As another school year unfolds in Lake County, students aren't the only ones facing fresh experiences. Several new superintendents have assumed the day-to-day management in many districts.
And whether they were promoted from within, imported from elsewhere or are serving on an interim basis, all will be learning along with the students.
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The Daily Herald asked eight newcomers a pair of questions: What is the greatest challenge facing their respective districts in 2012-13? What is the most important long-range goal?
Lonny Lemon, Oak Grove Elementary District 68, Green Oaks
Last position: Superintendent for the Quincy Public Schools District 172 (2008-12), 7,300 students. Oak Grove had 865 students last year.
A: A challenge for Oak Grove 68 and all districts across the state this year will be to implement all the new educational reforms. Illinois will be pioneering new teacher and principal evaluation systems. We will also begin implementation of new assessment models that are far different from the current models. We will also be continuing our work transitioning to the Common Core standards. There is a lot of change occurring at this point in time. It will our task to work together as teachers, staff, parents, board members, and the greater Oak Grove community to make these transitions as smoothly as possible.
A: My first goal is to earn the respect and trust of everyone involved with the school system. If I can do that, then we can collectively work together to continue our strategic and long-term planning. We want to strive to be the school district others compare themselves to from the academic, facility, and programming vantage point. It is my goal to have each child come to school each day willing and eager to learn, and to leave each afternoon feeling they did.
Scott Warren, Lincolnshire-Prairie View Elementary District 103, Lincolnshire
Last position: Director of Technology and Personnel for Northbrook District 28, 1,700 students. Came to District 103 in January 2012 as superintendent-elect. District 103 had 1,627 students last year.
A: The state continues to cut funding for schools which puts a burden on school districts. Continuing to move forward with our district initiatives while receiving less funding from the state is a challenge we will face this year. In regards to financing, the General State Aid payments to school districts has been reduced again this year. The state will give our district 6 percent less money from the General State Aid payment than it did last year. Additionally, the state will only pay 50 percent of the transportation reimbursement that is owed and 80 percent of the special education money that is owed. Pension reform is also being discussed in the legislature, and one big topic is whether or not the money that the state is supposed to be putting into the system will be shifted to local school districts. If and when this shift happens is unknown.
A: The district has a strategic plan, Vision 2015, which outlines our initiatives for the next few years. Our most important long-range goal is to continue our path of academic growth and excellence for all our students while maintaining a sound financial picture for the district. One of our curricular areas will be completing a World Language study to see how we can incorporate a more comprehensive World Language program in the district, starting in earlier grades. We will also be conducting a study of our ENCORE programs, which include areas such as fine and applied arts and technology and how we can better incorporate 21st Century skills. Additionally, we will continue our work on aligning curriculum to the Common Core Standards in Language Arts and begin the alignment in mathematics.
Christine A. Sefcik, Grant High School District 124, Fox Lake
Last position: Assistant superintendent at District 124 for the past 16 years. Grant had 1,835 students last year.
A: The most immediate challenge facing our district for the 2012-13 school year is improving student achievement. We are well into the process of aligning our curriculum with the new Illinois State Learning Standards incorporating the Common Core and the ACT college readiness standards. This curriculum work will be the foundation to better prepare students to be successful in college and/or the career of their choice. We have many student-focused initiatives in place and a faculty that is very dedicated to seeing those initiatives succeed. We have also implemented several new programs to support the teaching and learning process this year, including a data management program providing faculty with immediate feedback on student performance, literacy coaches, training on the use of differentiated instruction and much more. We have achieved much in the short period of time since the Common Core was implemented, but know that our highest priority and our greatest challenge is to raise the academic achievement of our students at Grant Community High School.
A: Our most important goal, and the focus of all of our efforts, is improving student achievement both in the short term and the long term. A comprehensive, rigorous curriculum and high quality instruction are critical, but there are additional considerations that would have a positive impact on student performance. One of those is increased communication and involvement with parents and our community. Parent involvement is critical for student success and one of my goals is to find ways to enhance communication between school and home and provide the support necessary for parent and teacher partnerships. As a parent and in my educational role, I have found that collaboration between parents and teachers can have a tremendous influence on a student's educational experience. The relationship between our Grant school community and the greater community is extremely important too. A shared goal at Grant is promoting our school spirit across the eight different villages we enroll from and foster a true sense of the "community" high school that we are. With a shared focus on academic achievement between school, families and the community, we can increase the likelihood that students experience success both in school and out of school.
Eileen Conway, superintendent/principal Emmons Elementary District 33, Antioch
Last position: Assistant superintendent, District 33. Emmons had 321 students last year.
A: We all need to review finances and determine how we can continue to provide the students with the resources needed to raise the bar.
A: Emmons is an excellent district with a reputation of academic excellence. We want to continue that reputation and build on it. Keeping resources in line with our growing rigorous programs will be a challenge, yet it is our goal.
Nick Brown, Hawthorn Elementary District 73, Vernon Hills
Last position: Superintendent, Porter Township School Corporation (Indiana); 1,580 students. Hawthorn had 3,977 students last year.
A: Hawthorn 73 is like many other districts in the state and around the country. The great recession has hit revenues for education very hard. We have to plan carefully as we create and use the budget. The goal is to run more efficiently while maintaining the high level of education provided. We must protect programs for our children. At this time, I am still learning the district and want to see it in action with students. I am very interested in supporting the strong programs we offer. I think I will be able to analyze how we deliver these services and may find some suggested improvements down the road to help impact more students positively.
A: Hawthorn has a proud tradition of providing the best quality educational programs for our community. The long-range goal is to help the district maintain and focus those quality programs to further the positive results in student learning. It is a very student centered school district meeting the needs for children. It is important to keep that focus during tough economic times. I am aware that we will have some technology equipment needs in the next few years. Before we replace the old equipment, the district will need to determine what our learning objectives for our students in the use of technology will be and this will impact our decision on what type of equipment would be selected and incorporated into our instructional programs.
Mary Perry-Bates, interim superintendent, Warren Township High School District 121, Gurnee
Last position: Associate superintendent, District 121. Warren had 4,513 students last year.
A: To expand the instructional opportunities and services to meet the increasingly diverse needs of our students and parents while maintaining the financial recognition designated by the Illinois State Board of Education for excellence in managing the finances of the district.
A: To continue to prepare students to secure a future that is characterized by positive personal relationships, productive work or career experiences and meaningful societal contributions.
Christine Demory, Big Hollow Elementary District 38, Ingleside
Last position: Superintendent, Hiawatha Community Unit School District 426, Kirkland, Ill., 650 students. District 38 had 1,763 students last year.
A: The most important challenge facing Big Hollow school district is to continue to provide excellent educational services with the financial revenues that currently support the educational programs. The students, parents, and community have vested their time, talents, and financial resources into creating a culture of care for the best interests of students. Providing excellence in services, while respecting the taxpayers to create a balanced budget, is a priority.
A: The long-range goal for Big Hollow is to first understand the strengths and areas of the district that need improvement. Once these areas are understood, together, all stakeholders will synthesize their beliefs into the district's mission and identify goals to create an action plan for both short and long term goals of the future.
Joseph Petrella, Diamond Lake Elementary District 76, Mundelein
Last position: Superintendent, Gateway School District, Monroeville, Pa., 4,000 students. Diamond Lake had 1,117 students last year.
A: True systemic reform necessitates an understanding of the challenges associated with change. As the newly appointed superintendent of schools, my goal is to address key areas that need to operate in tandem, in order to bring about desirable and measurable results. These areas are detailed in the District 76 Goals document that I have developed cooperatively with the board of school directors. Of all the goals listed, the goal that is of prime importance pertains to student achievement and the academic program. Specifically, in order to promote achievement and growth for all students, all district stakeholders must embrace practices that are evidence-based and are capable of being informed by and monitored by quantifiable data. These practices encompass all areas associated with curriculum, assessment, instruction, and leadership -- the four main categories that correlate to achievement/growth. However, in many instances the adherence to protocol and procedures related to these key reform areas involves change. Sometimes the change is what is referred to as first order change -- the adoption of practices that don't necessarily require a dramatic departure from the way things are done. Change can also take the form of second order change -- change that necessitates a dramatic departure from the status quo. Yet, despite the type of change, the challenge for the "change agent" is to navigate through the phases of change/reform efficiently and effectively, in order to provide the best learning opportunities for students.
A: My response to this question is in essence, the same as the response to the first question. Systemic reform takes between 3 and 5 years. In order to develop curricula, influence instruction, devise interventions, and subscribe to a data-informed approach to learning takes time to make routine and to become embraced and appreciated.