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DECATUR — A new nonprofit partnership with Decatur Public Schools aims to close achievement gaps between students of different races and income levels by 2021.

The Decatur Board of Education on Tuesday approved a pact with the nonprofit Equal Opportunity Schools, with the goal of increasing how many low-income students and students of color successfully complete Advanced Placement classes at Eisenhower and MacArthur high schools. Funding comes from a $130,400 grant from the Community Foundation of Macon County for the three-year life of the program.

“There are 750,000 kids in the U.S. who don’t have access to this program because of a lack of data,” Superintendent Paul Fregeau told the board. “By partnering with EOS, we will be able to expand the number of students who get to experience AP classes in our high schools.”

The Seattle-based nonprofit’s mission is to ensure students of all backgrounds have access to upper-level learning, like AP classes.

“EOS has a vision where you look into the classroom of an AP class and the student demographic is the same as the students you see in the hallway,” said Josh Peters, the district’s director of curriculum and instruction.

The nonprofit approached the school board last September about a potential collaboration with the district, Peters said. EOS will begin the program next school year and will start with collecting data from the schools, students and teachers, which will help determine how to develop strategies that will assist students who are unfamiliar with AP classes.

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The Community Foundation grant is to be funded by Dave and Elizabeth Snoeyenbos. Money will be used to carry out the program and provide additional support for students in AP classes. Peters said they will have a better idea of the type of support needed after the nonprofit’s assessment and data collection process.

“It was excellent timing because Dave was looking to donate to the district for something that helps students who are underrepresented,” Peters said. “He was very interested in supporting students and diversity so this was a perfect fit.”

Facilities plan

Sam Johnson of BLDD Architects gave the board an update on the comprehensive facilities plan, which re-imagines the use of district buildings as part of a larger five-year strategic plan. Renovations to Stephen Decatur Middle School are underway, with sections of the building being prepped for plumbing, installation of gender-neutral bathrooms and other initial demolition. Johnson said the project is under budget and the construction is on schedule.

In August, Stephen Decatur will begin to house students from Thomas Jefferson Middle School, which is being renovated to accommodate students from the district’s Montessori programs now at Garfield and Enterprise. Project manager Kim Kurtenbach shared updated blueprints of the the current design for that facility.

“The Montessori program is not a cookie-cutter project,” she said, “and no space really looks the same.”

The district is holding two open house meetings this week to share plans and answer questions about the facility changes. They are 5 p.m. to 8 p.m. Wednesday and 9 a.m. to noon Saturday, both at Hope Academy, 955 N. Illinois St.

Another element of the plan involves demolishing Johns Hill Magnet School and building a new facility. Next steps in that project will involve on-site instruction observations and developing site schematics. The school move-in is scheduled for 2021.

“The school sounds like an arts school, meaning as soon as you walk in you can hear the band playing and the choir singing,” Johnson said. “The parents don’t want us to lose that, so we are taking that into consideration while designing the space.”

More information will be available next month, Johnson said. The South Shores design phase will begin in July and design phases for Muffley, Parsons and Franklin will begin Aug. 1.

Other business

The school board approved the employment of Sharifa Blackwell as the assistant principal at Stephen Decatur Middle School with a salary of $78,948 effective in July.

The school board also approved the employment of Daniel Lynch as the principal of Dennis Lab School. Lynch previously served as the principal and athletic director of Crestwood School in Paris, Illinois. The board approved Lynch’s contract with a salary of $106,370 and is scheduled to start in July.

“I am humbled to come to this district,” Lynch said. “My whole philosophy is about loving children first and then teaching them.”

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

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