Site Visit Report

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					                              Prairie Crossing Charter School
                                         Onsite Visit
                           Thursday and Friday, September 4-5, 2003

Visit Context

On Thursday and Friday, September 4-5, 2003, Prairie Crossing Charter School (PCCS) was
visited by Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) staff, including Janet Allison, Richard
Carlson, Marcia Kelley, Jo Ann Price, Donna Schertz, and Pearl Schneider. The purpose of the
visit was to obtain factual information about the operation of the school as well as feedback from
teachers, parents, and others on their level of satisfaction with the school. PCCS was also
evaluated for compliance with the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) during
this monitoring visit.

Formal interviews were conducted with Executive Director Dr. Linda Brazdil, Principal Katie
Reynolds, Office Manager Carol Demski, acting Board President Vicky Ranney, and former
Board member Bob Helle. Interviews were also conducted with various teachers and surveys
were sent to parents of students with disabilities. Written documentation was reviewed onsite
and copies of documents were obtained for the school file at ISBE.

Visit Results


PCCS is located at 1571 Jones Point Road in Grayslake and draws students from Woodland
District 50 and Fremont District 79 (District 50 and District 79). PCCS currently occupies space
in three buildings: the Wright Schoolhouse, the Kennicott Building and the Byron Colby Barn.
The classrooms are well maintained, clean, and colorful. Artwork and class projects are
displayed within classrooms and in the hallways. A playground is available for student
recreation purposes and a working farm for school projects is within walking distance. Due to
continuing growth, the school plans to construct a new classroom facility by August 2004.
Future construction of an additional classroom facility and gymnasium is planned as funding

The site was inspected before occupancy was permitted in 1999. Staff from the Lake County
Regional Office of Education inspects this school on a regular basis. The latest visit to the
school was in March 2002 with no violations noted at that time. Lake County ROE staff is
scheduled to visit again in the fall of 2003.


PCCS presently serves students from kindergarten through sixth grade. According to its 2002
Illinois School Report Card, the student population is 88.7% White, 1.9% Black, 3.8 % Hispanic
and 5.7 % Asian/Pacific Islander. The racial and ethnic make-up of this student population is

more reflective of Fremont’s than Woodland’s. The school does not have any students from
low-income families or with limited English proficiency needs. The school prides itself on its
small class sizes and low staff to student ratios.

This school year, PCCS reports 262 students enrolled. Of these, 222 come from Woodland, 39
are from Fremont, and 1 student attends on a tuition basis from outside both districts. This
enrollment is consistent with the 85% Woodland/15% Fremont student population pattern since
the school opened. Beginning with grades kindergarten through second, the school has added a
grade each year and this year serves students through sixth grade. Seventy-seven of the students
(about 30%) live in the Prairie Crossing subdivision, including 28 who received sibling
preference in enrollment. With the addition of seventh and eighth grades in the next two years,
the school will reach its planned capacity and grade span.

Due to the location of the facility within the Prairie Crossing residential community, enrollments
and waiting lists were examined closely to document that no enrollment preference was given to
Prairie Crossing residents. Results of enrollment lotteries for each year were examined and no
irregularities were found. Fifty-eight percent of PCCS kindergarten applicants for 2002-2003
were on the waiting list, with only forty-two percent accepted for enrollment. Some openings
were available at the fifth grade level in 2003-2004 with no waiting list; therefore, an out-of-
district student was accepted on a tuition basis.

Financial Information

Fundraising efforts in the next few years will be extensive as construction of the new facilities
occurs. The Executive Director is responsible for writing grant applications to private
foundations and working with governing board members in local fundraising efforts. Mr. Bob
Helle, former Board member, is the chief contact for construction financing. The first phase of
construction creates classroom space for all grades served by school (K – 8). The second phase
allows for the construction of an additional facility to house labs, music rooms, and library, as
well as the acquisition of the Kennicott and Wright buildings currently in use. All financing for
the projects is subject to an independent appraisal of the land and current buildings as well as
bank approval. Contingency plans are in place to secure classroom space at an adjacent church
should there be a delay in the completion of construction by Fall 2004.

The financial information provided to ISBE reflects a balanced budget - contingent upon the
success of fundraising efforts. PCCS states that should the fundraising efforts be less successful
than anticipated, contingency plans have been prepared to ensure the continued operation of the
school. This includes the provision to increase class sizes to 24. The school appears to be
economically sound.

Accountability and Assessment

PCCS submits annual progress reports. These reports have included information on academic
progress, environmental units, instructional practices, and parent involvement. The ISAT results

have shown consistently high student performance in 2000-2001 and 2001-2002. Combined
Meets/Exceeds percentages were 96% and 95%, respectively. The combined Meets/Exceeds for
District 50 for the same years are 75% and 76%. Those for District 79 were 82% both years.

In addition to ISAT, classroom level assessments are identified that are aligned to the


The PCCS curriculum addresses all fundamental learning areas in grades K – 6. The appropriate
curriculum is added when new grade levels are added. PCCS curriculum has a combination of
integrated units and core subjects focusing on the environment. The integrated and thematic
units are well-developed and aligned to the Illinois Learning Standards.


The issue of whether or not Prairie Crossing has employed teachers who are certified or qualified
according to the Charter Schools Law arose during the course of the onsite visit. A review of
files indicates one teacher has a teaching certificate from Texas but has not yet taken and passed
the tests of basic skills and subject matter knowledge required by Section 21-1a of the School
Code (105 ILCS 5/21-1a) and Section 27A-10(c) of the Charter Schools Law. The school must
address this issue immediately by requiring this teacher to take and pass the required tests at the
next available testing period.

Accounting Procedures

ISBE staff interviewed Carol Demski, the school’s office manager. She explained the
accounting procedures in place including the requirement for prior approval for purchases, the
requirement for documentation for staff/parent reimbursement, and the requirement for two
signatures on all checks for amounts over $5,000. She displayed the computerized bookkeeping
system and current accounts. She explained the process by which bills are approved for payment
and displayed relevant documentation. The accounts recorded a positive balance.

Ms. Demski also tracks student attendance daily for reporting to ISBE and demonstrated for
ISBE visitors the system used by the school.


Teachers report to the principal; the principal reports to the executive director; and the executive
director reports to the Board of Directors. The office manager reports to both the principal and
the executive director. Purchases must be approved by the executive director prior to

The Advisory Board was referenced in the renewal proposal though no information concerning
its makeup and function was included. During interviews with school personnel, ISBE staff
ascertained that the Advisory Board is an ad hoc committee with membership determined by the
expertise of individuals that addresses a particular need of the Board of Directors.

Board minutes for the last year of operation were provided for review. It was noted in the Board
minutes of January 21, 2003, and February 18, 2003, that the acting Board President, Victoria
Post Ranney, recused herself from the meeting at those times when property issues were
discussed in order to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. The minutes of November
19, 2002, seem to indicate that Ms. Ranney was present during the discussion of negotiations
with Prairie Holdings. (Ms. Ranney’s husband, George A. Ranney, is Chairman of the Prairie
Holdings Development Corporation, from which property will be purchased for the new facility.)
Although there had been some concerns expressed by parents about whether or not the meetings
were held in accordance with the Open Meetings Act, staff did not see any documentation to
support these claims.

PCCS is subject to the Freedom of Information Act (“FOIA”). Via its website, the school
provides the public with information such as Board meeting minutes, its renewal proposal, and
applications. During the site visit, the issue of whether monetary donations are subject to public
inspection under the FOIA arose. Thus, it appears that while Prairie Crossing voluntarily
provides information on its website, the school is still developing its knowledge on FOIA.


Approximately 85% of the students ride to school in car pools or walk or ride bicycles. The
remainder are dropped off by their parents. The operation of the car pools is conducted by
parents. The school provides contact information to facilitate this operation when requested. To
date, there have been no complaints to ISBE that the lack of transportation has been a barrier to
enrollment. The renewal proposal indicates that a transportation stipend will be provided if
necessary, but such stipends are not in the proposed budget. An after-school care program is
offered for a fee to parents who are unable to pick up students by the end of the school day.

Special Education

The Special Education Services Division has reviewed the charter renewal application of PCCS
and has completed a monitoring visit to the school site. PCCS provided services to 30 students
with disabilities from the total population of 221 students enrolled during the 2002-2003 school
year. A system for the identification of students with disabilities and the provision of special
education services for them was verified.

Some instances of noncompliance were noted and are summarized below:
   • Employment of a Director of Special Education.
   • Provision of technical assistance supervision for the Special Education teacher(s).
   • Establishment of written policies and procedures governing Special Education.
   • Establishment of a formal referral process.

   •  Implementation of procedures for evaluation and IEP development as required by
A more detailed report of Special Education compliance will be provided under separate cover.

Recent developments were noted that increased the school’s capacity to address the needs of
students with disabilities. A full time Special Education teacher was hired and began work on
August 18, 2003, to meet the increasing needs of students with disabilities. PCCS’s inclusion
philosophy mandates services to a variety of disabled children within the general curriculum.
Related Services are provided during and after the school day. The Special Education Services
Division anticipates cooperation and successful implementation of corrective actions by the

Special Education Issues raised by District 50
District 50 raised questions regarding PCCS’s provision of Special Education services under the
Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA). The following concerns are listed in the
order presented using the state regulation citations the District provided.

   •   23 Illinois Administrative Code, Part 226.50 provision of Free Appropriate Public
       Education (FAPE)
       Documentation provided to ISBE from PCCS indicated that FAPE is being provided and
       good faith attempts were made to provide services to students chosen for enrollment by
       the lottery system.

   •   23 Illinois Administrative Code, Part 226.300 (Continuum of Services)
       PCCS has expanded its ability to provide special education services through employment
       of a full time special education teacher. Attempts to obtain services from outside sources
       were documented.

   •   23 Illinois Administrative Code, Part 226.700 (c) (Integral Part of School Day)
       PCCS contracts for related services with certified personnel. Related services are
       provided during the regular school day and after school hours.

   •   23 Illinois Administrative Code, Part 226.700 (d)(4) (Comprehensive Program)
       23 Illinois Administrative Code, Part 226.800 (g) (Full Time Director)
       23 Illinois Administrative Code, Part 226.710 (a) (Policies and Procedures)
       The requirement for providing a Director of Special Education, supervisory technical
       assistance and written policies and procedures were findings by ISBE.

   •   23 Illinois Administrative Code, Part 226.730 (Caseload/Class Size)
       Documentation indicated no evidence of violations in this area.

   •   23 Illinois Administrative Code, Part 226.150 (Case Study – Nondiscriminatory)
       PCCS has been successful in obtaining the appropriate necessary personnel to provide
       evaluations. It is anticipated that the school will continue to provide required services in
       the future.

•   23 Illinois Administrative Code, Part 226.750 (Additional Services)
    Documentation reflected consideration of additional services by the IEP team.

•   Other Concern(s):
    Documentation indicated that pre-referral activities at PCCS include informal
    assessments administered by the classroom teachers to all students. Individual
    evaluations performed by the school psychologist were only provided after informed
    parental consent was obtained.