Possibility of shuttering Venice High discussed
By Elizabeth Donald, Belleville News-Democrat
VENICE - One possible solution to the Venice school district's problems could be shuttering the high school, according to the interim superintendent.
Ron Ganschinietz, who has served as superintendent while the district looks for a permanent replacement, said he has discussed with the board a proposal to send Venice's 60 high-schoolers to another district.
"From an academic standpoint, in today's world, you cannot offer a comprehensive education at a high school of 50 to 60 students," Ganschinietz said. "At a larger school, they would have access to advanced placement classes, gifted programs and vocational education ... There's a definite academic advantage to it."
The other advantage, Ganschinietz said, would be financial. Although Venice spends about $9,000 a year per student, most other districts only spend about $6,000. The remaining $3,000 per student could improve conditions at the elementary school, he said.
"The community would still have the elementary school and concentrate its resources on it," he said. "Those kids then could go on to high school and do well."
Closing the high school would require approval by the school board and from the voters in a referendum in March. Then the district would have to find another school to take in the Venice students, and that's where the trouble comes.
"A large high school can absorb 60 kids without much trouble," Ganschinietz said. "The real problem is that the (Venice) teachers would have the right to bump into their program."
The new district would have to absorb about nine teachers in addition to the students. If the Venice teachers have seniority, that could cost younger teachers in the new district their jobs.
No decision can be made until the current budget crisis is over, Ganschinietz said. The Venice school board is under a deadline to present a balanced budget to its state oversight panel by Oct. 16 or it will be disbanded. The state is also threatening to revoke government recognition of the troubled district.
Ganschinietz said the decision would have to be made by January in order to get the referendum on the March ballot. The high school would not close until next year.
Trustees address District 46 split
By Tiffany Ray, October 9, 2003
BARTLETT -- Trustees are looking at how they how they might help a group that wants to split Illinois' second largest school district into smaller parts.
Nancy Tomasek and Kristine Porter of Better Schools for All appealed to the board Tuesday for the second time, asking trustees to lend their political weight to the group's effort to break up Elgin-based District U-46.
Trustees agreed to consider hiring consultants to identify legal issues involved in a breakup and asked staff members to prepare a proposal. The board also pledged to provide information and advice from its staff.
Better Schools for All mobilized early this year in response to the district's financial troubles, which resulted in $40 million in budget cuts, larger class sizes and the elimination of nearly 600 teaching positions. Bartlett is one of 11 communities served by the district and the only one wholly within its boundaries. The district has more than 40,000 students, second only to Chicago.
Tomasek and Porter approached the Bartlett board in August with the signatures of more than 3,100 supporters and research that they say shows smaller districts academically outperform larger ones.
Though Bartlett schools often rank near the top in U-46, comparable schools in nearby districts consistently outperform them, Tomasek said.
"Our kids don't know as much as neighboring districts, and it's such a disservice to them," she said.
The blame, she said, falls not on the teachers but on the layers of bureaucracy and a disconnection between large districts and the parents and communities they serve.
The group has held informational meetings to get support from residents in other district communities and will meet again on Nov. 1 in Streamwood.
They hope to meet with state Education Supt. Robert Schiller in November. A meeting date has not been set.
Several years ago Bartlett spent about $250,000 on a multiyear study of the costs and benefits of breaking away from U-46 and creating a separate district for Bartlett and parts of surrounding communities. But officials dropped the idea after an advisory referendum showed residents did not favor it.
Village President Catherine Melchert and other officials said they were willing to revisit the issue.
O'Fallon Math Teacher Earns National Award
By Tania E. Lopez /Derik Holtmann, News-Democrat, October 15, 2003
Kelly Wamser, a math teacher at O'Fallon Township High School, sat clueless in the school gym, surrounded by students and teachers at an assembly Tuesday.
Wamser, 29, had no idea the assembly was organized to award her a $25,000 Milken National Educator Award -- the "Oscars of Teaching."
Even students and administrators were left in the dark.
"Oh, my God," Wamser said after her name was announced. "Can someone wake me up right now, please?"
Wamser is one of two teachers in the state to receive the award and one of 100 in the nation.
Lowell Milken, chair of the Milken Family Foundation, flew in from Los Angeles to announce her as the winner of the award.
"She's done so much for the students and for the school, it's impressive," Milken said, adding one teacher has the power to influence thousands of students in his career.
Wamser, a teacher at O'Fallon for eight years, said every teacher in the audience was hoping his name would be called.
She said there was never a time she dreaded going to work, but she admitted being an educator has its frustrations.
"Sometimes you wonder if you make a difference," Wamser said. "And every now and then, you have students who come back to remind you of the work you do."
The Milken National Educator Awards were created in 1985 to reward, retain and attract the best teachers in the nation. Teachers are not allowed to nominate themselves.
Dennis Grimmer, principal at O'Fallon, called Wamser a "very dedicated and enthusiastic" teacher.
"I hired her 8 years ago," Grimmer said. "I say that's a pretty good hire."
Norma Anderson, Wamser's mother, said her daughter always wanted to teach.
Her father was James Wamser, a math teacher at Belle Valley South in Belleville. He died in 1994 at age 42 while coaching a girls volleyball game.
"She would go to school with her father when she was 3, and she'd go into the classroom and make pretend she was teaching a class," Anderson said.
Wamser was speechless and had tears streaming down her cheeks as she hugged Anderson.
"I'm so proud of you," Anderson said.
Wamser's accomplishments at O'Fallon include interactive geometry lessons in which students were given assignments to design and build model houses. In 2002, Wamser spent a year in Japan as an ambassador for education through the Fulbright Memorial Fund Program to exchange ideas and teaching strategies with other teachers.
Wamser is scheduled to receive the award next May in Washington, D.C., at the Milken Family Foundation National Education Conference.
Illinois State Board of Education