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posted: 2/9/2013 8:00 AM

Round Lake Area Unit District 116 boss upbeat about restructuring plan

She expects results next year in Round Lake schools; forum Monday

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  • Constance Collins

    Constance Collins

  • Video: Improving academic achievement


Round Lake Area Unit District 116 Superintendent Constance Collins says she expects to see academic improvement as soon as next school year once a plan is in place to change how education is delivered to students.

Collins said bold initiatives, such as frequent student monitoring and common textbooks in all elementary schools, must be used in the tentative restructuring plan to elevate student achievement.

All of District 116's schools are in state academic warning status. Five elementary buildings are in federal corrective action or restructuring status.

District 116 will host a community forum Monday to gather input from parents and others in an effort to help further shape the plan. The session will run from 7 to 8:30 p.m. at Round Lake High School's theater.

Consistently poor performance on the state's annual report card and failure to meet federal No Child Left Behind guidelines are driving the need to drastically improve student achievement, district officials said. Total enrollment was more than 7,200 students on the most recent state report card.

Collins said the plan to restructure school governance won't be completed and submitted to state education officials until late February, so the ideas that come from Monday's community forum will be important.

Among the improvements listed in the restructuring proposal are implementation of frequent monitoring of student progress, responsive approaches for struggling children, a clear mission guiding daily activities, and strong leadership and management practices.

Collins said frequently monitoring the pupils should help start moving academic in a positive direction in the 2013-14 academic year.

"Effective schools research demonstrates that it is important to monitor student progress regularly for the adjustment of education," Collins said. "The district is securing a data warehouse, which will store all student data so that teachers and administrators can easily review all facets of student progress, and this will serve as a tool to assist children in mastering the essential curriculum."

Another part of the restructuring intended to begin in the 2013-14 school year is having common textbooks across all elementary classrooms, grades and schools. The district has seven grade-school buildings.

Collins said it's been proven at other school systems that a well-defined curriculum and coordinated materials, combined with professional development, should provide the tools to the staff to ensure student success.

"Our expectation is that improved student achievement would be realized at the end of year-one implementation," she said, "and that our students would continue to improve in subsequent years."

Veronica Lake, deputy superintendent for teaching and learning, has made several presentations on the restructuring. While change will be slow, she said, methodical steps are the best way to boost student achievement.

"It's nice to have a quick fix," Lake said. "We always want a quick fix. But there aren't always quick fixes. It took us a while to get into the condition we're in. It'll take us a while to get out of it."

Not everyone is sold on how District 116 wants to reboot. Among the parents to raise questions is Dave Gazdzicki of Round Lake, who contends administrators should be willing to resign if student performance doesn't turn around.

"We're presented with a change here," Gazdzicki said at a recent District 116 meeting, "but I don't think there is accountability standing behind it. If it fails, the same people will be still working in the same positions and you'll be sitting in the same seats talking about it two years from now."

Until Collins was hired as superintendent in 2010, five school finance authority members appointed by the Illinois State Board of Education had overseen District 116 operations. The state takeover was in place from 2002 through 2010. District 116 was near collapse because of its poor financial condition when the panel received the oversight powers.

District 116 could have allowed the state to assume control of its academics as part of an improvement plan. However, District 116 board members last month approved Collins' recommendation to restructure school governance.

As part of the process, the final plan will be presented at a school board meeting Feb. 25, before it goes to the Illinois State Board of Education. Another community forum to discuss the plan is set for March 14.

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