Illinois Public Media News
Spokespersons for the Champaign and Urbana school districts say there's more to learning progress than just one standardized test.
Both Unit Four and District 116 failed to meet Adequate Yearly Progress overall in standardized test scores released by the state on Monday. Yankee Ridge in Urbana and Bottenfield in Champaign were the only two elementary schools that managed to make AYP.
An Urbana schools administrator says state standardized test scores are only responsible for a small portion of improvements at his district. With Yankee Ridge Elementary making Adequate Yearly Progress under No Child Left Behind, 85-percent of students met or exceeded federal standards this year.
Urbana Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Don Owen said by relying on one test, Adequate Yearly progress and federal standards fail to account for student progress over time, or the growth of advanced placement classes in areas like science and social studies.
Owen said he hopes the re-authorization of No Child Left Behind looks at areas like student growth for years, and other areas he feels the federal act doesn't address well.
"Are my kids learning, and are they progressing at an appropriate rate, so when they're out of high school, are they going to be ready for either college or a career?" he said. "I don't think a simple multiple choice test tells much as a parent about my child's ability to do that."
Meanwhile, A spokeswoman for the Champaign School District maintains the focus is more on continued monitoring of students than the scores on one state exam. Bottenfield Elementary made Adequate Yearly progress, while four other grade schools made AYP in math. Unit 4's Lynn Peisker said the focus is on forward progress.
"That's our concern is that students are learning," she said. "The focus is on student learning every day. Not just one week in March. We take that test very seriously. We look at the results very closely. No doubt there will be some adjustments made. But the real focus is on student learning every day of the year."
Peisker noted that the target is moving for AYP as the standards go up. She also said 77 percent met or exceeded federal standards, and the goal by 2014 will be 100 percent.
Peisker said Champaign schools will develop common course standards over the next few years, which focus more on teaching and learning rather than testing and scoring.
The Champaign Police Department has released a two-hour video from the high-speed traffic pursuit and arrest of 18-year-old Calvin Miller on Oct. 24, 2011,
Police say the only thing edited out of the video is Miller stating his social security number for police. The footage comes from several different police car dash cameras that show multiple angles of the pursuit. It starts off with police tailing Miller's van for about two minutes until the teen's vehicle stops in front of a house.
Police say the van destroyed the front porch of a home. Miller then jumped out of the vehicle on the intersection of Greenbrier and Arcadia and fled from the van, out of camera range. Within a few seconds, microphones attached to police officers' uniforms picked up the sound of Miller evidently being subdued.
OFFICER: Get your hands right here. Don't spit on any one of us. MILLER: I'm not going to spit on you officer ...if you could just give me some water. OFFICER: We don't have any water. MILLER: Officer, please....officer please. OFFICER: We don't have any water with us. MILLER: OK. OFFICER: Stand still.
After the confrontation, one of the officers on the scene asked Miller why he ran.
"He just told me to," Miller replied.
It is not clear from the audio who 'he' refers to or whether Miller reached for the officer's duty belt as police have claimed. Calvin's father, Martel Miller, has said that he never told his son to run from police. Speaking to other media outlets after the release of the video, Miller admits his son broke traffic rules, but contends that he shouldn't have been beaten by police officers.
Another thing that is not clear is how Miller was subdued. Police say Miller was pepper sprayed and struck with an officer's hand. The teen's father has said his son was sprayed with mace, struck repeatedly on the face, head and ankle, and hit with a baton.
Both police and Miller supporters are expected to address the issue at Tuesday night's Champaign City Council meeting, which starts at 7pm at the City Building.
(With additional reporting from The Associated Press)
Three days after winning the World Series, St. Louis Cardinals manager Tony La Russa is retiring.
The 67-year-old manager announced his retirement at a news conference Monday at Busch Stadium.
"I have no regrets about looking at them and saying, I did the best I could and the numbers are what they are," he said. "Could a better manager have won more games? Yeah. He's better and he could have won more, but they got my best shot."
La Russa has the most wins as a manager in Cardinals history, and is third on the all-time baseball wins list, behind Connie Mack and John McGraw. The World Series win over Texas was the third of La Russa's 33-year career. The manager guided the Cardinals to the championship despite losing ace starter Adam Wainwright for the season in spring training and despite being 10 1/2 games behind Atlanta on Aug. 25.
In addition to this season, he won championships in Oakland in 1989 and St. Louis in 2006. LaRussa also managed the Chicago White Sox from 1979 to 1986, winning the American League West division title in 1983.
La Russa said both general manager John Mozeliak and owner Bill DeWitt Jr. asked him several times as the Cardinals made a thrilling late season and playoff run if he was sure about his decision. He says he never wavered.
"You gotta look in the mirror, and I know if that I came back I would be coming back for the wrong reasons and I couldn't do that," he said.
La Russa says he is a bit nervous about the unknown, but says he might own a minor league team or open a bookstore. Team officials say they have not set a timetable by which they'd like to hire a new manager.
(AP Photo/Ed Betz)
Exelon Corporation is testing its emergency response plan this week in DeWitt County.
On Wednesday, county and state government officials are testing the Clinton Nuclear Power Station to make sure proper notification and actions take place under certain scenarios.
Illinois Emergency Management Agency spokeswoman Patti Thompson says there are four levels of emergency declarations at nuclear power plants, and crews will progress through each of them in these exercises. But she says personnel won't know about the setup ahead of time.
"We never know exactly what the scenario will be, we just know that there will be some type of events simulated that we all need to react to," said Thompson. "Then we are judged by the Federal Emergency Management Agency as to how we demonstrate our ability to respond under those conditions."
Thompson says usually, safeguards would be in place to prevent an emergency from occurring, but Exelon will take officials through all four stages.
Thompson says this is considered a full-scale exercise, with participation from Exelon, and all levels of government, with emergency personnel from not only DeWitt County, but Macon, Piatt, and McLean counties, but also a number of state agencies. The test will also have radiological field teams conducting samples of soil and vegetation.
Federal officials will report their findings in Clinton on Friday at DeWitt County's Emergency Operations Center.
Starting Monday, Oct. 31, the Champaign County Housing authority will begin accepting applications from people who want to be included on a waiting list for its Section 8 housing voucher program.
Housing authority executive director Edward Bland said the last time people could apply to be on the list was in 2007. The agency has received about $10 million from the federal government to support existing vouchers. He said there's no time line for when the next batch of vouchers will be available.
"The purpose of opening up the waiting list is to have future applicants available, so as vouchers become available in the future we will have a pool of qualified applicants to issue those vouchers to," Bland explained. "Those vouchers could be new vouchers that we may receive or they could be existing vouchers from a family (that) no longer needs that voucher."
Bland said participants will be considered for a voucher based on a number of factors, including their income level and criminal history. He said if more than 400 people sign up to make it on the list, then participants will be selected through a lottery system. The enrollment period to apply ends Nov. 14, 2011.
Applications for the voucher program can be picked up at the following locations:
Champaign County Regional Planning Commission - 1776 E. Washington, Urbana
Housing Authority of Champaign County - 205 W. Park Avenue, Champaign
Illinois Work Net Center - 1307 N. Mattis Avenue, Champaign
Oscar Street Place - 1202 E. Harding Street, Urbana
Rantoul Community Center - 520 E. Wabash, Rantoul
Refugee Center - 302 S. Birch Street, Urbana
Restoration Urbana Ministries - 1213 Parkland Court, Champaign
Salvation Army - 2212 N. Market, Champaign
Skelton Place - 302 S. Second Street, Champaign
The Times Center - 70 E. Washington, Champaign
Washington Square - 108 W. Washington, Champaign
The opportunity to get on the Section 8 waiting list comes less than week after the release of preliminary results from a homeless survey by the group C-U at Home. The organization interviewed around 300 homeless people in Champaign, Urbana, and Rantoul, and identified about a third of them as being vulnerable to dying on the street. Each person's situation was based on the Vulnerability Index, a tool developed by researchers at Boston's Healthcare for the Homeless.
John Smith was one of about 80 volunteers who interviewed the homeless, asking questions about physical and mental health, history of substance abuse, and time living on the street.
"It was amazing that the empathy that the volunteers felt from talking with the homeless doing the surveys, and the reverse," Smith said. "We saw the homeless appreciative that somebody would listen to their story."
The study was part of a national effort to find housing for 100,000 vulnerable people across the county within the next couple of years. Melany Jackson, the project coordinator for C-U at Home, said she plans to take the information collected from the survey in Champaign County, and find housing for a half a dozen people by the end of next year.
"There aren't nearly enough beds," Jackson said. "There aren't nearly enough support services for folks who are in desperate need. Many of them are falling through the cracks. They're falling through the cracks of the system that does exist."
According to the United Way of Champaign County, homelessness is on the rise with an estimated 418 individuals in Champaign County without a stable place to live at any given time. Jackson said her organization will work with churches and other faith-based groups to connect people with a place to live.
(Reported by Azra Halilovic)
The solidarity group Occupy Champaign-Urbana organized a demonstration Saturday afternoon in downtown Champaign. More than a dozen people met at the corner of Neil and Main to protest corporate policies and political inequality.
That's compared to the 300 people who attended the march and rally in West Side Park a couple weeks ago. Saturday's event was part of a series of smaller demonstrations the group is organizing in Champaign County. The demonstrators held signs and handed out fliers with details about their group and ways to get involved. The group is in solidarity with the anti-Wall Street movements that have erupted across the nation and globe.
The demonstrators included students, working class citizens, and retirees. While they have personal motives for participating in the demonstration, they are all seeking economic reform and greater political representation.
Pat Dewal of Champaign is a retired resident who became involved with the Occupy movement about three weeks ago. Dewal said she would like to see less corporate involvement in politics.
"I just have a lot of concerns about what's happening in our country and how much things have been in decline," she said. "I think it's time for citizens to speak up and do something."
Dewalt added that most people who organize and attend the events are on the political left, but that the group welcomes people of all political ideologies.
"Only a few Libertarians have been involved," she said. "It would be nice to hear more conservative voices. They would be enthusiastically welcome."
As cars stopped at streetlights, Eric Burton of Champaign approached them to hand out the group's fliers. He was there with his wife and child, and said he would like to see the government do a better a job representing families.
"I'm a working class citizen of this country," he said. "We can barely afford health insurance. I work about 70 hours a week between jobs and we just get by. And so that's my own personal impetus to be involved. I think it's more about a perception of what's right and wrong."
Other people at the demonstration expressed frustration with the role of lobbyists and the influence of money in politics. They hope to have a better and more diverse turnout at their future events. Organizers plan to hold a similar demonstration Tuesday at noon at the University of Illinois ' Urbana campus.
(Photo by Azra Halilovic)
Champaign's Police union says some members of the community are rushing to judgment on this week's arrest of 18-year old Calvin Miller.
In a press release issued by the state's Fraternal Order of Police Labor Council, the union mentions the events of Monday's early morning hours, when police say the teen ran red lights, ran over a curb, and his van struck the front of a house after exiting the vehicle. Miller then reportedly ran on foot, and struggled with police before the arrest. The incident has led to angry comments from local activists, including Martel Miller, the teen's father, who claims police beat the teen repeatedly.
The FOP says it's encouraging all citizens of the city, and especially elected officials, to withhold judgment until all of the facts and circumstances have been released. The union says it's 'confident they will demonstrate that use of force was appropriate and reasonable under both department policy and the law.'
Champaign Police Chief R.T. Finney says officials with his department will likely address the city council on Tuesday night.
If legislation to use local funds for the salaries of Illinois' regional school superintendents can pass it two weeks, one of those officials says it should be enough.
Jane Quinlan is the superintendent for Champaign and Ford Counties. She says it's a little hard to tell what the overall amount in personal property replacement tax will be, but Quinlan says anticipated Department of Revenue figures for Fiscal 2012 appear to be slightly better than last year, and would cover areas vetoed by Governor Pat Quinn. The bill failed Thursday by four votes, but is expected to come up for another vote in two weeks.
Quinlan says she holds out hope for this measure.
"We do have funding to pay for the staff that provides the services and programs that we have," she said. "I think the question is out there about 'how do those services (function) without the regional superintendent, who has the authority to execute those?"
If the bill doesn't pass when lawmakers return to Springfield November 8th, Quinlan says each regional superintendent and their assistant will have to take a hard look at their options, which may include retirement. She says it's unrealistic for these officials to work a few months more without pay.
Quinn eliminated the money for the superintendents and their assistants in July because he says the state can't afford the $11 million.
State Senator Shane Cultra says the bill that failed Thursday is likely the only one that will be considered on this issue when legislators return to Springfield. The Onarga Republican says he's all for restoring these salaries, but not with the personal property replacement tax. The measure needed 71 votes to pass, but failed 59-to-55 in the House.
Cultra says this issue lies in the hands of Democratic House Speaker Mike Madigan, who isn't directly impacted, since Cook County has no regional superintendents.
"He's basically letting us fight over how we're going to pay them, and who we're going to take the money from" said Cultra. "Somebody's going to get hurt. Is it the superintendents, or is it going to be local units of government? So I don't like that discussion. I don't think it should be that way. But unfortunately, that's what we're stuck with."
Cultra says lawmakers should have been allowed to override Governor Pat Quinn's veto of those salaries, and take the funds out of general state revenue. The bill that failed was put on 'postponed consideration', meaning the sponsor can drum up support before bringing it up for another vote. The fall veto session continues November 8th.
It's been more than two years since Illinois American Water last filed for a rate hike. Now, the company is asking state regulators for a big enough increase to generate an additional $38 million statewide.
Getting approval for a rate increase is a slow process, and Illinois American's Chris Bacon says it may be 11 months before the Illinois Commerce Commission rules on their request. Bacon says about 70% of the money they're seeking would pay for new infrastructure.
In Illinois American's Champaign District, Bacon says their latest major project not covered by the current rate structure was an upgrade to their Mattis Avenue water treatment center in Champaign.
"The U-S EPA had made some recommendations in regards to our treatment center", says Bacon. "We always had high quality water, and maintained EPA standards with our water. But they did have some suggestions for our treatment plant, to make some upgrades. And we've complied with that."
But Bacon says the larger part of the money sought for the Champaign District would pay for replacing aging water mains.
"There are a couple of areas in Pesotum (along) Oak Street and then also on Coler Street (in Urbana) that we were looking to do some basic main replacement", says Bacon. "What those projects do is help improve customer service, reliability and fire flows for our existing customers in those areas."
In the Pontiac District, Illinois American says the requested increase would pay for new fire hydrants, valves and meters, as well as new water main. A project at the water treatment plant located along the Vermilion River includes additional flood protection.
In the Champaign District, Illinois American's requested rate increase would come out to about $7.21 for the average residential customer --- that same customer in the Pontiac District would pay $7.06 a month more. Rate hikes would differ in other service areas around the state --- and the ICC might decide to approve an increase lower than what Illinois American Water has filed for.
Belleville-based Illinois American Water is a subsidiary of American Water, based in Vorhees, N.J.
(Reported by Dan Petrella of CU-CitizenAccess)
When public health officials conducted a routine inspection of Quizno's in Urbana last month, they discovered 12 critical health-code violations.
They included a "bag of brown lettuce found soaking in liquid in [the] walk-in cooler;" vegetables, cheese and salad dressings stored at improper temperatures; and employees cleaning cutting boards and knives without a proper sanitizer. When inspection was finished Quizno's had scored a negative 22 on the district's 100-point grading scale.
As a result, inspectors from the Champaign-Urbana Public Health District suspended Quizno's health permit on Sept. 26 and temporarily closed the restaurant at 114 N. Vine St.
Quizno's was just one of 27 Champaign County restaurants that failed routine health inspections from mid-April through September, according to records obtained from the public health district through the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.
Eating establishments fail health inspections when they score below 36. The public health district suspends their permits if they receive a negative score, if they fail a mandatory re-inspection after failing a routine inspection, or if there are code violations that present an imminent risk to diners' health.
An employee who answered the phone at Quizno's last week said the owner, listed on inspection records as Bhargavkumar Patel, is out of the country until November and no one else could comment on the inspection results.
Three days after Quizno's permit was suspended, health officials returned for a re-inspection, and the restaurant was allowed to reopen after showing it was up to health standards. During the Sept. 29 re-inspection, the restaurant had no critical violations and scored 90 out of 100 points, according to the public health district report.
Restaurants are routinely inspected because unsanitary conditions can lead to food-borne illnesses such as salmonella, E. coli and Hepatitis A. Symptoms of food-borne illnesses - which can resemble the intestinal flu - include abdominal cramps, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, fever and dehydration, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Quizno's wasn't the only restaurant to receive a negative inspection score during the past five months.
Luna, an upscale eatery in the former train station at Chestnut Street and University Avenue in Champaign, received a score of negative 15 on its Sept. 14 inspection.
Inspectors noted 10 critical health-code violations, including a "container of moldy mousse found in dessert reach-in cooler," an employee wiping his hands on his apron and not washing them while preparing food, and dishes being washed without the proper concentration of chlorine sanitizer.
The restaurant's permit was suspended and it was temporarily closed that afternoon. Following re-inspections on Sept. 15 and 16, Luna reopened. No critical violations were found during the last inspection, and the restaurant had raised its score to 85 out of 100.
Reached by phone last week, owner Raquel Aikman declined to discuss the inspections.
"I really can't comment," she said. "There's more involved than meets the eye."
Of the 27 restaurants that failed inspections from mid-April through September, 11 had previously failed at least once since April 2007, according to public health district records. They were Cravings, Das Café, Fat City Bar & Grill, First Wok, Golden Wok, Home of Gourmet, Mandarin Wok, Old Chicago Pasta & Pizza, Subway on Daniel Street, Woori Jib and Zelma's.
During the past five and a half months, three restaurants failed both a routine inspection and the subsequent reinspection, resulting in a temporary suspension of their health permits: Blues BBQ, Minneci's Ristorante and Woori Jib.
The following restaurants also failed: AnSun, Bevande Coffee Shop, Destihl Restaurant & Brew Works, Green Jade Chinese Restaurant, Hardee's, Kamakura Japanese Restaurant, Kofusion, Perkins Restaurant & Bakery, Spoon House, Strawberry Fields, Urbana Garden Restaurant and Xinh Xinh Café.
As CU-CitizenAccess reported last month, the district currently does not publicize the results of restaurant inspections in any form. Therefore, Freedom of Information requests are the only way to get an overall picture of how local restaurants fare on health inspections.
A previous review of records from April 2007 through mid-April of this year showed that one in 10 restaurants in the county had failed at least one inspection during that time. Some eateries failed up to five times. (The full story can be read here.)
In other nearby counties, the information is more readily available, with inspection scores posted online or letter grades posted in restaurants.
Since 2008, Champaign County public health officials have said they want to make reports from the 1,300 inspections they conduct each year available to the public on a website, but they still have not done so. Currently, they plan to have the information online in January.
This week, Jim Roberts, who oversees the district's inspection program, said that is still the goal.
As of Thursday, he had not received a draft of the plan from the software contractor that the county hired to handle its inspection database.
"I have not received a draft to review and test for accuracy, comments, or functions," he wrote in an email.
The website is being created for the district by Garrison Enterprises, a North Carolina company that specializes in the development of affordable web-based solutions for government.
Following the CU-CitizenAccess investigation, the Champaign County Board of Health last month discussed other options for making inspection information more available to the public. But board members decided to wait to see what recommendations come out of a national food-safety conference in April.
As a public service in the meantime, CU-CitizenAccess has created an online map of Champaign County restaurants that have failed inspections since April 2007 and plans to update the map monthly. (See map in sidebar.)
But to do so, the public health district requires CU-CitizenAccess to file a new freedom of information request each month.
"As we track each request by number, it would work best for the District's recordkeeping if you were to submit a request each time you were interested in receiving the information," Patricia Robinson, the district's FOIA officer, wrote in response to a request to set up a routine method for obtaining the records.
She added, "The Public Access Counselor at the Illinois Attorney General's office has ruled that submitting reports on a routine basis without the need of the requestor submitting a request each time is not a requirement of the Freedom of Information Act.
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