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Working in the shadows

by Katie Faley |
Working in Shadows iStock-1391293104-crop

Regional Offices of Education perform many duties behind the scenes, but they have value, especially for a community’s most vulnerable

Regional Offices of Education are not school districts and they don’t make the rules, but they do help school districts implement the rules.

Because of that, their work is often broad and hidden. But when we start to see all that the Regional Offices of Education — ROE for short — do, it adds up pretty quickly.

A 15-year-old wants a job? The ROE helps them get a work permit.

A mom-to-be wants to be a good parent but doesn’t know how? The ROE offers in-home parenting education.

Parents want to homeschool their children? The ROE ensures those parents and their children hit educational benchmarks so everyone succeeds.

And that’s only the tip of the iceberg.

Beth Crider
Beth Crider

“The short answer is that our mission is to serve,” said Beth Crider, the Regional Superintendent of ROE 48, which serves Peoria County. “We serve our students, our educators, and our community.”

One of the biggest ways the ROE serves is by ensuring that students get the most out of their education.

“If a student comes to school hungry, homeless, or dealing with a family situation, learning just isn’t going to happen,” said Crider. “You can’t have student achievement unless kids are ready to learn.”

Filling in the gaps

The Regional Offices of Education fall under the umbrella of the Illinois State Board of Education. The ROE helps ensure that every school district has a local point of access for numerous supports and services.

“We consider ourselves a value-add. The services offered are a multi-million dollar add to our community,” Crider said.

Indeed, the services provided by ROE are often a matter of equality, justice and human rights. Without the support of the ROE, many people from marginalized groups and already at risk of slipping through the cracks would lose access to vital educational tools and supports.

One such example: adult literacy tutoring.

Each year, approximately 50 volunteer tutors are coached and matched with adult learners. Being able to read and comprehend written language is something that can easily be taken for granted, but having that ability is empowering and life-changing.

Other gaps that get filled in thanks to the ROE include preschool for children birth through age 3, support for students experiencing homelessness, help for people seeking their GED, licensure assistance for teachers and substitutes, and professional development experiences for teachers on topics ranging from diversity and inclusion to how to teach the core subjects more effectively.

For students who are at risk of dropping out, the Peoria Regional Learning Center in West Peoria offers another option. In addition, the ROE provides GED classes for adults about to seek re-entry into society after prison.

‘If a student comes to school hungry, homeless or dealing with a family situation, learning just isn’t going to happen’ — Beth Crider

An important and growing role for ROEs is meeting with school superintendents regarding safety measures. From protecting students from violence inside school walls to ensuring that teachers and administrators are prepared in case of an emergency, the ROE is a sort of central command for navigating school safety.

Consolidation and elimination

While there are 102 counties in Illinois, there are only 33 ROE offices in the state — a sign that this office is often the target of government cuts.

Every few years, legislators make a push to cut this layer of government as a cost-cutting move. That’s usually when consolidations take place, the most recent of those in 2011.

That means that every office oversees multiple school districts and often multiple counties. One of the reasons the offices haven’t been eliminated entirely is that legislators don’t know where all that work done by ROEs would go otherwise.

The responsibilities that fall under the ROE offices are wide-ranging, which means the offices face certain challenges.

Jeff Ekena
Jeff Ekena

Just as many industries are struggling with worker shortages right now, “the biggest challenge is finding qualified teachers and paraprofessionals to fill unfilled positions across our counties, and when those teachers are absent, finding qualified substitutes,” said Jeff Ekena, superintendent of ROE 53, which includes Tazewell, Mason and Woodford counties. “And, we must not forget the need to find bus drivers, nurses, and other school support personnel.” Crider echoed the sentiment almost word for word.

There are the other checks and balances that fall to ROEs, such as annual school safety inspections.

“The staff receive numerous phone calls, letters, and visits from parents, school personnel, and citizens concerning a multitude of educational concerns,” said Ekena. “We all value those relationships we have and are happy to serve those who come to us.”

Katie Faley

Katie Faley

is a Peoria native — Notre Dame High, Class of 2013 — who moved away following college, earned a master’s degree in theology from the University of Notre Dame, and returned with a fuller appreciation of her hometown. She works at OSF HealthCare

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