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updated: 2/20/2014 12:15 AM

Dist. 200 community suggests ways to improve achievement

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Community members said Wednesday that they would like to provide more academic interventions and increase professional development in Wheaton Warrenville District 200 if funding were available.

Those potential initiatives were ranked during a group activity at the district's second Engage200 session at Monroe Middle School. More than 300 people attended the session, which was focused on student achievement.

The Engage200 program is designed to collect input from parents, staff and other community members to help shape the district's future.

Faith Dahlquist, assistant superintendent for educational services, gave a presentation on student achievement before community members discussed ways to improve it.

Before delving into some data, Dahlquist noted that the district already has outstanding student achievement that has been recognized by various organizations, including U.S. News and World Report, which ranked District 200's high schools in the top 3 percent nationwide.

When comparing District 200 to similar districts in the area, Dahlquist said it is important to look at student characteristics. In District 200, she said, there has been a dramatic increase in the number of low income students and English language learners.

In just grades 3 to 8 alone, the number of students with limited English proficiency rose from 31 in 2006 to 724 in 2013. For the same grades and during the same time period, the number of low income students increased from 839 to 1523.

In District 200, 25 percent of students are considered low income, compared to 13 percent in Naperville Unit District 203 and 16 percent in St. Charles School District 303.

"Not all students that come through are as easy to teach. They all can be taught. But there are some differences that make it a little bit more challenging," Dahlquist said.

Currently, the district has every teacher involved in a professional learning community, or team, to help improve student achievement. The teams regularly meet to discuss what they want students to learn, how they will measure what has been learned and what to do for those who have and have not mastered a subject, Dahlquist said.

In addition, the district is implementing social emotional learning standards and improving differentiated instruction to meet the needs of all students.

"We need to continue what we're already doing. We need to support staff as they go through these changes and we ask them to do this very challenging work," Dahlquist said.

She added, however, that if the district wants things to "stay as they are" it needs to make changes to adjust to the changing world students are facing.

As for resources, the amount of instructional dollars District 200 spends per pupil is at $7,174, compared to $8,255 per pupil in Barrington School District 220 and $7,926 in Elmhurst Unit District 205. When asked to list the top obstacle the district faces in improving student achievement, many groups listed funding.

Expanding the district's digital learning environment and increasing character development for students were mentioned by multiple groups as high priorities, but the majority of the groups said they would rather see money spent on professional development and academic interventions.

Many attendees said they would like to see the families of low income and English language learner students get more involved in improving their child's achievement. Multiple groups said they want to see the district focus on teaching the average student, and making sure the students who fall in the "middle" are being helped to achieve more.

Groups were also asked to list the things the district is doing for student achievement that are worth celebrating. Doing more with less resources, good teachers and maintaining high achievement were noted by many attendees.

The next Engage200 session, which will focus on programs and services -- including services for the students who are part of the changing demographics -- is scheduled for March 26. Materials and video from Wednesday's session are available at

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