It is no secret that our nation’s education system faces some extremely challenging times. With globalization and technology rapidly rewriting the rules of the game, the needs of the 21st century workforce are far different than they were just a decade ago—and our schools must keep up with the times. The No Child Left Behind Act of 2001, intended to address some of the system’s shortcomings, has met with mixed success and no small amount
With approximately 45 school districts in the Tri-County Area, we were unable to speak with each one, due to space and time constraints. However, we were able to get extensive responses from seven area school districts for this roundtable. Read on for more about partnering with the business community, vocational/technical programs and thoughts on No Child Left Behind, as well as what’s new for the upcoming school year.
Deer Creek-Mackinaw District 701
Superintendent: Steve Yarnall
Dunlap District 323
Superintendent: Jeanne Williamson
Eureka District 140
Superintendent: Randy Crump
Limestone District 310
Superintendent: Kelly Funke
Metamora District 122
Superintendent: Kenneth Maurer
Morton District 709
Superintendent: Roger Kilpatrick
Peoria District 150
Superintendent: Ken Hinton
Enrollment figures are approximate.
Briefly describe what is new in your district for the upcoming school year.
Dee-Mack: We are completing phase one of a two-phase, major renovation ($5.43 million) to our high school building. In phase one, we will open eight new classrooms and two new science labs this August. Phase two is scheduled for completion in August 2009, with new offices, library/media and seven additional new classrooms.
Dunlap: The great expectation for the 2008-‘09 school year is the opening of a new, second middle school in August. After an 18-month construction project, Dunlap Valley Middle School will open on August 15th on Route 91. The new school has a community theme, with a Main Street, town square, food court and classrooms “in-house.” The classrooms on Main Street have storefront appearances—for example, the art class is an art gallery. The district closed the ‘07-‘08 school year with 750 students in the old middle school. Looking forward to the new school year, each middle school will hold about 400 students. By having two middle schools, the students will have expanded opportunities to play sports, participate in co-curricular activities and experience leadership programs.
Another exciting fall initiative is that Dunlap High School will be offering Arabic as a foreign language
course, continuing to broaden our horizon into this global society. The high school added Chinese
two years ago, and the district continues to embrace these unique offerings in the 21st century.
Eureka: We have just adopted a new, technology-enhanced reading/
language arts curriculum for grades K-5. Although we have the traditional reading textbooks that have been staples in the classroom, teachers, parents and students now have access to all reading and language arts materials online—at school and at home. Specifically, the online component includes CD-ROMs with all teacher materials, Read-Aloud Anthology books, writer companion books, text-to-speech for all student editions and leveled reading books.
Additionally, a new state-approved mentoring program is in its inaugural year, with the aim to support teachers new to District 140 and keep great teachers in our district. Increased special education reading materials using technology are stressed for the ‘08-‘09 school year. District
teachers will begin to use several forms of text-to-speech software programs to help support
struggling readers in grades K-12. Furthering the use of LEXILES
(www.lexile.com) will also be an initiative in our district to keep readers in the level that best speeds their learning.
Limestone: We will continue with our Air Force JROTC Program for the second year and Project Lead the Way (pre-engineering) for the third year. We are making many technological advancements throughout the building—we currently have three student computers and one teacher computer in every classroom, as well as six computer labs, and all are being upgraded. Over 30 classrooms will be equipped with LCD projectors permanently mounted to the ceilings.
Metamora: We are adding Project Lead the Way to our curriculum. We will be adding a “professional learning community” program. Teachers
will meet every other week for at least an hour to discuss common curriculum, goals, assessments and instruction to teach the curriculum. They will share their progress and discuss failures for the purpose of improving. The idea is that the teachers are the real experts. They need to share their successes, lessons and assessments.
Morton: One of the continuing initiatives that the district is implementing
includes our new assessment instrument called Measure of Academic Progress that we are continuing to develop in grades kindergarten through 8th. In addition, the district is expanding
the Response to Intervention services throughout grades K to 6 to provide more intensive educational
services to students at risk of falling behind their peers. In addition, the high school is redesigning a Student Assistance
Program to provide more intense educational services to those students in need.
Physically, the district is in the second year of modifying school facilities to provide air-conditioned classrooms at all of the schools. At the end of this summer, all classrooms at the elementary schools and the junior high will have air conditioned classrooms. The balance of the high school classrooms will be completed next year. The district is also installing a new athletic track at the high school and remodeling more of the classrooms at the high school and junior high.
Peoria: New this year on the primary level, teachers will spend every Wednesday afternoon collaborating at each grade level. This collaboration
is professional development based on research and best practices, and we project a very positive increase in student learning and achievement. We know it will redefine teaching and learning on that level—one of our main objectives—and we look forward to seeing how to carry this initiative over to other grade levels in the future.
We also plan to continue developing processes and procedures that will solicit positive student behavior, school safety and customer service on a district-wide level. Some of the biggest and most challenging
projects are mandated by the state. Restructuring at Manual High School and others have our staff and administration focused on standard aligned classrooms.
We will also continue to develop our benchmarking program, which will be in place throughout the district for the ’08-‘09 school year. Benchmarks allow each classroom teacher to actively track and individualize student progress throughout the year, allowing for quick and needed changes to student instruction. Another change will revamp administrator evaluations to performance-based assessment.
And, this fall, many of our teachers and staff will go through the Pacific Institute’s 21 Keys training as we look to develop a constructive
culture as our foundation.
We have a great start in developing partnerships with organizations
such as our community schools, businesses, Bradley and ICC, to help each individual student find his or her best career path. We also hope to expand opportunities for students by implementing more enriched and accelerated programs for our K-8 students. Many of our students were able to learn more globally this year than ever before through the Mandarin language program.
Finally, our PACES program continues to expand. This program is a partnership with the United Way focused on providing education and prevention for substance abuse, mental health issues and violence. Next year, we will have even more counselors to assist our students.
Describe how your district partners with the business community to enhance students’ "real world" experience.
Dee-Mack: Community support for the 2007 referendum was overwhelming
(2/3 vote to support the local construction). Additionally, our student co-op work program supports students working with local and regional employers, such as Caterpillar. This fall, we are also beginning a Life Skills curriculum for students with significant developmental disabilities
in order to keep our students here in their hometown school, as opposed to bussing them to other, larger programs.
Dunlap: During the junior year at Dunlap High School, each student has a “real world” experience. Each student declares an occupation that they have an interest in pursuing, then spends a day with an assigned mentor in the business world of the chosen occupation. Pairing each student with a mentor and scheduling the shadowing event between the student and the professional is a massive undertaking.
We have over 200 students in each junior class, so the coordination
with the business world is complex. The Greater Peoria Area has been very responsive to the initiative and helpful in placing each student in the “real world.”
Eureka: The staff at Eureka High School is very aware of the need to partner with local businesses due to the fact that many of our students stay in Eureka or ultimately return to the area to start their careers. We have an active school-to-career program, host job shadowing
through our guidance department for all seniors and hold a career week that brings many business people into the school to discuss their job responsibilities and benefits.
Limestone: We have four different co-op classes which allow students
to attend school and work. The different classes are focused on different areas in the workforce. As with other districts, we always utilize
guest speakers. LCHS also partners with Easter Seals and conducts one large fundraiser with the entire student body in the spring—raising
over $30,000 annually.
For more on District 150’s PLTW program, read the article from the March 2008 issue of iBi at peoriamagazines.com/ibi/2008/mar.
We have also worked with WMBD to coordinate our in-house TV studio, and we produce our own daily announcements locally. Many students now have an interest in communications or broadcasting because of their experience with our TV studio.
Metamora: We have a work co-op program run by teacher Katie James. We run a “Real World” program for our sophomores each year in which many area businesses participate.
Morton: Currently, through Project Lead the Way in the pre-engineering
program, the district has established business mentors who advise students on their individual projects. In addition, mentors review the projects as students develop their ideas and offer suggestions
to make them more valuable. The mentors also often serve as guest speakers for the school about career opportunities.
Through the district’s Tech Prep Committee, career awareness programs
are offered for the school in cooperation with local businesses and the Chamber of Commerce. In addition, freshmen are initiated in a career awareness program with local businesses. Through this project,
the students are provided a hypothetical budget to operate their business. Working with the local business, they then develop their allocation
for those resources to determine if they can actually sustain the business
Peoria: The business community’s involvement
in career fairs, job shadowing, co-op and internship placements are invaluable. Workforce development plays a significant
role in identifying
projected workforce needs five and 10 years into the future, which allows us to work with our community stakeholders
in developing educational
and career-focused programs to meet the expected needs.
has been extremely supportive in funding programs to address the shortage of engineers. At the high school level, this includes a pre-engineering
program called Project Lead the Way, and at the middle school level, Gateway to Technology.
Other programs supported by Caterpillar which create an interest in math and science are Destination Technology and First Robotics. Caterpillar employees often volunteer in these programs and serve as mentors for students interested in pursuing these fields. We are always looking for community
business partners that, like CAT and many others, will encourage their employees to be mentors to our students and provide speakers to talk to students about careers.
Peoria Public Schools is fortunate enough to have over 100 Adopt-A-School partners who function in a variety of ways to support
students. One partner has gone so far as to provide a mentor for students at Peoria Alternative High School while the students are in school. The partner’s group of mentors continues with their students as they enter post-secondary educational programs, which are paid for by the Adopt-A-School partner, Peoria North Rotary. The Chamber of Commerce is also a big partner in rallying the community and connecting
students with area businesses.
We recently implemented the Key Train program, which focuses on the second day of the state test called Work Keys, at two of our schools. Key Train has the potential to help students make the connection
between their career goals and the skills they need. Key Train looks at each student’s current skill level, and through the computer-generated self-paced program, students get help building skills to reach their career goals.
Of course, financial help always makes a difference in the classroom.
Partners like PSA-Dewberry help with collaborative grants for our pre-engineering program at Richwoods, while Affina provides the same type of support with our Cisco program at Woodruff. These businesses are just a couple that help us out in big ways. The more support we can get from local businesses and the community, the more opportunities our students will have to do remarkable things!
What vocational/technical programs are offered in your district for the non-college-bound?
Dee-Mack: We offer co-op work programs for regular division students
as well as those with developmental disabilities. We also still offer a full complement of courses in our family and consumer science
department, in addition to industrial technology courses such as woods, metals and welding.
Dunlap: First of all, we recognize the importance of all students continuing
their education after high school. The trades have become very complex, and going from high school to work is very limited. Besides providing a great foundation to a four-year college experience,
Illinois Central College is a very valuable link for our school community for the refinement of the skilled trades for students. Our district, in collaboration with ICC, provides work-based learning programs in food service, automobile maintenance, construction and other related fields.
Eureka: We currently offer full vocational programs in agriculture, business, family and consumer science, and industrial technology. The variety of courses includes horticulture, web design, computer programming, construction technology, drafting, accounting, parenting,
animal science and electronics. Two new courses will be offered this year—clothing and textiles, plus foods and nutrition.
Limestone: We offer a full welding program which is articulated with ICC. We offer a full automotive program. Our wood shop curriculum offers beginning woods through advanced cabinet making. We have a full drafting program, which includes CAD and pre-engineering. We also offer a full family and consumer science curriculum, which includes all courses on food service, foods, child care, adult care, sewing
and fashion merchandising.
Metamora: We have extensive vocational programs, including the new Project Lead The Way, along with welding; metals; electronics; drafting; wood technology; auto mechanics; graphic arts; agriculture; family and consumer science, including chef and restaurant cooking; and child care (four-year-olds come to school, and students learn to do the things a day care might do).
Morton: The district’s high school offers various vocational/technical
classes that include automotive, graphic arts, welding, drafting and business programs. In addition, the district cooperates with ICC to provide a school-to-work program in carpentry, culinary science and EMT. Also, the school provides courses in family and consumer science that include foods and fashions.
Peoria: Vocational and technical programs are not the same as they were 50 years ago, or even 10 years ago. Programs like machinery and shop class—that used to be the alternative for students looking for jobs right out of high school—have turned into the beginning of a career path for current students who compete just like college graduates do for jobs.
In high school, students are getting started on a variety of career paths in Peoria Public Schools. Take Cisco and Oracle classes, for example. They are both computer programming courses that lead to high-paying jobs, without the help of traditional
college classes. Students who decide college may not be the right fit for them are being exposed and educated in a wide variety of careers that are part of the high school curriculum. We also have a machinist assembler program, childcare training, cosmetology, business and technology courses, graphic design, construction, and early childhood education courses. Add these possibilities to the number of courses we have as a part of the regional, work-based learning programs, and our students are ready for work as they leave high school.
What do you think is the most important step to prepare students for today’s 21st century global knowledge economy?
Dunlap: Strong basic skills are essential in preparing students for the global economy. Students need to read, write, speak and compute well. This is the foundation for preparation in our global economy.
Dunlap High School is in the process of putting together a course entitled “Global Studies,” a one-semester elective social science course that will be offered to junior and senior students. The instruction will expose students to world cultures and issues across international borders.
The study of global issues will be, first and foremost, the study of people. The unique aspect of the course will be actually communicating
with other students throughout the world using technology. This non-traditional course will bridge the oceans and explore the world through the eyes and ears of students in other locations, similar to how business is conducted in today’s global economy.
Topics in the curriculum include, but are not limited to: current economic
conditions of a variety of nations throughout the world, political conditions of other countries, the impact of historical events upon the economic development of nations, examinations of current cultural trends, the role of technology in a global society, the principles of free trade and the engagement in global teaming simulations.
Eureka: Students must know how they learn best and be able to apply their technology skills (beyond texting!) to stay informed and enhance their job readiness. They must also embody workplace habits
of mind—teamwork, personal achievement, dedication to extra effort, employer loyalty, a sense of initiative and job commitment. Our extensive extracurricular activities are designed to include every student at the elementary, middle and high school levels. From sports to the arts, including student governance, social and cultural clubs, we help our students invest in their school years. Further, these are lifelong attributes for a productive adult life. We stress involvement and investment—District 140 schools succeed by investing in people and community.
Limestone: We encourage all students to take classes that provide a well-rounded education. Our curriculum offers over 100 courses for students to choose from during his/her four years. This allows the student
to not only take the basic educational
curriculum, but also to choose elective courses which fit their interests
and learning styles. It is our opinion
that this philosophy helps prepare students for various post-secondary opportunities—college, armed forces, the workforce or skilled trades.
Metamora: We must teach students to think and learn how to learn on their own. This means we have to include reading and writing in every class. I am stealing a phrase from Doug Reeves. We need to read and write with “redundant abundance.” We have to put the focus on achieving
Morton: Students need to have solid knowledge in the core subjects. In addition, they need to have knowledge
in the global forces that are driving
the current and future economies. As part of that knowledge, they need to either develop practical skills that will serve as a base when they leave the school system or develop the knowledge and higher-level thinking skills that can be applied in the higher education system. They need to learn to advance their knowledge in multiple
areas. With the global economy, situations and circumstances can change rapidly. They must be able to adapt and progress as a result.
Peoria: Public education has the daunting task of catching up and helping our students make big leaps toward success. The most important
step is to have our students prepared to leave high school and the 12th grade with 12th grade science, reading, writing, math and technical skills, along with needed workplace soft skills. Along with these skills, students must be prepared with a plan to transition into further education and training or the working world. We must show our children the importance of earning a diploma and learning job skills. Next comes exposure to various careers and skills so students are better prepared for the job market. Finally, we have to introduce our students to other cultures and languages so that they are prepared
and ready to be globally competitive.
How can No Child Left Behind (NCLB) be improved to be more effective?
Dee-Mack: The basic premise of NCLB has raised expectations for both schools and families, which is a sound approach in our educational
system today. As the federal expectations (percentage of students
meeting or exceeding standards) rise through 2014, the reality of 100 percent of students succeeding in all areas will prove to be an educational and parental challenge.
While NCLB highlights the performance of the school as a whole, it lacks emphasis on encouraging the performance of the individual student. Emphasis on the one-year “snapshot” of a school’s performance
is misleading, as differences in student groups are not accounted for. Long-term analysis—looking at how student groups perform over time—should be the focus. This is how most schools use the data to determine areas of strengths and weaknesses and make improvements from that analysis.
Dunlap: If specific criteria are not met by a school district, so much of the No Child Left Behind program becomes punitive. The emphasis is placed on students’ performance on tests, but there is a great deal more to educating students than their performance on annual state tests. Collectively, the results of the tests have a huge impact on a school district, yet there is relatively little impact to the individual student. So, the stakes are high for the school district, but very low for the individual student.
Students in special education must perform on these tests as well. If there are enough special education students to form a district subgroup as defined by the law, often the school district will not make adequate yearly progress because of the lower performance of the special
education subgroup. The accountability of NCLB in relationship to test scores has made the Dunlap School District more in-tune with pre-assessment techniques and the identification of struggling students in order to provide remedial services prior to taking the tests.
The district has aligned the entire curriculum to the state standards
that are assessed by NCLB. In numerous ways, the district has improved and become more effective because of this law. To say the least, No Child Left Behind has restructured major components of the educational environment in the Dunlap School District.
Eureka: NCLB is a federal law meant to ensure equal access to the benefits of a quality education. By holding schools to a benchmark of academic progress, all children must be educated at the same pace. On the other hand, every child is a unique learning package. NCLB, as it is currently written, lacks the provision for children who are struggling
with pervasive learning challenges. These children are also held to the standard of those who learn quickly. NCLB is based on the idea of learning as a race; the winner is the fastest. Schools know that learning is not a race—it is a journey. NCLB must be reauthorized with the provision for those children who try but just need more time to reach their goals. All children are encouraged and expected to learn in our classrooms—at their own pace.
Limestone: It is our belief that NCLB should be formatted to allow students
to show growth over time. Not every student enters school—or high school—at the same proficiency level. With that in mind, why should every student be measured by the same assessment—and the same “college-bound” assessment—the ACT? Each student has different
interests and strengths, yet all are measured by the same measuring stick. We would like to allow students to show what they have learned in high school…without being forced to teach to one standardized test which does not allow for individuality.
Metamora: NCLB is filled with too many compliance-type rules and prescriptive solutions (1,100-plus pages’ worth). This makes NCLB similar to past attempts in that it allows schools to be busily occupied
with changing behaviors without achieving any improvement.
Despite NCLB rhetoric of better teachers and higher achievement, the compliance monitors only check on following the rules and regulations.
They do not seem interested in looking at student achievement. This will give us schools that meet every bureaucratic requirement but fail to align curriculum, instruction and assessment.
Schools must be able to use formative assessment every day. Teachers must be able to answer the following questions for every class every day: Are your students learning? How do you know if they are learning? How well are they learning? An instructional leader or principal must work with teachers to ask these questions.
Morton: No Child Left Behind needs to be redesigned to recognize that all students do not learn in the same manner at the same rate. NCLB needs to acknowledge in its methods the progress that a child is making rather than where the child is at from a single point in time on one standardized test. NCLB does not address the true needs of a school to help each child learn to their potential.
Peoria: One of the biggest problems we see with NCLB is that it is based on only one high-stakes test—that’s just one test in which we can see—or fail to see—achievement. To address this, we continue to expand a benchmarking system and the Comprehensive System of Student Support so we have multiple points throughout the year through which we can track progress in our school district. We have been working on these projects for several years and will soon begin to see the impact of a data-driven district.
Accountability and excellence must also be demanded to make education work. Taking another look at some areas, such as special education, would be a good start for this act as well. We are undergoing
restructuring in our own special services division and know we will soon see changes there as well. Finally, additional funding to help schools with challenges would be a great help. iBi