The school board at Proviso Township’s District 209 high schools got unhappy news July 14 about student participation in the district’s summer school program — more than half the students enrolled in online courses didn’t finish.
Kim Echols, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction, told the board that students would have until Oct. 1 to finish their online credit recovery. Echols said APEX computer software had been tweaked to increase the “rigor” of online classes: Students could no longer skip ahead to quizzes and tests, but had to complete lesson modules in sequence.
But the change had unintended consequences: Of 523 students enrolled, 303 didn’t finish. Of 291 Proviso West students who started the program, a total of 143 completed the coursework, and 148 stopped. Proviso East students fared even worse: 232 students took summer school, but only 77 finished the course and 155 gave up.
This is not the first Proviso summer school glitch with the APEX program. In 2013, about 50 students somehow gained access to codes which allowed them to take online final exams outside of school hours and, in some cases, finish an entire six-week class in three or four days.
APEX is also being used for credit recovery for 60 students in the district’s two evening school programs, overseen by administrators from West 40 Intermediate Service Center.
The district’s six-week summer school program was held at Proviso East, and the district spent $56,000 on portable air coolers for the building. A large percentage of students took classes on laptops purchased specifically for the summer school program. Tracy Avant-Bey, director of information technology, told the board at its May meeting that though the laptops were purchased for summer school, they would be absorbed for later use in the school. Parents paid $100 per half-credit for students to attend summer school.
The board asked Echols to re-evaluate the program, including the use of the APEX program. Dan Adams, a school board member, asked why the district couldn’t go back to having teachers teach summer school. But member Theresa McKelvey pointed out online classes are here to stay, and are common in college level work.
Kevin McDermott, a board member, was also frustrated by the report. “[APEX], as we’re implementing it, is not working as we want it to,” McDermott said after the meeting. “We can’t afford to wait a year to try something new.”
APEX Learning charges the district $70 per student license, plus other administrative costs. The district has paid between $60,000 and 80,000 for the program in past years. The district’s contract with APEX was on the July 14 agenda, but the board put off voting because the contract had been inadvertently left out of the board book.
Alexis Wallace, a former Proviso West principal, was attending the meeting and criticized the APEX program during public comments. Wallace urged the district to look at other options such as online courses offered by Brigham Young University and the 118-year-old American School.
Del Galdo law firm stays put
Perhaps because member Claudia Medina was out of the country, the board voted in a 3 to 3 tie on a proposal to issue a request for proposals (RFP) for legal services. Before the vote, school board president Theresa Kelly said the RFP would “set a precedent that we need an RFP for everything we do.”
The vote means Del Galdo Law Group will continue with the district’s legal work. The Berwyn firm, led by Michael Del Galdo, represents seven other school boards, and more than 40 municipalities.
Veteran members Dan Adams, Brain Cross and Theresa McKelvey all voted against issuing an RFP to bid out legal services, while Kelly, Vice President Kevin McDermott and Secretary Ned Wagner voted yay.
Proviso East football coach out
In a 4 to 2 vote, the board did not renew the $8,119 contract of Proviso East Head Football Coach David Odom. Odom, a former lawyer whose Illinois law license is currently inactive, coached the team through a lackluster season, but earned praise for paying for food and supplies for players out of his own pocket.
Odom had been part of a failed proposal with Kelly’s support to attract donors to replace the artificial turf and bleachers at Proviso East. The board and Odom squabbled over who would pay for the $2,500 purchase of a “coaches uniform” delivered to his home. The district’s Financial Oversight Panel rejected the expense, and Odom ultimately reimbursed the district.
Kelly and Wagner voted to retain Odom. Kelly praised him saying he “brought in money for the students over and beyond the call of duty.”
“It will be a tremendous loss if we dismiss this person,” she said.