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Changes not coming soon enough for District 95 staff

By Chanda Green
Contributing writer
Posted on 5/9/2018, 1:00 AM

The Carbondale Elementary School District 95 Board held its regular monthly meeting April 26, and although it wasn't on the agenda, the bulk of the long meeting was spent listening to the growing concerns of the teachers at Parrish, Thomas, Lewis and Carbondale Middle schools.

Stephanie Rushing, a science teacher at Carbondale Middle School and frequent voice at these meetings, rose during the public comments portion to revisit the topic of school schedules. The current schedule used at the Middle School, she said, is akin to organized chaos, "like a city with no traffic lights," with students having to move between remote parts of the building regularly to get to their next class.

"If we were operating under a standard middle school schedule, we could have prevented numerous issues that spilled over into the classroom," she said. "It's a chaotic environment that leaves our kids feeling unsafe."

Kevin Garthe, a teacher at the Middle School, echoed Rushing's concerns.

"Two years ago, new schedules were implemented at the middle school. Teachers did not vote for them. And because of those schedules, we have lost 13.5 percent of our teaching time," he told the board. "We understand that two schedules are being considered, and we believe that the teachers should make the final decision or at least have some input."

Interim Superintendent Elizabeth Lewin assured the speakers and the crowd that the new schedule is being worked on and has not been finalized, and that the board is listening to the concerns of CES teachers.

"I haven't seen the kind of chaos that Ms. Rushing is describing," Lewin said. "But I know that when the teachers see what we come up with, their concerns will be alleviated."

Garthe said a second issue that can't wait is the district's disciplinary procedures.

"The discipline system for the last several years has not been consistent or fair or timely," he said. "There were six fights before noon on Tuesday at the middle school.

"There are no consequences," he said. "There is no remediation. In this situation, teachers cannot teach and students cannot learn. Behaviors become more dangerous and destructive."

Garthe also said that the middle school had a high number of students who are failing: 48 students, or 11 percent of the student population.

"We are passing students out of middle school who do little or no work," he said. "We are skewing data to move students along. That's the reason there is a bridge program at the Carbondale High School, because of the lack of education taking place in District 95.

"The students tell us, 'I don't have to work, and you can't make me. I'll pass anyway,' and they're right," he said. "We are enabling our students to secure their own failure.

"Our priorities seem to lie with image and not with what is best for the students," he said. "We need to focus on real achievement and encourage student accountability and responsibility. Board members should meet with teachers regularly so you know what's going on in the schools."

Lewin and several other board members tried to reassure the crowd that the board and administration are aware of the disciplinary problems in the district, and are taking steps to address their concerns,

Assistant Superintendent Justin Miller told the board that the enrollment report shows an increase for the 2018-19 school year, especially in the lower grades.

"We'll be increasing the number of sections to lower the number of students to about 20 per class for kindergarten through third grade," he said. "Thomas and Lewis need classroom space. We're bringing in temporary buildings to add space, but in the long-term, we will have to add to our building. And lowering the class size in this way means that we would have to add four new positions."

Smith added that although the enrollment numbers are up, he is concerned about the number of teachers leaving the district.

"We need to make an effort to interview these teachers and find out what's going on," he said. "The board should take a long, hard look at why so many of our teachers are leaving."

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