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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.

Superintendent’s message: District 54 community full of positive influencers

Every December as the year winds down, I reflect on all that I have to be thankful for – both personally and professionally as the superintendent of the School District 54.

This year, all District 54 employees read the book Big Potential by Shawn Achor. After more than a decade of research, Shawn writes that happiness and success are fueled by those around us:  “We need to stop trying to be faster alone and start working to be stronger together.”

The book goes on to say, “What you need is a star system: a constellation of positive, authentic influencers who support each other, reinforce each other and make each other better.”

Each day when I come to work, I encounter so many positive influencers, who contribute to the success of District 54.

I became an educator to influence the lives of children. What I quickly learned on my first teaching job is how much they influence my life. As I visit schools and classrooms, I encounter so many amazing students. Sometimes they influence me in simple ways – with a smile or a high five as I pass them in the hall. At other times, their acts are much grander. We have students who have won national competitions; students who are leading social-emotional activities at their junior high schools; and students running clubs that focus on acts of kindness toward others.

I am also grateful to the parents in our community who have raised these outstanding individuals and thankful that they trust us with their care during the school day. Many of these parents are also active volunteers for our schools. I am so appreciative of the time they make for not only their children, but for all of the children in our schools.

When I left teaching to become an administrator, it was because I felt I could impact more children’s lives by supporting other educators. As an assistant principal, principal, assistant superintendent and superintendent, again I learned what a strong impact our employees have on me.

When I asked all staff to read Shawn Achor’s first book, I was excited to promote happiness in our schools. However, the positive culture has exceeded my expectations. Our employees come to work motivated to make a difference in the lives of our students by helping them achieve academic success and supporting their social-emotional needs as well. You will not find a more positive, supportive, dedicated group of individuals than the District 54 employees.

Thank you to all of the students, staff and families who have made a positive impact on the District 54 community and me personally. I encourage all of you to follow @D54schools on Facebook or Twitter, or @SchaumburgD54Schools on Instagram, to see for yourself the positive influencers in action.

During winter break, I hope our staff and families – and everyone in our community – takes time to express their gratitude to the positive influencers in their lives.

Superintendent’s Message: Innovate 54 teams prepare kids for the future

Innovation, as defined by the Merriam-Webster Dictionary is quite simply “the introduction of something new.”

However, when we talk about innovation in School District 54, we are talking about so much more.

In our ongoing efforts in District 54 to ensure student success, one of the areas we are focused on in our 54 Promise Strategic Plan is “Cultivating Innovation in Learning Space and Instructional Design.”

But what does this mean? It means that we are trying new strategies. However, we are not abandoning practices that have been successful. For example, we will still have staff working in professional learning communities to plan lessons and collaborate to best serve each student. We will continue to have acceleration time because we know that’s what is best for our students.

It is essential that students master the foundational skills taught to them in core subjects, such as math and literacy. However, it is not enough. There are areas for growth, given that we are preparing children today for future success in jobs that don’t yet exist.

District 54 is committed to looking toward that future. We invited teams of teachers – Innovate 54 teams – from each school to begin the process of redefining our schools.  Core components of that redesign include learning partnerships, deep learning tasks and technology as an accelerator.

Learning partnerships address the relationships between students and staff. In a partnership, a teacher isn’t standing in the front of the room lecturing students. Instead, teachers become facilitators and guides as students complete learning tasks.

With deep learning tasks student learning goals focus on both the content of the curriculum as well as the students’ interests and aspirations. Instead of just consuming information from the teacher, students will be creating, growing and seeking new knowledge. Through project-based learning they will explore real-world challenges and create projects that address solutions to those problems. The skills they will learn through that active exploration include communication, collaboration, creativity, critical-thinking and problem-solving – skills that will be valuable no matter what their future holds.

When we talk about innovation, many people immediately think about technology. However, it has long been our stance in District 54 to implement technology only when it serves as the right tool to advance learning. Used correctly, technology allows for individualized learning and promotes creativity with user-friendly tools for video, music, visual arts, and so much more.

What will the future of education look like in District 54? I can’t tell you exactly.

What I can promise you today is that we will not make changes for the sake of change. We will not abandon strategies that have served our students well.

We will continue to focus on ensuring the academic success and social-emotional well-being of the 15,000 students in our care and the future students of District 54.

Our Innovate 54 teams will reconvene at the end of October to continue exploring what are the right changes we need to make to prepare our students for the future. It is an exciting time to work in District 54.

Superintendent’s Message: District 54 focusing on supports for junior high students

In our ongoing efforts in District 54 to care for the whole child, one of the areas we are looking at this year is the supports we provide to our junior high school students.

Of course, we want all students to do well academically. However, more importantly we care about their well-being. The first step in the process is identifying students who may need additional support.

We are introducing a new tool this year, known as a universal screener. Staff members will answer a series of questions for each of the students they serve. If the screener identifies any elevated risk factors for children, we will contact their parents so that we can work together to best support these children.

While the screener will be used for all ages, we know that as children enter their pre-teen and teen years, the challenges they face often grow. Did you know that more than one out of every five children reported being bullied (National Center for Educational Statistics 2016)? Or that suicide rates doubled among teen girls from 2007 to 2015, and rose by more than 30 percent among teen boys in that same time period (Centers of Disease Control and Prevention 2015)?

These are statistics we take seriously. We want to leave no stone unturned in our effort to support our students. We know that empowering our students to create the change we want to see in our schools is our best lever to minimize bullying, enhance our school climate and improve social-emotional outcomes for all students.

Every four to six weeks our junior high schools and Lincoln Prairie will have an assembly based on a theme that complements our social-emotional learning curriculum. District 54 is training Student Ambassadors from these schools to lead and champion this work. The themes are as follows.

  • September:  At our first assemblies in September speaker John Donahue talked to students about treating everyone with kindness.
  • October:  Kirk Smalley, of Stand for the Silent, will talk to our junior high students about the devastating harm from bullying. October is National Bullying Prevention Month.
  • November/December:  Students will attend an assembly from MWAH! (Messages Which Are Hopeful) designed to empower them with the knowledge, courage and strength to deal with life’s challenges. As a follow-up, Student Ambassadors will rally students around a service project and will also create school-based kindness experiences.
  • January/February: The focus will be on Digital Citizenship with a presentation from Eisenhower Social Worker Melissa Hemzacek.
  • March:  Once again, we are celebrating Happiness Month in District 54. Student Ambassadors will help lead positive psychology trainings for all students at their schools.
  • April/May:  At the end of the year, in conjunction with April being Community Service Month, schools will celebrate their service project work for the year.

Since our inception, District 54 has been committed to the social and emotional well-being of our students, as well as their academic success. We look forward to continuing that work this year during the school day and to collaborating with parents and the community to support our children.

Superintendent’s Message: District 54 committed to social and emotional well-being of students

Each year, District 54 employees have been committed to the social and emotional well-being of our students, as well as their academic success.

We will continue that work this year with a variety of programs designed to support the whole child.

Positive Psychology

Last year, all District 54 staff were trained in the positive psychology work developed by Harvard researcher Shawn Achor, outlined in his book The Happiness Advantage. I am excited to continue that work with year. Our employees are reading Shawn’s newest book Big Potential, which emphasizes that working together enhances our happiness and success.

In addition, we will be providing books for each District 54 family called The Orange Frog, a parable by Shawn. These books, which include District 54 study guides, will help parents and children learn about the happiness principles together.

Social Emotional Learning Curriculum

This fall, every student in District 54 will participate in our new Social Emotional Learning curriculum. Although this has long been incorporated in lesson plans, for the first time we have a consistent district curriculum aligned to the Illinois Learning Standards to ensure that all of our children are prepared with the skills and dispositions needed to be successful.

Adolescent Support

Numerous studies have noted the increase in adolescent depression nationwide. All school districts should be doing something to address this disturbing trend. This fall, District 54 will introduce six areas of focus throughout our junior highs and in grades 6-8 at Lincoln Prairie to better address the needs of our adolescent students. These areas are

  • Be Your Best Self
  • Bully Prevention Month
  • Kindness Month
  • Digital Citizenship
  • Happiness Month
  • Change for the Betterment of Mankind – Celebrating Service Month

The schools will enlist Student Ambassadors to lead and champion this work, as research indicates that the best path to minimizing bullying and motivating adolescents is teaching and empowering the students to lead this work.

Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports

Systematic behavioral intervention was implemented in District 54 more than 10 years ago. However, we are always looking for ways to improve. This fall, every District 54 student will participate in a Universal Screener to help us identify students in need of greater social-emotional support. Teaching staff in District 54 will take a brief survey about the students they know well. Students identified as having heightened risk factors, will receive greater levels of intervention and support.

Healthcare Professionals

Every school in District 54 has full-time, certified staff in place to support students with their social-emotional needs. District 54 social workers, psychologists, guidance counselors and behavior coaches meet with students on a regular basis, or as needed, to provide them counseling support. Our clinicians put plans in place in conjunction with the student’s family and classroom teachers to enable students to be successful.

These are just a few of the many things we do in District 54 to support our students and their families, but of course, our work isn’t possible without a strong connection with parents and community partners. I look forward to sharing this work with you throughout the school year as we work together to ensure the success of the children in this community.

Superintendent’s Message: District 54 promises to put children first

In District 54, we promise to ensure the academic success and social-emotional well-being of all of our students.

In my previous messages this school year I have shared with you information about our Innovative Instruction Task Force, Social Emotional Learning Task Force and Strategic Planning Committee. The hard work of these committees culminated in a presentation to our School Board on April 5 on The District 54 Promise – a multiyear strategic plan to guide District 54’s work toward ensuring student success.

While we have updated our strategic plan, our focus remains the same. We strive every day to improve the lives of our students.

When we talk about the strategic plan, we are really sharing our promise to the District 54 students, staff, parents and community. That promise revolves around the four focus areas defined in the strategic plan.

  1. We promise to support the whole child, to ensure the academic and social emotional success of each student.
    We can achieve this promise by continuing to design high quality lessons that engage and challenge all students. We will also be implementing a new social and emotional learning curriculum, which builds on our current practices in the schools, ensuring that students are healthy, safe, engaged and supported. In addition, we will look for community partnership opportunities focused on supporting the academic and social-emotional success of our students. Working together, we can create a community where children are valued and supported.
  2. We promise to foster a culture of innovation in our instruction and learning spaces.
    District 54 will establish “Innovate 54” teams of teachers and administrators from each school whose mission will be to foster a culture of innovation across our district. Innovation will include technology, such as Chromebooks for each student in grades three through eight by the fall of 2019, and iPads for younger students. Innovation will also include reconfiguring and updating learning spaces. For example, we are looking at transforming our Library Media Centers into “Creation Studios” equipped to support digital connectivity, audio and film production in “Sound and Vision Labs,” and a mix of high- and low-tech Makerspace activities.
  3. We promise to recruit and support exceptional employees.
    School districts can have the latest technology and the strongest curriculum, but they will not be successful unless they have employees who are unequivocally committed to the success and well-being of children. District 54 actively recruits, screens and hires employees who encompass the behaviors and attitudes aligned to our district mission. For all new hires, we provide a comprehensive induction program and offer ongoing support and training through our mentoring program. District 54 will also continue to use Professional Learning Communities, allowing staff members to plan with and learn from their colleagues in the building, and professional development classes to enhance instruction.
  4. We promise to be fiscally responsible, while also maintaining safe, student-centered facilities.
    We cannot achieve our goals without long-term financial stability. This can only be achieved through fiscally responsible practices. For example, District 54 will update its long-term facilities plan to accommodate for enrollment increases and changes in learning environments. This plan will also focus on maintaining safe learning environments, as the safety of students is a top priority in District 54.

These are our promises to you, our District 54 community. My thanks to everyone who worked on our strategic plan and helped us develop the blueprint for the future of District 54. The District 54 Promise is more than a document. It’s a commitment to do whatever it takes to support our students and families. Will you promise to help us achieve this goal?

Superintendent’s Message: District 54 task force focuses on whole child success

When District 54 adopted the mission of Ensuring Student Success, we were not referring only to academic success. Rather, our focus has always been on supporting the development and growth of the whole child – academically as well as socially and emotionally.

What do we mean by the whole child? The District 54 Strategic Planning Committee has developed three goals:

  • District 54 will ensure success of the whole child grounded in the belief that each child deserves to be Healthy, Safe, Engaged, Supported and Challenged utilizing comprehensive approaches and programming.
  • District 54 will perform in the top 10 percent of all schools as measured by state and local assessments in reading and math growth and proficiency.
  • District 54 will close the achievement gap for ALL students in reading and math as measured by state and local assessments.

The first goal places a heavy focus on social-emotional learning. Social-emotional learning deals with a student’s ability to manage their emotions, demonstrate decision-making skills and responsible behavior, maintain positive relationships, control stress and develop other interpersonal skills to achieve success not only in school, but also in life.

I’m excited to share that this year the District 54 Social Emotional Task Force was created with 98 members representing all 28 schools and all grade levels. The task force examined current practices related to social-emotional programming in the district and wrote social-emotional learning outcomes, modeled after the outcomes we have for core subject areas such as math and literacy.

These essential outcomes define what goals we have for students at the end of each grade level, and are based on the core principles of positive psychology, resiliency research findings and Illinois’ social-emotional learning standards.

As I mentioned in previous articles, all of our employees have been trained on Harvard researcher Shawn Achor’s work on the impact of positive psychology. We know that when we are positive, our brains are more engaged, creative, motivated, energetic, resilient and productive. This is what we want for our students.

The Social-Emotional Learning Task Force also developed lesson plans; designed professional development for staff; created guidelines for how to embed social-emotional instruction across the school day; and discussed how to provide rich home/school connection. The staff training also focuses on what the adults in the school can do to supplement the lessons, such as modeling these social-emotional competencies, positively greeting their students by name each day providing a classroom culture that is welcoming, asking questions to help students solve problems on their own, and giving students choices.

The Task Force presented specific recommendations to the District 54 Strategic Planning Committee March 6 and will present to the school board in April.

In keeping with the positive psychology principles and in celebration of #54Happiness Month in Mach, I want to express my gratitude to the members of this task force who are truly focused on whole child success.

Superintendent’s Message: District 54 task force aims to enhance education

Creative expression.

Student-centric design.


These are a few of the concepts being examined by the District 54 Instructional Innovation Task Force this winter as we explore how to best engage students and enhance the delivery of instruction.

The 68 employees on this task force, representing all District 54 schools, began their first meeting by looking at our schools and asking whether the design promotes collaboration, communication, flexibility, critical thinking, creativity, problem solving and digital learning.

The research we have reviewed indicates that there is an explicit relationship between facility design and educational outcomes. Students learn best in environments that are bright, warm, quiet, safe, clean and comfortable.

Therefore, the Innovative Instruction Task Force is considering what changes can be made to District 54 schools, some of which were built in the 1950s and 1960s, to enhance teaching and learning.

Some of the ideas are as simple as flexible seating, where desks and chairs can be easily moved about the room to accommodate small-group work or the need for larger spaces for projects. Flexible seating also gives student an opportunity for choice – do they want to sit at their desk or stretch out on the floor to work; do they need a place to work independently or find a table where they can solve problems as a team.

The task force is also looking at the impact of lighting, sound, color, ergonomics and whatever it takes to create spaces that elevate learning.

In addition, the task force is examining how we can broaden the learning opportunities we provide our students. Specifically, during the first meeting they investigated Makerspaces in schools. Makerspaces are designed to provide opportunities for creative expression. Students choose activities based on their interests.

These activities could include technology, such as film and music production labs. However, they also include experiences, such as sewing and MakerDo (creations made from cardboard). What the projects have in common is the opportunity for students to personalize their learning experience. In Makerspaces, student are not just consuming information, but are taking the initiative for their learning by creating, exploring, testing and sometimes revising.

The Instructional Innovation Task Force will be presenting specific recommendations to the District 54 Strategic Planning Committee in March.

The Strategic Planning Committee (72 individuals who are teachers, support staff, parents, community members, board members and administrators) is another group that has been meeting this year to develop a plan for the district’s future. This committee has already reached consensus on three goals for the district (see below). The committee will present its final recommendations to the School Board this spring.

  • District 54 will perform in the top 10 percent of all schools as measured by state and local assessments in reading and math growth and proficiency.
  • District 54 will close the achievement gap for ALL students in reading and math as measured by state and local assessments.
  • District 54 will ensure success of the whole child grounded in the belief that each child deserves to be Healthy, Safe, Engaged, Supported and Challenged utilizing comprehensive approaches and programming.

I wrap up each of my columns by emphasizing that it is the people in the District 54 community who make a difference in the lives of our students. I’m grateful for the members of these task forces who have devoted their time and energy to the children of District 54. In next month’s column, I look forward to sharing with you the work of another new task force exploring what more we can do to support social emotional learning.

Superintendent’s Message: District 54 staff and students engage in acts of kindness

This year all District 54 employees have been asked to read The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor, a study of how individuals can reprogram their brains to become more positive and how that positivity spreads to fuel happiness throughout our community.

One of the tactics Achor recommends is to do one random act of kindness each day. It can be as simple as holding the door for a stranger or sending a grateful email to a colleague.  “Not only does it make you happy and make those people happy, but as soon as you start talking about it — even thinking back to some of those random acts of kindness — we immediately start to smile,” he says.

These random acts of kindness also give us the power to actually change the reality of the world around us.

Across District 54 this month, our students and staff are committing acts of kindness and changing their world.

Some of the acts of kindness are small, but no less impactful. As I tour buildings I see numerous instances of kindness.

  • Armstrong had a bulletin board where staff shared what they are grateful for.
  • Muir students wrote examples of acts of kindness on a white board.
  • Link sixth-graders had a kindness calendar, with a different act of kindness for every day of November.

Some acts of kindness impact our community.

  • District Office staff adopted 133 students and three families who are struggling financially and are purchasing gifts to make their holidays a little brighter.
  • Numerous schools hosted food drives for the District 54 Food Pantry.

Other acts of kindness impact people beyond District 54.

  • Collins hosted a sock drive.
  • Fairview packed food at Feed My Starving Children.
  • Link students donated their Halloween candy to Treats for Troops.
  • Hanover Highlands and Campanelli held Penny Wars to raise money for hurricane relief.

These are just a few of the many examples of our staff, our students and their families making a positive impact on the District 54 community and beyond. In all instances, our staff are teaching the students an important lesson about serving others.

If you follow District 54 or any of our schools and teachers on social media, look for the hashtag #D54Cares for more examples of staff, students and parents supporting the community; check out this compilation of social media posts; or ask any District 54 students you know what their school has done to make a difference.

I wrap up each of my columns by emphasizing that it is the people in the District 54 community who make a difference in the lives of our children. However, sometimes it’s also the people in our schools that make a difference. I’m grateful to work in a school district where we support each other and also embrace the community beyond the school doors.

Superintendent’s Message: Saying thanks is a District 54 tradition in November

November is typically a time to give thanks to those who have impacted our lives. It is not surprising that American Education Week and School Board Recognition Day fall within this month. Like Thanksgiving, the opportunity to thank those who are involved in the academic and social emotional success of our students has become a part of District 54’s annual November traditions.

American Education Week is Nov. 13 through 17 in 2017. It began many years ago in 1919, when representatives of the American Legion and NEA were looking for ways to fight illiteracy by strengthening support for public education. Within a few years, the National Parent Teacher Association (PTA) and other national organizations joined the effort.

During November, School District 54 not only honors our exceptional employees, but also gratefully acknowledges the efforts of many individuals who are making a difference in the lives of our students.

During the Wednesday of American Education Week, District 54 gathers hundreds of our community and business partners to thank them for their commitment to our students. Each year, the district chooses a couple of Super Partners, those partners who have gone above and beyond in their dedication to District 54 students.

This year, we had the pleasure of recognizing the fire and police departments from the five communities that serve District 54:  Elk Grove Village, Hanover Park, Hoffman Estates, Roselle and Schaumburg. The first responders in our community work closely with us to keep students safe. Whether they are teaching our elementary students to stop, drop and roll in a fire; helping us run drills; or working with us during an emergency situation, the safety of the children and adults in our community is their top priority.

Wednesday, Nov. 15, is also School Board Members Day in Illinois, a day recognizing the countless hours volunteer service that school board members provide. Our seven elected board members are committed to committed to continuously enhancing the learning opportunities for all of our students by setting high expectations for both students and staff and holding each of us accountable for reaching the district’s goals.

Special thanks to Board of Education members for their dedication to the District 54 students, staff and community:  Board President Mary Kay Prusnick, Board Vice President Charlotte Kegarise, Board Secretary Bob Kaplan and Board Members Bill Harper, Barbara Hengels, Jim Pye and Ken Van Dyke.

As I’ve mentioned in previous columns this year, it is the people in the District 54 community who make a difference in the lives of our children. Please join me in also thanking our parents, community members, business partners and employees for all they do to ensure that District 54 is a great place for students to learn and grow. We truly have a lot to be thankful for.