Education

Signal Hill superintendent using vacation days, will retire amid state investigation

Illinois investigating test security breach in Belleville

State education leaders were in talks about changing the science assessment because of a security breach. Copies of the test were distributed in Belleville from 2017 to 2018, so students saw the questions before they took the exam.
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State education leaders were in talks about changing the science assessment because of a security breach. Copies of the test were distributed in Belleville from 2017 to 2018, so students saw the questions before they took the exam.

A Belleville area school superintendent, who was disciplined in late 2018 for failing to adequately investigate a testing breach in the district, is using some vacation days to travel before officially retiring with three months left in the school year.

Signal Hill School District 181 Superintendent Janice Kunz and other staff members received written reprimands from the school board in November for their involvement in distributing copies of the state science test to students before they took the exam last March and later not adequately investigating how it happened.

They were also being investigated at the state level for possible misconduct.

The educators said they wanted to give students a practice test to help them prepare for the Illinois Science Assessment. They gave out a document from a password-protected state website labeled “2016 ISA,” which they believed was an old version of the test, according to investigative documents. But Illinois used the same test questions each year.

A fifth-grader realized that she had already seen the questions when she took the assessment March 8, 2018, which started Kunz’s investigation and communication with the state about the breach.

The state described Kunz’s investigation as inadequate and “focused on deflecting blame and keeping information from getting out, rather than uncovering and mitigating the full scope of the breach.”

The status of Illinois’ investigation into the educators wasn’t available as of Friday. They could face disciplinary action as severe as having their teaching licenses revoked if the state believes there was misconduct.

Kunz, meanwhile, will officially retire Monday. She did not immediately respond to a request for comment while she was out of the office.

The school board will have a “public focus group” after Kunz’s last day to hear what the community wants in its next superintendent. The event is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday in Signal Hill Elementary School’s library.

The board hired an interim superintendent last Monday to handle Kunz’s responsibilities in the meantime. It is Allen Scharf, according to Board President Paul Slocomb.

Principal Brooke Wiemers announced it to the school community Thursday on Facebook. She said Scharf would be working at the school a few days a week starting on Friday.

Scharf is retired now, but he has worked in Signal Hill before as a principal, dean of students and teacher and in Millstadt as a superintendent, according to Wiemers.

“I personally would like to thank everyone for their patience and support during our transition the past few weeks,” Wiemers wrote in the Facebook post. “We are all looking forward to a great end of the year.”

Signal Hill students will take the Illinois Science Assessment again April 8-12, three weeks after Kunz’s retirement.

Because of the breach, past science test scores from 2016, 2017 and 2018 were invalidated by the state, and the staff was required to go through training on security practices. The district also has to hire external monitors to observe all of the state testing at the school this year and possibly longer.

Signal Hill District 181 has about 30 teachers and 350 students.

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The metro-east is home for investigative reporter Lexi Cortes. She was raised in Granite City, went to school in Edwardsville and now lives in Collinsville. Lexi has worked at the Belleville News-Democrat since 2014, winning multiple state awards for her investigative and community service reporting.

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