While the action report section of the Wednesday, Oct. 3, Mokena School District 159 Board of Education meeting was lighter than usual, the meeting focused primarily on informational reports, briefing the board on where the district stands and where it's going both in terms of finances and academics.
The meeting was kicked off by Board President Patrick Markham announcing that the district had closed its budget for the 2012-13 fiscal year and filed it with the State of Illinois at a surplus.
"It wasn't done with massive layoffs," Markham said. "It was helped with the teachers' contract. There were a lot of smart efforts from the new administration and board—better purchasing policies, I think, just a lot more effort. An in-depth budget analysis brought us into surplus without impacting the education of the students."
The board was also presented with a report on an audit of last year's budget by Ed McCormick of the accounting firm of Mulcahy, Pauritsch, Salvador & Co., who presented the district's finances with "a clean bill of health." McCormick told the board that the district's bookkeeping appeared to be accurate and commended the district on keeping spending down while keeping students' test scores high.
"You still continued to maintain one of the lowest per-people costs in the state," McCormick said. "You're in the lowest quarter relative to all the other districts, but the scores continue to be very high, and that's really all you can ask for. You're being extremely efficient."
Another major order of business was Assistant Superintendent of Instruction Charles Vitton's report on the district's curriculum. Vitton outlined the district's recent performance on the Illinois Standards Achievement Tests, with last year's scores coming in as follows:
Percentage of students meeting or exceeding expectationsThird-Grade Reading 82 Fourth-Grade Reading 84 Fifth-Grade Reading 88 Sixth-Grade Reading 84 Seventh-Grade Reading 83 Eighth-Grade Reading 89 Third-Grade Math 90 Fourth-Grade Math 88 Fifth-Grade Math 88 Sixth-Grade Math 88 Seventh-Grade Math 89 Eighth-Grade Math 91 Fourth-Grade Science 85 Seventh-Grade Science 85
However, Vitton noted that the state's upcoming transition from the ISAT test to the new online Partnership for the Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers exam, which will begin in the 2014-15 school year, makes it difficult to assess the significance of these test scores, since the state's educational standards are in a state of flux. While the specific criteria of the PARCC test are still unclear, it is expected to be tougher than the tests the kids take now.
"The new core state standard of the eventual state PARCC exam is going to be more rigorous than the current Illinois learning standards of the current ISAT assessment," Vitton said. "I think we have to be prepared for that level of rigor once it arrives, and that obviously starts now and goes through the next two years."
In addition to preparing for test material, Vitton also highlighted the importance of ensuring that the district's technological capabilities will allow students to actually take the online test without hindering their performance.
"We can't have kids taking an electronic assessment and being stalled by technology that's not working enough for them," he said.
While he acknowledged the need to prepare students to meet state standards, Vitton said the district's goal should be to meet its own standards, emphasizing the importance of teaching kids year-round, rather than just for annual assessments. He stressed the importance of allotting resources for curriculum development and urged the board to make it a priority in the coming years.
"We obviously owe it to our students to give them the best that we can," Vitton said. "Do we do a fine job with the resources we have? Yes, I believe we do. Do I believe that the teachers care greatly about these kids? Yes, I do. But we have to commit to support that as well. Unfortunately, sometimes that does cost some money, but I think it can be done in a very fiduciary way that we can still make sure we're providing the best quality of education that we possibly can for these kids. It's tough in budgetary times like these, but it is also the work that we should be doing, because that is the nature of our business."
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