ROCHELLE — At its monthly meeting Monday, the Rochelle Township High School Board of Education heard a presentation and held a first reading about student handbook changes and updates.
RTHS Dean of Students Brett Zick made the presentation and has spent time surveying all parents and meeting with the parent/teacher advisory committee about recommended changes and additions. Changes recommended Monday will be voted on at July’s meeting. Zick and District Superintendent Jason Harper walked the board through difficulties that were seen last year coming out of remote learning and the COVID-19 pandemic.
A rise in disciplinary referrals was seen in the 2021-2022 school year when comparing it to the last full year in school, 2018-2019. About 300 disciplinary referrals were seen last year and in 2018-2019 around 2,200 were seen. 226 truancy-based offenses were seen in 2018-2019 and 869 were seen this past year. RTHS saw 195 cell phone-based offenses in 2018-2019 and 198 in this past year. It saw 822 occurrences of students being late to school in 2018-2019 and 1,140 in this past year.
“Obviously we came out of remote learning,” Zick said. “We’ve had some concerns with social and emotional learning as well as academic learning. That did prove to be true. We did see a rise in referrals but it’s kind of what we anticipated this year. There were some issues with attendance and they kind of persisted after the remote learning. You take students away from school for a year and a half and ask them to come back in. There’s the possibility for issues in making sure they’re there all the time, on-time and staying in class and not skipping.”
Last year in school due to the pandemic, students were allowed to have their cell phones more often in more areas of the building. Zick said the same amount of cell phone offenses is not necessarily a success, as cell phone offenses should have gone down in theory.
While truancy offenses are up, Zick says the school isn’t far off from where it usually is as far as the amount of students that are having issues.
“I think for most of our students, RTHS is what RTHS has always been,” Zick said. “And then we have a group of students we need to develop more and continue to work with both academically and socially and emotionally.”
A presentation slide with RTHS referral numbers in years past showed the number in 2008-2009 as around 3,000, as it was this past year.
“We don’t like that number being up near 3,000,” Zick said. “That’s not good. But in 2008-2009 in a normal year we were around that number too. We’ve been here before and got the numbers back down. We’ll be able to get that number down again. I think we knew students were going to have a lot of academic and social emotional needs this year and it proved to be true.”
Harper called 2021-2022 an “anomaly of a year” while staff worked to get children used to being back in the building. The school is “dedicated” and wants to get back to kids understanding where they’re supposed to be in terms of behavior expectations and hold them accountable.
Zick said disciplinary referrals were seen most with freshmen, which he attributed to that group being in remote learning for “crucial years of development.”
Areas of focus next year to curb referrals include attendance, sensors in bathrooms for vapes, going back to pre-pandemic cell phone and locker use rules, no earbuds unless a teacher wants them used for classwork, a possible tiered approach for in-school suspension, water bottles being allowed in class and being “consistent across the board” with the dress code, Zick said.
The board unanimously approved lunch price changes for the upcoming school year. Arbor Management, which handles lunches at the school, provided information showing the board can expect a 10 percent increase in food and direct costs as well as minimum wage adjustments.
Arbor Management provided two options for consideration with projected results and the board made changes and came to an agreement “somewhere in the middle.” RTHS has not changed prices in four of the past six years. The plan was approved at a projected deficit of $6,537.
“We want to ease into these price jumps for our students as best we can,” Harper said. “We went through and itemized where increases would be. We tried to not drop dollar and 75-cent increases on every single student. The plate lunch, which is our most basic but well-rounded option, hasn’t increased that much. It will be $3.25. Students that qualify for free and reduced lunch will not be impacted by this when they get that plate lunch.”
The board held a public hearing for and unanimously approved an amended 2021-2022 budget at the meeting. Anticipated revenue for the education fund is $10,667,983 and the operation fund anticipated revenue is $1,214,400. On the expenditure side, the anticipated numbers for education funds are $11,241,694 and $1,267,950 for operations, District Business Manager Kevin Dale said.
The board unanimously approved the resignations of Shaun Schaefers (band and marching band director), John Dobbs (assistant track coach) and Kevin Hunt (assistant softball coach) along with the hirings of Ashley Lawrenz (school nurse), Calla Stroh (assistant girls basketball coach), Tracuy Drobick (library aide/paraprofessional), Anna Birsa (Spanish teacher), Rachel Plock (math teacher) and Marshall Basler (athletic trainer).
Sheila Herrmann was unanimously approved to transfer from bus driver to transportation director and will temporarily work alongside current Transportation Director Sherri Smith until the latter retires at the end of the year.