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IASB JOINT ANNUAL CONFERENCE


2009 JOINT ANNUAL CONFERENCE
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Panel Report of the 2009 Joint Annual Conference

As it has for the past several years, IASB has posted selected panel reports that make up the Panel Reports of the Joint Annual Conference. The aim is to make some of the most vital information presented at the conference available to a wider audience of school board members and administrators.

With more than 100 panel sessions scheduled at the conference each year, no individual can hope to attend all of them. In navigating this document, you will be able to click on any of the panel titles to read the contents of the report on that particular session or you can simply scroll down to read all of the reports.

Among the reporters who drafted these session summaries were conference "interns," comprised of education administration students from several Illinois university graduate programs. Each intern was assigned to cover a panel selected for its lasting value to school leaders. Other reports have been prepared by members of the IASB communications staff.

The panels chosen were among those presented as part of the Joint Annual Conference of the Illinois Association of School Boards, Illinois Association of School Administrators and Illinois Association of School Business Officials. The annual conference is the state's largest annual meeting of public school leaders. It features speakers, panel presentations, exhibits and informal discussions about a wide array of school leadership topics. The 2009 conference was held Nov. 20-22 at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, Sheraton Chicago Towers and Hotel, and the Swissotel, and attracted more than 12,000 school board members, administrators, exhibitors, school attorneys, and guests.

AYP, Student Learning and the Targeting Achievement through Governance (TAG) Program

Board Policy to Classroom Practice:   Data Informed Decision Making

Continuous Improvement of School Climate through a Data-Driven Discipline Program

Distance Learning Knows No Boundaries

Evaluating School Wellness:   Easier Than You Think!

FOIA Rewritten:   With Transparency and Accountability for All …

The Fundamentals of Collective Bargaining and Contract Management

Hot Topics and Recent Developments in Special Education Law

Illinois New Teacher Collaborative:   A Statewide Partnership for Induction and Mentoring New Teachers

Legally Stumped

MySpace, Facebook and Twitter, Oh My: What Access to Electronic Communication Technology Means to School Districts

Newly Defined Principal Preparation Program for Illinois

Response to Intervention (RtI) at the High School Level

The Role of Regional Offices of Education

RtI: A Road Map to Successful K-8 Implementation

School Board Accountability:   Using Dashboards and Agenda Calendars to Monitor School District Performance

Swimming in Quicksand: How to Prioritize Technology Projects

The Ten Most Common Mistakes in Collective Bargaining

Transforming Professional Development from Teacher Wants to Student Need


AYP, Student Learning and the Targeting Achievement through Governance (TAG) Program

Presenters:
Debra Larson, Consultant, TAG, Illinois Association of School Boards, Springfield;

Steve Clark , Consultant, TAG, Illinois Association of School Boards, Lombard;

Bill King , Superintendent, Lewistown C.U. District 97;

Elizabeth Reynolds , Superintendent, Calumet Public School District 132, Calumet Park;

Tom Shafer , President, Lewistown C.U. District 97 Board of Education; Resolutions Chair, Western Division, Illinois Association of School Boards;

Ernestine Stover , President, Calumet Public School District 132 Board of Education

Reporter:
Vickie Artman , Student of Southern Illinois University-Carbondale

Targeting Achievement through Governance (TAG) is a grant-funded program from the Illinois Association of School Boards.   Through the TAG program, IASB will provide services and training at no cost to school boards in districts or districts with schools not making adequate yearly progress for two consecutive years.   TAG is a comprehensive 18-month program funded by and ISBE grant.

Training opportunities include:

  • Board Governance Review that allows boards to assess their own performance against effective governing standards;
  • School Board Leadership Workshop that provides an overview of the board’s unique governing role and responsibilities;
  • Targeting Student Learning Workshop that teaches a functional process for discussing, assessing and developing meaningful board policies to support student learning;
  • Targeting Student learning process coaching to assist boards in selecting a relevant policy topic to support district and school improvement efforts and to work the process;
  • School and District Improvement Plan training that overviews the elements of school and district improvement plans and provides boards with a process for fulfilling their statutory requirement to approve these plans; and
  • Second Board Governance Review that allows boards to re-assess their performance and gauge progress towards self-improvement.

Boards that commit to participate in the TAG program are choosing to invest time and energy into student learning and achievement in their districts.   It will take approximately eighteen months to complete each phase of the program as follows:

Phase One requires participation in five to eight (5-8) training sessions of approximately three hours each.

  • Board Governance Review I and II
  • Regional Governance Overview – School Board Leadership or Basics of School Governance & Law Workshop
  • School/District Improvement Plan Training
  • Targeting Student Learning Workshop and Coaching

Phase Two requires participation in four to seven (4-7) sessions of approximately three hour each.

  • Evaluation and Needs Assessment
  • Board Governance Review III
  • Optional Customized Workshops and Coaching

Bill King spoke highly of the TAG training.   His district is only half-way through Phase I and they are seeing results with the school board being able to dialogue more and be more effective.   The Board wanted to know what to do to move the district in the right direction for success and that is what happening.

Dr. Reynolds is also very pleased with TAG.   The results for her district are quite impressive.   She believes the impact of TAG will have a   long-term effect on the district.   The TAG opportunity allowed her Board members to receive training in order to become better Board members.   They now have an aligned curriculum, use incremental assessments, and the district is driven by the data.   She recommends the TAG approach to all districts.

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Board Policy to Classroom Practice:   Data Informed Decision Making

Presenter:
Dr. J. Mark Rainey
, Senior Research Associate at Western Michigan University

Reporter:
Rosemary Spaulding , Doctoral Student, Chicago State University

This presentation was quite informative giving a deeper understanding of how decision making at all levels of school involvement must be data driven and how these informed decisions is key to student achievement.   Dr. Rainey stated how eight years ago Michigan received a portion of a three million dollar grant from Wallace Foundation to support education initiatives allowing Michigan to work with principals to have data to inform decision-making.   This partnership was with the Michigan Association School Board.

           

Basically he presented a systemic board governance model identifying the board as the strategic piece, the superintendent and administration as the tactical piece and the staff and teachers as the operational piece. The primary purpose is to build bridges across roles from the board to the superintendents to principals to teachers.   Each body or group has to build the gaps through research based and data-driven information to allow for continuous improvement of student achievement.   The board has what Dr. Rainey refers to as the sky view as board members.   They have a small view of the entire operational, tactical and strategic structure; but must maintain its overall view or role carefully and not place itself in a position of micromanaging.

The school board is at the strategic level.   They must overlook the entire educational organization with long term plans and clear targets for student achievement. The board represents the community and must focus on how to address the mission.   They want to see things moving therefore quick change is of the essence to them.   The board is the furthest removed from the ability to make direct change; however, they have direct access to the superintendent.   The superintendent is at tactical level.   This person has direct influence over and can focus in on resources, human and material.   He/she is certified to improve staff performance, but is not likely to induce systemic change on his/her own.   The superintendent deploys the plans for change (generally one to three years) but needs staff buy-in to be effective and must negotiate realistic timeframes.   At the operational level or school level the focus is on the growth of the students with detailed instructional adjustments being made weekly, monthly and yearly.   It is clearly evident that a school system is needed where there is alignment across the entire organization.

It is easy to see how data must inform decision-making at all three levels             but as pointed out each level is facing fears about being data-driven. Much of this fear comes from the impact of the No Child Left Behind Act (NCLB) and how everyone is looking for transparency.   As Dr. Rainey pointed out the use of data:            (1) does not take the fun out of teaching; it provides focus; (2) does not prevent creativity; it informs it; (3) does not diminish teachers' instinct and experience; it adds to his/her impact; and (4) creates data boards.

The organizational levels should not just be focused on standardized test results of student achievement but also demographic, perceptual and qualitative data.   Multiple measures determine the opening, closing and even the building of new schools; enrollment, parental involvement, community support, values, beliefs, attitudes, teacher quality, leadership, programs, resources, just to name a few.   Each of these measures need to be monitored to determine the effectiveness of the school board, the superintendent, and the schools themselves (principal, staff, students and parents).

The primary purpose is to have strategic decision making with contextual understanding of what constitutes good data.   This data is linked to the board's goals and allows for good decisions.   Data tells us what else we need to know, celebrates good news, and shows us school improvement. The use of this information should help to improve school districts and local school planning.

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Continuous Improvement of School Climate through a Data-Driven Discipline Program

Presenters:
Will Black, Principal, Massac C.U. District 1 Metropolis; Laura Walker, Principal, Massac C. U. District 1 Metropolis

Reporter:
Gloria McDaniel-Hall, Doctoral Intern, Concordia University, River Forest, IL

The objective of this panel was to help participants learn how to effectively and systematically use data to reduce student discipline problems and build a positive school culture through the Continuous Improvement Process and Response to Intervention (RtI).

Another objective was to expose participants to the Plan, Do, Study, Act (PDSA) process as well as other Quality Tools proposed the ASQ (American Society for Quality: www.asq.org ) group which can be used to study all facets of school operations.

The process of continuous improvement initially started within the Metropolis Elementary School in Massac County in response to the need to address student fights and other aggressive behavior. Massac County is a rural district in Southern Illinois. There are approximately 520 students in the school. Basic student demographic information is as follows: 80% white, 10% Black, 7% Multiracial, 2% Latino, and 68% Free and Reduced.

The process of examining student behavioral data using these strategic processes began five years ago with the 2005 school year. Therefore, the initiative is currently in year five of implementation. During the year prior to the implementation of these processes, there were 45 fights and 154 out-of-school suspensions. It was determined that the majority of these incidents were occurring in common areas: the cafeteria, the bathrooms, the playground, etc. Selected staff were sent to training in the formal PDSA process. Once the information was brought back to the school level, a process of data collection and analysis was developed which is evaluated in an on-going and consistent manner.

During years one and two, goals were defined following an assessment of the fight and suspension data from the previous school year. It was determined, using research on effective school discipline, that the first step in the process of improvement would entail clearly defining rules, procedures and routines for staff and students. In addition, it was decided that a more strategic plan for supervision of students in the common areas was necessary.

A team approach was used to conduct an item analysis of discipline problems. Rather than a “reactive” approach, which often simply leads to disciplinary actions and suspension, it was decided that the approach would become more “proactive”. The ultimate goal was to create a system that would foster lasting changes in student behavior. In addition, the hope is that responsibility will shift from the administrative level to teachers and teacher assistants.

Following many strategic planning sessions, it was time to implement changes. “House Rules” were developed and shared with each classroom by PowerPoint. Acts of aggression were explicitly and operationally defined, i.e. fighting is defined as putting your hands on someone else during anger. Playground and cafeteria rules were clearly outlined. During subsequent years, more specificity has been added to definitions, forms and processes have been improved, and additional staff have become integral to the process.  

During the second year of implementation, the number of fights was cut in half, the number of suspensions decreased to 63 (from 154). Students have become more integral to the process as they celebrate days and months of “no fights.” Upper-grade students assist students in the younger grades in learning proper ways to interact with one another. Daily as well as quarterly celebrations commemorate successes on an on-going basis.

Data is on display in the main foyer of the school in order for the school community to be able to chart the progress that is being made. The number of fights last school year was only eight; the number of suspensions was only 16. Academic progress has also been tremendous in light of the fact that more students are in school and not missing instructional time. The new goals include looking more closely at Tier 2 and Tier 3 (more targeted behaviors that don’t always respond to regular interventions) as well as reducing the number of disruptions to instruction.

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Distance Learning Knows No Boundaries

Presenters:
Dan Oakley (Moderator), Superintendent, Avon CU District 176

Amy Mayall, Science Teacher, Avon CU District 176

Mary Peterson, English Teacher, Avon CU District 176

Adam Powell, Technology Coordinator, Avon CU District 176

Tina Stier, Principal, Avon CU District 176

Reporter:
Stan Adcock, Principal, Abingdon CUSD #217

Due to the trend of declining enrollment for many rural school districts in Illinois, as well as across the country, it has become necessary for those schools to look for creative methods to deliver a strong curriculum for those students they serve.   Fortunately, the small rural district of Avon, Illinois has been proactive in their approach to find a solution to this vexing situation which has translated into what they call a “story of success.”   This is because the problem of declining enrollment typically results in fewer course offerings for students in the district.   For Avon, the opposite is true: they have actually been able to expand course offerings even though high school enrollment has gone from 111 in 1999 to an all-time low of 71 this year.

Their answer has been to develop and implement a shared curriculum with local districts and colleges through a technology based delivery system known as “Distance Learning.” The premise of distance learning is simple: a teacher delivers a lesson to students in a typical classroom situation while simultaneously delivering the same lesson to satellite classrooms in remote classroom through the use of cameras and internet connections.

Tina Stier has been with the district through the entire process.   It began in 1999 when district administrators realized the enrollment trends would force them to look for opportunities to maintain current levels of education without cutting personnel.   Like many of the smaller districts in the state, Mrs. Stier served a dual role in that she was not only the high school principal, she was also the district band teacher (a role she continues to play to this day).    The early stages of the process began with early bird classes offered twice a week and “just expanded from there” through dual-credit course offerings with Carl Sandberg College in nearby Galesburg.   Courses offered as on-line at the time were Psychology, Sociology and Public Speaking.

 With the support of her Superintendent at the time, they began talking to the neighboring school districts of Williamsville, Bushnell-Prairie City, and Abingdon.   These schools have been able to form a partnership where each offers something to the other to share teachers and resources to reach a substantial number of students with a high quality curriculum.   In working with each other, each district is often able to provide a teacher at one site who delivers a lesson to one or more other sites.   Those sites do likewise which has enabled this to evolve without charging tuition to the students or families of cooperating districts.    Mrs. Stier stated the benefits were felt right away and included those for both the district and students alike.  

Among those benefits she listed for the district:

    • Ability to keep highly qualified teachers
    • Maintains a viable high school curriculum
    • Expanded versus a contracted list of course offerings
    • Schools communicate to offer courses to classes which would otherwise be too small

Benefits to the Students:

    • Curriculum can be tailored to the individual students needs
    • Expanded curriculum allows some students to graduate from high school and begin college early.   In fact, many students graduate from high school with 8-12 college credits.
    • Some students are able to enter college with many college credits already earned.   This has resulted in students who would normally be enrolled as a typical freshman to begin at higher levels as bypass some requirements such as residence hall lotteries, campus privileges such as class registration according to year based levels, etc.

Because Avon has been involved in distance learning for over ten years, the process currently runs with very few glitches.   Although some intermittent equipment problems will crop up from time to time, those are no more noteworthy than any other technological situations.   Among the problems to be overcome was the need for the teachers to understand both the software and hardware being used so they would be able to perform immediate on-the-spot fixes such as unplugged cables, etc.   Additionally, teachers needed to communicate with all districts enrolled in classes and be flexible when planning assignment, tests and projects to consider other district schedules such as days off, field trips, assemblies and many other issues which arise on a daily basis.   With that in mind, it was necessary to use additional technology such as email or other technology feeds to allow students to make up missed work.

One lesson the district learned early is the need for a dedicated full-time technology coordinator to ensure a skilled professional was always available to keep the process up and running.   Avon’s technology coordinator, Adam Powell, explained many of the hardware technology needs.   The main cost involved in the process for those districts involved has been the purchase of the necessary hardware.    Mr. Powell recommended the following equipment as necessary for the correct startup and implementation of a distance learning program:

  • Video Conferencing Unit (1)
  • Eagle Eye Camera (2)
  • 37”-40” Flat Panel Television Monitors with wall mount (Depending on room size but these must be large enough to allow a clear visual field – Recommended a quantity of 4)
  • Two-way VGA Splitter (2)
  • Powered Speaker (1 per classroom so all students can hear)
  • Minimum of a 384k uplink connection
  • Minimum of a 384k downlink connection

              *Mr. Powell stated the most important criteria is the quality of the internet connection

Throughout the presentation, the importance of highly qualified and strong teachers was echoed by everyone who spoke.   To underscore the validity of those statements, Avon brought two such teachers to share some of their insights and lessons learned.   One of those teachers: Amy Mayall, high school science teacher explained how a staffing problem was solved through distance learning.   Although the high school was not meeting AYP in the area of science on standardized testing, they were unable to hire a highly qualified teacher to fill that position.   Mrs. Mayall had originally earned a B.S. in Biology but did not have a teaching certification.   She was hired as the science facilitator for the program and enrolled in the alternative route to certification through EIU.   Thus, the entire science curriculum was offered through distance learning.   She was able to assist students with homework but the classes had to be taught by a teacher certified in those subject areas.   While working on her certification, she assisted students by staying in communication with the distance learning teacher as well as her students in Avon.   She utilized email, fax, use of the distance learning equipment to obtain daily lessons and homework.   Her main role was to prepare and supervise labs which required an adult presence. She also taped daily lessons for replay later which allowed for a more flexible schedule for Avon students because their schedule would not have to be rearranged to match that of the delivering school district (an unrealistic expectation especially for the number of students involved).

Mrs. Mayall did state that there were both negative and positive aspects to the process which had to be identified and overcome.   One of the biggest issues was the need for a camera which could zoom in to allow close observation of lab demonstrations being performed at the other site.   Additionally, some students had difficulty paying attention in the distance learning setting and meeting with parents had to be scheduled to develop an individualized “Distance Learning Plan” to assist those students.   As far as positive aspects, Mrs. Mayall was able to offer assistance with labs done on-site at Avon for classes which required support.   This allowed Avon to continue to offer a full science curriculum and maintain continuity during this period of transition.   Students got the full benefit of a qualified instructor as well as the essential aspect of hands-on activity.

*This was one instance where the district of Avon did have to exchange money.   Although the offering school district didn’t have to add classes to their schedule, they did need to absorb Avon’s entire science student load.   To compensate for the extra work, Avon paid Williamsfield for the teacher’s extra planning time.

The final presenter, Mary Peterson, English teacher for Avon High School, spoke from the perspective of what she described as an “old war horse.”   Her teaching responsibilities include many of the dual credit English courses offered through a partnership with Carl Sandberg College.   In fact, she approaches all of her classes, dual credit or not, with the same high standards.   Her message was clear: although she was a veteran teacher with “many years of experience” distance learning is something that should not deter those teachers who don’t consider themselves tech savvy.   Mary stated “The beauty of the program is that my program has not changed a great deal; just the method of delivery.”   She was also grateful for the opportunity distance learning gave her to meet and teach more students.   Although she did relate how that could have a few drawbacks on the humorous side.   Mary explained that although she had taught a group of students from Williamsfield through distance learning, when she met them in person for the first time, she received many odd looks.   When she inquired as to why, they told her they were stunned she was so short because the camera made her look tall.   That humorous interaction helped spark a level of rapport which helped build a stronger teacher/student relationship.

Mary did have a few recommendations for anyone who wishes to begin a distance learning program.   She felt strongly that additional planning time was necessary, especially for the English teachers and the increased load of grading papers could become burdensome.   She also felt students should be screened before enrolling, especially for dual credit courses.   Above all, the instructor needs to be someone who is flexible when technical issues arise.

As with all of the presenters, Mary felt the distance learning program had some very definite advantages for students.   First, the dual credit classes allowed students to double their credits by earning both high school and college credit simultaneously.  In doing so, the students are exposed to what college courses are like before actually enrolling in college.   It also gives her the opportunity to expose students to an expansive college library and learn how to locate resources.   She does this through a group field trip to Western Illinois University library.  

As the current financial problems in this state and others continue to grow, it would seem to be necessary for more and more school districts to continue to deliver a viable curriculum.   Given the relatively low cost of programs such as distance learning becomes more lucrative for many smaller districts.   If one adds to that the benefits of a dual credit partnership with a local college, distance learning has capability to improve education in rural Illinois when other areas are suffering.

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Evaluating School Wellness:   Easier Than You Think!

Presenters:
Christine Cliff, nutrition specialist, Illinois Nutrition and

Education Training Program, Sycamore

Linda Dawson, State Chair, Action for Healthy Kids Illinois    

Teresa Pratt ,school nurse, Ridgeview CUSD 19, Colfax       

Monica Van Note ,head cook, Ridgeview CUSD 19, Colfax

Reporter:
Linda Dawson, Director, Editorial Services, IASB

Illinois School Wellness Policies have been required for all districts since July 1, 2006, and many districts are still in the implementation phase. This panel was designed to inform participants about the legislative requirements, advise districts on what they can do to be successful with local wellness policies and how to develop effective goals and objectives, as well as hearing from a district that has earned a Silver Award in the HealthierUS School Challenge and learning about a free tool to help schools monitor their wellness policies.

Christine Cliff explained that any schools or programs that receive any federal money for child nutrition programs must have a local wellness policy, which should be designed to help establish lifelong healthy habits in children, including smart food choices and being physically active.

This work does not have to be an “add on.” Nutrition education can be integrated into other curriculum areas and reinforced with cafeteria offerings and events like health fairs/family fun nights or walking clubs and Bike to School Day.

One of the additional requirements is that the policy must be evaluated. That allows the school to determine if it is on course, to document results, to spot changing needs, to identify what’s working (and what’s not), to improve the policy, to communicate progress to the entire community and to provide key data for writing grants.

The four keys to evaluation are:

  • Keeping it easy
  • Choosing what works for the district/school
  • Integrating evaluation into a cycle of continuous improvement
  • Planning for evaluation before the implementation

Goals explain the overall mission and are more general and broad. Objectives break down the goal into smaller parts and provide specific, measurable actions. Objectives should be SMART: Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic and Time-phased.

IL NET provides a number of resources for school wellness initiatives, many of which can be found at www.kidseatwell.org .

Teresa Pratt , a school nurse, explained how Ridgeview CUSD 19 in Colfax began assessing the district’s wellness needs and creating a plan for improvement beginning in March 2006. Representation included teachers, parents, students, administrators, school board members, athletic boosters, the public, food service, a local grocery store owner and herself, who met with a registered dietician from IL NET.

First efforts were for the head cook to make changes in the a la carte offerings, including offering only baked chips and then switching to fruit juices instead of canned sodas. Students now can purchase milk, juice, water, Propel or Gatorade but not sodas.

The district also held its first Healthy & Wellness Fair with 29 vendors and 200 participants.

From the initial changes, which included a breakfast program, she found that the number of students in her office with physical complaints related to no breakfast and poor choices for lunch (candy and soda) dropped dramatically during the 2006-07 school year.

An additional 20 minutes of physical activity/recess was added before lunch each day to promote healthier eating habits. Only healthy treats were provided at elementary parties and special events, with the cooperation of parents.

In spring 2008, the district partnered with Illinois Wesleyan University community health nursing students to conduct The Body Walk, an 11-station body review, with help from parent volunteers.

In November 2008, Ridgeview Elementary School learned that it was the first school in Illinois to receive the Silver Award for the HealthierUS School Challenge, a voluntary recognition program for schools that excel in student wellness. They conducted an award celebration in March 2009, complete with a visit from the Power Panther (a USDA mascot) and high school students who led the elementary students in a victory lap on the outdoor track.

Monica Van Note , head cook at Ridgeview, said she wasn’t sure at first if students would respond favorably to changes in a la carte offerings, but everything so far has been well received. Milk consumption at the junior high/high school level is up to 144-168 pints per week compared with zero the year before. A salad bar also has been made available to the junior high/high school students with good results. A la carte sales have not suffered by eliminating soft drink sales.

Linda Dawson, state chair for Action For Healthy Kids Illinois team, said that organization was founded in 2002 to address by problem of rising childhood obesity rates. AFHK has an eight-step program to help districts create, implement and monitor local wellness policies. The eighth step, evaluation, now includes an online Wellness Policy Tracker that is free to any school so that wellness committees can see how they are doing with their implementation.

Policy areas and components of the tracker are taken directly from AFHK Wellness Policy Fundamental. This provides a framework for districts looking for a comprehensive approach to wellness issues. It’s okay if a school or district does not have all the component parts as yet. This serves as a guide as to what a good policy might be. If pieces are missing, that means goals are available for additional work.

The AFHK policy tracker is available at www.actionforhealthykids.org . Choose “School Programs” on the home page and then select “Wellness Policy Tool” on the left navigation bar. Click on “Step 8” and then on “here in the box where it says, “It’s now easy to monitor ….”

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FOIA Rewritten:   With Transparency and Accountability for All …

Presenters:
Merry C. Rhoades, attorney, Tueth, Keeney, Cooper, Mohan & Jackstadt, P.C., Edwardsville

Beth Bennett, Government Relations Director, Illinois Press Association, Springfield

Cara Smith , Deputy Chief of Staff, Office of the Illinois Attorney General

Reporter:
Linda Dawson, Director, Editorial Services, IASB

New roles and responsibilities under the Illinois Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) went into effect on January 1, 2010. Panelists spoke about the new requirements from three perspectives: school attorneys; the media; and the attorney general’s office. NOTE: Information included in this report was presumed to be the most up-to-day as of Joint Annual Conference. Changes have been made since the law went into effect, including the naming of Cara Smith as the state’s public access counselor.

Merry Rhoades outlined changes, which include:

  • Each district must designate a FOIA officer(s) who will receive and respond to requests for information. This needs to be a 12-month employee, since requests for public information are not restricted to the nine-month school year. More than one person also may be needed in case of illness or vacation.
  • This officer must be trained before July 1, 2010, and the duties will include noting the date of the request, noting the response due date, maintaining response materials until the request is compiled or denied and maintaining a file of FOIA request correspondence with requests and responses.
  • Timeline for response is now five business days, except for business requests (20 days). The district will be granted five additional days if the information requires records that are stored somewhere else. FOIA assumes that all records in the custody or possession of the district are available for inspection and copying.
  • A district would have to show by clear and convincing evidence that the record should be exempt. Saying something is in a “personnel file” is no longer an exemption. However, private information (Social Security number, driver’s license number, medical records, license plates) is still excluded.

Districts will need a detailed explanation for a denial. An untimely response constitutes a denial.

The district still cannot charge for staff time to compile requests and the first 50 pages of information are still to be free.

Cara Smith said people are coming to the state trainings with anger and confusion.

One of the primary goals in rewriting FOIA was to codify the position of Public Access Counselor (PAC). The position had existed before only at the request of the Attorney General and could have been eliminated at any time. Five or six other states also have PACs.

A public body with a problematic issue can ask in advance for a review regarding an exemption. The PAC will take one of three actions: 1) no action; 2) mediation; 3) binding opinion.

Training for FOIA officers will be online with certificates that can be printed out upon completion.

The AG’s office also has to comply with FOIA requests and has a growing list of FAQs on their website.

Beth Bennett , whose association represents the nearly 700 newspapers in the state, said FOIA is one of the most important news-gathering tools that newspapers have. FOIA is not a press law and it’s not a media law: it’s the people’s law.

The Illinois Press Association has pushed for changes to the law for years. Illinois was the last state to adopt a FOIA, she said, and it had become easier for the press to go through the courts rather than through the statute to get public information requests that had been denied.

Questions & Answers

One of the central questions and concerns involving the new FOIA law is teacher evaluations. Smith said the AG’s office is aware of those concerns.

The five-day count begins on the first day after the request is made. The AG’s office is looking into how to handle school holidays that are normally not “business” holidays, such as Casmir Pulaski Day.

Board self-evaluations done in closed session will not be subject to FOIA.

The rewritten law still does not require districts to create a document that it is not required to maintain. And the “unduly burdensome” exemption remains alive.

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The Fundamentals of Collective Bargaining and Contract Management

Presenters:
Walter H. Warfield (Moderator), Executive Director Emeritus, Illinois Association of School Administrators, Scholar in Residence, University of Illinois, Springfield

Brian Braun , Attorney, Miller, Tracy, Braun, Funk and Miller Ltd., Monticello; Member Illinois Council of School Attorneys

George M. Kohut , Assistant Superintendent, Belleville Township High School District 201

Reporter:
  Stan Adcock, Principal, Abingdon CUSD #217

When you find yourself up to your belt buckle in alligators, it is hard to remember your initial goal was to drain the swamp – George Kohut (to begin his portion of the presentation).

This year marks the 25 th anniversary of Collective Bargaining Law in the state of Illinois (1984).   Given his many years of experience in collective bargaining, Mr. Kohut shared some advice about how school boards and administration should prepare for upcoming contract negotiations.

Look at the result of what you have agreed to in bargaining.   The best outcome is if both sides feel like they are tired and they gave too much. Due to a lack of state and local funding, salary schedules need to be looked at closely. When looking at salary schedules, it is best to use a scatter gram to plot where employees are and will be through the length of the contract.   When using salary schedules, remember there are two directions to move: both vertically (based on years of experience) and horizontally (based on education level).

In Mr. Kohut’s opinion, each board needs to decide which is more important to the district, length of service or education level, and set their own priorities for compensation.

Mr. Kohut also offered the alternative strategy of telling the union you have a set dollar amount to offer and give them the freedom to decide how and where to spend it.   One danger in this is the possibility of creating “super cells” which do not adhere to the six percent cap imposed by the state.   Given this concern, he does not recommend this alternative.   Instead, he recommended a salary schedule which moves one step at a time and is consistent across the board.

To help board members understand the differences between a flat dollar raise and a percentage raise, Mr. Kohut showed several different spreadsheets and plugged in various amounts.

Areas of concern for this year’s negations:

  • There will almost certainly be reductions in force (RIF) for many districts. When doing so, be particularly careful to follow the collective bargaining agreement. Freedom of Information Act legislation could cause some concerns for districts when it comes to teacher evaluations.

The IASA publishes a salary study for the State of Illinois.   This study breaks down salaries by categories and should be used as a comparison when considering raises.   The site can be accessed through IASAedu.org.

My advice is to prepare, prepare, prepare and then prepare some more.   You will not just live with the outcome for the duration of the contract, but for many years to come. - Brian Braun offering some perspective as an attorney for school districts in preparation for collective bargaining.

Tough economic times often signal some hard and tough bargaining sessions, however this can be overcome through good, strong bargaining preparation.   When asked who should be present at the bargaining table. Mr. Braun replied “Who is going to make the decisions?”   His preference is that all board members are present even if they are not sitting at the actual bargaining table.   That way all members are part of the process and are also well informed.   It is important to remember that bargaining sessions are exempt from the requirements of the Open Meetings Act.

Recommendations about who to have at the table:

  • Someone who will not immediately offend the other side!   Do not be adversarial: if you know they will create a negative atmosphere, leave them at home.
  • Boards need to have someone present who knows how the bargaining process works: what constitutes an Unfair Labor Practice (ULP); what does it mean to not be bargaining in good faith; etc.
  • Have someone who is proficient with technology and can plug numbers into a spreadsheet “on the fly” so you can immediately see the effects of dollar amounts offered or requested on salary, insurance, etc.

In addition to process knowledge, it is also essential to have someone who is familiar with fringe benefit rules and is infinitely familiar with TRS rules beyond those dealing primarily with salary, such as sick leave rules, etc. “Strikes are not built on people not getting along at the bargaining table; rather they begin by people who don’t get along in the workplace.”

Share info openly.   Do so in layman’s terms so it doesn’t look as if you are trying to hide anything in the language.   Do this before, during and after, including years when you are not bargaining. The most valuable commodity you have at the table is your credibility. Don’t create issues, solve them.   Mr. Braun shared how he was called in to help with a collective bargaining situation where the school board was up on a platform with nice table and chairs while the union was required to sit below them in folding chairs at a folding table.   Needless to say, this did not serve to create an atmosphere of cooperation.   Perception can be a big part of attitude. Never, ever bluff ANYTHING.   Phrase things carefully but do NOT bluff.   Never dictate.   Ask questions, and a lot of them, but never dictate.   Do not attempt to solve problems by proposing the result.

Advice to remember:   “When you are talking, you are not listening.”   Only by listening can you hear and understand the real issues.   Some problems may be solved by simply listening to each other.   Show respect to others and treat them as equals. Allow the union to propose a result you wish.   It is acceptable to offer “hints” to lead them. Timing is very important.   Never try to over extend yourself by pushing for an agreement based on a timeline.   It is better to let the negotiations take a natural course.   Deadlines can themselves create conflict due to the pressure to complete the steps. The bottom line for successful negations is to come to the table as equals.   Although you can treat the other side as an equal, it is ill advised to go into the process unprepared for any eventually.   No amount of preparation can ensure you will always walk away happy, however you can leave the table satisfied the outcome was the best you could have possibly achieved. When both sides win, everyone goes home happy.

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Hot Topics and Recent Developments in Special Education Law

Presenters:
Mary Kay Klimesh, Attorney, Seyfarth Shaw, LLP, Chicago; Teri E. Engler, Attorney, Sraga Hauser, LLC, Oak Brook; Judith Hackett, Superintendent, Northwest Suburban Special Education Organization, Mount Prospect; Alan T. Sraga, Attorney, Sraga Hauser, LLC, Oak Brook

Reporter:
Vickie Artman, Southern Illinois University – Carbondale

An overview of recent legislation and case law relative to special education was given.   Understanding special education law has developed into a sophisticated system where school districts are faced with meeting the needs of special education students while staying in the parameter of the law.

Teri Engler began the discussion with a special education legal update.   The amendment of IDEA now allows parents the right of revocation of consent for special education and related services.   The school district:

(i)   May not continue to provide special education and related services to the child, but must provide prior written notice before ceasing the provision of special education and related services;

(ii)   May not use the procedures in subpart E of this part (including the mediation procedures or the due process procedures) in order to obtain agreement or a ruling that the services may be provided to the child;

(iii)   Will not be considered to be a violation of the requirement to make FAPE available to the child because of the failure to provide the child with further special education and related services; and

(iv)   Is not required to convene an IEP Team meeting or develop an IEP for the child for further provision of special education and related services.

Ms. Engler cautions school administrators and board members that the student is either all in or all out. “If a parent gives a verbal request, the school district has five days for confirmation.   We must be careful because a parent can make the request to the classroom teacher, coach, etc.   The school must have a system in place for notification.”

Alan Sraga spoke about the concerns of Public Act 96-0191 that became effective August 10, 2009.   This Act amends the School Code by adding that a school district must provide instruction on disability history, individuals with disabilities, and the disability rights movement.   Mr. Sraga noted that no corresponding funding is available at this time.   Several recent court cases involving compliance with IDEA, residential placement, and when reimbursement for a special education child is favorable to a parent were discussed.

Judith Hackett spent the remaining time of the panel discussion tying everything together.   She discussed special education trends and what focal areas are on the horizon. ESEA Reauthorization is definitely an ongoing hot topic.   Committee efforts are underway for restructuring NCLB by changing the name and also addressing many of the challenging aspects of the law.   The revised ESEA will include more emphasis on research based strategies, accountability, increased student achievement in a data-driven, ongoing approach through further delineation of the following four principles:

(a) Improve Student Achievement – Response to Intervention, Growth model, common core standards, progress monitoring;

 (b) Teacher Effectiveness – Discussion of Pay for Performance, increased accountability linked to student growth;

(c) Data Systems – growth models, ongoing assessments

(d) Career/College Readiness – emphasis on transition planning, vocational skills, planning for post-secondary activities

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Illinois New Teacher Collaborative:  A Statewide Partnership for Induction and Mentoring New Teachers

Moderators:
Dr. Chris Roegge, Director, Illinois New Teacher Collaborative (INTC) and Dr. Mary Elin Barnish, Coordinator, ISBE Illinois New Teacher Induction Program

Panelists:
Jennifer Garrision, Superintendent, Sandoval CUSD #501; Patricia Sullivan-Viniard, Assistant Superintendent Quincy District #172

Reporter:
Robert Abney, Principal, Donovan Jr. Sr. High School, Donovan CUSD #3.

The ISBE has created a new teacher collaboration effort that is available to schools in Illinois. The Mission is to coordinate a network of services and resources through a state-wide partnership of concerned stakeholders in order to attract and retain new teachers and enhance their ability to promote student learning.  

The functions and activities of the program include an annual state conference, INTC newsletters and websites, and provide research, data collection, and reports.   The annual conference is sponsored by private industry with sponsors such as State Farm, University of Illinois, College of Education in Springfield, and the ISBE.

There are two types of ISBE funded programs:   Single District and Consortium. The single includes elementary/middle school, high school, and unit/consolidated. The consortium includes regional offices of education and colleges/universities.

In 2009 there were 67 programs with estimated 4,187 beginning teachers and 2,761 mentors over 323 districts and 144,000 students.   Research shows the impact of induction on teacher retention with no induction is 20% leave and 21% move; with basic induction, 18% leave and 21% move; basic induction and collaboration; 12% leave and 15% move; with a comprehensive induction 9% leave and 9% move.  

The workshop had two very different examples of how the new teacher collaboration works in their respective school districts. One is a very small district in southern Illinois and other is a large district that has a dedicated coordinator.

Ms. Jennifer Garrison, the Superintendent of Sandoval CUSD#501 administers her districts teacher induction program through the regional office of Education #3. The ROE serves 7 school districts and 1 alternative education program. The target group is beginning teachers from the ROE area. In FY09 there were 15 beginning teachers, 14 mentors, 13 at-large mentors and 13 administrators attended the ICE 21 Academy.   

The requirements of the program include collaboration between the mentor and new teacher 1 ½ hours a week and required documentation using a contact log noting face to face meetings, journal exchanges, emails, phone calls, and classroom observations. In addition the mentors attended six mandatory workshops on mentoring 101, coaching cycle, formative assessment in mentoring, analysis of student work, program review, and work session. Her major objective is to increase retention. A small rural southern Illinois school district makes it difficult to attract new teachers. There are three coaching cycles of planning conference, observation, and reflecting conference. In addition there are quarterly reflections, analysis of student work, and quarterly meeting with the principal.  

Ms. Garrisons challenges of being a Superintendent in southern Illinois is retaining quality teachers. She sometimes only has one teacher for each subject in her District, so utilizing the ROE programs helps her leverage their mentors. This created partnership of the mentoring program allows for the growth component of her new teachers that was missing. She provided impact statements from new teachers and mentors on how well the program is working for their school. She sees positive results and plans to continue the program.  

In contrast to Ms. Garrison’s situation, Ms. Sullivan-Viniard, Assistant Superintendent from Quincy Public Schools has their own program within their District. The Quincy District has ~7000 students, with 6 Principals.  

The Quincy model encompasses four goals:   reduce teacher attrition, increase cost effectiveness, increase teacher success/satisfaction, and increase student achievement.   The activities are aligned with Illinois Professional Teaching Standards and fall into three categories of professional development, support, and formative assessment. In addition there is a teacher mentor team made up of stakeholders who assist coordinators and meet monthly to coordinate the project.  

The program has 28 mentors that support 22 first year teachers and 22 second year teachers. The mentor teacher leader supports both mentors and 1 st & 2 nd year teachers by providing training and individualized support. Each first-year teacher attends a 3 day District orientation. The 1 st & 2 nd year teacher is observed by a mentor 3-5 times through the year with pre and post conferences and the teachers observe their mentors 1-2 times during the year with pre and post conferences. They also meet weekly to collaborate and reflect, as well as keep a dialogue journal. The 1 st year teachers participate in monthly protégé training sessions and the 2 nd year teachers attend 9 trainings thought-out the year. The 1 st year teachers prepare, with assistance from the mentor, an individual induction plan. The 2 nd year teachers, in collaboration with the mentors, develop a professional development goal.  

Ms. Sullivan-Viniard indicated the program is a success for their district and has resulted in teacher retention and teacher satisfaction. They plan to continue the program.

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Legally Stumped

Presenters:
Heather K. Brickman, partner, Hodges, Loizzi, Eisenhammer, Rodick & Kohn

Stanley B. Eisenhammer, partner, Hodges, Loizzi, Eisenhammer, Rodick & Kohn

Nancy Fredman Krent, partner, Hodges, Loizzi, Eisenhammer, Rodick & Kohn

James S. Levi, partner, Hodges, Loizzi, Eisenhammer, Rodick    & Kohn

Reporter:
Linda Dawson, Director, Editorial Services, IASB

Attorneys from the school law firm of Hodges, Loizzi, Eisenhammer, Rodick & Kohn fielded questions from school board members and administrators during a coffee and conversations session on Sunday morning.

The answers below were given for information purposes only and should not be considered as legal advice. Similar questions regarding specific circumstances should be directed to the district’s school attorney.

Areas of interest:

Special education

Question: Should a district that contracts with another district for special education services have been told when a teacher for one of their contract students was removed from the classroom during a DCFS investigation into allegations of classroom neglect and abuse? (The superintendent found out about the removal only after she questioned why she had not received an invitation to an upcoming Individualized Education Plan (IEP) meeting.)

Answer: Yes, the district probably should have been notified. This serves as a good reminder to all to keep IEPs up to date, especially if a family is moving. When a district places any child with another district, the placing district still is the Local Education Agency (LEA). If any district has a report of abuse or neglect, it is important to contact the Department of Children and Family Services rather than investigating the incident themselves.

Question: What protections are there for teachers and aides regarding safety issues with special education students? (A teacher had grabbed a student by the back of the jacket on the playground to keep him from running into the street.)

Answer: Teachers and aides act “in loco parentis” (in the place of a parent) while children are at school and should do what is in the best interest for the immediate safety of the child. This student should have a behavioral intervention plan to deal with “elopement” issues and a parent(s) should be involved in development of the plan.

Question: What happens if parents want a child in a residential placement and the district feels it is prepared to service the child’s needs? (A family has insisted their high school child be placed in a residential facility at a cost of $80,000. The district feels it can meet the child’s needs, but the parents are unable to handle him at home anymore because of his size.)

Answer: Nearly everyone wants to spend less on special education, but with the way the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) is written, cost is not a factor. Every child from 3 to 22 has a right to be educated. While the courts do listen to districts on appropriateness of placement, the parents’ wishes may win.

Question: How do you handle the loss of parental rights? (A guardian has said that the parent has no rights to information about the child.)

Answer: The administration should always ask to see a court order if a guardian or someone in physical custody of a child claims that a parent has no parental rights. Parents, even if they are not custodial parents, have a right to information about their child unless there is evidence to the contrary.

Board work/meetings

Question: Can a board president assign someone to a committee and then tell that board member they have no voice at any other committee meeting? (The board president said she cannot attend and participate in meetings of other committees.)

Answer: Board presidents can make appointments and other committee meetings are public meetings. You’re not another member on that committee, but you could attend and participate in any public input allowed to the committee … as a citizen, not as a board member.

Question: Our board packets are mailed on Thursday and when we go in for our Monday night meeting, we usually have a changed agenda. Can they do that?

Answer: If the items are added within 48 hours of the meeting, they can be discussed but not acted upon.

Question: Can we just list all 14 reasons for going into executive session on our agenda and then pick the ones we want to use at the meeting?

Answer: If you list all 14 every time, you’re not giving adequate notice of what you will discuss. You do not need the reasons listed on the agenda. You do need to state the reason when the motion is made. If you find that a board member wants to talk about something that is a reason to go into closed session but it was not part of the motion, you should come back into open session, restate the motion and go back into closed session.

Question: Where do we have to be concerned about personal liability?

Answer: Don’t worry too much if you’re acting reasonably, there are no punitive damages. Boards tend to get in trouble when the act out of anger. Step back, forget the person and look at the issue.

Employment issues

Question: When we’re hiring a teacher, can we ask questions about candidates in open session?

Answer: Yes, you can ask questions in open session, but a free, open discussion about employees usually will take place in closed session to protect information about individuals.

Question: What can we do about bizarre contract language regarding who has seniority in same-day hires?

Answer: That’s an issue that will need to be worked out at the bargaining table.

Question: How can we stop the “buy out” deals that result in salary bumps?

Answer: By defining benefits in the contract. Contact your attorney for advice before the action to avoid a “tough luck” answer when it comes to penalties. Also, don’t be cheap when it comes to employing your superintendent. Pay market rate or above.

Question: Has any district challenged the 6 percent cap as a loss of local control?

Answer: The myth of local control is that it is a theory rather than a legal standing. Only those in a home rule community have more power to govern than others.

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MySpace, Facebook and Twitter, Oh My: What Access to Electronic Communication Technology Means to School Districts

Moderator:
J. Christian Miller, Attorney; Miller, Tracy, Braun, Funk & Miller, Ltd; Monticello

Presenters:
Brandon K. Wright, Attorney; David J. Braun, Attorney; Miller, Tracy, Braun, Funk & Miller, Ltd; Monticello

Reporter:
Jennifer Nelson, Director, Information Services, IASB, Springfield

The objectives of this panel were to familiarize the attendees with various social media communication technologies, including MySpace, Facebook and Twitter and to prescribe how students and employees should be using these technologies. Current lawsuits regarding social media formats were also discussed including cases pending in Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi and Texas.

A quick primer focusing on security of information posted was presented differentiating between MySpace, Facebook and Twitter. According to David Braun, MySpace has limited security features as to who can view the information posted.   Facebook has much better security features as users have to accept people as their ‘friends’ before being able to view information.

Most attention in this panel was paid to Facebook and how administrators should use it in conducting investigations into incidents in schools.

The presenters said that that evidence should include who posted the information, when it was posted and where it was posted from. Presenters were quick to point out that discipline shouldn’t change because an incident started online if there is a disruption at the school. A bullying/harassment policy should include proactive steps for disciplining incidents that start online as well as in the school setting.

Employees of the school district also potentially have access to social media networks. So what is the expectation of privacy for those employees?

If, for example, the district provides a “smart phone” to an administrator, what is the expectation of privacy for emails or text messages on that device? Boards should ask themselves three questions: what is the policy of the district; how is the policy enforced; and is there a reasonable expectation of privacy.  

The panelists also posed other policy considerations to help guide school boards through electronic communications:

  • Know the full context of the situation/incident before imposing discipline
  • School administrators should take cyber bullying seriously and include it in any bullying/harassment policies
  • Address the misuse of electronic communication in both the student and employee handbooks
  • Teach Internet safety and proper Internet conduct to students
  • Understand the school’s electronic systems and other electronic communication devices in the school
  • Protect confidentiality of both students and employees
  • Staff should understand and address the security concerns inherent in the use of electronic communication technology
  • Policies should address all forms of electronic communication, including social media websites, computers, cell phones, digital cameras and video conferencing.

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Newly Defined Principal Preparation Program for Illinois

Moderator:
Dr. Linda Thomlinson, Assistant Superintendent Illinois State Board of Education

Panelists:
Debbie Meisner-Bertauski, Associate Director Academic Affairs, Illinois Board of Higher Education; Diane Rutledge, Executive Director, Large Unit School Districts (LUDA)

Reporter:
Robert Abney, Principal, Donovan Jr. Sr. High School, Donovan CUSD #3.

The key to improve preparation of future school leaders in Illinois is to create a preparation program that will focus on preparing principals to affect school improvement in 21 st century schools, to be instructional leaders that results in increase student achievement and facilitate ongoing professional growth of staff.

In July 2007 House Joint Resolution resolved that ISBE, IBHE, and Office of the Governor shall jointly appoint a task force to recommend a sequence of strategic steps to implement improvements in school leader preparation in Illinois, based on, but not limited to, the measures detailed in Blueprint for Change.

The Changes builds upon leadership structure, standards, partnerships, resources, candidate selection, internship/residency, and effective assessments. 51% of the program, exclusive of field, clinical, and residency, must be face-to-face.  

The structure includes principal endorsement and teacher leader endorsement.    The District/school will have more flexibility to fill positions such department chairs and deans.   Both the principal and assistant principal must hold the principal endorsement.  

The standards are that the programs must focus on instruction and school improvement-enhanced student learning.   It must also meet the Interstate School Leader Licensure Consortium (ISLLC) Standards (revised 2008 version).   Another requirement is that Strand of Distinguished Principal must be incorporated in the program.  

It is important to strengthen the content understanding of areas of school law, special education law, use of technology, and social emotional learning standards.   It should include a three-tier instruction and intervention model of curriculum, instruction, and assessment, as well as bullying and school safety.

There are several required components of all course work to include PK-12 focus, focus on all students (special education, English language learners, early childhood and gifted) and working collaboratively, building teams to focus on instruction, curriculum, assessments, and district needs for school improvement.  

Every principal preparation program must include a written partnership agreement that has focus on collaboration to design programs, internships, and candidate selection.   Programs should also form partnerships with regional and or professional associations to assist on selection of candidates, redesign, internships, and assessments.  

The candidate selection will be face to face interviews. Candidates must have 4 years of full-time teaching experience and must hold a standard teaching certificate to be certified as principal. The candidate must provide evidence of commitment to support all students achieving high standards of learning, accomplished classroom instruction, and significant leadership roles in the past. They must possess strong communication skills, have analytical abilities and ability needed to collect and analyze date for school improvement.   They must also demonstrated respect for family and community and have strong interpersonal skills.  

The internship/residency includes field experiences across the program connected to courses. The internship is a one year experience over a time period of 12-18 consecutive months and must include 4 weeks full-time residency experience. Each week must have minimum of 5 consecutive days (not consecutive weeks).   There is also an additional minimum of 200 hours of clinical hours throughout the 12 month internship year.   There are multiple other requirements for the internship is designed to enhance the experience of the candidate. The last portion of the residency includes supervision and assessment which will require collaboration between higher education and public education.

This program is important to develop and train future leaders of our schools.   It is an excellent structure to allow for consistency of training.   It is similar to private industry and will allow our educational leaders similar opportunities for training as their private sector counterparts.  

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Response to Intervention (RtI) at the High School Level

Moderators:
Lenore Gonzales Bragaw, Member, Township High School District 214 Board of Education, Arlington Heights; David Schuler, Superintendent, Township High School District 214, Arlington Heights

Presenters:
Charles Johns, Principal, Township High School District 214, Arlington Heights; Howard McMackin , Division Head, Township High School District 214, Arlington Heights

Reporter:
Gary Adkins, Director of Editorial Services, IASB

Panel members described the impact of using RtI and other educational innovations to create a system of professional protocols and practices to prepare all students to achieve and to check that they truly are prepared to succeed in college and careers.

According to Principal Charles Johns, of Rolling Meadows High School in Township High School District 214, RtI is “a systems approach to change and program improvement.” It is not a label, nor a list of interventions, but it is radically different than special education because its use permeates an entire school system and aims to help all students.

T he RTI process is a multi-step approach to providing services and staff interventions to students who struggle with learning at increasing levels of intensity. At Rolling Meadows High School, the progress students make at each stage of intervention is closely monitored. Data resulting from that monitoring is used to make decisions about the need for further research-based instruction and/or intervention in general education, in special education, or both.

W hy employ the RtI Model? The primary impetus is that it addresses the gap in services between regular education programs and special education programs. In past practice, educational practitioners say there was a gray area between the needs of students who qualified for special education and those who did not. What’s more, typical practice in special education requires that a student face significant failure before becoming eligible for any sort of supportive services.

While “waiting” to fail badly enough to get help, students have risked falling into such a deep well that they might never be able to get themselves back to success.

For RTI implementation to work well, Johns said, certain essential components must be implemented with fidelity and in a rigorous manner:

  • High-quality, scientifically based classroom instruction . All students receive high-quality, research-based instruction in the general education classroom.
  • Ongoing student assessment . Universal screening and progress monitoring provide information about a student’s learning rate and level of achievement, both individually and in comparison with the peer group. These data are then used when determining which students need closer monitoring or intervention. Throughout the RTI process, student progress is monitored frequently to examine student achievement and gauge the effectiveness of the curriculum. Decisions made regarding students’ instructional needs are based on multiple data points taken in context over time.
  • Tiered instruction . A multi-tier approach is used to efficiently differentiate instruction for all students. The model incorporates increasing intensities of instruction offering specific, research-based interventions matched to student needs.
  • Parent involvement . Schools implementing RTI provide parents information about their child’s progress, the instruction and interventions used, the staff who are delivering the instruction and the academic or behavioral goals for their child.

Although there is no single, thoroughly researched and widely practiced “model” of the RTI process, it is generally defined as a three-step model of school supports that uses research-based academic and/or behavioral interventions. The Three-Tier Model includes:

Tier 1: High-Quality Classroom Instruction, Screening, and Group Interventions

Within Tier 1, all students receive high-quality, scientifically based instruction provided by qualified personnel to ensure that their difficulties are not due to inadequate instruction. All students are screened on a periodic basis to establish an academic and behavioral baseline and to identify struggling learners who need additional support. Students identified as being “at risk” through universal screenings and/or results on state or district wide tests receive supplemental instruction during the school day in the regular classroom.

The length of time for this step can vary, but it generally should not exceed 8 weeks. During that time, student progress is closely monitored using a validated screening system such as curriculum-based measurement . At the end of this period, students showing significant progress are generally returned to the regular classroom program. Students not showing adequate progress are moved to Tier 2.

Tier 2: Targeted Interventions

Students not making adequate progress in the regular classroom in Tier 1 are
provided with increasingly intensive instruction matched to their needs on the basis of levels of performance and rates of progress. Intensity varies across group size, frequency and duration of intervention, and level of training of the professionals providing instruction or intervention.

These services and interventions are provided in small-group settings in addition to instruction in the general curriculum. In the early grades (kindergarten through 3rd grade), interventions are usually in the areas of reading and math. A longer period of time may be required for this tier, but it should generally not exceed a grading period. Students who continue to show too little progress at this level of intervention are then considered for more intensive interventions as part of Tier 3.

Tier 3: Intensive Interventions and Comprehensive Evaluation

At this level, students receive individualized, intensive interventions that target the students’ skill deficits. Students who do not achieve the desired level of progress in response to these targeted interventions are then referred for a comprehensive evaluation and considered for eligibility for special education services under the Individuals with Disabilities Education Improvement Act of 2004 (IDEA 2004). The data collected during Tiers 1, 2, and 3 are included and used to make the eligibility decision.

At any point in an RTI process, IDEA 2004 allows parents to request a formal evaluation to determine eligibility for special education. An RTI process cannot be used to deny or delay a formal evaluation for special education.

In addition to variations in the tiers used to deliver RTI services, schools use different approaches in implementation, such as problem-solving, functional assessment, standard protocol, and hybrid approaches. Although there are many formats for how a school might implement RTI to best serve the needs of its students, in every case RTI can be a school-wide framework for efficiently allocating resources to improve student outcomes.

In Township High School District 214, the approach works so well, panel members said, that all students who graduate are truly ready to take on the challenges of today’s world.

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The Role of Regional Offices of Education

Moderator:
Gilbert E. Morrison, Regional Superintendent, Region 16, DeKalb

Presenters:
Amy Jo Clemens, Regional Superintendent of Schools, Region 47, Dixon; Brad Harriman, Regional Superintendent of Schools, Region 49, Belleville; Matt Snyder, Regional Superintendent of Schools, Region 39, Decatur

Reporter:
Jennifer Nelson, Director, Information Services, IASB, Springfield

This panel session provided an introduction to services provided by the offices of Regional Superintendents around the state of Illinois. Statewide, Regional Offices of Education (ROEs) provide numerous services for districts including performance audits of standards for ISBE, certification of teachers and administrators, professional development for teachers, and numerous services for students, which was the focus of this presentation.

One such program administered by ROEs is the Regional Safe Schools Program. This program serves chronically disruptive, expulsion-eligible and multiple suspension students.   According to Superintendent Harriman, ROEs provide alternative education programming featuring individualized education for students being referred by their home districts.   The program addresses academics as well as behavioral problems in students. It is funded by grants and tuition can be charged to the home district.

Another program administered by ROEs is truancy. Illinois law requires children ages 7-17 attend school (and it is the parents’ responsibility to make sure they are there). ROEs are the truancy officers for the counties they represent and have a variety of programs to discourage truancy of students. The ROE for Macon County, Matt Snyder, spoke about their truancy programs.   For example, in Decatur, the state’s attorney will prosecute the parents of a truant child after 18 absences from school (approximately 10% of the school year).   ROEs work with parents and truant students to address the attendance problems before the state’s attorney need be involved.  

ROEs also work with districts regarding homelessness. According to Superintendent Clemens from Dixon, each district must identify students to the ROE to ensure those students get extra services. The most difficult part of helping districts with homeless students is those students who are considered “unaccompanied youth” (students who were kicked out of home, are emancipated, etc.) because they are still considered homeless and eligible for free lunch programs and fee waivers.

More information about these programs as well as other ROE responsibilities can be found at: www.iarss.org .

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RtI: A Road Map to Successful K-8 Implementation

Presenters:
Sean Doyle, School Board President, Summit Hill School District 161; Ken Balcerzak, School Board Secretary, Summit Hill School District 161; Dawn Schiro, District Director of Curriculum and Instruction, Summit Hill School District 161;Keith Pain, District Superintendent , Summit Hill School District 161

Reporter:
Karen Bradley, Principal, DePaul University

This presentation was divided into 3 sections: the journey the district took from deciding to undertake RtI to current steps, description of the three tiers of RtI and corresponding intervention, and the Board’s role in RtI. RtI is defined by this district as the practice of providing high quality instruction and intervention matched to student needs and using learning rate over time and level of performance to inform educational decisions.

PROCESS FOR THIS DISTRICT:

The Board identified the need as a result of the ISAT scores that were fine but not good enough. The Board goals were reflected in the evaluations of the principals. They kept the children’s learning at the center of their efforts.

The process began with an increase in the amount of differentiation in each classroom. They put this as a priority and articulated it through goals and action plans and professional development.

The second phase incorporated data based student assessment to guide instruction. The measures this district used were DIBELS, NWEA/MAP, AIMSWEB.

In the third phase reading intervention was implemented. They began with Tier 1 improvements so that all students were affected.   Professional development was aligned with this goal. Universal reading instruction was improved. Currently the district is working on developing math interventions. Everything is done district-wide to keep everyone on the same page.

In 2007-2008 the district formed a RtI committee, beginning with all of the principals and a teacher representative from each building. The committee examined what they were already doing to see what to build on and what to change. The role of the reading specialist changed and the focus, instruction and curriculum of some of the existing groups changed.

Different structures were developed for the elementary grades, for 5-6 grades, and for grades 7-8, rearranging resources and time schedules.

COMPONENTS OF RtI:

The essential components are:

Multi-tiered model

Problem solving method

Integrated data collection/assessment system

The multi-tiered model involves three levels. The first tier, Tier 1, is the core instruction that is for every student in the district. This needs to be very strong for all students. The majority of students should be able to master the core curriculum at Tier 1. Eighty percent of students should be in Tier 1. About fifteen percent should be in Tier 2 and 5 percent in Tier 3 with intensity of interventions increasing as one goes up the tiers.

At Tier 1 they utilize a universal screener multiple times for all students to get data throughout the year. The tier 1 curriculum is research based and solidly implemented. At Tier 2, interventions are put in place to address a specific skill area. Progress monitoring takes place every two to three weeks. Groupings are organized with 1 adults working with about 5 children and tine intervention comes from a list of research-based choices. At Tier 3, the intensity of the intervention is greater and progress monitoring should be weekly. The adult to student ratio at Tier 3 is usually 1:1 or 1:3.

Problem solving method: This district uses a cyclical model. The problem is identified through the use of data, reasons for the problem are sought, interventions are identified, evaluation of the intervention is done.

The assessment system used is a growth measure system which assesses skills and compares progress to local and state standards.

Reading interventions are in the areas of phonics, phonemic awareness, fluency, vocabulary, and comprehension and are provided in a variety of settings. Focus, program, grouping, time, assessment, interventionist, and setting organize each of the 3 tiers. The RtI committee created a chart of these factors for each tier.

THE BOARD’S ROLE:

The Board’s Role is in Assessing and Evaluating RtI Implementation. Fundamental questions to be asked include:

What resources do we need to commit for successful implementation?

What data do we need in order to accurately assess our RtI implementation?

What goals will we utilize to evaluate our RtI implementation?

What course of action should we take if those goals are not met?

Questions to ask if RtI goals are not being met:

Are we allocating sufficient resources?

Are we consistently utilizing data to inform our instructional decision-making?

Are there better curriculum based measures or intervention?

The Board provides funding for RtI implementation through purchase and maintenance of curriculum based measurements, interventions, progress monitoring, and continuous staff development. The Board should be presented with and look at aggregate data from benchmark assessments, and reports on professional development.

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School Board Accountability: Using Dashboards and Agenda Calendars to Monitor School District Performance

Presenters:
Bryan Chumbley
, Director of Research, Testing & Assessment, Peoria Public School District 150

Laurel DiPrima, Policy Consultant, Illinois Association of School Boards, Lombard

Reporter:
Rosemary Spaulding , Doctoral Student, Chicago State University

The theme for Joint Annual Conference "Lighting the Way" seemed to be apparent at many of the panel sessions particularly this one "School Board Accountability".   Often it is thought of as accountability being present at the local school level; but, the state board and district levels must be the driving force to assure student success; therefore monitoring must be 24/7 at all levels to promote accountability, learning and continuous improvement as identified by this panel.   Monitoring is an on-going process and the tools used helped to ensure this; the district dashboard and an annual agenda calendar.

Laurel DiPrima talked extensively on the need for developing an annual agenda calendar in which the School Board needs to stay abreast of its established processes for implementing, monitoring and reviewing its plans for effective governance and operations.   The Board calendar also includes activities designed to connect with the community as well as mandated activities.  

The Peoria District Dashboard, designed by Bryan Chumbley, allows for transparency and focuses on strategic goals of the board and administration as well as present indicators and measures determined at each local school level such as operational services, personnel, student and community relations.   Each school's progress is reported through dashboard.   The information obtained in dashboard is quite extensive from monthly staff and student attendance, to adequate yearly progress of student achievement reported annually and financial information of revenues and expenditures.   Trends are displayed for several years beginning with the initial year of 2003.    This data is reported on each school within the district and for the compilation of the district to provide all stakeholders with data necessary to understand student performance.

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Swimming in Quicksand: How to Prioritize Technology Projects

Moderator: Kenneth Arndt, Superintendent, C.U. District 300, Carpentersville

Panelists: John Ryan, board member; Chris Stanton, board member;

Eric Willard , Chief Technology Officer; Jennifer Troy, Music Educator, C.U. District 300, Carpentersville

Reporter: Jennifer Nelson, Director, Information Services, IASB, Springfield

The objectives of this panel include guiding attendees through one district’s technology plan as well as show examples of how technology is working in the classrooms and instructional settings in the district.

There are numerous drivers of technology in a district, including instructional initiatives, administrative needs, technology plans, board or superintendent leadership, community expectations and, of course, money.  

To create a technology plan for a district, the first step is to survey the user needs, including the needs of teachers, administrators and staff.   This was accomplished through conversations and surveys of the communities and staff needs. The next step is to secure funding and have proper leadership, either through a superintendent, board president or chief technology officer who can implement all the changes. Next is the need to improve or replace infrastructure.   Finally, the project is actualized through software and hardware purchases.

All these steps provide the necessary resources for teachers to be able to be better teachers for the students of the district.   Teachers are more able to receive instant feedback on the progress of students and adjust their teaching accordingly.

Some examples of success in C.U. District 300 include the use of SMART boards to teach a variety of lessons in the elementary schools, using the Nintendo Wii for teaching rules and movements in PE and use of technology for special needs students.   Jennifer Troy, a music educator for the district, presented how she incorporates SMART board technology into her music classroom.   Students use the SMART boards to assist in creating melodies.   It allows her, as an instructor, immediate feedback on the progress of her students.  

The chief technology officer ended the presentation by stressing that all technology projects need champions.   A technology plan should be included in any strategic or long-term planning done by a district.

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The Ten Most Common Mistakes in Collective Bargaining

Panelists:
Dr. Brad Colwell, Professor of Education Law and Associate Dean, Southern Illinois University Carbondale bcolwell@siu.edu ; Dr. Norman Durflinger, Assistant Professor, Illinois State University, nddirfl@ilstu.edu

Reporter:
Karen Bradley, Principal, DePaul University

This presentation focused on traditional bargaining (as opposed to some of the other methods that are also effectively used such as win-win bargaining). Some common mistakes Boards make include:

1. Forgetting the ultimate goal is to come to settlement

  • It’s not about winning or losing. Everyone is going to lose something in the compromise. Ultimately you are going to reach a settlement and people will have to work together.
  • The ultimate goal is to keep the school open.
  • Do not limit your options.   Keep an open mind and be flexible.
  • Look at the history of the district so you are working in context—some important factors could include things such as the number of grievances, recent strike or near strike situations, etc.

2. Ignoring the importance of communication within the bargaining team and with the     Board

  • The Board should be given regular updates in closed session; be sure that Board members are getting their information from the team and not form the community.
  • Communication between Board members should not happen at the bargaining table. Communication within the team should be done within the caucus, not at the table. The lead negotiator has strategies to engage people around the table in communicating specific messages.

3. Ignoring the importance of communication with other stakeholders

  • A spokesperson should be identified to deal with the media and outside entities. The group needs to agree that only one person will be the person to do this so a consistent message is given.
  • Dr. Durflinger offered the opinion that the superintendent should not be the media contact as he/she is the person who has to bring the district back together at the end.

4. Not learning and using effective table strategies such as

  • Countering your own offer, regressive bargaining, utilizing terms you don’t know, underestimating the chance your offer will be accepted and developing counter proposals.
  • Be sure all proposals and counterproposals, tentative agreements, etc. are dated and paginated.

5. Failing to do the pre-bargaining homework

  • Need to always be prepared; administration needs to prepare and develop a plan based on the current contract. All items should be costed out. Settlements of area school districts should be compared to your own.
  • Ground rules need to be established; they should cover really big items and should serve as guidelines as they are often broken.

6. Letting emotions get the best of you

  • Avoid becoming personally attached and channel your emotions. Each member of the team has a role and each should act in that role.

7. Thinking that “language items” have no cost

  • Some are direct costs and others are indirect costs but all have costs. All are a piece of the financial pie.
  • Non-economic items should be negotiated first as much as possible as the money items are the most important and where contracts are settled.

8. Not listening to, and not protecting, your administrators

  • The bargaining table is not the place for teachers to vent about administration. The contract is a business document and should be treated as such.
  • Remember that the administrators are the ones who will have to continue to work in the district and bring the district back together after a contract is signed.

9. Being unaware of the strategies for resolving disputes

  • Mediation, avoid interest arbitration, strike preparation, side letters, establish a committee, 10-day intent to strike are all strategies that teams should be aware of and understand the implications of each.

10. Failing to distinguish between human relations and labor relations

  • This is the biggest mistake of all. The contract is a business agreement, not a cure all for everything in the district.

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Transforming Professional Development from Teacher Wants to Student Need

Presenters:
John Corbett, Ed. D., Superintendent, Wood Dale, District 7

Merri Beth Kudma, Ed. D., Curriculum Director, Wood Dale, District 7

Reporter:
Gloria McDaniel-Hall, Doctoral Intern, Concordia University, River Forest, IL

The objective of this workshop was to demonstrate the process used within the Wood Dale District in order to transform the ways in which professional development decisions are made.   This district has 109 certified teachers, 24 certified paraprofessionals, and 7 administrators (4 building and 3 central office). There is an early childhood center, a primary building, an intermediate building and a junior high building.

Prior to this initiative, professional development was driven by teacher interest.   Trainings were disjointed, teachers who attended did not get the opportunity to share their learning, students were missing out on true instruction in the absence of their teachers, and there wasn’t alignment to the needs of the students or the district’s goals.   In addition, student test scores were stagnant, there was an increasing amount of accountability from NCLB, and the community was concerned with the reading and writing scores that students were exhibiting.

Based on these needs and research into methods of improving teacher quality, there was a decision made to embrace their staff and find ways to make improvements in instructional delivery using an orderly and data-driven process.   Prior to looking at professional development in this orderly fashion, there had been no method in place to show the impact of professional development on improvements in student learning.   Although the presenters made it clear that there is no one right way to offer professional development, it is clear that linking professional development to student needs and implementing clear methods of determination of the impact on student learning is considered best practice in school administration. The presenters made it clear that this process is not a quick one.   It involves lots of discussions with grade level groups in addition to school administrators.   Staff members must agree on criteria for effectiveness and quality of professional development in order for the process to be efficient.

Research done by Sparks (2002) shows that high quality professional development: 1) is focused on deepening teachers’ content knowledge as well as their pedagogical skills, 2) includes opportunities for practice, research, and reflection, and 3) is embedded in the educators’ work place and takes place during the school day, 4) is sustained over time, and 5) is founded on a sense of collegiality and collaboration among teachers and between principals in solving important problems related to teaching and learning.   Based on these findings, the Wood Dale District transformed the work of the Professional Development Committee.   This group began to read and study together, they agreed upon the best practices needed for their schools, they initiated true professional learning communities as well as shared decision making and accountability. Grade level teams began to examine student work collaboratively and plan lessons together.   Teachers began to observe one another and create common assessments.

It was determined the amount that was previously spent on each teacher for professional development per year (including the cost of using substitute teachers) would be given to grade level teams.   Each grade level team (6 sections of each grade level) was given the autonomy to create a year-long plan of professional development.   The professional development plan had to demonstrate ties to student assessment data and be tied to SMART (specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and time-bound) goals.   Language regarding the provision of professional development was changed within the teachers’ contract as these changes were occurring during the time of contract renewal.   Instructional coaches are also used in conjunction with this initiative.   These coaches “bridge the gap” between knowing and doing.   Based on research, high quality professional development alone does not guarantee that the new learning will transfer unless teachers receive additional coaching and support.   Therefore, coaches visit classrooms and grade level meetings often and provide much-needed feedback to teachers.

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