Karen Sullivan is heading into her first year as superintendent of Indian Prairie Unit District 204 with a confident outlook.
She's leading a district of 29,000 students in Aurora, Naperville, Bolingbrook and Plainfield, a district she calls "consistently high-achieving" and a district guided for the past five years by retired superintendent Kathy Birkett.
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"We're excited," she said about the new school year. "We're in the midst of lots of initiatives that we've been working on for a number of years."
So as Sullivan counts down until the first day of school Tuesday, Aug. 26, the Daily Herald sat down with her to discuss some of those initiatives, including the transition to the Common Core standards, state report card scores, online learning and technology for the 2014-15 year. Here is an edited version of that conversation.
Q: How is the transition to the Common Core going?
A: We've been working on the math Common Core for a couple years and are really just refining it now. This is the first year the English Language Arts curriculum that meets the Common Core will be fully implemented. And this is the first year that we'll be tested with the PARCC (Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers) that's aligned to the Common Core. The assessment environment is changing, so we can't really compare how we did on the previous state assessment with this one. This year will really be a baseline so we'll have to look for other indicators that our students are achieving for a while until we can be confident that PARCC is giving us the data we need.
Q: How do you predict the district will fare on its state report card?
A: Scores are just starting to come in and we're working on that data. We always feel comfortable about our scores. We've been very consistently high-achieving, and we don't anticipate that changing.
Q: The district is involved in an online learning consortium with Naperville Unit District 203 and Wheaton Warrenville Unit District 200. How is that going?
A: The three districts hired a director who's leading that. We've got kids registered for nine courses at the high school level in the first year of the program and we'll look to expand it beyond high school as soon as we can. We have more than 400 students total and we anticipate enrollment will take off next year because we'll have all the courses listed in planning guides before registration starts.
Q: The district has been running a Bring Your Own Technology program. How is that going and what's next for technology in the classroom?
A: This will be our fourth year of the Bring Your Own Technology program, so we feel like we've got a really good solid foundation and we want to take it to the next level. What's next is really providing our teachers more professional development. We estimate about 85 percent of our teachers already have been trained, but we're talking about what we call 'beyond BYOT' because really the issue is instruction. It's really not the technology; it's how does it change instruction, how does it keep kids more engaged? It's focusing on the instruction not on the device.
Q: The John C. Dunham STEM Partnership School at Aurora University opens this year involving 50 District 204 students. What will the effects of this new opportunity be?
A: In the scheme of 29,000 kids, it's 50 kids, right? But what's exciting for us is what we can learn from that environment about the curriculum and the partnerships with corporations and nonprofits that we can transition back over here into the district.