Iroquois West defends performance

September 24, 2018

GILMAN — Schools in areas with greater poverty tend to have lower test scores.

The Iroquois West CUSD 10 is an example of that: About two-thirds of students are from low-income families, and the student body’s test scores are on the low end compared with nearby districts.

Last week, Gilman resident Bob Kramer spoke to the school board and presented figures showing the district’s weakness on academic measurements. He urged the board to hold off on its plans to build a new high school and focus on improving scores.

“I know a new school campus would be nice, but of much greater importance to the families in the district, to families considering moving into this area and especially to the students, is the quality of education that we are providing them right now,” he said in a statement to the board. “We are not only failing; we are the worst school system in the area.”

Kramer pointed to statistics showing the percentage of students from a few area districts who are college-ready. Iroquois West was lowest at 33 percent. Cissna Park CUSD 6 is, by contrast, 76 percent, and the state average is 51 percent.

The proportion of low-income students is 64 percent in Iroquois West. On the other end of the spectrum, the Crescent-Iroquois CUSD 249 is at 25 percent.

Kramer has made his case in other venues in the district, including to the Gilman City Council.

In an interview, Linda Dvorak, the district’s superintendent, disagreed with Kramer. She noted the low-income rate and said 71 percent of all Iroquois County English-as-a-second-language students go to Iroquois West.

And Dvorak said the students at Nexus YFS residential center for troubled youths are considered within the district’s boundaries for statistical purposes. Their scores tend to bring down the district’s because of the challenges they face, she said.

Dvorak said the district has no influence over Nexus students’ success.

“We never see them,” she said, adding the district has good relations with Nexus’ administration.

To properly analyze districts, one must look at subgroups and see how schools are addressing their issues, Dvorak said. Iroquois West’s subgroups, she said, are showing growth in their performance.

“(Low-income students) don’t have the facilities and structure at home to do their homework,” Dvorak said. “They’re wondering where they will sleep at night or where their next meal will come from. In some cases, they have to work to support their family.”

She said the district is proud of what it is doing and that Kramer is playing a “blame and shame” game.

As for the new high school, the district has held three community meetings and the recommendation was to build a new campus, Dvorak said. The existing school building is 96 years old.

“We want to look at this methodically,” Dvorak said. “What kind of land do we need? What kind of infrastructure is available? Where do we want to put it? We have four towns where we can put it.”

The district would need to go to voters to borrow money for the new school. A referendum might be held in April, Dvorak said.

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