What small Queen Bee School District did to produce eye-catching results on state exams
Queen Bee School District 16 has been around for 160 years, about a century longer than the village of Glendale Heights, where it's based.
For much of its history, some in DuPage County education circles called Queen Bee a "best-kept secret," even if that's not how the district's teachers saw their schools.
But a new feature on the Illinois Report Card has brought Queen Bee to the forefront and showcased how the district has overcome labels about its size and demographics.
Students speak 49 different languages across Queen Bee's four schools and early childhood center. About 38% of students are classified as English language learners. More than 41% are from low-income families.
But across the board, all student groups in the district achieved higher-than-average growth scores in both math and English language arts, according to 2019 report card data.
Growth scores measure student progress on state exams year over year against grade-level peers who started at the same baseline. In a school rating system that debuted in 2018, the state weighs student growth more heavily than standardized test proficiency scores.
"It kind of, I would say, levels the playing field," Queen Bee Superintendent Joseph Williams said.
At the district's Glenside Middle School, students showed 71% growth in English language arts, meaning they grew at the same level or better than 71% of their peers across the state, as compared with 54% in 2018. The statewide average growth score for English language arts and math is 50%.
About 55% of students also tested as proficient in English language arts.
Glenside, where more than half the student population is Hispanic or Latino, earned the "exemplary" school rating. The designation recognizes schools that had no underperforming student groups and performance ranking in the top 10% of schools statewide.
Educators credit a number of factors for the gains. In recent years, the district has made a concentrated effort to overhaul curriculum, train teachers, mentor new staff and invest in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) and bilingual education.
"Our families work really hard, and they've been really pleased with our changes," Williams said. "I think we're expecting more. Our best days are ahead of us."
Queen Bee has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on a mentoring program now in its second year. It was launched in partnership with the New Teacher Center, a California-based nonprofit group that focuses on leadership development, student learning and other areas.
Mentors help new employees feel supported and connected, and the model helps the district attract and retain teachers, Williams said. The 2019 report card shows the teacher retention rate in Queen Bee is 85%, nearly matching the state average.
"We take recruitment, induction and mentoring of our teachers very seriously," he said. "There is a national teacher shortage, so for the people who want to do this, we're trying to put ourselves in a competitive situation where young teachers want to be here at Queen Bee."
At a minimum, new teachers strive to spend 180 minutes a month with their mentors, planning lessons, analyzing student work and strategies for student engagement.
"When we have high quality instructional practices, I do feel that is going to be a direct impact to achievement," said Natalie Christopher, a math coach based at Americana Intermediate School.
A Queen Bee alum, Christopher has spent her entire 23-year career in the district and helps coordinate a program that pairs new employees with about three dozen veteran educators trained as mentors by the New Teacher Center.
She's delighted in the new attention toward Queen Bee after the Illinois State Board of Education last October highlighted student growth.
"A lot rests on the dedication and the hard work of the teachers there who believed in the students they were serving and each and every day," she said.
The district has embraced its diversity by committing to recruit new teachers who have earned an English as a Second Language endorsement.
And for those who haven't, the district has partnered with Northern Illinois and Olivet Nazarene universities to offer evening classes so they can become ESL-endorsed. The district also is looking to a third school, University of St. Francis, to run courses.
Last year, about two dozen educators received the endorsement, a majority of whom teach below the sixth grade.
"The reality is that we're really focused on language development for all students," Williams said.
The district also puts an emphasis on STEM education through the Project Lead the Way program, first introduced in the middle school and expanded to kindergarten through eighth grade over the past five years.
"If STEM was just about robots, we're not interested," Williams said. "It's way more than robots. It's engagement. It's collegiality."
That teamwork is evident in Nicky Hundal's classroom at Glen Hill Primary School. She received Project Lead the Way training at the University of Illinois at Chicago engineering school.
On a recent afternoon, groups of her third-grade students were building compound machines and resolving design issues on their own with Hundal as a guide.
Davis Richards, another Project Lead the Way teacher who heads computer science classes at Glenside Middle School, connects that approach to student growth in math.
"With math these days being so heavily word-focused, problem driven, rather than just facts and simple computational problems, the benefit of these classes is that it really is applying that knowledge in more of a practical setting," he said.
At the middle school, students grew at the same level or better than 57.6% of their peers across the state in math.
"The other part is you start to see those improvements in the later grades when you make systemic changes upstream," Williams said. "So every time we see anything that happens in the district, it's a team event."
Queen Bee's 2019 Illinois Report CardEnrollment: 1,794
Demographics: Low-income, 41%; English learners, 38%; students with Individualized Education Plans, 16%
Racial/ethnic makeup: Hispanic, 46.5%; white, 19.9%; Asian, 24.9%; black, 5.3%
Student growth percentile: English language arts, 61.4%; math, 55.4%
Proficiency: English language arts, 46.2%; math, 33.7%
School rankings: one exemplary (Glenside); three commendable
Source: 2019 Illinois Report Card