By EDWARD HUSAR
Herald-Whig Staff Writer
Interim Superintendent Cal Lee, whose 100-day contract with the Quincy School District expires at the end of next week, offered a "state of the schools" report at Wednesday night's School Board meeting.
Lee said one of his goals when he arrived in Quincy in September was to observe the operations of local schools and give the board his own "systems analysis" along with some recommendations for improvements.
While delivering his electronic presentation in the round room at Baldwin Intermediate School, Lee generally gave teachers, administrators and board members high marks for providing a quality education despite being handcuffed by limited financial resources.
"In the four months that I've been here, I've identified an awful lot of positives in this district," he said. "There are a lot of good things going on, a lot of amazing things going on."
Lee said the district has been delivering a solid education even while the school board has been forced in recent years to make budget cuts and other hard-line financial decisions that have affected students.
He noted that teacher salaries in Quincy average $46,865 compared with the statewide average of $66,614, based on the district's 2012 school report card data. Meanwhile, Quincy administrators earn $92,710 compared with the state average of $110,870.
Lee said Quincy's salary levels rank at or near the bottom among the largest unit school districts in Illinois, yet the education provided in Quincy is still of a high caliber, even though student test scores have plateaued in recent years.
"You're getting a lot of bang for your buck," he said. "When you look at test scores -- considering what they (local educators) have and what they're working with -- they're doing a heck of a job."
Lee said he analyzed the district's finances and sought the opinion of an impartial school financial expert. They then tried to come up with some suggestions for strengthening Quincy's financial outlook.
"But everything we thought of, you (school board members) had either thought of and you've done it, or you can't do it, or you've already looked at it. So kudos to this district for doing that."
Lee said the school board at times appears to focus too much attention on finances at the expense of other important topics.
"Because of all the conversation about finances, you don't talk a lot about kids at the board level," he said.
He recommended the board begin devoting a certain amount of time at each monthly meeting on curriculum matters, instructional issues or student achievement.
Lee also urged the board to develop, implement and complete a "strategic plan" to help guide the district, with parents and other community stakeholders having a voice in the plan's development.
Lee urged the board to consider the possibility of restructuring the local school system -- a topic that's been discussed many times but invariably shelved because of financial constraints.
Lee said one of his priorities would be to move the ninth grade out of Quincy Junior High and put those students in a traditional setting for grades 9-12 at Quincy High School. He feels student achievement would improve for ninth-graders if they were in a more conventional high school setting than having grades 7-9 clustered together, as they are now.
Lee suggested the district develop a long-range facilities plan to serve as a blueprint for future school construction. He noted that some bonds will be paid off within the next few years, giving the district the opportunity to use its bonding authority, with voter approval, to carry out some possible construction of one or more new schools.
Lee said he would encourage the district to provide more modern technological tools for students. He is encouraged to see the district starting to implement a wireless Internet structure within the district's schools, thanks to the help of the Knapheide Manufacturing Co., which is providing technical expertise and funding.
Lee encouraged the board to seek out "equitable and alternative funding resources" to help the district sustain itself financially in the future. However, he said the board should consider asking for "the R word" -- referendum -- "only as a last resort."
Lee said Quincy is facing many challenges, including a rising poverty level among students, decreases in funding and staffing, the need to implement the "common core" educational standards and new testing protocols, and an influx of new leadership at the highest levels of the district's administration as well as the school board, which will have three new members after the April elections.
Lee feels Quincy will weather these challenges well as long as local leaders keep students at the forefront of their decisions.
"It you make every decision in the context of how it will affect students and achievement, we're well on the way to doing it the right way," he said.