Unbelievable gains in student growth. Impressive results. Closing the achievement gap. Raising the bar. These are just several of the comments that we heard from staff during the first round of our district’s 90-day school improvement planning process. We are in the teaching and learning business and our staff members take this work very seriously.
Early in the year, school teams take an in-depth look at what has been working, identify which practices they would like to continue and determine the areas in need of improvement. They thoroughly analyze all available data as they develop their school improvement plan to increase student learning.
The plans are monitored at both the school and district levels on a continuous basis. This process was adapted from successful business practices and has been critical in helping to ensure that all 27 of our schools and the district as a whole are keeping a tight focus on meeting the student learning goals approved by our Board of Education.
The first review cycle has recently been completed and our data indicates that student achievement is at an all-time high. Information that is shared during these meetings not only becomes the basis for individual school improvement plans, but also provides us with priority focus areas that need districtwide support.
Several years ago, it became obvious that we were not seeing the type of growth in reading in the primary grades that we would expect. In response to this finding, the Department of Student Learning worked with groups of primary-grade teachers and reading specialists to develop a specific plan for improvement. In only its second year of implementation, schools are reporting extremely positive gains in the number of students meeting grade-level reading expectations.
Another districtwide area of focus has been restructuring the services that we provide to our English Language Learners. Even though the achievement level of our English Language Learners was one of the highest in Illinois, it was not good enough for District 54.
Due to the significant gains that these students are making, our district was selected as one of only ten districts across the country to participate in a best practice research study being conducted by the United States Department of Education. The Department of Education is planning to disseminate their findings to other districts for replication.
A common theme that schools will be working on this year is the expansion of enrichment opportunities for students who are achieving at high levels. Teachers will be placing greater emphasis on teaching creative problem solving and incorporating higher-level thinking skills into their daily teaching.
Our staff continues to share that this planning process is one of the most meaningful activities in which they participate as educators. It helps them to thoroughly analyze specific student and schoolwide achievement data, compare themselves to other schools and collaboratively develop specific action plans that are monitored on a regular basis.
We often hear criticism that public schools underperform, make excuses for the lack of student progress and do not prepare students to be competitive in the global market. I am proud to say that this is not the case in District 54. During the review meetings one of our teachers said it best. “Goals can be meaningless and data just numbers until we put a student’s name and face to it. Data and goals only become meaningful when we develop specific plans and monitor our progress to ensure that all of our students reach their full potential. This is what we do at our school, this is what we do in our district and this is why our students are so successful!”