Education

Signal Hill gets new superintendent in aftermath of test scandal

Kelly Bohnenstiehl is the new superintendent for Signal Hill School District 181. He previously served as a principal in Wood River and this is his first position as a district superintendent.
Kelly Bohnenstiehl is the new superintendent for Signal Hill School District 181. He previously served as a principal in Wood River and this is his first position as a district superintendent. Provided

Signal Hill School District 181 has a new superintendent to replace the one who retired in March after the state said she inadequately investigated how students were given copies of a state science test before they took the exam.

Kelly Bohnenstiehl, 43, who most recently served as principal of Lewis and Clark Elementary School in Wood River-Hartford School District 15, was hired to be the next Signal Hill superintendent.

Bohnenstiehl, whose salary will be $120,000, will fill the position vacated by Janice Kunz. After Kunz left in March, retired educator Al Scharf served as interim superintendent until Bohnenstiehl took over on July 1.

Test investigation

Bohnenstiehl said he will work to make sure the district has specific guidelines on handling the state’s standardized tests.

“And obviously that’s one of the things that we’ll do moving forward is making sure that there’s a clear understanding with protocols put in place to make sure that those things are addressed and that they do not happen again,” Bohnenstiehl said.

“The intent was not malicious in any way shape or form. It was just an unfortunate situation that occurred in the past and we’re going to make that it doesn’t happen again and move forward with that.”

Kunz and other staff members received written reprimands from the Signal Hill School Board in November for their involvement in distributing copies of the state science test to students before they took the exam in March 2018 and later not adequately investigating how it happened.

Earlier this year, the Illinois State Board of Education sent a letter to the Signal Hill District 181 School Board that it would not sanction Kunz or the teachers involved in the testing breach.

It all started when 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 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.

Long line of educators

Bohnenstiehl grew up in a family of educators.

His mother, Debbie, taught in Bethalto and his father, Norm, served as principal of Edwardsville High School.

Bohnenstiehl knew from an early age that he wanted to be a teacher and he recalls the advice he received from his parents.

“My dad would talk about it from an administrative perspective and my Mom would talk about, ‘Well, maybe stop and think about this from a staff or teacher perspective.’

“That’s kind of climate and culture that I was just immersed in growing up.”

Before he served as a principal, Bohnenstiehl was a second-grade teacher. Also, his wife, Kim, is a teacher in Bethalto and his brother, Kory, teaches in the Wentzville, Mo., School District.

Bohnenstiehl and his wife have two daughters, Karissa, 11, and Kinley, 8. They live in Edwardsville.

The Signal Hill School Board voted 6-1 last month to hire Bohnenstiehl.

“Kelly brings a lot of energy to the table,” said Paul Slocomb, president of the Signal Hill School Board. “We feel like he’s ready to go and be our next superintendent.”

Fred Colliflower was the board member who cast the lone dissenting vote. Colliflower said he believes Bohnenstiehl will do a “great” job but he thought since this is Bohnenstiehl’s first time to serve as a school district superintendent, the initial salary should be $115,000 instead of the $120,000 that was approved.

For more information about salaries for public employees, you can go to the BND’s public pay database at bnd.com.

Goals for Signal Hill

As he heads into his first school year with Signal Hill, Bohnenstiehl said he wants to reach out to the community on the west side of Belleville.

Bohnenstiehl plans to convene informal S.P.A.R.K. meetings each quarter with parents and staff in the district that has about 350 students and 31 teachers. S.P.A.R.K. stands for Stakeholders, Parents, Advocates, Responsible for our Kids.

He also would like to have volunteers read to second-graders before school because research shows improving a child’s reading skills before the third-grade is important in their development.

Bohnenstiehl said one of his goals would be to, “Get as many people as we can into the building just so everyone sees what we’re doing so taxpayers understand what it is that goes on in a school on a day-in and day-out basis.”

BND reporter Lexi Cortes contributed information for this article.

BEHIND OUR REPORTING

Why did we report this story?

Janice Kunz retired in March as superintendent of Signal Hill School District after the state said she inadequately investigated how students were given copies of a state science test before they took the exam. We wanted to give Signal Hill parents, students and teachers information about Kelly Bohnenstiehl, the new superintendent.

Mike Koziatek joined the Belleville News-Democrat in 1998 as an assistant editor and is now a reporter covering the Belleville area. He graduated from Marquette University in Milwaukee and grew up in St. Louis.

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