Members of the Hoopeston Area Board of Education heard concerns about the mounting pressures and stress the COVID-19 pandemic has put upon district teachers during last week’s meeting.
Rachel Gillins, Hoopeston Education Association president, spoke about the concerns district teachers have raised during her report to the board.
She said the HEA had a meeting prior to the board meeting Thursday and one of the major points of discussion was the stress that faculty members are feeling as they enter another year of teaching in a pandemic.
“As we go into another year of teaching in a pandemic, a lot of what we talked about tonight were feelings of stress that faculty are feeling,” she said.
Gillins said faculty members shared their feelings about quarantines and how close contact protocols were decided as well as balancing the needs of in-person students and those students who are home under quarantine.
“There’s a lot of teachers who are expressing that they are already feeling burned out,” she said. “We are really hopeful that we can continue to keep open communication with the board and each other and find ways collaborate together to work together to support these teachers so we do not have teachers burnt out by mid-October.”
Gillins said they are thankful that they have had a lot of conversations that are respectful and open and they hope to continue those conversations and they can continue to keep teachers’ mental health and personal health a priority.
“Hopefully that will keep some of these teachers that we’ve employed this year to stay for next year and beyond,” she said.
Also during her report, Gillins said HEA members had expressed how thankful they were for the air conditioning that had been installed at Maple and John Greer over the summer.
“That was one way to really alleviate some stress at the beginning of the year to make it a little less uncomfortable,” she said.
Later in the meeting, Maple Principal Suzi Root also spoke about the stress that teachers are feeling this year.
Root was discussing some of the assessment data for Maple students and how some of the student scores were lower than teachers hoped they would be.
“Teachers take this data to heart, they take their students’ progress and meeting or not meeting standards to heart,” Root said. “This is a real struggle.”
Root gave the example of some benchmark scores in the first grade early literacy subject pointing to the scores from the 2019-2020 school year when 74 percent of first graders were meeting or exceeding standards in that category in August and September.
She said those scores dropped to 57 percent last year and they are 45 percent this year.
“You can see the pandemic taking its toll and you can see it across the data here,” she said. “This is a struggle for teachers because, as teachers, we are taught we need to get our kids up to benchmark and that’s what they’re striving for.”
Root said students lost an entire quarter at the end of the 19-20 school year and had shortened school days last school year.
“It’s been tough,” she said. “I completely understand where these teachers are coming from, having been a teacher myself.”
The point was made during the meeting that the district needs to have more realistic expectations when it comes to student assessment scores in light of all the in-person learning time students have lost during the pandemic.
Board President Dave McFadden offered his and the board’s support for district teachers during this stressful time and agreed that more realistic expectations were needed.
“We all understand what they’re facing and they’ve got a rough road ahead,” he said. “We all need to be realistic about what’s coming here.”
Board Member Elizabeth Silver commented on the issue as the parent of a student at Maple during the pandemic.
She said that the teachers did great working with students and did the best they could working under the difficult conditions created by the pandemic.
Silver said she was somewhat surprised by the drop in assessment scores, but soon realized that these drops were understandable when you consider that students lost so much in-classroom instruction time due to the effects of the pandemic.
Silver feels that in a year or so, the district will see these assessment numbers start to climb as students get more of a chance to learn directly from their teachers in the classroom.
John Greer Principal Dan Walder echoed McFadden’s point that the district has to be realistic with the goals it sets for student assessment scores.
Walder pointed to the fact that 22 students at his school have been quarantined thus far this year due to COVID-19 exposure meaning that they have lost significant amounts of in-classroom instruction time with their teachers.
He said this is in addition to the rising number of students who are missing school days this year due to normal sicknesses such as strep throat and flu.
Walder said expectations have to be adjusted to consider how much time students are missing from school.
He said the district has to do the best with the hand they are dealt as the pandemic has made every day a struggle.
In other business, the board approved an increased pay rate for substitute teachers working in the district.
Superintendent Robert Richardson said the issue of substitute pay was brought during a recent strategic planning meeting.
After the meeting, he reached out to superintendents around the county to see what their pay rate for substitutes was and found that Hoopeston Area’s rate was on the lower end of curve for the county.
“We were paying $90 and everybody else was paying about $100 or $105,” he said. “We drew up a proposal and it would be $105 per day for days one through five; $115 for days 6-45 of continuous substitute teaching; from day 46 on, in the contract, teachers become part of the bargaining unit and they get a daily rate of the base pay.”
Richardson also pointed out that several county schools reward retired teachers who come back to substitute teach.
He said they’ve included those rewards in the pay rate for substitute teacher at Hoopeston Area and retired teachers who sub will receive $115 a day and for days 6-45 of continuous substitute teaching will receive $125 and after day 46 they would move onto the base pay schedule.
“I think it’s a way to reward our retired teachers,” Richardson said. “It is very difficult to find substitute teachers. You can talk to any of these administrators and they will tell you that you have to make several phone calls just to get one sub. We are hopeful this will maybe make it a little easier on our administrators to find subs.”
Board Member Cheryl Steiner added that the board committees had discussed that they board will need to look at increasing the rate for substitute teachers over the course of the next few years to stay above the minimum wage.
After a question from Principal John Klaber about when the rate would go into effect, Richardson said it would go into effect that evening.
John Greer Principal Dan Walder asked if the district could publicize this increased pay rate in order to help grow the sub list district administrators can pull from.
Richardson said he would see about getting it on the district website and publicize it elsewhere.
McFadden said the feedback the board got from the strategic planning meeting was vital and this was one of the major issues that was brought up during the meeting.
He said he reached out to Richardson and other members of the board after the meeting to get the matter before the board as soon as possible rather than letting the issue continue for another month.
In other business, the board also approved the collective bargaining agreement for the 2021-22 through the 2022-23 school years.
“This is the end of a long journey,” Richardson said. “Many, many people put in a lot of hours talking, understanding, learning from one another. The goal has been reached. We have an agreement for the next two years. We still have work to do moving forward from that, but we’re going to take a little break, then we’re going to get right back at it.”
Richardson thanked everyone who gave up their nights and weekends work on the agreement.
McFadden thanked Gillins and the rest of HEA members who worked on the agreement.
“It was a lot of work and Mrs. Gillins stepped in the middle of that with the election change,” he said. “I just want to thank you for your work.”
Steiner added her thanks for former Hoopeston Area Board of Education members Lawrence Jahn and Lisa Leigh for continuing on and volunteering their time to work on the agreement.
The board also approved the following actions:
- Action to adopt the FY22 School District Budget.
- Action to approve the Administration Compensation Report for the 2021-22 school year.
- Action to approve the administrative employment contract for Mrs. Katherine Coulter, Assistant Principal, at Hoopeston Area Middle School for the 2021-22 school year.
- Action to approve the administrative employment contract for Mr. Michael Blacketer, Principal, at Hoopeston Area Middle School for the 2021-22 school year.
- Action to approve substitute teacher pay rate proposal as presented.
- Action to approve final payment to Reliable Mechanical CO. for$ 40,797 for installation and start-up of air conditioning units in Maple and John Greer.
- Action to approve the Collective Bargaining Agreement for the 2021-22 through 2022-23 school years as presented.
- Action to approve the quote from Ideal Environmental Engineering, INC. for the Asbestos abatement of the tunnels at John Greer Grade School $80,500 through the ESSER III grant.
- Action to approve the development of the HV AC replacement design from Upchurch with an estimated cost of $1,540,000 through the ESSER III grant.
- Action to approve the Payment of the Freshman Volleyball Coach 6% stipend for the 2021 season.
- Action to approve the Hoopeston Area FF A trip to the National Convention in Indianapolis Indiana from Oct. 27 — 29.
The board also approved the following personnel matters:
- Action to employ Connor Gilonske as Classroom Paraprofessional at Hoopeston Area Middle School for the 2021-22 school year with an effective date of September 9, 2021.
- Action to employ William Rosser as Rtl Teacher at Hoopeston Area High School for the 2021-22 school year with an effective date of September 22, 2021.
- Action to approve Madison Baer as Special Education Consultant at Hoopeston Area CUSD #11 for the 2021-22 school year with an effective date of August 30, 2021.
- Action to employ Lea Morgan as Long Term Sub pending paperwork completion for Reading Interventionist at Maple Elementary School for the 2021-22 school year with an effective date of August 25, 2021.
- Action to employ Terry Griffith as Long Term Sub pending proper licensure for Physical Education at Hoopeston Area Middle School for the 2021-22 school year with an effective date of August 18, 2021.
- Action to approve the retirement of Marta Lesak as Classroom Paraprofessional at Maple Elementary School with an effective date of October 29, 2021.
- Action to approve the following volunteers pending approved background checks for the 2021-22 school year: Allison Mann — HS Volleyball
In other business:
- High School Principal John Klaber reported that the annual Veterans Day ceremony the district presents has been canceled due to the pandemic. He said Tim Walsh will be working to create a video that will celebrate local veterans as he has in past years. The video will be posted on the school website so district students and the community can enjoy it.