District 131 educators present 'One Team; One Plan' at ESSA conference
On Feb. 13, a team of educators from East Aurora Unit District 131 presented at the statewide Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) Conference in Chicago.
The ESSA Conference brought together educators from over 850 school districts in Illinois to share information about their creative, effective, and replicable classroom and school practices.
District 131 presented "One Team; One Plan: ESSA Readiness Pre K-12", sharing how the school district is implementing a focused academic plan for all staff and students, from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.
The goals are based on four common core standards, and related to reading, writing and math. The reading standards include reading informational text and citing textual evidence, as well as finding main ideas of the text. In math, the standard being focused on is constructing viable arguments and critique the reasoning of others; and in writing, the student must be able to write arguments with clear reasoning and relevant evidence. In addition, the team presented on attendance initiatives.
Illinois educators in the audience learned about how District 131 focused on four district-wide standards, and how they have begun to increase not only student attendance, but also student performance, including that of more than 5,000 English Learners.
"When we compared district-wide testing data from the fall and now in the winter, our scores are trending up," said Brad Wieher, director of literacy and interventions for District 131. "Across the district, our growth number exceeded national norm, at every level."
Wieher points to the "One Team, One Plan" vision laid out by Dr. Jennifer Norrell, as a catalyst for the spike in scores. He also believes that teachers have done a tremendous job of "buying in" to the plan and have taken ownership of the goals.
Wieher adds that the data is also telling him something about the students.
"The kids have absolutely responded. The scores tell us that overall, our kids are consistently working hard, and are invested in their own success."
Through a series of presentations, from preschool to high school, District 131 educators shared how each grade level is implementing the plan, and how professional development and the hard work of School Improvement Teams in each of the district's schools, has begun to make a difference.
Nitza Carrillo, principal at Allen Elementary School, was one of the presenters, and talked about her motivation for being part of the presentation.
"We were excited to share with educators across the state how we are working towards one vision and a simple focus to see all EA students succeed," said Carrillo.
Carrillo said it was important to have teachers included in the presentations, as they were able to share the work they have done to help students demonstrate growth.
"We were very transparent in sharing that we still have work to do, but also we were able to demonstrate how our plan is working, and how our district team is on board to help our students become more proficient in reading, math and writing."
Carrillo said she was honored to help promote the hard work of the district, and to work with such dedicated professionals who are "fighting" for their students, and who believe that all students in East Aurora can succeed.
Another presenter, Stephanie R Steinbrecher, assistant principal at the Early Childhood Center, was especially inspired to share the "One Team, One Plan" concept, because of the quick results the district has been seeing.
Steinbrecher said she was pleased to see that in just eight months, a new superintendent has brought a great deal of focus, passion and transparency. She also believes her district's approach is one that other districts can learn from.
"The presentations were very well received, and educators were interested in the success we were having by having a shared focus," said Steinbrecher. "They seemed curious and invested in finding out how we overcame some of the barriers to that success."
Steinbrecher says she sees the importance of sharing ideas with other educators throughout the state, in order to benefit students.
"As educators, I think we have a lot to learn from one another, and by sharing our experiences, we have the opportunity to grow exponentially and make connections that ultimately benefit all of our children."
Still, Steinbrecher believes that for East Aurora, the best is yet to come.
"I was incredibly proud to be a Tomcat today," she added. "It's exciting and motivating to get behind a leader who gets behind us. I keep saying 'keep watching, we are rising!' and it is so exciting to see it beginning to come to fruition."