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Decatur school board hears Stephen Decatur concerns, approves new school designs
DECATUR SCHOOLS

Decatur school board hears Stephen Decatur concerns, approves new school designs

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DECATUR — Stephen Decatur Middle School Principal Matt Fraas says conditions at the building are improving in the first year after merging with Thomas Jefferson Middle School.

But he was pressed Tuesday by school board member Courtney Carson about how the school’s administration was responding to safety concerns from students’ families. Carson’s questions came after a woman told the board that her granddaughter has experienced bullying and harassment since the schools combined, and recently had been sexually assaulted by a fellow student while walking home.

“I am concerned about the safety and welfare of the children being caught in the crossfire of DPS’ BOLD plan,” the woman said, referring to the district’s multi-year facilities plan. “... Each school day we are sending our children into a war zone.”

The Herald & Review is not naming the woman, who has addressed the board with concerns at multiple school board meetings, to avoid identifying her granddaughter.

Fraas later addressed the board with a presentation about the school’s progress, which he described as improving since the start of the school year. Following Carson’s questions about the student’s situation, board member Beth Creighton said the board could not publicly discuss specific students.

“It is not about the (individual) students, it’s about the response,” Carson said. “How do we handle that before she brings it to this particular board? As a principal, what do you do to handle situations and concerns?”

Fraas said he’s been in contact with the family about the issue, but typically in situations such as this one, the administration collects as much information as possible from teachers, staff, students and parents.

“Any time we can get video support, whether it be from buses or from cameras in the building, we get that information involved,” Fraas said.

The two schools merged in August as part of the facilities plan, which aims to reduce the number of district buildings from 22 to 17. Some parents have raised concerns about combining the student populations and a meeting was held in September to discuss altercations, overcrowding and staff vacancies.

School officials have said student safety is a top priority, and steps have been taken to address issues, such as ensuring that students do not move through corridors in large groups. Fraas said the school’s staff work to get support for students who have had disciplinary actions so that solutions are addressed to meet their specific needs.

Speaking after the meeting, Carson said the board’s top priority should always be the students. He said he hoped the principal would continue conversations with the girl’s family to address the situation and her well-being.

“Ultimately, my first concern is our children and the safety of our children,” Carson said. “This is an institution where we are trying to provide the best education for our young people.”

Fraas during his presentation listed two goals of the school’s improvement plan, which includes providing a learning environment that is physically, socially, emotionally and behaviorally safe and conducive to learning.

Also during the meeting, board members discussed updates to several schools that will see changes as part of the facilities plan. Local architecture firm Because Life Deserves Design (BLDD) has been tasked with designing renovations to several schools that will see new classrooms, offices and other enhancements as part of the plan.

Board members on Tuesday approved drawings of instructional spaces at Muffley, Parsons, Franklin and South Shores. Representatives from BLDD and O’Shea Builders, construction managers for the BOLD plan, presented drawings that featured new classrooms, additions to buildings and other projects.

The district budgeted for over 40,000 square feet of combined renovated space among the four schools. Working Cash and Health Life Safety bonds will fund the project in addition to others related to the BOLD plan.

Changes to elementary schools will include the merging of Muffley and Baum students for the 2021-2022 school year at the Muffley facility, 88 S. Country Club Road. An addition to the building will allow it to accommodate more students.

Franklin this year will also get an addition so that it can house current students and Oak Grove Elementary students for the 2021-2022 school year. Oak Grove will close in fall 2021.

An addition to South Shores Elementary School is planned for some students from Enterprise Elementary School who will join South Shore students next school year. Other Enterprise students will join the newly combined Montessori program housed at the former Thomas Jefferson building next year.

The Stevenson Elementary student body will use the former Parsons building in fall 2021.

In other business, board members finalized an updated job description for the future Montessori principal and assistant principal positions to ensure that the positions would be filled by people with Montessori experience.

The district announced last month they would conduct a national search for the positions so that they could find the most qualified candidates, officials said. A Schaumburg firm was hired for the position, but the district ultimately decided to call off the search after hearing feedback from parents and staff.

Board members approved the sale of surplus iPads and MacBooks. A district memo said DPS currently owns 900 iPad Airs that are “no longer usable in a manner that best benefits the district through recycling and reselling programs and devices.”

The Information and Technology Department obtained quotes from 3 vendors for the iPads which ranged from about $3,000 to $25,000. They accepted a quote from Arcoa for about $25,000.

Quotes for MacBooks from three vendors ranged from $14,000 to $26,246. The board selected the higher quote from NiloTech at $26,500.

Board members also approved an agreement with Green Wave Computer Recycling to dispose of electronic equipment. Under the agreement, most of the items would be recycled for free while computer units are accepted at a base price.

Contact Analisa Trofimuk at (217) 421-7985. Follow her on Twitter: @AnalisaTro

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