KANKAKEE — Kankakee School District 111 Superintendent Genevra Walters was in attendance at this week’s Kankakee School Board meeting to discuss what she is doing to fix the scheduling issues at Kankakee High School.
Walters said she has been taking time off after having surgery for colon cancer. She has been absent from recent board meetings and working behind the scenes rather than in person due to her health concerns, she said.
At Monday’s meeting, Walters presented an “emergency schedule” for the 2021-22 year to the board with plans to implement it by January at the latest.
“I’m sure people will ask why didn’t I do it sooner,” she noted. “I have never done a schedule, so even this schedule is going to have flaws because I’ve never done one before. And it’s really not the responsibility of the superintendent to do a schedule.”
At the previous board meeting on Sept. 13, high school administrators said they were working to clear up the overlaps in students’ schedules by Sept. 20.
This has yet to be completed.
As of Wednesday, approximately 70 percent of overlaps have been addressed, Walters said. The unstructured time in students’ schedules is still being worked out as well, though no timeline was given.
What’s the plan?
Walters said she worked with the district’s IT supervisor Dan Dannenberg to get started on the emergency schedule using Skyward, a database system for schools. Neither of them had ever created a schedule before, she noted, though Dannenberg is familiar with the database system.
“The most important thing to get this schedule done quickly is that we have to use Skyward,” she said. “We have to use the database.”
The previous schedule was created both manually and with the use of a database, but the database needs to be centered in the process, particularly with the large number of students enrolled at the high school, Walters said.
Enrollment is currently about 1,500 students.
An administrative team is working through a list of tasks to get the emergency schedule in place; Walters said they are on track to complete it before January, pending completion of the tasks.
She said she will have a better idea of the timeline for implementation as the tasks are completed, including getting information about students’ course requests and entering the information into Skyward.
The proposed emergency schedule includes nine 40-minute class periods as well as one 20-minute “flex time” before school; two additional “flex times” are included at the end of the day, with the ninth class period having the option to be broken into two 20-minute periods.
Eight lunch times are scheduled from fifth through eighth period, with each period divided into two 20-minute lunches.
Walters also addressed what the district is doing about the loss in instructional time the scheduling problems have caused.
KHS will be open to all high school students every Monday through Thursday from 4:30 to 7:30 p.m. for Twilight School, and from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. for Saturday School, during which time students can get instructional assistance from licensed teachers and use all available computer programs.
The district is also looking into providing tutoring through Paper, a company that provides one-on-one tutoring assistance 24/7 in all subjects in both English and Spanish.
John Coglan, a former board member for six years ending in 2017, used the public comment portion of Monday’s meeting to dismiss calls to fire the administration over the scheduling problems at KHS.
“You all apologized and the superintendent has returned to duty in spite of her health issues to personally create a schedule,” he said. “This is how adults deal with mistakes, you take responsibility, apologize, you do your best to fix it.”
While the administration and board have to answer for mistakes that led to these problems, the public should also look to their accomplishments and “unprecedented success,” Coglan said.
“There is much work to do, but I support this superintendent, and I support any board member that stands with her as you fix this mess and continue the thankless job of serving on this school board,” he said.
Amanda Carnes, the parent of a high school sophomore, also used public comment to address accountability, calling the schedule implementation “an absolute disaster.”
“What type of accountability is going to be taken by the administration for these mistakes?” Carnes asked. “At this point, the only people being punished are the students. Six weeks into school, students should be learning, not sitting around in hubs doing nothing.”
Board member Christopher Bohlen said that the issue of accountability must be dealt with, but the first priority should be to get students’ schedules fixed.
“I’ve been told by at least one person, ‘Well, everybody ought to be fired.’ My response is, ‘How quickly are you going to get your schedule then if you fire everybody?’” he said. “That’s not my goal here. My goal is, once we get the schedules in place, finally, then we will deal with whatever accountability, discipline, or whatever else is appropriate at that point in time.”
Walters said that accountability would be “based on mitigating and aggravating factors” and determined on an individual basis with the people involved.
Meeting with ISBE
Illinois State Board of Education representatives had a virtual meeting with Kankakee school officials on Sept. 16.
The representatives said that ISBE will be providing support for scheduling and increasing the quality of instruction at KHS, improving equity district-wide, and for competency-based education.
Walters said the support from ISBE will likely be offered through the end of the school year or longer.
One of the major concerns from ISBE was over the quality of instruction at KHS, Walters said. A parent reported that a high school teacher assigned students a coloring sheet, which turned out to be true.
One of the resources ISBE will be providing is a virtual course catalog offered by the state. Courses that can’t be offered at school because of low student interest could be offered online, and the district would be reimbursed for the costs.
Walters said there may be an in-person visit from ISBE next semester to assess the district’s progress.