Students thriving as we remain focused on their success
As we embark on the second semester of the 2015-2016 school year, it is an excellent time to consider the ways in which our students thrive in District 186. During the first part of the year and continuing through the end of January, I am visiting each of our schools and programs for meet and greets followed by an administrative walkthrough. I am enjoying these visits with the staff and teachers, and one thing is evident. They are passionate about helping students succeed. I have appreciated their candor and unique ideas about how to make our system a better place and their celebrations of successful programing and student outcomes.
Whether it was the enthusiasm for the rollout of AVID (Advancement Via Individual Determination) at Butler that helps students get organized and envision their success in college and career, or the excitement at Grant Middle School for their school-wide independent reading initiative, students are the focus in Springfield Public Schools. By keeping the student at the center of our planning and preparation, we are creating opportunities for true engagement, integrating technology in the classroom, encouraging thinking strategies that call for highest depths of knowledge, and providing formative assessments that allow the student to monitor their own growth.
We remain student-centered, however, we continue to keep a watchful eye on the budget crisis at the statehouse. We are also hopeful that the reauthorization of the Elementary and Secondary Education Act, now known as the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA), will allow the State of Illinois and the state's school districts greater flexibility. As we consider the implications of state funding and the new federal law, we keep moving forward, partnering with our community at every turn to be a great school district that will help make Springfield a great city in which to live and prosper.
School Improvement Plans take shape across the district
Schools have completed their initial school improvement plans for the upcoming year, and for the first time, schools are all working from the same model developed by the Teaching and Learning Department. Plans align with the new Illinois Learning Standards as well. These plans are living documents that are adapted throughout the year.
"All schools are working towards the same SMART goals and worthy targets identified at the District level," said Anne Morris, coordinator of research, testing and evaluation. "Schools have autonomy in decision-making and how the work looks in their school. They can choose priorities based on their data and focus more heavily in areas of need, but they have to address all targets in some way."
The two primary SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely) goals are:
By the year 2018, all students Pre-K-12 will improve performance on state and/or local benchmark assessments by 5 percent each year:
in reading, with an emphasis on literacy and content-based reading standards, including the three shifts of building knowledge through content-rich non-fiction, reading, writing and speaking that is grounded in evidence from text, and regular practice with complex texts and academic language.
in math, with an emphasis on content and mathematical practice standards including the three shifts of focus, rigor and coherence.
For each SMART goal, there are worthy targets that outline curriculum guides, evidence-based instructional practices, formative and summative assessment use, effective leadership team structures at schools, collaborative professional learning communities, and family and community engagement practices. Within individual school improvement plans, schools have outlined adult practices and measurable student learning activities that will help them reach their worthy targets in order to ultimately achieve the SMART goals.
District 186 graduation rate jumps 9 percentage points
District 186 high schools realized large gains in the percentage of students graduating in 2015, as indicated in Illinois Report Card data released by the state in October.
79 percent of students received diplomas in 2015, up from 70 percent in 2014, a 9 percentage point increase.
"This is a major point of pride for our district," said Superintendent Jennifer Gill. “It is a testament to the hard work of students and staff. Even as our graduation requirements have become more rigorous, students are rising to meet our expectations."
Significant increases were seen at all three high schools, with Lanphier (from 65 to 75 percent) and Southeast (from 67 to 77 percent) showing the greatest percentage point increases at 10 points, followed by Springfield with a seven point increase (from 82 to 89 percent).
This was the first four-year cohort to graduate with all students beginning as freshmen being held to 26 credit standards, a change which they began learning about as early as eighth grade. The rising rates can be attributed to consistent leadership at all three high schools, with the same principal at each building for these four years. This cohort was also the first group to experience the Freshman Forward transition program, where conversations about credits were reinforced and a productive and healthy start to the school year was cultivated. Additionally, this cohort at Lanphier was the first to have four years of Making the Grade, which quickly spread to the other high schools.
Butler pilots AVID at elementary level
Third, fourth and fifth grade students at Butler Elementary School are beginning to learn skills that will prepare them for success throughout the rest of their academic career, with the launch of the Advancement Via Individual Determination (AVID) program.
AVID is a global nonprofit organization dedicated to closing the achievement gap by preparing all students for college and other postsecondary opportunities, bringing research-based strategies and curriculum to schools. AVID Elementary is designed to be embedded into daily instruction, focusing on the following areas:
-Student Success Skills including communication skills (e.g. listening, speaking, writing), self-advocacy skills, note-taking strategies, critical thinking and study skills.
-Organizational Skills including both mental and physical; learning to use organizational tools, as well as learning and practicing skills around time management and goal-setting.
-WICOR (Writing, Inquiry, Collaboration, Organization and Reading) Lessons emphasizing instruction on writing to learn, inquiry, collaboration, organization, and reading to learn in all content areas.
-Partnerships including those among students, classrooms, grade levels, schools, feeder patterns, families, and communities
Butler is piloting AVID Elementary and is currently the only elementary school in the District to offer the program. AVID Secondary is offered at Grant, Jefferson, Lincoln Magnet, Washington, Ball Charter, Lanphier, Southeast and Springfield. At the middle and high school levels, AVID is an elective class.
Butler staff, along with other school and District administrators, attended AVID training over the summer to prepare for the elementary launch and to deepen their understanding about secondary program benefits.
Students learn computer science basics with 'Hour of Code'
Students in more than 20 classrooms across 10 Springfield Public Schools were introduced to computer science and learned the basics of coding in observance of Computer Science Education Week in early December, by participating in the 'Hour of Code.'
The Hour of Code is a one-hour introduction to computer science, designed to demystify code and show that anyone can learn the basics. It is a global movement reaching tens of millions of students in more than 180 countries. Anyone, anywhere can organize an Hour of Code event. One-hour tutorials are available in over 40 languages. The lessons are self-paced and do not require any prior coding knowledge.
Code knowledge is increasingly important in an ever-changing job market. The Hour of Code provides opportunities for students to engage in higher-level thinking and problem-solving while learning the basics of computer science and coding; skills that will prepare them for success after high school.
Schools with participating classrooms included Enos, Lindsay, Addams, Graham, Feitshans, Dubois, Marsh, Iles, Grant and Lanphier. The event was supported and promoted by the District's Instructional Technology Department.
District staff take neighborhood walks, visit families
Call them superheroes or caped crusaders. Just make sure to answer the door when they knock. Staff at several District 186 schools have been walking neighborhoods to share information and connect with students and families.
Matheny-Withrow Elementary staff donned superhero capes on a bus tour throughout their school boundaries at summer's end, doling out snacks and hula-hoops and reminding families about registration day. They visited more than 55 houses in just two hours and passed out 100 informational bags. As a result, they saw a 60 percent increase over last year in students registering on time, with all students in class on time the first day and no one waiting to register.
"It was fun for the adults and the kids were excited to see us," said Matheny-Withrow Principal Kathy Hulcher. "We learned more about our neighborhood and families. With a deeper understanding, it will be easier to build relationships and connect."
Similarly, Feitshans Elementary staff did a neighborhood walk to visit families, welcome them back for the new school year and personally invite them to the Open House that was held Sept. 1.
"It was a great experience," said Feitshans Principal Chris Colgren. "We were able to successfully visit 141 families and encouraged them to join us for our Open House. Nearly all said they would. They were very appreciative of our visits and I anticipate this experience has helped to strengthen the home-school connection between families and staff."
Enos and its 'Eagle Patrol,' as well as staff from Black Hawk, Addams and Wilcox elementary schools also ventured out into neighborhoods during the first portion of the school year to connect with students and their families.
The effort mirrors a national trend of school staff making home visits, which serve to increase communication, trust and support between families and teachers.
Thursday, Jan. 21, through Saturday, Jan. 23: Boys City Basketball Tournament
Tuesday, Jan. 26, through Thursday, Jan. 28: Girls City Basketball Tournament
Saturday, Jan. 30: Springfield Public Schools Foundation Annual Dinner and Student Art Auction
Students explore, prepare for health careers
Physical therapist, cardiothoracic surgeon, geneticist. These are just a few of the aspirations of current students in the Health Science Academy at Springfield Southeast High School.
The four-year program is an exclusive opportunity for Springfield Public School District 186 students that exposes them to careers in the medical field and helps them to understand the commitment and level of work involved in attaining credentials to work in those careers. The academy draws about 50 to 60 new applicants each year. A maximum of 32 students are accepted, with total enrollment of 100 students.
The rigorous curriculum includes advanced-weight courses that challenge students to apply concepts in health care. Debbie Davis, academy coordinator and lead instructor, notes that all students enrolled in recent years have been accepted to college and estimates 75 percent of them pursue degrees in the medical field.
"The pace, high-level work and expectations make the program challenging," says Davis. "We really push them and expect a lot, but we are very willing to help them. We build good relationships and they want to do well."
The Health Science Academy employs three core teachers including Davis, Teresa Holton and Matt Maton, who see students through from freshman to senior year. Core curriculum is block scheduled to provide adequate time for integrated projects and students take electives outside the team block. Davis indicates that the structure and family-like atmosphere lend to the students' success, a sentiment echoed by students themselves.
"It is like a school within a school. We stay with these classmates and teachers throughout all four years and form a close-knit bond," says junior Mariah Brooks. "I like how it is close-knit and the bond just keeps growing through our high school years."
New to the academy this year is the biomedical sciences class for freshmen, a Project Lead the Way course. Students are immersed in a mysterious death and asked to investigate, document and analyze evidence along the way. This case-based study enables them to explore biomedical science careers in the context of real-world, hands-on activities, projects and problems. This curriculum replaces the introductory health occupations course.
With the program being aligned with one of the city's largest career clusters, it functions as a business education partnership. Davis herself brings 25 years of field experience, having worked in radiology for Memorial Health System before going into teaching. She sees the value in tapping guest speakers from Springfield’s robust health care community and providing unlimited job shadowing opportunities for juniors and seniors.
"I haven't decided what part of the medical field yet, but the Health Science Academy has helped me narrow down my choices," says junior Carmen Remolina. "Coming in I knew I was interested in health care, and now I'm considering genetics, cardiology and neurology."
District 186 Superintendent Jennifer Gill underscores the return on investment for the Springfield community.
"We are graduating students who will pursue careers that are very much within reach in their hometown," says Gill. "Nurturing students' interests and providing an outlet to explore them locally helps them visualize themselves in those careers. The ultimate goal is that they achieve their full potential and become a part of Springfield's thriving health care workforce."
Matheny-Withrow receives $3M grant
Matheny-Withrow Elementary School will receive $3 million over the next five years, as a recipient of a federal School Improvement Grant.
The first year will be a planning year, but many ideas about how to maximize the funds have been proposed, including teacher professional development, extending the school day, offering classes for families, summer school opportunities and technology upgrades.
"We are pleased that Matheny-Withrow Elementary has been selected as a recipient of a School Improvement Grant," said Superintendent Gill. "The application process is highly competitive, so to be selected is a testament to the hard and thoughtful work that went into writing for the grant. We are excited about what the future holds for the students and their families at Matheny-Withrow and will be eager to share our progress along the way."
Student Roundtable to host unity event
The Superintendent's Student Roundtable is hosting its first-ever Unity Day this year.
Members of student clubs at Lanphier, Southeast and Springfield high schools, as well as Sacred Heart-Griffin, have been invited to participate in order to build unity across all high schools. Students will participate in ice breaker activities, discussions and enjoy food together. The event will take place at Prairie Capital Convention Center on Saturday, Jan. 23, before the first game on the last night of City Tournament.
Student Board Member and Southeast senior Diamond Jackson heads up the Superintendent's Student Roundtable and has been leading the Unity Day effort.
Board approves construction bond application
Schools across the District will be realizing building improvements over the next three years, with the help of the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) Qualified School Construction Bonds (QSCB) program.
The Board of Education approved the application on Jan. 4 to issue up to $16.6 million in bonds to finance construction or repair of school facilities. Proposed projects include repairing restrooms and locker rooms at all three high schools, renovating Southeast High School's auditorium, replacing lockers and fire alarm system as Springfield High School, enlarging cafeterias at Franklin, Grant, Jefferson and Washington, adding classroom space at Sandburg, Franklin, Jefferson and Washington, resurfacing several playgrounds, replacing doors at Dubois, improving accessibility at Feitshans and Grant, installing gutters at Marsh and installing air conditioning and replacing flooring in Graham's gymnasium.
The number of projects selected are what can be completed over 36 months.
The District has 18 months to sell bonds for any approved project and three years from the sale of the bonds to complete the projects. Bonds would likely be sold in the Spring of 2017 and the projects completed during the summers of 2017, 2018 and 2019.
ISBE has made $500 million in bonds available to schools outside of Chicago. The District can apply to finance projects that normally would not be eligible under health/life safety requirements.
QSCBs are taxable interest bonds that can be issued to finance the construction, rehabilitation, or repair of public school facilities. The bonds can also be issued to finance land acquisition, furnishings and equipment if these expenditures are part of a building project being financed by QSCBs. The interest on the bonds will be reimbursed by the federal government.