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First Published in the RoundTable on Aug. 6, 2008. On July 14 the District 202 School Board reviewed a draft of proposed goals for 2008-10. They are essentially the same as last year’s goals, although they focus on a longer time-frame and incorporate some different objectives and strategies.

The proposed goals are

• Literacy and Numeracy – Achieve measurable academic gains in reading/math and improve student reading/math in academic courses.

• Well-Being – Provide a system of supports, including a pyramid of interventions, to enhance academic success and wellness for all students.

• Finance and Budget – Assure that the District remains financially solvent and that financial decisions consider student achievement and performance.

“These goals reflect input from teachers and the leadership team,” Superintendent Eric Witherspoon said in his report to the Board. “During the teacher institute days in late August, staff will have opportunities to review the proposed goals.”

In the past, goals have been set one year at a time. Dr. Witherspoon commented on the change in time frame.

“We will always try to keep two years of goals out in front of us.” he said. “We will revisit them in 2009.”

Literacy and Numeracy

Dr. Witherspoon told the RoundTable that the first objective represented the District’s effort to improve student performance on standardized tests, such as PLAN and the Prairie State Achievement Examination (PSAE), regardless of what courses the student is taking. The second objective focuses on “measuring improvement of students in specific courses, such as Humanities or Trigonometry.”

In addition, he said, the District will seek to improve student reading capabilities in every course at the high school. “Reading is a skill we teach and strengthen in every content area across the curriculum, the gateway to all learning.”

The literacy and numeracy goals share similar objectives:

• Meet the No Child Left Behind “Safe Harbor” provision by decreasing by 10 percent the number of students who do not meet standards in reading/math in all subgroups.

• Increase the gain in reading/math over the previous year for subgroups from EXPLORE to PLAN to ACT (standardized tests taken by students).

• Reduce by 10 percent the number of Ds and Fs in semester grades.

• Increase by 10 percent the number of 9th grade African-American and Latino students enrolled in honors-level classes.

The objective of reducing D’s and F’s also appears under the well-being goal and was the subject of some discussion.

“The overall challenge with this is that we certainly want to see a reduction in D’s and F’s, as well as NCs,” said Laura Cooper, assistant superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction. “We need to balance that with … not encouraging grade inflation. We need to be sure that we’re actually getting kids to a higher level of achievement, not simply changing grades.”

“Oftentimes I’m hearing that the reason why we can’t move … students (of color) from D’s and F’s is because they’re not getting it or something,” remarked Board President Martha Burns. “It’s always implied that we’re doing the best we can and we don’t want to give the appearance that we’re moving kids that are D and F to C and B students, just because we’re trying to do that. That sends a message to me as a person of color that there is no faith (in students of color).”

“There is no question that all of our students have the capacity to do much higher-level work than they are already doing,” replied Dr. Cooper. “And it’s not a question of desire. There are barriers in their way. We have to change the way we work and we will get different results with kids.”

“I believe in the initiatives we have put in place to make sure that there are checks and balances to make sure that students can succeed,” Ms. Burns agreed. She reiterated that she wanted the expectations applied to white and minority students to be the same, and that “they have earned whatever they get like any other students in the building.”

The objective of increasing the percentage of 9th-grade minority students in honors classes sparked some discussion. The District recently made a change to the 9th-grade required humanities course, which involved eliminating the regular level of the class and retaining a straight honors level, a mixed regular/honors class and a remedial level, called “enriched.” This change was made in order to “increase the rigor in humanities classes, thus increasing the number of students, especially students of color, who can meet the more difficult requirements for honors credit,” administrators said.

Student Board member Adam Newman asked if the percentage of minority students in the straight honors class would be “counted the same” as the percentage of minority students taking the mixed-level class for honors credit. “They are different classes.”

“They are,” responded Dr. Witherspoon. “One of the things we are working vigorously on is to make sure that we have a very clear definition of honors, so that honors is honors. So that if you’re taking honors in a straight honors class or honors in a mixed-level class, you’re taking the same honors curriculum.”

He further explained that “we will have a consistency of teachers,” that is, the same teachers will teach in both classes.

Board member Mary Wilkerson requested that a quantifiable measure be placed on the objective for increasing gains on standardized tests. “I mean it could be a tenth of a tenth of tenth,” she said. “A real number would give more incentive to achieve improvement.”

Dr. Witherspoon agreed to add that in the revised version of the goals which will be presented in September.

“I don’t know if the 10 percent goal is a realistic enough goal to provide any type of motivation,” commented Board member Omar Khuri. “I would like us to re-evaluate that goal to make sure it’s reasonable.”

Ms. Burns asked if the 10 percent target applied to the two-year period of 2008-10 or “if each school year … will be 10 percent.”

“One of the reasons these goals are fairly lofty,” responded Dr. Witherspoon, “is we’d like to reach that over the two-year span. Obviously we’d be thrilled if we could reach it in the one-year span.”

Well-Being

The well-being goal has a number of objectives:

• Align the System of Supports with the requirements of Response to Intervention (see sidebar).

• Reduce by 10 percent the total number of reclassified students.

• Reduce by 10 percent the total number of F’s, D’s and NC’s.

• Reduce by 10 percent the percentage of in- and out-of-school suspensions.

• Promote student wellness and personalization, including good nutrition and physical activity, and social/emotional health in ETHS educational programs.

• Increase participation in athletic and extracurricular programs.

• Increase the outreach of the School Board, administration, faculty and staff in involving parents and other adults in successfully educating all ETHS students.

• Promote successful transitions from high school for post-secondary education/training and/or work.

Board vice president Rachel Hayman asked when the board would have the opportunity to review the “pyramid of interventions” associated with the well-being goal.

“Without that, it’s a little hard to analyze an objective that requires it to be aligned with that intervention pyramid,” she said.

Dr. Witherspoon said that that information will be available at the Board meeting in September. “There are people working on it this summer. … It’ll have to be completed by the time school starts.”

Ms. Hayman suggested that she wanted to include a strategy for the behavior objective that focused on “continuing to explore alternatives to suspension. It’s something we’ve talked a lot about and we’ve made some progress, but I think we need to keep it front and center.”

Ms. Wilkerson emphasized the importance of behavior modification. “Sometimes we see the same kid who’s been suspended ten times during the year. Obviously, that student’s behavior is not being modified so they don’t repeat the same error again.”

“We have a lot of students who I fear travel their four years through this building without forming a strong relationship with a caring adult,” said Ms. Hayman, emphasizing the importance of personalization. “I think that is the essence of well-being for a student.”

Board members also commented on the importance of outreach to parents. “It takes a tremendous amount of energy, because frequently you’re talking to parents who think you don’t mean them,” said Board member Jane Colleton.

“I think we need to be more creative and more out-of-the-box,” commented Ms. Wilkerson. “Sometimes it’s the parent you need to be working with along with the students. Sometimes the parents are part of the problem and not at all part of the solution simply because they may not have the tools in their box to deal with some of the things that are going on with students these days. … It requires a little bit more effort on our part.”

Finance and Budget

The final goal, budget and finance, includes several objectives:

• Develop a values-based budget to make budgeting decisions that support student achievement.

• Use a financial-planning model and related financial policies to address long-term programmatic and capital needs to improve student achievement.

• Continually monitor both the budget and best financial practices to improve efficient use of District and financial resources.

• Coordinate and increase development of community resources in support of the District’s goals and objectives.

There was no discussion on the financial goal. The tentative budget for the 2008-09 school year was first discussed last January at a finance committee meeting and included a projected $1.7 million in cuts. That tentative budget is scheduled to be reviewed by the School Board at its Aug. 18 meeting.

A public hearing is scheduled for Sept. 8, and the Board is scheduled to vote on the budget on Sept. 22. Dr. Witherspoon said the goals will be reviewed for action at the Sept. 8 Board meeting.