by teenagers. Coronavirus testing coordinator Carole Johnson said it's part of a strategy to respond to immediate needs in the COVID-19 pandemic. That includes $3.4 billion for states and local health departments to step up hiring of vaccinators, contact tracing workers, virus testing technicians, and epidemiologists, who are disease detectives trained to piece together the evidence on the spread of pathogens. The White House is stressing that local governments hire people from the communities being served, with an emphasis on lower-income areas.

Schools Seeing Surge In Academic Dishonesty

Wall Street Journal reports a year of remote learning has spurred an eruption of cheating among students, from grade school to college, reports the Wall Street Journal. Websites that allow students to submit questions for expert answers have gained millions of new users over the past year, with some allowing students to put their own classwork up for auction. “Students have found a way to cheat, and they know it works,” said Thomas Lancaster, senior teaching fellow in computing at Imperial College in London, who has studied academic integrity issues for more than two decades. He said cheating sites number in the thousands, from individuals to large-scale operations. At the K-12 level, some schools block a range of homework help websites from district computers to prevent cheating, though that doesn’t stop a student from visiting the site from a different device. Middle-school teacher Suzanne Priebe in Riverside, California, has put less emphasis on testing during online learning to alleviate stress and the desire to cheat. “We have no control of what is going on when you’re on a computer,” she said.

Illinois Superintendents Seek To Address Teacher Shortage

The Capitol News Illinois reports that “following a February survey of school districts that illustrated a persistent teacher shortage in the state, the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools has released policy recommendations calling for better benefits and more lenient certification in an effort to reverse the trend.” The IARSS, “which serves as an intermediary between local school districts and the Illinois State Board of Education, had the survey conducted between September and October to see how school districts were faring with the supply of professional and substitute teachers during the 2020-2021 school year amid the coronavirus pandemic.” Illinois was “split into seven regions for the purpose of the survey, and school districts reported the shortage was worst in west central and southeastern Illinois.”

 

District 48 has had a number of vacancies and has not had a problem of receiving excellent candidates for consideration, in part because of attractive working conditions, low class sizes, competitive salaries and benefits. However this is not the case in central and southern Illinois school districts.

How To Fix Seven Flaws In Tech Professional Development Discussed

Education Week takes a look at seven of the “biggest perennial problems or mistakes in tech-related professional development, and how some districts are using their pandemic experience to address them.” For example, one problem is that teachers are “presented with so many new technological tools that they hardly have enough time to figure out which ones are actually going to complement their teaching style and subject matter, said Adam Gebhardt, an art teacher and technology mentor at Jefferson Hills Intermediate School.” The solution, according to Gebhardt, is to let teachers go deeper, not broader. He adds, “The vast number of options is almost counterproductive. We almost need fewer choices, the best, most-effective ones.”

Educators Who Work With Visually Impaired Students Seek Additional Resources

Education Week reports that “teaching during a pandemic has presented extraordinary challenges for all teachers,” but educators “working with the visually impaired have had the especially difficult task of adapting a curriculum based largely on physical interactions – like teaching a student how to read braille by touch or how to walk with a cane – to the two-dimensional environment of online learning.” Technology does play a “significant role in many special education programs for the blind and deaf,” but there is “little precedent for a completely virtual education for the visually impaired, and certainly no rule book.” Special education advocates “have been lobbying Congress for more federal funding.” The proposed Alice Cogswell and Anne Sullivan Macy Act “aims to make sure that children with visual or hearing impairments will be properly counted, evaluated, and supported.” As of now, “the bill is awaiting future discussion in congressional committees.”

District 48 has been proud to house the blind and visually impaired SASED program in all three schools for many years. Some of the SASED students are mainstreamed into regular education classrooms while others are self-contained within SASED leased classrooms. The lease payments SASED makes to the school district provide the contracted custodial and maintenance services saving taxpayers considerable dollars and utilizing classrooms that would otherwise be vacant.

Schools On Defensive Against Ransomware Attacks

The Hill reports Cyber criminals are stepping up their efforts to hack into vulnerable school districts, often launching ransomware attacks like the kind that shut down the Colonial Pipeline earlier this month. The number of cyberattacks targeting schools has increased during the coronavirus pandemic, jumping almost 20%. Doug Levin, national director of the K-12 Security Information Exchange, comments: “It’s sort of adding insult to injury when schools have already been pushed to a remote learning environment and have put that in place with rubber bands and toothpicks ... They don’t have the ability to respond.”

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers have increasingly taken notice of the threat posed by ransomware attacks to schools and other critical entities, such as hospitals and government agencies. Rep. Yvette Clarke, chairwoman of the House Homeland Security Committee’s panel on cybersecurity, will soon introduce bipartisan legislation that would provide $500 million annually to state and local governments to defend against ransomware attacks. “Schools could benefit from purchasing various cybersecurity products and services that might help protect them. Certainly, school districts could use money that might help them implement cybersecurity risk management plans. They could use money to help hire cybersecurity staff,” Levin said.

District 48 receives its internet service from Net 56 who in turn contracts with Comcast Business. Net 56 and Comcast provide monitoring and filters to prevent cyberattacks. District 48 contracts with Dyopath who maintains the district’s internet content filter and Xtivity that monitors our WiFi network. All of this is in an effort to minimize the possibility of a cyberattack.

More States Move To Lift Mask Mandates

U.S. News and World Report reports both Utah and Montana have made moves to lift rules stipulating the wearing of masks in schools. The Utah legislature has sent a measure prohibiting the wearing of face coverings on school and university campuses after the end of the current school year to Gov. Spencer Cox’s office for his signature, while Elsie Arntzen, Montana’s head of public instruction, has written a letter to school superintendents strongly recommending that districts end their mask mandates and make the wearing of face coverings a personal choice starting in the fall. “We cannot enter another school year subjecting our students to any additional loss of instruction time," she wrote. “We also cannot perpetuate the notion that masks will be a permanent feature in our state's classrooms."

Illinois State Board of Education requires students and staff to be masked because a vaccine is not yet available to elementary students. We have already had a number of our middle school aged students take advantage of the vaccine (student 12 and older).

Bus Driver Shortages Worsen for Many Districts

Education Week reports as more Americans receive COVID-19 vaccines and schools reopen, school districts across the country are struggling to find bus drivers to transport students back to school. In a survey taken in March by HopSkipDrive, nearly four-fifths of school transportation professionals including superintendents, directors of transportation, and school transportation staff said the bus driver shortage was a problem for them. More than half of school districts with 25,000 to 100,000 students said they believed it could take three months or more to resume normal transportation operations.

Issues include bus drivers with pre-existing medical conditions, making them at high risk for complications from COVID-19, while others have transitioned to jobs in the private sector after a year of being unemployed or furloughed. “You’re not seeing the full ramification of this because we are just kind of returning to school,” said National School Transportation Association Executive Director Curt Macysyn. He said the worst effects of the pandemic-fueled shortages are yet to come. Experts say the school bus driver shortage could be improved by offering paid training, and better benefits to attract newcomers to the field, focusing on driver retention, and staggering school start times so the same buses can run two routes per shift.

West Way Coach, the company that provides buses and bus drivers for our students is in need of regular, special education, and substitute drivers and offers a competitive hourly wage and guarantees a minimum of 4 hours of work per day. If you or someone you know is interested in a job and free training is available.

Illinois Legislative Committee Advances Bill Allowing Chicago Principals To Unionize

Chalkbeat reports that “on Wednesday, the Illinois State Senate passed out of committee a bill that would clear the way for Chicago’s principals to join those of cities such as New York City, San Diego, and Denver where principals have unionized.” The effort in Illinois “faces an especially large hurdle because of a state labor law that prohibits managerial employees from unionizing.”

House Bill 3496, “which already passed the House Chamber and now heads for a second reading on the Senate floor, would amend the definition of a managerial employee to include only those district employees who have significant roles in the negotiation of collective bargaining agreements.” Unionizing would “give principals more flexibility to make decisions in conjunction with their Local School Councils (LSCs), even when district leaders disagree with those decisions, testified Troy LaRaviere, president of the Chicago Principals & Administrators Association.”

Biden Seeks Significant Increase In Title I Funding For Low-Income Students

The Hill reports President Joe Biden asked Congress to “more than double the amount spent on Title I grants” for schools with low-income students in his budget proposal for 2022. Biden’s call to raise Title I funding from $16.5 billion to $36.5 billion “won praise from education activists,” but some “critics say the program is in need of reform, and more needs to be done to level out funding inequities.”

District 48 currently receives $86,577 in Title I funding. Not enough money to pay for one reading teacher. If funding were doubled it would allow for fully funding salary and benefits and provide additional dollars in support of the program.

Census Data: 2019 Had Largest Annual Education Increase In A Decade

K-12 Dive reports that “schools spent an average of $13,187 per student nationwide in FY 2019, which was a 5% increase from the year before and the highest average amount spent per pupil since 2008, according to new numbers posted by the US Census Bureau this week.” In total, schools “spent $752.3 billion in FY 2019, with about one-third of the expenditures dedicated to instructional salaries.” State governments “contributed the largest share of funding for public education at $350.9 billion, followed by local revenue ($342.9 billion) and local spending ($57.9 billion).” The federal “contribution for education in FY 2021 has jumped due to emergency relief funding in response to the pandemic.” The Biden Administration also “has proposed a 40.8% increase in annual appropriations for early education, K-12 programs and higher education in FY 2022.”

School Officials Say They Failed Disabled Students Amid Pandemic

The Washington Post reports that “more than a year after the pandemic began, officials in school districts across the country concede they failed during the crisis to deliver the quality of education that students with disabilities are legally entitled to receive.” The consequences “of this failure are likely to linger for years, if not decades, advocates and experts warn.” More than 7 million students “are eligible for special educational services under the federal Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).” These children, “each of whom follow an individualized education program that spells out what extra or different services they need at school, account for an estimated 14% of all US schoolchildren.” While some thrived “while learning from home during the pandemic – including a boy whose wheelchair left him feeling out of place at school but who became indistinguishable from his classmates on Zoom – most did not, and advocates and educators say many have suffered significant developmental setbacks.”

Reading Gaps Widened Due To Inequities Amid Pandemic

K-12 Dive reports that “pandemic-related school closures have been particularly vexing for those teaching young students to read, as remote learning can compound disparities since some learners don’t have access to the same technology, connectivity or parental support as their peers.” In Chicago, it is “unclear how many students fell behind in reading during the pandemic, though district spokesperson James Gherardi said the youngest learners have been most impacted.” The gap was also “difficult to track because teachers had been using their own preferred curricula in a decentralized district system.” Part of the problem is “that students’ learning environments are not equitable.” To bridge the gap in Chicago, “the district is implementing a new curriculum initiative called Skyline – touted as having focuses on phonics, cultural relevancy and bilingual support – as part of a $135-million effort to create new instructional material.

Some Experts Say It’s Unclear Whether Younger Children Should Be Vaccinated Against COVID-19

The Washington Post reports some experts say it’s unclear how beneficial it would be for younger children to be vaccinated against COVID-19, given how rarely this age group is hospitalized with or die from the disease. In addition, “there’s evidence they don’t spread the virus as easily as adults.” Jennie Lavine, an infectious diseases researcher at Emory University, said, “For adults, it’s obviously better that the first exposure is to a vaccine, not natural infection. Vaccinating children becomes pretty marginal. They’re not getting much of a direct benefit, and it’s not clear that the indirect benefit will be that large.”

Quote of the Week

"The more I live, the more I learn. The more I learn, the more I realize, the less I know.” 

                                                                                                                                        -  Michel Legrand