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Superintendent’s Article: Be a Champion for Students

Every child deserves a champion:  an adult who will never give up on them, who understands the power of connection and insists they become the best they can possibly be.

This statement from former educator Rita Pierson exemplifies our philosophy in School District 54.

We serve more than 15,000 students and I believe all of them need someone in their corner. Someone to seek them out in the hallway and check in with them each day. Someone they can trust. Someone they can turn to when they need support. Someone they see at school each day who is a positive influence on their lives.

On August 15, before the students returned to school, I had the privilege of welcoming more than 2,000 employees to the start of the 2019-20 school year. Employees from 28 schools and the administration center came together in the Willow Creek auditorium

We heard from Inky Johnson, who spoke about how an eighth-grade teacher believed in him and turned his life around. We heard from Thomas C. Murray, who talked about creating a school environment where children want to run back to school the next day.

During this opening day, I asked our staff members to remember why we do what we do. We come to work each day to make a better world for the children we serve. That starts with knowing them as individuals.

On September 18, we had a half day of school in District 54. In the afternoon, after the students were dismissed, at each one of our schools the entire staff sat down together with a chart showing the names of every single child in that school.

They spent the afternoon going through that chart, sharing their connections and what they know about each child so that by the end of the day, we were sure that each one of our more than 15,000 students has a true connection to an adult. Then they talked about how to ensure that the next child who moves into the school is given the same opportunity.

For years in District 54 we have emphasized the need to know every student by name and by need. Who are they as individuals? What makes them unique? What supports do they need to be successful academically and to thrive? But each year we ask ourselves, what can we do better?

Last year we began administering a Universal Screener. The screener requires staff members to take a survey about the District 54 students they serve to determine whether any students need additional social and emotional supports. Staff members have also participated in ACES training (Adverse Childhood Experiences) so that they can be more responsive to students who have faced traumatic events.

District 54 also launched a social emotional learning curriculum last year in early childhood through eighth grade, with a focus on long-term optimism. This fall students, staff and parents will participate in a social-emotional learning survey that will allow us to further support whole child success by listening to the feedback of the students we serve, as well as the adults in their lives – their parents and teachers.

The most important factor in student achievement and social-emotional well-being is the people who connect with our students. I look forward to working with our staff and our families to offer the children in this community the best school year of their lives.