The meeting of the Illinois School for the Visually Impaired Advisory Council came to order on September 6, 2022, at about 9:00 am, via zoom. In attendance were Council Chair, Mark Peters; Councilpersons Molly Pasley, Kirsten Krueger, Mary Jane Bradbury, and Becky Patton. First up were introductions of the board members, beginning with Mark Peters, who introduced himself as Board Chair and alumni of ISV I, then Mary Jane Bradbury introduced herself saying she has worked mostly in higher education for the two colleges in Jacksonville, and most recently was Executive Director of Pathway. She said she was the new kid on the block and was very excited to being a part of this. Next Molly Pasley introduced herself, stating that she was a professor at Northern Illinois University, and that she had worked as a teacher of the visually impaired and was a certified orientation and mobility specialist in public schools in Illinois as well as having some field work for ISBE. Becky Patton introduced herself. Mary is the statewide coordinator for the blind and deaf for DCFS. Last, Kirsten Krueger comes to ISVI Advisory from Eastern Illinois University
The agenda and minutes of the last meeting did not get disseminated. There were no conflicts of interest at this meeting.
Superintendent Veith gave her report. She said one of the biggest changes on campus this year are the locked doors for obvious reasons. ISVI had looked at key fob systems in the past, but technology really had not caught up to our fear for leaving any of our students outside if the fob wasn't working, or in increment weather and the student lost their fob. The fob system may do more harm than good. But technology has evolved and we're working with a One Lock company and the State, and we hope to be starting our lock project by the end of the week. She said that while that does take a significant chunk of the budget, safety of our student is paramount. She said for now we have humans standing at the doors between classes to be sure each student is where they are supposed to be and there's a sign in Braille that says there's a doorbell at all the doors that you use to get in as well. The State is looking at whether we place security officer or police officer or some other kind security at doors, so that's to be determined. We've been working with an anti-terrorism group; our local police and local emergency management and they are all supportive of our increase in security. Whether that person will be armed is yet to be determined. Other questions to be answered are what kind of power that person would have, how many shifts do we need, how many buildings do we truly need this type of security at, where do we place that person for the best security. We have 11 buildings and 17 and a half acres so most often, most of you know that kids are in the main building and so we have worked to see could we place floating desk and does that harm any easement for egress for fire or anything like that. L So far, so good. It looks like we could place a small desk that's moveable. We have options and we must meet with labor, leadership, and Secretary's office, abut costs and things like that. So, we are moving forward. We will have updated our safety plan. We've worked on a threat assessment plan and we're working with local emergency management on setting up a drill for active shooter. It will be either at ISD or ISVI, that's yet to be determined and it will be in the spring. So, it might be something you guys may want to come and watch, and you are certain welcome to do so, you may even be asked to play a role. Superintendent Veith said she has been working with Phil McCarthy who is the local emergency management person here from Morgan and he has been awesome to work with. She said he helped to formulate this plan to help us be sure no student was left outside for any length of time. She said Indiana School for the Blind, and Tennessee School for the Blind is doing this as well. She said she has been in talks with them about what kind of doors they chose for what reasons and locks versus fobs. It all looks very promising except for cost, it's a big hit to our budget. But it's worth it if we save even one life if something like this were to happen. She went on to explain that they considered fencing. She said in the past there was a fence around campus until about the 1950's. Fences were removed due to the stigma of this kind of fencing, indicating it looked like a prison or insane asylum, things like that. However, after talking with local emergency personnel and Jacksonville PD, it was determined the fencing would not likely help. Even though some blind staff members were in favor of a fence, after the research that the fence would not likely deter someone entering campus and the perception of some of our constituents as well as stakeholder, at this time we will not be installing a fence. She said there was a big fence project going on, so she didn't want to confuse anyone. She said we've always had a fence on 3 sides because of trains that go through several times a day, some businesses, and other things. IF we did ever decide to fence the entire campus it wouldn't be that much. Superintendent Veith told the group ISVI was getting a new security camera upgrade. She said currently there were about 42 different kinds of cameras on campus but that would increase to about 80. She said video would be in color and very vivid. She said we will be able to watch on screen in real time, but she would be able to watch off site as well. She said JPD and JFD will have access to the cameras as well. She said we could set up a command center at ISD or wherever we needed to be depending on the circumstances at the time.
Superintendent Veith began reporting on personnel. She explained the new system of Success Factor for hiring in Illinois now. She explained that's a 3rd party company working the department that does hiring and recruitment. She said you fill out your application for a new position through the portal ran by this 3rd party vendor, Success Factor. Initially, only a few titles were being hired through this process to kind of get the bugs worked out. Recently, they threw all the titles in at once, when we were only working with about 10 titles in that portal. She said we had 6 open positions for educators that did not get through the portal, and we are hopeful that they will get posted at some point very soon. Most of the openings are in CTE, though we do have TVI positions open too. The likelihood we will get a teacher if they post a job in October is pretty slim when you're looking for educators. But if you know of any December graduates we could ask to wait until November to post. She said getting recruitment and hiring to work with a school schedule has always been difficult. She said Success Factor does post to places like LinkedIn and other places people are looking for work. She said there are several positions that do not require an interview. She said RCWs are on that list, but RCW Trainees are not. She said we would be trying to go the route of RCW Trainee program as well. ISD does have a trainee program for their RCWs. She said a trainee program will insure that RCWs will have some training before becoming an RCW. This will ensure that they truly understand what they are getting into as far as understanding how to work with blind students. You must like kids, or you shouldn't be here. There will still be a job description, but it won't say what our mission is because it non-interview. She said Stationary Engineer is non interview. She said teachers is not one of them which is good. But it will be interesting to see how it works though out the State. A question was asked about how many people we had to guard our campus to which Superintendent Veith replied three, so we must increase our staff. She said we need to determine what kind of staff we are going to get, are we looking at officers or are we looking at some sort of armed guard, which we have pretty much eliminated that. We would prefer a school resource officer. They've had more training in working with students and they can also work with kids who are struggling with discipline and kind of counsel them better to kind of keep them on the right track. There are a lot of things a school resource officer can do that a regular security service cannot do for us, so that would be our hope that we can get something like that. She said schools in Jacksonville have them.
Superintendent Veith told the group that right now attendance is at 61 students, so we are up a little bit from last spring. There are four or five more kids we hope will be joining us. Although last year's new preschool was exciting news, we had two little preschoolers. Sadly, this year they became kindergartners and no preschoolers followed them. In January there are a couple of little ones turning 3 so we may reopen that class in January. Currently our preschool teacher is filling a position in middle school. She said she did have a plan if that happens for staffing.
Superintendent Veith told the group we thought for a while we had another O&M person, but things did not work out and that person is now in Kansas. We still have our one O&M instructor though. Our education liaison position is still vacant.
Superintendent Veith told the group that we did implement a new online plan book this year. She said some schools had been using it for a while but now it's accessible to our staff. So now we can post lesson plans to parents in real time, not just in Google classroom, so they will have access to that.
Superintendent Veith said the Education Reform Act gives them another year before they must do educator performance evaluations because of covid. So that time is being used to focus on the Leader in Me which began last year. She said we are also under a COGNIA review for our accreditation this year so they will likely be here in May. So, this first semester we are working on and making sure we have all our artifacts and things that they need to rad uploaded into a portal. You must have those 4-6 weeks in advance. It's our goal to have it all done by January 31, then they will have plenty of time to read it before they come. We are hopeful they come the last part of April. All statewide testing is the first part of May. She said this year will be very different, much will be done through zoom. She said we do every five years, and we are always one of the first. She said it's a very robust program. We will have a coach that works with you and it's a constant meeting throughout the next five years. She said she felt it was better this way and more in line with Danielson and the PERA Reform Act in Illinois and the things that we're being taught to be reflective.
Moving on to CTE Superintendent Veith said she had her first meeting on Friday, and they start to spend down their grants and start getting in more job shadowing opportunities. We are excited that the kids can go back out into the community and work this year. She told the group about a new initiative rolling out this year on campus much like LinkedIn and is fully accessible to help kids find resources for help finding a job if they choose. We are also looking for more innovative kinds of job placements.
Superintendent Veith told the group the PTO is up and running. We lost our PTO President, Tracy, who had been President of the PTO for 24 years. But we did get a new President and the first meeting is this Thursday. She said in the past usually it was her, Tracy and maybe one other parent attending the meetings, but now we have about 10-12 people on a zoom screen from all over the state and we've even had to get a Spanish interpreter. We had parents coming in who did not feel meetings were accessible to them in the past, and now they're excited to be there.
Superintendent Veith said in the last two years we have hired two totally deaf employees. She said it's been a fascinating change for our current staff and morale. So, this summer we offered some basic sign language courses to the dietary as the housekeeping, because those are the areas those people work and one of our staff members is deaf/blind, so that's been another interesting thing that we had worked with but with current technology we think we can make it a good transition for that person. She said fortunately we are in Jacksonville where there are several interpreters and they have not been too hard to get a hold of. When asked if there were deaf/blind students on campus Superintendent said we have ab out 6 students that are technically labeled deaf/blind right now. But they are not totally blind or totally deaf, it's just where they function currently. Their vision impacts them more than their deafness, so we attend classes here. Between both campuses we service 12-15 students who blind/deaf.
Superintendent Veith said that in the Residential Department we are still using one room per kid, nobody has roommates. We are watching that to be sure we keep up with all the mitigations. As far as bathrooms we have Jack and Jill bathrooms. So, when you use the bathroom, you leave the light on when done and an RCW goes in and cleans after you. We are still dealing with covid and currently have already had three educators out with it as well as some dorm staff and students. She said we still have a covid wing that staffed with Favorite nurses. There we can isolate kids if necessary. We are still working with Emergency Management and our Infection Control doctors to stay in front of Monkey Pox. She said it is unfortunately very real and getting closer to student population. We are on top of it, and we have our cleaning protocols and other mitigations in place in the event that were to happen on campus. But students are very excited about being able to go off campus to the movies, to restaurants, to the Croc Center, those kinds of things. The kids were feeling very sheltered and not in a good way. Not being able to go out into the community and use the skills they learned to be more independent, which is one of the main reasons they came here. It was hard. The students will be attending and participating in a couple of parades, one with Illinois College and one with Routt. Our kids have not been in a parade for several years. Unfortunately, MacMurray closed so they will not be having one. So those are some of the exciting things our students are doing. We have a full staff of RCWs right now. We have one RCW temporarily assigned to be an accountant, so I guess technically we are down one. A couple of RCWs will retire this year but then we will have that training program that we talked about in place so there's time to have a full staff. During the shutdown the RCWs were home and were receiving training every day so we have lots of training available to us. Our Director of Residential Services Malinda Pollard literally has 18 months' worth of training she can pull from for our training program.
Moving on to legal updates Superintendent Veith said with PERA the joint committee decided we weren't going to do anyone who wasn't new or hadn't already been deemed proficient or excellent. As far as covid, we are keeping up with all our mitigations that we had in place other than masking. Social distancing is no longer enforced but we can quickly pivot to that if the numbers get too high.
Superintendent Veith told the group that we are an e-learning school and would be reviewing the e-learning plan again. She said the union did not have a lot of changes as far as e-learning. She said a plan is on file and we can use up to the five emergency days that a school might have had. We build those days into our calendars so if a big snow happens again this year, we are ready to go and can pivot to e-learning. She said for example for Labor Day we have kids take their laptops home and other devices, so they are ready to go, and we practice that. Our students know how to get into google classroom and things like that. She said if there was a flood over the weekend or the air conditioning died here, or monkey pox became a problem we are ready.
She said the safety plan was big focus of our summer as administrators. We have had some drills already and we will do a lockdown drill this year or this week. They are all announced as they are in all schools now. She said new legislation passed last year that said you had to make drills announced. It was determined unannounced drills caused more trauma than the concern of an actual event.
Mrs. Veith said the only thing left to discuss was meeting dates. She explained that we want to try and work around everyone. After some discussion it was determined that Tuesday, January 10, 2023, at 9 am would be best for the next meeting then April 11, 2023, July 11, 2023, and October 10, 2023, all at 9 am.
When asked about Cognia, Superintendent Veith explained that Cognia used to be known as AdvancED. It's a nationwide consortium and they accredidate schools. They look your curriculum, your stakeholders, your facilities, lesson planning. They observe classrooms and talk to students to be sure you are meeting your goals as a school. Then they give us feedback on these things. She said there are about 46 different areas on a rubric they look at.
Council person Million said it was unacceptable the way the State is so slow in getting people hired. She offered to contact CD Davidsmeyer and other politicians to help move the process along. She said you have probably already been doing that but I'm happy to support that if it would be of assistance. Superintendent Veith suggested waiting until January to see if things with this new process was better. If in January it hasn't improved, we may go a different route. They say that once this system gets up and running, they will be able to onboard new staff in 30 days from the point of posting to interviewing and getting a person hired so we will see if they can deliver on that promise.
Superintendent Veith was congratulated for the uptick in enrollment. She said they are seeing the same thing at ISD. She parents realized during the shutdown what their child wasn't getting in parts of our State. She said that's what we are seeing are people coming from underserved parts of the state. She said have discussed what it would look like if we offered some sort of online supports for other parts of the State that under served for maybe kids that don't want to come to us yet. Other states have used a similar model, Tennessee, California, and Oregon. So, we're investigating that and trying to figure it. She said here kids with Four Rivers is getting services from a teacher who sits in Atlanta Georgia every day. So, we've thought what we could do if we could free up one teacher for half a day, could we impact those kids who need that in person. She said it's very hard to learn Braille online and O&M on zoom. She said Four Rivers hasn't had O&M position filled for nearly 10 years, so we are trying to help fulfill that need. She said we go to Pittsfield to see some kids now.
Superintendent Veith closed the meeting by inviting council members to tour the campus and observe a classroom. The meeting adjourned at about 10:15 am