Superintendent's Message, 4.14.2015

Whether Spring Break was a “staycation” at home or involved suitcases, I hope it was a good one for you and your family.

We are fully focused on a strong finish for the remaining 7+ weeks of the 2014–2015 school year. I’ll take this opportunity to remind you that the last day of school for students in Grades 1–7 is Mon., June 8 (Early Release–students dismiss 1 hour early), and the last day for Willow Grove students is Fri., June 5.

Board of Education Abates Debt Payment
Of interest to all District 96 taxpayers is this news of our Board of Education’s plan to reduce tax bills for community residents: For the third time in four years and for the second consecutive year, the District is abating the debt payment owed for the bonds that financed the construction of Country Meadows/Woodlawn schools. In the past two years, the District will have abated $731,000 of the community’s tax bill through its tax levies.

Institute Day Work
Last week District 96 teachers made the most of professional development opportunities during our Apr. 7 Institute Day. Teachers were learning how to help your students use Thinking Maps–visual patterns that serve as “scaffolding” to organize information for asking and answering questions. Thinking Maps allow students to represent their critical thinking visually.

PARCC Assessment Information
In both informal and formal ways we have been collecting feedback regarding our first administration of the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) assessment. With so much discussion of PARCC in the news before the assessment was administered, I’d like to discuss some facts as well as our students’ and staff’s experience with PARCC.

In our District, 98.6 percent of age-eligible students (Grades 3–8) completed the PARCC. The portion of the PARCC administered during March was the PBA–the Performance-Based Assessment. The format of the PBA is fewer questions, but the questions have multiple “layers.” For example, students not only determine the answer to a math problem, they show their work in solving it and write an explanation of their process and answer. Questions in the area of reading might involve dual passages that a student reads and then compares and contrasts in writing.

Regarding the test experience itself, our students took the PARCC exam online and many reported they preferred the online assessment to using paper and pencil. They also reported that they understood and were familiar with the tasks/problems required of them. This is a strong testament to the deep implementation of the new standards across the district in alignment with the new, more rigorous expectations. In turn, faculty advised us that the test administration process was smooth and the time students needed to complete their tests was less than anticipated. We will continue to provide this feedback to the PARCC consortium.

The week of May 4, our students in Grades 3–8 will take the End-of-Year (EOY) portion of the PARCC. The multiple-choice format of the EOY is more like that used in the ISAT test given previously. Unlike the ISAT, however, the material that PARCC assesses is aligned to the Common Core.

The PBA (administered in March) and the EOY (to be administered in May) are two parts of the same PARCC assessment for your student; the results will be combined into one PARCC score for him or her. This week we were notified that we will not receive the results until the fall. The delay is related to the state and national norming that needs to be done in this first year. Since the PARCC test is new, these results will be the benchmark by which we measure future student academic growth as required by law. Our teachers and faculty will examine the data closely to guide academic instruction, extension, and interventions district wide.

Whether or not we like it, the PARCC results will be used to rank and compare schools and districts in the state and now, across the nation. It serves as our accountability measure, as the ISAT did in the past. Many of you moved to District 96 based on high levels of student achievement, as reported in the media and on the school report cards. Those levels of “achievement” were determined by ISAT results. The PARCC will serve that purpose moving forward and will be the measure used to identify us as “high performing” or not. These parameters around accountability are legislative issues.

So what am I doing, as an educational leader, to advocate for a balanced accountability system in Illinois? Several things. I serve on U.S. Congressman Bob Dold’s educational advisory committee that meets throughout the year to discuss these issues. I also serve on State Representative Carol Sente’s advisory committee. In addition, I’m an active member of the legislative advocacy movement for Lake County superintendents. Finally, I’m a member of the Vision 20/20 initiative and serve on the differentiated accountability subgroup working to influence, through legislation, the direction of education in Illinois. Several bills related to our work have been introduced already this year. This involvement takes me to Springfield regularly and to Washington D.C. yearly to advocate for smart and meaningful educational reform. I encourage you to contact your legislators if you feel strongly about legislation that impacts our schools.

Board Approves Installation of Middle School Tracks!
In other District 96 news, I’m thrilled to report that we’ll have our middle school students running in circles when they return for the 2015-16 school year! The installation of rubberized track surfaces begins at the end of the current school year and the tracks are scheduled for completion for the start of school in August.

Each year hundreds of District 96 Twin Groves and Woodlawn students enjoy Patriot Athletic Conference cross country and track and field competition, so this improvement will benefit many. Likewise, the installation of tracks is consistent with our wellness initiative for our entire student community. Our physical education teachers look forward to using the tracks in their daily programs as weather permits.

District 96 is working collaboratively with the Buffalo Grove Park District in adding the track behind Twin Groves Middle School, where surveys/drainage studies support the installation of a 200-meter track. On the Country Meadows/Woodlawn campus, there is room for a 400-meter track that will meet IESA requirements for competition.

Science Olympiad Inaugural Year
Another celebration–and a competition to which District 96 is brand new–is Science Olympiad. In our inaugural year our Twin Groves and Woodlawn teams achieved remarkable results, supported by teachers Mr. Alvarez and Mr. Weiland–and District 96 parent professionals in the area of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math). These parent volunteers gave countless hours to help our students prepare for competition and deserve our thanks. Best wishes to our Twin Groves team as they compete at State next month!

District 96 students and teachers achieve at amazing levels, but another reason I feel privileged to be a member of this community is because of the compassion and generosity our families show again and again. Our PTO volunteers organize and present events to benefit our schools and give our students opportunities to enjoy music and theater performances and meet their favorite authors.  Our student councils and their teacher sponsors raise awareness tirelessly and bring books, beds, holiday gifts, and pajamas to those without. Worthy charities benefit as our students jump rope and “shoot hoops” for pledged donations.

I’m pleased that our Parent-to-Parent Network is offering a new opportunity for parents to contribute as a District 96 community. I hope you can join D96 moms and dads at Feed My Starving Children to pack meals in Libertyville for 2 hours on the morning of Apr. 23. It’s a great opportunity to meet other District parents and work together to make a difference for hungry people around the world. MORE INFO / SIGN UP.

Don’t Miss...
• Your chance to save
Remember to register your returning District 96 student(s) for the 2015-2016 school year as soon as possible. Doing so by May 15 will save your family $20 per student. (Fees increase after May 15.) If you don’t have the registration email(s) sent Apr. 2 for your student(s), request that email(s) be sent again by sending an email to [email protected] or calling 847.459.4260, ext. 8022.

• Our 2015 Annual Report
Watch your U.S. postal mailbox for our 2015 Annual Report, coming later this month. You’ll learn more about how your school district distinguishes itself academically and through financial stewardship.

Finally spring!  Enjoy!