Every school district wants to get off to a strong, positive start to the new academic year. It's important -- no, it's critical -- that teachers, administrators, parents and students, especially students, are fired up and excited about the start of a new school year. Students must be ready to learn, to have fun and to be successful.
Few know that more than officials and families in Round Lake Unit District 116, a large, diverse district in central Lake County that has struggled mightily with adversities that have hampered learning for years. But in contrast to the days when the new school year in District 116 began with little fanfare, officials are trying something different on Aug. 20 to help boost expectations and performance for the 7,200 students.
They want to shine a spotlight on the first day with special programs that will include a helping hand from local elected officials and other community leaders. Some of them will even be on the front lawns of the district's eight school buildings to greet students, shake hands and wish them good luck to start the 2013-14 school year.
It didn't require a big budget, only a commitment from a community group, the district and local leaders to get involved and show they care. We applaud the idea and urge organizers to use it as a springboard to other efforts that foster community involvement throughout the year. It's an approach worth considering in other school districts.
"We're trying to show this is what Round Lake School District is like and this is what the community is like," Kathy Myers, president of the BEST community networking organization, told the Daily Herald's Conor Morris last week. "We really want to support our kids."
There is plenty of room for improvement in District 116. Severe money problems led to a special state finance authority taking control of the district for eight years starting in 2002. Local authorities have been back in control for the past three years but still are dealing with the same financial constraints as other districts.
Meanwhile, all of District 116's schools are in state academic warning status because of consistently poor performance on the annual report card and failure to meet federal No Child Left Behind guidelines. Efforts are under way to implement a restructuring plan to change how education is delivered to students.
Myers said she's seen plenty of research to support the link between community involvement in children's education and higher achievement. BEST worked with District 116 officials to connect principals of each school with officials from village governments, the park and library districts, and business. Each school will have its own, distinct first-day greeting for students.
Among the plans is having 1,500 students from Round Lake Middle School and Indian Hill Elementary School participate in "Achieve-a-Palooza." It includes students lining up on a football field to spell out "#ACHIEVE" while cheerleaders cheer them on. Greater Round Lake Fire Protection District will shoot aerial photos from a fire truck ladder.
Turnarounds start with a first step. Round Lake District 116 is helping make sure theirs gets off on the right foot, and other suburban schools, whatever their financial condition or testing record, might want to take up the idea as well.