Naperville 203 analyzing preschool, career counseling
Superintendent Dan Bridges' State of the District address in Naperville Unit District 203 turned away from a formal speech and into a small discussion with a dozen parents Thursday morning.
The same was the case Wednesday as he presented accomplishments and goals to about five more parents eager to hear how District 203 promotes academic achievement and student development into well-rounded individuals.
Bridges said the district of nearly 17,000 pupils balances academic and interpersonal learning by referring to its mission statement: "to educate students to be self-directed learners, collaborative workers, complex thinkers, quality producers and community contributors."
That recently has led to distribution of personal Chromebooks to high school and junior high students, as well as redesigns of the English and math programs and the science curriculum for junior high and high schoolers.
Soon, Bridges said it will lead to four initiatives to help close achievement gaps and prepare all learners for their future after high school.
District 203 educates less than 500 3- to 5-year-olds at the Ann Reid Early Childhood Center. So this year, the district plans to analyze the program "to make sure every child comes to kindergarten ready," Bridges said.
Getting an early start is one way to close the achievement gaps that often exist between children of some low-income and minority backgrounds and their peers.
"We are not getting enough of our students from low-income backgrounds to get this free early childhood learning experience," Bridges said. "We don't have the capacity to put every 3- to 5-year-old in Naperville in our preschool program, but we can reach out to preschools and say 'Here are our kindergarten readiness standards.'"
The early childhood analysis will develop more outreach to ensure parents know preschool is available, look for ways to offer preschool to more kids and consider whether a summer school program can be added.
District 203 teachers at every school follow state standards for social and emotional learning, ensuring students develop interpersonal skills and thought patterns to manage their feelings. But Bridges said the strategies -- such as the Habits of Mind program at Highlands Elementary or the Be The Three initiative at Naperville Central -- aren't the same across the district.
This year, the district will develop training for teachers to promote best practices.
For students, the learning will be integrated "so you're not only thinking about your social/emotional health during third period," Bridges said. "We're taking the best of what we do and making a systemic approach."
Bridges said 98 percent of District 203 students go to college, "so that's great." But the district is overdue to look at its college and career counseling to make sure students are getting the best guidance.
Bridges said counseling for those who aren't college-bound but might go into the military or a technical school is one area where the district can improve.
New report cards
Elementary parents will receive standards-based report cards for the first time beginning in November.
The new style includes two types of grades: content grades on a scale of 1 to 4 for literacy, math, science/health, social studies, art, music and physical education; and process grades on behaviors needed learning that evaluate whether students display the behaviors "consistently," "occasionally" or "seldom."
Bridges said District 203 is testing the new report cards at Kennedy and Lincoln junior high schools this year to determine if they will work for older students, too. There are no plans to get rid of letter grades at the high school level any time soon, he said.