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updated: 2/24/2011 4:42 PM

District 41 hears summary of school improvement efforts

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By C.L. Waller

Empowering teachers in self-improvement and preparing students to think about education after high school are among initiatives emphasized in Lake Villa Elementary District 41's school improvement plans required through the state report cards.

District 41 is not making adequate yearly progress as defined by the latest annual state report card mandated through the federal No Child Left Behind Act. On Monday, the school board heard from representatives of William L. Thompson Elementary School, Peter J. Palombi Middle School and district officials about what they are doing to improve how students learn.

"What the district is really dealing with is a cultural change," Superintendent John Van Pelt said. He added that more staff members are looking at how they are doing their work and what they do with their work in the schools.

Thompson Principal Sandra Keim outlined how teachers are beginning to acknowledge the value of data, assessing how they are doing and reporting that information to other teachers to learn how to make classroom improvements.

The federal law requires public schools to be judged by breaking down the enrollment in each building through subgroups of all, white, black, Hispanic, Asian/Pacific Islander, Native America, Multiracial, limited English, students with disabilities and economically disadvantaged. There must be at least 45 students to create a subgroup and students sometimes fall into more than one subgroup. District 41 failed to make adequate yearly progress in the limited English subgroup and the subgroup of students with disabilities or special needs, officials said.

Special Education Director Mary Conkling said rather than simply focusing on achievement, teachers are being trained in how to use grading aligned with the Illinois Learning Standards at each grade level. Parents will be surveyed at the end of the school year as to how they like the new grading system.

Assistant Superintendent for Teaching and Learning Alex Barbour said limited English speakers have a different learning process. They are being given more time to work with staff focused on English language learners, plus teams of teachers are being trained how to work with limited English students in the regular classroom.

Also, more professional training and support is being provided to teachers to help them identify ways to intervene and assist students needing assistance, he said.

Palombi Principal Mary Pat Jordan said students needing extra help are being identified earlier, and students who already meet expectations as outlined in the state report card are being identified to help them exceed expectations.

Students who attend college have more earning power, and middle school students are being encouraged to think about education after high school.

"We want them in seventh grade to start goals for college," Jordan said.

Board member Peggy Kuzmanovich noted she heard more positive comments from teachers about their jobs at Curriculum Night, and board member Joe Dunne added the teachers are taking responsibility for all of the students.