Frequently Asked Questions about North Mac
Click a topic below to access a list of questions and answers concerning that topic.
How long has North Mac been in existence?
The North Mac school district was formed on July 1, 2010. It is comprised of the former Virden and Girard School Districts.
Which grades attend which schools, and where are the schools located?
Beginning with the 2014-15 school year, students in kindergarten through second grade attend North Mac Elementary in Virden. Students in grades 3-8 attend the North Mac Intermediate and Middle School in Girard, and high school students attend North Mac High School in Virden. Preschool classes are offered for North Mac residents at both North Mac Elementary and North Mac Intermediate and Middle School.
Where are the basic facts and statistics regarding North Mac located?
All Illinois public schools and school districts are issued a report card by the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) each year. These report cards are available online at www.illinoisreportcard.com. You may enter the name of any school or school district in Illinois to search. North Mac posts the most current At a Glance Report Card on its website under the District Report Cards button on the Main Page.
What is the source for the information contained on the school report card?
Information for the report card comes from the state database on public schools and students called the Student Information System (SIS), financial reports filed with the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), program information entered by school district staff, and results from the state’s administration of the 5Essentials Survey.
How can I learn more about North Mac Schools?
Each school and its staff have webpages linked to the district webpage located at www.northmacschools.org. In addition, the district has a Facebook page named North Mac CUSD #34.
How do parents know if North Mac students are learning?
North Mac students receive quarterly report cards and take a series of standard assessments each year. Students in grades K-8 take what are called benchmark tests in reading and math to measure their growth against a set standard three times a year. Middle and high school students take teacher-created pretests and posttests to demonstrate their learning. Students in grades 3-8 take state assessments (PARCC) in English and math. In 2015 high school students in Algebra II and English III took the state assessments (PARCC) as well. High school juniors take the ACT (state funding for 2016 is unknown at this time).
What benchmark assessments are used in North Mac?
K-2 students take AimsWeb, the Development Reading Assessment (DRA), and Lead21 and EveryDay math unit tests to show academic growth.
3-8 students take Scholastic Reading Inventory and the Scholastic Math Inventory.
9-12 students take course pretests and posttests. Additional information comes from the Explore and Plan tests given to students in grades 9 and 10.
How are grades determined?
Report card grades or marks are based upon all of the activities that happen in a particular course or subject. Grades reflect performance on tests, quizzes, homework assignments, projects, class participation and may include extra credit at the teacher’s discretion.
Does North Mac retain (hold back) students?
Board Policy 6:280 does not allow social promotion. Students must meet the criteria listed in the Student and Family Handbook 2015-16 in order to be promoted to the next grade.
Does North Mac offer dual credit and Advanced Placement courses?
High school students have the opportunity to take dual credit courses (college credit through Lincoln Land Community College and offered at the high school). Students and parents should ask the guidance counselor for additional information about dual credit courses. If accepted by the college or university, dual credit courses taken in high school can count towards college graduation.
Who decides what is taught in North Mac classrooms?
Illinois adopted new English Language Arts (ELA) and Math Learning Standards in June 2010 and Next Generation Science Standards in February 2014 (http://isbe.net/common_core/default.htm) to replace the original 1997 Illinois Learning Standards. In addition, Illinois has state-specific educational standards for early childhood, fine arts, foreign language, physical development and health, science, social emotional, and social science (http://isbe.net/ils/Default.htm).
Illinois law requires public school districts to teach the Illinois Learning Standards. Since 1997, the Illinois Learning Standards (and now the 2010 and 2014 new standards) have served as the curriculum guide or list of goals and expectations for what students are to learn. The North Mac School Board has adopted policy to meet this legal requirement (Curriculum Development 6.40).
North Mac teachers are expected, individually and through department or grade level collaborative work, to match their teaching and planning to ensuring all students acquire the knowledge and skills outlined in the Illinois Learning Standards. Teachers develop curriculum maps, pacing guides, and daily lessons to deliver instruction aligned to standards.
What does standards-based or standards-aligned education mean?
Standards-based education is a way of planning, delivering, and improving teaching and learning by using clearly defined academic content standards (student knowledge and skills). In standards-based education, standards help to ensure that students learn what is important, rather than allowing textbooks to dictate classroom instruction. Student learning is the focus of standards-based education.
Does North Mac use the Common Core Standards? How are they different from the old Illinois Learning Standards?
Yes, North Mac uses the Common Core State Standards, also called the New Illinois Learning Standards for Math and English Language Arts and the Next Generation Science Standards, since they were adopted for state-wide implementation in 2010 and 2014, respectively. New law passed by the Illinois Legislature in 2014 allows the Illinois State Board of Education to “adopt standards for use in all Illinois public schools” and requires school districts, wishing to access state and federal funding to align teaching to the state standards.
The new standards have greater rigor than the previous state standards, and they are more focused on how students will apply learning in life past graduation. In English language arts, for example, reading passages include more non-fiction reading, and students are asked to research and write more often. In math, the greatest shift is that the standards have narrowed what students are going to be asked to know and be able to understand. Also, at the high school level, all students will be expected to have a foundation in algebra, geometry, and statistical thinking. New science standards now include the use of technology, critical thinking, and analytical skills. Students are asked to move beyond memorizing facts and definitions and use science knowledge to solve real problems. In addition, hands-on science is introduced to students at an earlier age.
Additional information on the New Illinois Learning Standards is available at http://isbe.net/common_core/default.htm
What is the difference between a curriculum guide, a curriculum map and a pacing guide? Which does North Mac use?
A curriculum guide is a list of state standards, divided by subject and grade or age level, which students are to master. Curriculum maps and pacing guides are calendar-based methods to assist teachers in organizing their daily lessons. More in-depth information about curriculum mapping is available at the Mid-Continent Comprehensive Center (http://www.mc3edsupport.org/community/knowledgebases/Project-13.htm).
In Illinois, the Illinois Learning Standards serve as the curriculum guides for our schools. All Illinois Learning Standards can be viewed at http://isbe.net/ils/Default.htm and accessed through the Resources links on the right hand side of the screen. North Mac teachers have been working both individually and by teams to develop curriculum maps and pacing guides over the past three years to provide a framework for daily classroom instruction.
What is an intervention?
An intervention is additional, targeted, specific instruction provided to students whose assessment reports show need extra assistance. Students may only need this targeted instruction for a short amount of time to master a particular skill. Interventions may be provided by the classroom teacher, a teacher’s aide, or a volunteer under the direction of a teacher. Twenty years ago, an intervention might have been called extra help, extra practice, or remedial teaching.
Does North Mac have textbooks?
Yes, North Mac schools and students have textbooks. Many of these textbooks, in conjunction with a variety of supplemental materials, allow innovative teachers to implement the new learning standards. Since 2008 the state of Illinois has discontinued the textbook funding program for schools and further reduced other state revenue sources which has disrupted support for the traditional Textbook Review Cycle with large-scale series and program adoptions that many parents and teachers were accustomed to seeing. In the 2014-15 school budget, North Mac allocated $95,000 for textbooks for students, with additional funding provided for Title I intervention materials of approximately $20,000. For 2015-16, North Mac anticipates spending approximately $100,000 for textbooks.
Many districts are moving to online or eTextbooks. In addition, more open source textbooks and learning materials (e.g. www.ck-12.org, www.clrn.org ) are available online each year. As North Mac staff progresses in its development of curriculum maps, we will have a clear understanding of what instructional resources we need to make informed purchasing decisions (traditional textbooks or digital or hybrid).
In addition, North Mac uses $25,000 of federal grant funding each year to provide online subscriptions for teachers to use in their classrooms through such software and applications as Lead 21 and EveryDay math online, Brain Pop, Accelerated Reader, and Starfall. North Mac teachers and media specialists have located many free web-based curricular resources as well.
Do students in North Mac have access to computers and other technology?
Yes. All instructional classrooms in the district have Interactive White Boards. Each school has computer labs. However, the technology status of the district is challenging for classroom teachers. In 2013, the Area V Learning Technology Center conducted a full technology audit of the district and provided a report and recommendations to the Board of Education (North Mac Technology Audit Report).
The District has a Five Year Technology Plan and is working through the recommendations of the Technology Audit Report. The recent award of $168,000 in eRate funding will allow for continued wiring and access upgrades. Grant funds and generous donations from private individuals and corporations are used to supplement local funds whenever possible to provide newer and more technology for students. The North Mac Intermediate and Middle School received 96 mobile tablets for student use for the 2014-15 school year.
What is SASED?
The Sangamon Area Special Education District is a special education cooperative that serves 13 school districts in Sangamon, Menard, Macoupin and Cass Counties. Districts included are: A-C Central, Athens, Auburn, Greenview, New Berlin Community Unit #16, North Mac, Pawnee, Pleasant Plains, PORTA, Riverton, Tri-City, Virginia, and Williamsville. SASED was established July 1, 1967. The cooperative serves a public school enrollment of over 10,000 students.
Why does North Mac belong to SASED instead of hiring its own special education teachers and staff?
Smaller districts join cooperatives in order to share resources in order to offer a more comprehensive array of special education services for our students. Depending upon the needs of the individual student, those services may be offered within North Mac schools or within cooperative programs such as those offered at SASED Central School or through smaller, regional cooperative efforts between districts. In the past few years, students from neighboring districts have attended North Mac schools for specialized behavior programs and North Mac students have attended other districts for community based education programs. When an individual district within the cooperative does not have enough students to offer a program, a good solution has been to work together to meet the needs of the students.
In the past few years, two districts (Rochester and Chatham) have grown to the point where they have withdrawn from the SASED cooperative. In addition, other districts within the cooperative have chosen to begin hiring their own special education teachers and paraprofessionals either through an immediate conversion or through attrition. Cooperative member districts still share psychologists, social workers, administrators, occupational and physical therapists, and speech therapists under the district-staffed model.
For the North Mac district, remaining a member of the SASED cooperative provides many advantages. Recruiting and hiring of special education staff is done through the Springfield-based SASED Administrative Center. In cases where a part-time staff person is needed, the cooperative setting allows us to recruit a highly-skilled candidate because we are able to share staff between districts and create a full-time position. In addition, SASED provides technical assistance in applying for state and federal funding to support special education services for our students in addition to completing the many required reports and documents while holding administrative costs down.
Does North Mac follow state and federal law regarding educating students with disabilities?
Yes. North Mac received notice in Spring 2015 that it is in full compliance with state and federal law for its special education programming. Unfortunately, compliance with the state and federal law has not always been the case in North Mac.
In August 2011, the District received notice that it had been selected for Focused Monitoring by the Illinois State Board of Education for failure to include enough children with Individual Education Plans (IEPs) inside the general education class 80% or more of the day. As a result of that monitoring, the district held community meetings, hosted an ISBE monitoring team, and was required to submit evidence of immediate corrective action, an improvement plan, and provide ongoing progress reports regarding that improvement plan.
North Mac and SASED staff worked to complete and implement the required changes outlined by ISBE, and received notice in December of 2013 that the required Evidence of Change requirements had been met and the district was fully released from Focused Monitoring status. Annual reviews since that time continue to show North Mac meeting all legal requirements.
What does LRE mean and what are EE Codes?
LRE stands for least restrictive environment. Under federal law in public schools, “To the maximum extent appropriate, children with disabilities, including children in public or private institutions or other care facilities, are educated with children who are not disabled, and special classes, separate schooling, or other removal of children with disabilities from the regular educational environment occurs only when the nature or severity of the disability of a child is such that education in regular classes with the use of supplementary aids and services cannot be achieved satisfactorily.” We are charged to “include” students with disabilities in regular educational environments (EE).
The educational environment (EE) code is assigned to students based upon the % of their day thatis spent in regular versus special education settings. Illinois and federal goals for inclusion (traditionally called mainstreaming) challenge educators to stay focused upon the needs of the students in designing and delivering instructional services.
Why has North Mac spending on special education decreased in the past three years?
North Mac special education funding has remained a constant share of the overall school district budget since the first year of the North Mac consolidation. Special education spending in the North Mac district for 2010-2011, 2011-2012 and 2012-13 budgets accounted for 22% of the Education Fund budget. In 2013-14 special education funding was 20% of the Education Fund budget and in 2014-15 special education funding is projected to be 21% of the Education Fund budget. When a district has a smaller enrollment, costs may fluctuate widely depending upon the individual needs of students. For example,residential facilities typically charge between $110,000 to $120,000 per student per year and intensive day programs $40,000 per year. As students age out of the school district (school district services end at age 22) or respond to those intensive services and transition to non-residential facilities and less-intensive programs, costs can drop significantly.
In addition, careful attention has been placed upon the assignment of paraprofessionals and licensed staff so their time is spent providing direct instructional or behavioral services to students. Class sizes for special education direct instruction classes are also monitored to stay in compliance with state requirements.
How does a parent get an IEP (individual education plan) for his or her child?
A parent should start first by having a conversation with his or her child’s teacher regarding academic or social concerns. The teacher may have several ideas regarding extra practice that might help address a minor academic problem before it becomes a larger one. Parents should also make certain they receive report cards and standardized testing results for their child and to contact the teacher or principal if the reports are not matching their expectations. A request for an initial special education case study referral may be made by the parent by contacting the school principal. In addition, the teacher or principal may also initiate the referral process for a Team Review for students with learning concerns.
What can a parent do if he or she disagrees with a special education placement?
The Illinois State Board of Education offers a website with many resources for parents at http://www.isbe.net/spec-ed/html/topics.htm. In addition, a parent may request a dispute resolution.
Who decides who is hired in North Mac?
Ultimately, the Board of Education must vote on and approve every employee hired in the District. These recommendations come from the superintendent and are included in the monthly Board of Education meeting.
How are positions advertised?
Different positions are advertised in a variety of ways. Teaching and administrative positions may be posted on the Illinois Association of School Administrators Job Bank ( www.illinoiseducationjobbank.org) in addition to the district webpage through the Employment Opportunities link, and All Staff Email notification. Education support personnel positions (ESP) may be advertised in the local paper and posted on the district webpage or Facebook page. Extracurricular positions are first advertised through the district webpage and All Staff Email Notification. If needed to generate a pool of candidates, coaching positions have been advertised through IHSA networks and the Illinois Association of School Administrators Job Bank.
How are hiring recommendations determined?
For teacher, administrator, and education support personnel, application packets are submitted to the Unit Office. After the application deadline has passed, applications are reviewed and screened by the superintendent and the direct supervisor of the position to determine which applicants will be interviewed.
The direct supervisor has the responsibility to create the interview questions following legal requirements and determine the interview team membership. The direct supervisor schedules the interview times, oversees and participates in the interview process, and coordinates with the superintendent to bring forth a hiring recommendation for the Board of Education.
The superintendent or Board of Education may participate in the interview process, if desired. For example, all administrative position finalists advance to a final interview with all members of the Board of Education and superintendent. Other staff or community members with specialized knowledge or expertise may be asked to participate in the interview process. During the interview process for the new SASED administrator, for example, the superintendent and all North Mac principals participated in the interviews at the invitation of the SASED Director.
After a candidate has been selected, the direct supervisor may make an offer of employment, pending Board approval, to that candidate, and the superintendent will prepare a recommendation for the Board. However, should the Board of Education reject the superintendent’s recommendation, that candidate may not be hired.
What background checks are required for school personnel prior to employment?
School district employees must pass state and federal databases criminal background checks. Background check reports can take from 3-14 days to receive. In addition, employees must present proof of physical fitness signed by a physician in order to work in the district. Bus drivers must pass annual physical and drug screening tests to continue employment.
Why are volunteer coaches voted on by the Board of Education?
Unpaid volunteer coaches are voted on by the Board in order to acknowledge and authorize them to work directly with students. The recommendation and voting process also requires the athletic director and superintendent to verify required coaching certifications and background checks.
What process was used to hire the superintendent?
The North Mac Board of Education approved the hiring of the Consulting and Resource Group, Inc. to conduct the search for a new superintendent in 2011. This search firm had responsibility to develop materials and advertise the position, draft a series of screening questions based upon district-determined priorities, review applications, call and verify references, pre-interview candidates, and assist the Board of Education in developing its interview questions and protocols.
After screening of applicants was completed, the Consulting and Resource Group brought screened candidates for the Board to interview. All candidates were interviewed by the Board over the course of two sessions, and two finalists were selected by the Board. The two finalists were interviewed again by the Board of Education and one selected.
The Board voted 7-0 during a Special Board of Education meeting in November 2011 to extend a contract to the current superintendent.
What is FOIA and how long has Illinois had it?
Illinois has long had a Freedom of Information Act (1966); however, in 2009, the Illinois legislature passed Senate Bill 189, Public Act 096-0542 to strengthen the Freedom of Information Act. This law went into effect on January 1, 2010 and provides new tools and provisions to make certain the public has timely access to public records and public meetings.
Why do FOIA requests undergo legal review?
The FOIA law has a presumption that all information is public, unless the public body proves otherwise. There are several exemptions to public disclosure that include such things as private and personal information, information related to public location security, preliminary drafts or notes, business trade secrets, proposals and bids until a final selection is made, and requests that are “unduly burdensome.”
In addition, school districts have conflicting legal requirements to protect student privacy under the Federal Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA) and Illinois School Student Records Act (ISSRA) in addition to employee private and personal information (e.g. employee evaluations) as well as denying release of documents related to school district safety and security plans. Not all FOIA requests and documents must undergo legal review. However, many do because they contain requests for documents which appear to fall under the umbrella of student and employee privacy or safety.
Do FOIA requests and responses have to be posted on the webpage?
No. Illinois law requires the Board of Education President or superintendent to publicly update the entire Board of Education at its public meeting of current FOIA requests and the status of the response to those requests. No website log or posting of requests and responses is required.
Why doesn’t North Mac continue posting FOIA requests and responses as it did in September and October of 2014?
In response to the large number of FOIA requests related to the South Campus carbon monoxide leak in September of 2014, North Mac created a FOIA log and posted it and responsive documents, which were of manageable size, to the FOIA webpage in order to provide accurate and timely information to parents and community members.
However, as FOIA requests and responses continue, resources, including staff time and server space, have made maintaining and updating full requests and responses unduly burdensome for the district. Entries are now confined to the monthly report information given publicly to the Board of Education.