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D-427 OKs teacher's assistants contract

SYCAMORE – The Sycamore School District 427 board Tuesday approved a two-year contract agreement with its paraeducator staff members.

Superintendent Kathy Countryman called the negotiations for paraeducators, otherwise known as teacher’s aides or assistants, “very collegial.” The district started negotiations last spring with the Sycamore Education Support Staff Association, which represents more than 70 members.

There is no salary increase for the first year of the contract and a 1.5 percent salary increase in the second year of the contract. Countryman said the contract allows a variety of professional development opportunities.

“Any time you ask employees for no salary increase, it’s difficult,” she said following the unanimous board vote. “It was very collegial in nature.”

Countryman said the lack of a salary increase during the first year wasn’t solely because of the district’s projected $2.6 million deficit, but it was a factor in keeping spending under control.

In other business, one of the district’s new administrators updated the board on how she’s spent the last two months delving into her specialty – the district’s curriculum.

Kristine Webster, the district’s curriculum director, said at Tuesday’s meeting that she has learned a lot about the district in her first 60 days on the job. She has spent most of her time meeting teachers, principals and parents, and observing the curriculum.

"It’s one thing to see it in a book … but it’s equally as important to see it in action in the classroom,” Webster said, pointing out her role isn’t to evaluate teachers, but the materials they are teaching.

In her observations, Webster said Sycamore has a high-performing district, and students’ scores have plateaued the past few years. She also said the district already has good materials, plans and initiatives in place.

“My goal is not to add any initiatives this year,” she said. "We have a lot of things in place right now. At the end of the year, I want to look at what's working and what's not working."

Webster said she also plans to review the way the district assesses its curriculum and make sure it provides them with useful information. She also wants to make sure district data and benchmarking information are presented in a user-friendly fashion so it can inform teacher instruction.

Board member Steve Nelson encouraged Webster to further explore strengthening the district's relationship with Kishwaukee College, especially when it comes to dual credits and distance learning initiatives.

Webster said another goal of hers is to collaborate with other districts within and outside of DeKalb County.

Board member Donald Clayberg also suggested that Webster get acquainted with the Kishwaukee Education Consortium because programs such as aviation training, attract Sycamore students.

"It's very important to see those students who are involved in high-tech programs," he said.

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