By 2021, the Edwardsville school district plans to replace the outdated textbooks in its classrooms and the failing security systems in its schools.
Years of financial difficulty put those kinds of replacements on hold.
District leaders created a four-year plan for using taxpayers’ money to make improvements to academics and security and to pay down debt after years of cuts and borrowing.
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During those four years or beyond, the money could also be used to hire teachers in an effort to reduce some class sizes. More children per classroom is another effect of the financial issues that the administration says it wants to address moving forward.
Students will soon see updates to the curriculum for subjects that every child is taught: math, science, English language arts and social science.
New math textbooks and materials will be used at every grade level starting in the 2018-19 school year. The rest of the new curriculum will roll out in the 2019-20 school year.
In the meantime, Superintendent Lynda Andre said District 7 has been paying for things like online resources so teachers could fill in the gaps of the existing materials.
The science curriculum, for example, hasn’t been updated in nine years. “Since then, there have been new science standards,” Andre said. Those standards are what the state decided students should know to be prepared for college or careers.
At the same time teachers are making do with old books, some face another challenge: higher class sizes.
District 7 has eliminated 101 positions, from teachers to janitors and secretaries, as state money decreased during the last nine years.
As a result, the average number of students per class today is above the statewide average at every grade level. But the same is true for nearby Granite City District 9, according to state data.
The District 7 administration wants to reduce class sizes over time, according to Andre. However, unlike the planned spending on textbooks and technology, the district didn’t set a timeframe for when more teachers would be hired in its four-year plan.
“We didn’t want to commit certain things happening in certain years that we might not be able to deliver until we reach those other goals,” Andre said.
For now, some fourth and fifth grade classes have as many as 29 students, and middle school classes as many as 32, according to Andre.
Across the board, we’ve had these numbers for quite a few years now, but we would like to, in addressing improvement of instruction and the academic program overall, we would like to reduce those class sizes over time.
Lynda Andre, Edwardsville District 7 superintendent
She noted that it can be more difficult for teachers to give children additional help or use hands-on activities and technology in their lessons with more students in a classroom.
“We’re very fortunate to have a very dedicated, stable — meaning we don’t have a lot of teachers leaving and hiring of new teachers — staff who work well with the number of students they’re given,” Andre said.
The largest class sizes in District 7 are at Edwardsville High School.
There are 21 students per class on average, compared to the state’s average of 20 students. But Andre says most high school classes have 33 or 34 students.
Elsewhere, the largest class at Granite City High School has 36 students, according to District 9 Superintendent Jim Greenwald. Class sizes at Collinsville High School won’t get that high because they are capped at 30 students under the contract with the teachers union.
Another area where District 7 has outlined plans to spend taxpayer money is on its technology.
Its surveillance cameras, for example, will see upgrades in coming years.
“We have 15 campuses in this district, so we have hundreds and hundreds of cameras,” Andre said. “One of the things that we found during the financial crunch was that many of them didn’t get replaced on a cycle that they should have, so they’re aging. Some of them don’t work. Some of them are very old, so the resolution isn’t good.”
The district’s four-year plan also includes adding security cameras to locations that aren’t currently covered and installing building-wide WiFi access at Edwardsville High School, Liberty Middle School and Lincoln Middle School.
For more information about the recent property tax increase or about District 7’s finances, visit ecusd7.org/about_us/focus-on-finance.asp.
Students at those three schools will also have access to an online platform called Schoology that the district is purchasing, according to its plan.
Schoology will be new to District 7. Students can use it to communicate with teachers and access material like homework assignments. Andre said it’s similar to platforms that students and professors use at colleges and universities, so navigating Schoology now will help prepare them for their future.
Teachers will also get data from Schoology that tell them about student engagement and performance, schoology.com explains.
High school students will see it first starting in the 2018-19 school year. The district estimates that middle school students can start using Schoology from home in 2019-20 and in the school buildings the following year.