Springfield Public Schools has hired a retired canine handler to regularly search middle and high schools for drugs, bombs and guns, a move school officials say will serve as a deterrent to bringing contraband into the buildings and possibly avoid an evacuation when a bomb threat is received.
The school board last week hired former Springfield police officer Ron Howard, who retired in 2016 after 27 years, including 20 training police dogs and handlers.
Howard will be paid $25 per hour — the standard rate the district pays off-duty officers, said Jason Wind, director of school support.
Having dogs search lockers and school grounds is nothing new, according to Jon Filbrun, the district’s coordinator of security and safety.
Random searches have been conducted two to four times per year at middle and high schools, using dogs from the Springfield Police Department and Illinois Secretary of State Police.
But relying on outside agencies also means the district is subject to the agency’s availability, Filbrun said.
In the case of serious incidents — like multiple threats that caused four schools to be evacuated in October — that’s not a problem. But doing searches on a regular basis isn’t as feasible, he said.
“We had to depend on if the agency was able to pull officers away,” Filbrun said.
Wind said Howard and his dog will rotate through several buildings, typically working between two to four hours total per week.
The dog is trained to detect guns, drugs and bombs. Filbrun called the searches an “added preventative” to keeping contraband out of the buildings.
“We’re trying to be proactive,” he said. “We want kids to know the dog is going to be there searching for these things. Hopefully that will make kids think twice not to bring it to school.”
On Wednesday morning, Howard and Styxx, a 2 1/2-year-old Belgian Malinois he owns and trained, searched lockers at Grant Middle School, 1800 W. Monroe St.
The search, conducted while class was in session, lasted a little under an hour and covered most of the main floor and upstairs hallways. No contraband was found.
Wind said the times of the searches will vary, occurring during the school day, after hours or before students arrive in the morning.
During school hours, students in the part of the building where the dog is sniffing have to stay in the classroom, but those on a different floor can go into the hallway, Filbrun said, adding the dog will be kept on a leash and cars also could be searched.
Both Wind and Filbrun also said they do not believe the searches would disrupt classroom learning, noting during previous searches outside agencies brought in eight or nine dogs, forcing every student to remain in the classroom.
One out of five students in Springfield Public Schools was considered a chronic truant last school year, newly released education data shows.
Data on chronic truancy was part of a presentation superintendent Jennifer Gill and her staff gave Monday updating the school board on recently released state education data.
According to the Illinois State Board of Education, chronic truants are students who have nine or more unexcused absences throughout the school year.
In Springfield, the rate climbed from 17.7 percent in 2015-16 to 21 percent last school year. That’s higher than the state average of 11 percent.
In raw numbers provided Monday, 2,151 middle and high school students in Springfield were chronic truants in the 2016-17 school year. That’s up from 1,785 two school years ago.
Gill said chronic truancy is a problem the district is taking very seriously. She outlined several steps Monday the district is taking to address the problem.
But she also urged parents to make sure their child attends school.
“We really need to enlist the support of parents in getting their kids to school on time and throughout the entire day,” Gill said. “When students are chronic truants, it really puts them behind.”
Gill said Southeast High School added a truancy interventionist this year, giving the district two total (Lanphier High School already had one). The positions are paid for with federal Title I dollars.
A truancy interventionist calls and makes home visits when students don’t show up, but also works with the student to get back on track, she said.
“These are actual teachers on staff that help with truancy intervention and get kids in school and in the right programs,” Gill said.
In addition, Gill said, the district is pursuing a grant with the regional office of education to add interventionists at the middle schools. District 186 also has parent educators and outside mentors that work with students to help keep them in school and on track, she said.
Monday’s report also included information on attendance, graduation rate, test scores, percentage of freshman on track and number of students taking Advanced Placement courses.
All of the scores (with the exception of Advanced Placement) are available on illinoisreportcard.com.
SCHOOL-, DISTRICT-, AND STATE-LEVEL DATA AVAILABLE AT WWW.ILLINOISREPORTCARD.COM
The 2017 Interactive Illinois Report Card launched today at www.illinoisreportcard.com. The annual Illinois Report Card shows the performance and progress of schools, districts, and the state overall on a wide range of educational metrics. The Data Quality Campaign and the Education Commission of the States have praised the Illinois Report Card as comprehensive and easy to understand.
The Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) originally published the data on Oct. 31 on the Classic Report Card site. The data have not changed, as the data verification window closed prior to the PDF report cards publishing on Oct. 31.
Find additional data and information, including an assessments-only spreadsheet for all schools and districts, a glossary of Report Card terms, a FAQ, and a link to the Classic Report Card site at http://www.isbe.net/ilreportcarddata.
State-level data on the 2017 Illinois Report Card show students achieved gains in a number of indicators from the 2015-16 school year to the 2016-17 school year. Student outcomes improved in English language arts achievement on the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) assessment, the four-year graduation rate, college enrollment rates, Advanced Placement participation and success, the community college remediation rate, ninth-grade students on track to graduate, and eighth-grade students passing Algebra I.