ICYMI: Innovation for Equitable Access

Reported by Octavio Casas 
Panelists: Todd Dugan, Superintendent, Bunker Hill CUSD 8; Matt Smith, Principal, Bunker Hill CUSD 8

The road can be lonely and systemically challenging for rural schools based on the Illinois evidenced-based funding formula. However, leaders of Bunker Hill Community Unit School District 8 (CUSD 8), Superintendent Todd Dugan and Principal Matt Smith, have assembled an array of resources to ensure that their students have equity and accessibility to rigorous and relevant career pathways. Through grant writing and community partnerships, the district has been able to provide students exposure to pathways they never could have imagined several years prior to the start of their journey. 

CUSD 8’s success and award-winning programs took time to develop the necessary elements to foster a culture of innovation. 

The district is located in Macoupin County in south central Illinois. It comprises nearly 600 students with two schools (one elementary and one high school). The educational demographic of the school is 91% white students, of which 45% receive free or reduced lunch. The Equalized Assessed Value doesn’t allow it to the district to receive adequate resources from local and state tax bases. The district had to re-imagine how to provide innovation and accessibility to students. 

During the presentation, the school leaders emphasized how important it was to establish committees designed to be a safe space for the learning community to collaborate and generate new ideas to improve students’ learning environment. Superintendent Dugan encourages his team to adhere to a quote that he coined, “Never shoot down ideas. Never pass up praise. Never stand in someone’s way.” This simplicity allowed CUSD 8 to create an innovative environment filled with multiple pathways to success. The community worked together to generate an action plan and timeline, which included securing grant funds, creating career pathways, staffing, and forming community partnerships. 

The key to Bunker Hill CUSD 8’s success in this endeavor was the ability to lower previously identified socioeconomic barriers to develop career pathway programs that were more accessible to their students. The district has a unique, innovative partner model, which provides students with tools, resources, transportation, and employment guarantees needed to participate in various pathways the district currently offers to students. In most situations, a district would hire a grant writer to secure such resources. However, Bunker Hill elects to save the money and apply for grants with its own internal capacity, which in turn saves the district money.
As a result of the district’s collective efforts, CUSD 8’s certified nursing assistant (CNA) program was highly successful. In the first year of launching the CNA pathway, all six students who enrolled earned both a school diploma and certified nursing assistant credentials. 

Looking toward the future, the district is focused on growth and replicability as it pilots various pathways including aviation, electrical engineering, and veterinary medicine. Bunker Hill CUSD 8 most recently received the Learning Technology Center Collaboration Award for its student-driven career pathways project at the 2022 Illinois Education Technology Conference and continues its commitment to providing innovation and accessibility for the students of Bunker Hill CUSD 8.

Octavio Casas is a Leadership Coach at the Network for College Success at the University of Chicago and was a participant in the Educational Administrator Internship program at the 2022 Joint Annual Conference. ICYMI (In Case You Missed It) features panel reports from the Conference. Reporters are participants in the Educational Administration Intern program, a collaboration of IASB and the Illinois Council of Professors of Educational Administration.