Harmony-Emge School District 175 has a short agenda for its board meeting Wednesday, but opponents are already vocal about one vague entry.
The board will consider leasing building space at Ellis Elementary to Sequel, a move that is “not unusual,” says Superintendent Pam Leonard.
The school board has a special meeting at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday at its headquarters at Emge Junior High School board room, 7401 Westchester in Belleville.
Sequel Youth and Family Services bills itself as “a privately-owned company that develops and operates programs for people with behavioral, emotional, or physical challenges.” The company did not return calls seeking more information about its proposal for Ellis.
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Leonard said, “In creative and innovative school districts, this is what we do to make sure we serve all kids.”
She said students with behavior and learning disorders as well as students with other special needs could be educated in the building rather than transporting them elsewhere for services.
After the News-Democrat asked about the agenda and Sequel, Leonard sent a letter by email to district parents about the company and what it might do for the district. The letter stated, “Partnerships with business organizations can bring much-needed resources to our students without much cost, and can provide students with new ways to develop essential academic and social/emotional skills.”
The letter also said Sequel would hire and provide the teachers, administrators and social workers.
A handful of parents were upset that Ellis had moved the fourth grade to the Emge building, saying the move made room for special education students. Ellis had three fourth-grade classrooms in the 2014-2015 school year; Leonard said Sequel proposed to use two of them.
Leonard said the decision to make the Harmony Intermediate Center, which will be fourth, fifth and sixth grades, was made before and independently of the talks with Sequel.
She said Sequel would lease the classrooms. The Illinois State Board of Education would have to approve the program and approve the rate Sequel would charge Harmony for services, she said.
Sequel’s website shows that it has programs in several states; the only activity in Illinois is in Chicago.
Leonard said other agencies that Harmony partners with include the Illinois Math and Science Academy and AmeriCorps.
At the meeting Wednesday, the board is also expected to vote on the contract for Traci Kraemer to be an assistant principal at Ellis and Harmony.
She would split the duties with David Deets, who has been principal of Ellis for five years. Details of the schedule will be worked out in early July.
“When Mr. Deets is at one place, she will be at the other,” Leonard said.
Kraemer co-taught sixth grade last year as a special education teacher. She’s a big fan of co-taught classrooms, saying that both special and general education students benefit from having two teachers.
“We have an amazing co-taught program at Harmony ... the students see the equality among the teachers. Most (students) don’t know” that one teacher is a general education and the other is a special education, she said.
Kraemer has an elementary education degree from Southern Illinois University Edwardsville, then went on to Greenville College to get the special education endorsement. She also went on to get an educational administration master’s degree from SIUE.
She said co-taught classrooms — where general education students are in the same classrooms as special education students — are starting to become “more of a standard practice,” and Ellis and Emge schools have done it for some time.
“I think there’s such benefits to both,” she said, because special education students are mainstreamed and the general education students get more personal attention and have opportunities to connect with more teachers as well.
“I could go on and on about co-teaching, I think it’s such a positive benefit to those classrooms,” she said.
Kraemer has a special affinity for grades K-6.
“You get to watch your students grow over their entire elementary career, and you really start to see the building blocks and the energy and excitement.”
Kraemer lives in the Harmony district with her husband, a firefighter for the city of Belleville, and their 2-year-old son.