Lighting the way...

My Account





Panel Report of the 2012 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 2012 conference was held Nov. 16-18 at the Hyatt Regency Chicago, Sheraton Chicago Towers and Hotel, and the Swissotel, and attracted more than 10,000 school board members, administrators, exhibitors, school attorneys, and guests.

Aspiring Superintendents

Bargaining Implications of the Education Reform Act

Collaboration Regardless of District Configuration

Cultivating the Superintendent/Board Relationship

Illinois Interactive Report Card for School Board Members

Integrating Google Applications into the Classroom

Maintaining Effective Leadership through Succession Planning

Mobile Devices: A District Invasion

Mrs. John Doe? Transgender Issues in Schools

One Page at a Time—Transforming Literacy in the K-12 Classroom

Principal and Teacher Evaluations under the Performance Evaluation Reform Act

Publicizing Common Core to All Audiences

Quality Education Environments in Older Facilities

Rural Issues with a New Twist

School Community and Media Relations

School Law 2012: Top Five Things School Boards Need to Know

Superintendents, Board Presidents can Impact legislation

Superintendent Employment Contract

Superintendent Evaluation - It's All About District Goals

Telling Your Story Your Way

The Business Official - The Other Leader You Can't Live Without

Aspiring Superintendents

Dave Love,
Tom Leahy, consultants, Executive Searches, IASB
Richard Voltz, associate director of professional development, IASA

Steve Meyerhofer, assistant principal, Alton CUSD 11

Applying for the position of superintendent in Illinois is different than applying for most positions. Likewise, interviewing for the position of superintendent in Illinois is different than most job interviews. The purpose of this discussion is to introduce the key points covered in this Sunday morning roundtable.

Perhaps the most important idea shared during this session was: it must be a good fit between the applicant and the needs of the school district and the community. The skills that one brings to the table as a superintendent must match the needs of the district. A district that is struggling financially is naturally going to seek someone with a strong business management background. Likewise, a district that has had little direction and has been fluttering in the wind needs someone with a strong background in strategic planning.

Having said that, it is critical to be yourself during the application and interview process.   There is no need to pretend to be something different. In the end, this behavior will make for a very unhappy experience as a superintendent. The application process is the first step in obtaining a position as superintendent.

As applicants we must do our homework on districts and be prepared to make decisions.   Consider the following when analyzing a district: review the board minutes for the last six months, financial records, how the district is doing academically, staffing, and finally socio economic status.

In addition, pay attention to how the board of education interacts with itself. It may become evident throughout the interview process that the board is dysfunctional. This may not necessarily be a good position for a rookie superintendent.

Superintendent applicants could develop a negative perception if they apply for every superintendent position available. Likewise, applicants project the same negative perception if they turn down too many positions. Applicants who give reasons for declining positions such as an unwillingness to move into the district may develop a poor reputation as well. Applicants need to be prepared to leave the current position and be prepared to make a decision relatively quickly.

The interview itself usually consists of two rounds. Selection firms attempt to create a good fit between the district and the superintendent. Typically, the first interview is with the board of education. When interviewing with seven people it is critical to get to know the names of the board members. In particular, it is critical to know the name of the board president.

Let the board see who you are as a person and as a professional. At the close of the first interview, boards will usually ask if there are any questions. It is a good idea to have developed several questions to ask the board. This shows interest and you may be able to begin to draw conclusions in terms of where the board stands on certain issues.   It is not, however, an appropriate time to ask about salary and benefits. The second round of interviews is less formal and a good time to discuss salary and benefits.

Round two of the interview process is usually a tour of the district’s schools. If you made the second round of interviews and you are a sitting superintendent, the information will almost certainly go public. Be prepared, by informing your current board ahead of time. If you are not a sitting superintendent it is still important to inform your current superintendent because calls from the interviewing district will begin.

Never apologize for your salary or take less money than you should. The position of superintendent takes a great deal of knowledge and a unique skill set and demands a salary commensurate with these skills. As a new superintendent it is important to fulfill the first contract that you get. The board that is hiring is not looking at this as a short-term relationship.

Applicants should not look at districts necessarily as stepping stones. The Board anticipates that you will fulfill your contract. The IASA attorney will be happy to review your contract for free.      

Applying and interviewing for the position of superintendent is a unique process. First and foremost, it must be a good fit between the applicant and the district. It is critical to know yourself and be yourself throughout the process. If you do not know what you’re good at and what you value, no one else will either. Finally, have a timeline developed in terms of when you want to begin applying for superintendent positions and always do your homework.

Return to Menu

Bargaining Implications of the Education Reform Act

J. Christian Miller, attorney, Miller, Tracy, Braun, Funk & Miller, Ltd.; first vice chair, Illinois Council of School Attorneys

David Braun, attorney,
Brandon Wright, attorney, Miller, Tracy, Braun, Funk & Miller, Ltd., member, Illinois Council of School Attorneys

David J. Deets, Ellis Elementary principal, Harmony-Emge District 175

David Braun outlined the major talking points of PERA and Senate Bill 7 (SB7), which are bringing about major changes to the educational landscape. PERA passed first in 2010, but SB7 came along a year later and “gave teeth” to PERA, according to Braun. Every administrator in Illinois should be very familiar with both legislative measures. However, as the session went on, it was very clear that board members’ knowledge — as a whole — on both these measures is limited.

With SB7 review, RIF's — Reduction in Force — are now tied to teacher performance ratings and the overall rankings associated with the evaluations and “groups” that teachers are placed in.   This has a major impact to traditional “tenure” rights in terms of how teachers are RIF’ed.

In the past, RIFs were done strictly by seniority. Now, teachers are placed in respective groups, 1-4, by their evaluation scores and areas of qualification. Teachers in the lowest groups are released first, so, making it a real possibility that a teacher who has been teaching for 20-plus years can be let go before a teacher who has only been teaching for two years.

Braun and Wright also discussed the relationship ties between SB7 and PERA — specifically the laws of how many evaluations PERA mandates and relationship to the ranking system and groups that a teacher would fall under.

Under the groups, it is important to note that groupings should be done for each position. It’s important to remember that a RIF is not a reduction of a person, but a reduction of a position. The groupings and categories of positions must be released by May 10 of the preceding school year. However, this has to be a “living document” because teachers are added over the summer or even during the school year.

The next big topic was the two joint committees, which are important to both teachers and boards of educations. The first joint committee is the RIF Committee that was created by the Education Reform Act. The RIF Committee is not required to meet annually.

The second committee, created by PERA, is the Evaluation Committee. This committee should consist mainly of teachers and administrators. Administrators are the ones who will drive and implement teacher evaluations.

In any committee, it's very important to define how that committee will operate and the scope of power that committee has. Law says these committees have the power to make a decision. Even though law dictates what we need to do, there will still be unions that challenge the statutes, e.g., the Chicago Public Schools negotiations in summer 2012.

Both panelists emphasized the importance and duty of the PERA Joint Committee. Under statute, this committee has one job: to determine the student growth component (what growth measures are used and the percentage they count for).

Once this committee meets for the first time, the clock starts. The committee has 180 days to come to agreement or it must default to the State Model of using 50 percent growth.

It is still the school board’s responsibility to implement the “Framework” of the evaluation plan, but both attorneys said it is wise to include the Joint Committee or union in coming up with Plan framework, because it “weakens or robs arguments that those components are unfair” from the union.

Return to Menu

Collaboration Regardless of District Configuration

Ed Leman, superintendent, West Chicago Elementary SD 33

Gregg Lemkau, board president, Benjamin Elementary SD 25  
Katherine Doremus, board president, Community HSD 94, West Chicago
Sue Gillespie, board president, Winfield Elementary SD 34  
Christine Scheck, board president, West Chicago Elementary SD 33

David J. Deets, principal, Ellis Elementary School, Harmony-Emge District 175

These four districts are unique from each other in terms of student population and demographics.

The two elementary districts (Benjamin and Winfield) are smaller with a largely white demographic and a small percentage of low-income students. West Chicago Elementary is larger and mainly Hispanic (more than 75 percent) and has a low-income percentage of 76 percent. These three districts feed into Community HSD 94, which is approximately 41 percent white, 49 percent Hispanic, and 20 percent low income.

Over the years, three separate consolidation studies have been performed to check the viability of consolidating these four districts into one. The most recent study was conducted by William Phillips of the Consulting and Resource Group in 2008 at the request of the high school district.

Phillip’s study found that consolidation was not financially or academically in the best interest of the respective school districts. The reasons given were that the respective district’s achievement growth is high; there are strong fund balances; buildings are well maintained; and student enrollment projections do not indicate a need for consolidation.  

However, this study did lead to a major change in attitudes as the respective districts were able to come to the understanding that the kids were “all of their students.” The economic conditions of the past few years also served as a major incentive to work together for the collective good. Instead of consolidation, the districts looked instead to collaboration.

The panel cited several points from the 2011 NEPC study, “Consolidation of Schools and Districts: What the Research Says and What It Means.” Among the biggest myths that the panel addressed is that consolidation is the only answer.

Instead, they felt that sharing resources and services between districts is often a more viable way to save money. The districts now pool for paper ordering, custodial supplies, professional development opportunities, etc.  

In addition to saving money, the districts have also collaborated by having an annual joint meeting of the four school boards.

They discuss issues and collaborate on goals. The board presidents also try to schedule informal monthly meetings to stay on top of what’s happening in the other districts. The superintendents meet monthly, but these meetings are much more focused and task-oriented.

With the superintendents acting as a guiding force, with the support of the various boards of education, the collaboration efforts have trickled down to the teachers and staff as well. The schools celebrate each other’s successes; speak common languages (such as their anti-bullying program); and even support each other’s initiatives.

Return to Menu

Cultivating the Superintendent/Board Relationship

Patrick Rice, director, Field Services, IASB

Dennis Inboden, board president, Robinson CUSD 2
Josh Quick, superintendent, Robinson CUSD 2
Terri Sharpp, board president, Lindop SD 92
Valorie Moore, superintendent, Lindop SD 92

Tori Hartman, assistant principal, Summersville SD 79

Illinois Association of School Board’s “Foundational Principles of Effective Governance” numbers three and six, the board employs the superintendent, and the board holds itself accountable were the focus of this session. Seven components were identified.  

Component 1: Clear understanding of roles and duties — Why is having a clear understanding of roles important and what resources can assist in fostering an understanding of roles and duties?

The panelists suggested the following: Keep board policy up to date, go through the entire manual and become familiar with policies yearly. Have a clear chain of command to prevent micromanaging of the superintendent. Have a board self-evaluation completed to clarify expectations and roles of board members. Set boundaries and refer back to superintendent, do not get personally involved. Use your voice as a board member by voting and then moving on. Speak with one voice, having strong board leadership. Stay out of daily operations with clear roles, team approach, and referring to policy.  

Component 2: Hiring process of the superintendent — What things should the board consider prior to hiring a superintendent?

Consider using a consulting firm because the prospective superintendent should be a good match for the district. Consider the time, energy and money spent in searching as an investment. Consider the process like a marriage between superintendent and board members. Determine if the district needs continuity (in house, ingrained in community, longevity), or a change agent (someone to come in and shake up things).

Component 3: Mutual trust and quality communication — How can we foster trust and enhance quality communications between the superintendent and the school board?

There should be no surprises, no secrets. If something is shared with one board member, it is shared with all board members. Use email with the reminder to reply only to sender to keep communications acceptable, no decisions are being make, simply providing information. Set goals and communicate how the district is progressing toward goals. Commit to training to be a better board member, have a communication plan (email, phone, newsletter, how do board members wish to be reached), be transparent, stay focused on children, not personal agendas.

Component 4: Board process agreements — Why are board process agreements important?

Clear roles and expectations should be transparent to all members and administration. The board president’s responsibility is to communicate to individual members if needed. IASB’s program, Starting Right, is one way explain expectations to new board members, so that they don’t assume anything.

Component 5: Superintendent evaluations — Why is a superintendent evaluation important in building a relationship with the board and what things should the board consider?

This allows for data-based decision making. Panelists said the board and superintendent need to have goals, data, be clear and concise, two-way process to look for growth, not focused on personality or “gut feeling.” Subjective information does not help district of superintendent.

Component 6: Board evaluation — Why is it important for the board to evaluate its performance?

The evaluation process helps to identify “hidden” issues that can be used as a springboard to re-evaluate district goals. It also enables the board to become stronger as a unit, but they also noted that you have to know where district is before determining where it should go. Another suggestion was to have goals on back of name tag to refocus attention at monthly meetings, to set yearly goals and examine progress towards, relate to strategic planning, and ensure the board on task with these goals.

Component 7: New board member orientation — Why is it important that new board members are properly oriented to the board and what things should they know?

Board policy and clear chain of command are extremely important. This gives information and allows time to go through information then have a sit down for question and answers. It was suggested to make new members aware of policy when contacted by constituents, to assign a mentor, to look at professional development as a journey, and to use the board president as a guide.

Return to Menu

Illinois Interactive Report Card for School Board Members

Marilyn McConachie-Bellert, senior research analyst, Northern Illinois University
Sandra Kwasa, director of board development
Angie Peifer, associate executive director, IASB

James Russell, associate executive director, IASB

Turning data into something school board members can understand and use was the passion of Harvey Smith, who started the Illinois Interactive Report Card project at NIU in 2001. That passion was evident as well at the Saturday morning panel, where the why and how of the project was explained.

Helping school board members to make policy-level decisions about student learning and achievement is the goal of the project. Developed with help from the National School Boards Association and other state associations, the online guide is also being used as part of new data workshops designed for board members.

Sandra Kwasa of IASB said that student data is the basis not only for asking the question, “how are we doing?” but also, “compared to what?” She cited several caveats for using averages, distribution models and disaggregated data, and suggested that districts also need to use multiple data courses to develop a cycle for data, starting with baseline information and resource alignments to programs and practices and student outcomes.

Angie Peifer, also of IASB, said the interactive report card represents a wealth of information that can be used to tell many stories and ask appropriate questions. “The tricky part,” she said, “is helping your community to understand the data and what it means to them.”

Reports can be sorted by city, county, district or school. Trend data can be customized by type or size of schools or districts, or by demographics of the student enrollment, grade or subject. The site includes results from several tests, including PSAE (grade 11), ISAT (grades 3-8), ACCESS (for ELLs), and IAA (cognitive disability).

Comparisons also can be made in the achievement gap between any two student subgroups. The report card uses lists, bar graphs, scatter plots and other commonly used methods of sorting data.

Peifer said scatter plots may be scary at first, but they are very useful when making correlations about results.

In addition to the public data, the IIRC also maintains a confidential, password-protected service called “My IIRC,” that contains individual student scores on state tests. This subscription-based service is now being used by about a third of the state’s 863 public districts, McConachie-Bellert said.

“Teachers and administrators can use this information to discuss which students need help, and can evaluate the impact of individual teachers,” she said.

Peifer said the value to the board is helping them to decide what programs to keep or change. “It’s usually not just a case of doing more.”

Peifer also suggested that districts should use appropriate test data to “get out in front of the community and tell your story.”

McConachie-Bellert noted that the IIRC data will change along with the state testing system changes. “We are in a three-year transition and it will be dramatic,” she said. “There will be new standards and new tests. The assessment system has been highly flawed. Hopefully it will be better. But the important thing is to see and tell the big picture.”

Return to Menu

Integrating Google Applications into the Classroom

Henry C. Thiele, chief technology officer
Ken Wallace, superintendent, Maine THSD 207

Tori Hartman, assistant principal, Summersville SD 79

Henry Thiele said the Maine 207 school noticed a need for easier tools for teachers to use to empower students with technology. The district began with a pilot in 2007 and went to full student and staff application and rollout by fall 2010.

Google Apps for Education (GAFE) allows for districts to use the “cloud” for the following tools: Gail, Talk, Groups, Calendar, Docs, Sites, and Video at no cost, and Postini for a small charge. More than 70 additional tools are available for fees. No matter the size of district, Thiele said, GAFE will always guarantee basic tools will be no cost for schools.

The control panel has authority to turn on or off all tools for various users. Google Plus is a white board-like interactive system that can allow up to 15 members to work collaboratively at one time, in a virtual meeting.

Key differences in GAFE over other products are its simplicity and easy to share information within or outside of organization. The three ways to share products include view, commenter and edit capabilities.  

GAFE works on all devices that have Internet capability. Each teacher/student has five GB of storage in addition to unlimited document storage within the “cloud.” Nothing is stored directly on servers within district. Information is stored within the “cloud” allowing elimination of servers, coolers, staff members to maintain student database, etc.

Thiele estimated the cost benefit to Maine 207 has been more than $600,000 over the past five years.

Benefits in learning with staff and students include, collaboration, faster, more flexible product, remove walls, and closing the digital divide between the haves and have-nots.

GAFE supports professional learning communities and teachers leading teachers, because it is tearing down walls to make way for more successful students. A 24/7 technical support is available by phone and online for consumers using GAFE. It currently has more than 10 million users.  

In addition to technical support, user groups such as Illinois School can provide a wealth of information and support.  

One “catch” of the program is that additional bandwidth will be needed to fully incorporate student and staff usage.  

To sign up a school district: The information presented during this Saturday afternoon panel session may be obtained at

Return to Menu

Maintaining Effective Leadership through Succession Planning

Jim Dombek, board president
Wayne Riesen, retired superintendent
Kathy Countryman, superintendent, Sycamore CUSD 427

Gary Adkins, director of editorial services, IASB

President Dombek introduced the Saturday afternoon panel and offered a board perspective on the district’s approach to planning for succession in the superintendency.

He described a two-year process than was preceded by bringing in all district stakeholders for strategic planning in 2001. The strategic design was updated in 2008 through a process involving a day and a half of soul searching and an open exchange of ideas.

Dombek said strategic design components included a mission statement, belief statements, core values, a vision statement, and learner outcomes. “This gave us a game plan to follow when there might be a change in top administrators,” he said.   When the time first came for such a change in 2005, the board looked for a superintendent who could carry on the district’s strategic design.

“Dr. Riesen studied the strategic design before he interviewed and he pledged to maintain it; which proved to be 110 percent true,” Dombek said.

Riesen let the board know before he was hired, however, that he would be retiring in four years. Because the strategic design led to it, the board’s plan for a successor to Riesen featured a home-grown candidate, Dombek said.

The process for choosing the planned successor began with the board setting goals for the traits the board should pursue in a successor. The board chose to seek someone who could: maintain direction, be a known performer, “hit the ground running,” lead a seamless transition, and save the cost of a search.

Dombek said there were just two board concerns: 1) would there be any negative reaction from co-workers to an internal candidate? and 2) what would be the reaction of the community to a decision not to reach out for a candidate through a nationwide search?

Both concerns proved unfounded as no discernible conflict has arisen among co-workers, and, although some questioned the lack of a nationwide search, “we were able to make them understand that, for the reasons already stated, that did not fit with our plan,” he said.

Dombek said the “Sycamore solution,” when it came to planning for a successor to Riesen, required getting someone with knowledge and experience in the district, and a person already integrated in the community, a true relationship builder, accessible and approachable, and someone who had full board support and was a genuinely nice person.

The main potential downside was that the chosen successor had no experience as a superintendent, but this proved not to be a serious concern. That’s because the board had closely observed the candidate’s entire career in administration within the district, starting as an elementary principal and then as an assistant superintendent who took over the superintendent’s duties in Riesen’s absence. “So there was no real problem there,” Dombek said.

Riesen described how, in his final year in the superintendent’s post, he helped to create a transition plan for the chosen successor, Kathy Countryman.   “One of her goals during this time was to work with me and the board.”

He said transition planning for the superintendent involved weekly Friday afternoon meetings with Countryman to share information about the key concerns of the superintendency.

Those meetings covered the superintendent’s multi-year contract, budget and finance, the importance of effective communications, the art of negotiations, and an overall leadership and team-building approach.

Riesen said he also shared with Countryman information on the day-to-day management of the district, the role of policy development with the board, working effectively with the board, professional organizations and obligations, and perceptions on the overall responsibilities of the superintendent. Key among these was how to develop and maintain a relationship with the board based on trust and mutual respect, he said.

He said his transition plan called for sharing information with Countryman on the district’s policy development and policy revisions process, noting “We belong to a program called PRESS Plus, from the Illinois Association of School Boards, and taking that membership is one of the best things we ever did. To keep board policies up to date, we typically go through about four revision processes per year with IASB facilitators,” Riesen said.

Some other essential advice that he said he passed on to Countryman focused on the district budgeting process. “You can’t goof up the tax levy in this business or you won’t last long,” he said. Riesen then shared with the audience a copy of the outline of the transition plan he developed and implemented.

Countryman said she began with a real understanding of the district’s vision, resulting from her knowledge of the strategic planning process, plus a working knowledge of the people of the district, and of the community and its politics. She noted, for example, that she previously had been Rotary Club president. All this insider’s knowledge was an advantage, she said.

What she did not know before taking over the reins was the weight of responsibility for all that occurs in the district, and “just how hard it would be to delegate responsibilities when necessary.” The latter was particularly hard after having been a hands-on administrator in her former post in leading the personnel department, she explained.

Countryman concluded by describing what she is learning from the succession process in her first months as district superintendent:

  • Sleep is unnecessary
  • There’s a difference between listening, which you must do, and waiting to talk
  • You can’t do it all
  • Everything has a process
  • There is never enough time
  • Think about decisions
  • Be true to who you are, and
  • Smile — you need to — and you should smile through most things

In closing remarks, President Dombek said Countryman “is exceeding our expectations” after more than four months on the job. “We think we made the right choice,” he concluded.

Return to Menu

Mobile Devices: A District Invasion

James McEnroe, retired superintendent, Frankfort


Sherry Ephraim, account executive, Horizon Software international
Bill Spakowski, account manager, Single Path
Nick Spehart, representative, Infinite Campus Computer Information Concepts
Francis Zelek, director of technology, Oregon CU District 220
Suellen Girard, superintendent,
Karen Mayberry,
Ben Sondgeroth, teachers, Morrison CUSD 6
Scott Vance, principal, Morrison High School, Morrison CUSD 6
Ona Allison, technology director, Morrison CUSD 6

James Russell, associate executive director, IASB

Mobile devices are commonplace. Nearly everyone has and uses them. But are they appropriate for school use, i.e., as learning tools?

At least one district — Morrison CUSD 6 — believes they are.

The district teamed up with three vendors and a tech director from a neighboring school district to discuss how teachers and students were adapting to a total immersion of Apple iPad tablets at all grade levels of the rural northwest Illinois unit district.

Bill Spakowski of the Lombard firm Single Path explained that such a technological “invasion” starts with a district-wide assessment of student and teacher needs, professional development needs, and the district’s technology gaps.

“The assessment is critical, not only to determine what the users want, but to do the research and to make the plan sustainable. It’s not just turning it on; it’s about incorporating ‘change management’ philosophy,” he said.

Morrison superintendent Suellen Girard said that although the district of 1,125 students is quite prudent with its expenditures, the community has high education standards and expects the district “to do a lot with a little.”

Girard said the district also wanted to find a better way to engage students and to draw out their creative and entrepreneurial spirit, especially from those who ordinarily don’t test well.

Through the use of bonds, grants, donations, and a lease levy, the district was able to secure enough funding to invite any teacher to propose what they would do with the I-pads to improve student engagement and achievement. It was also essential that their proposals use the state’s Common Core Standards and RTI tools.  

“Some teachers we never would have expected to use the iPads are now ‘flipping’ their classes,” Girard said.

One of the “flippers” is Ben Sondgeroth, a Morrison High School history and government teacher, who noted that his class is now text-free.

Although he admitted making fun of tablets when they first came out, Sondgeroth said his department ultimately decided to divert their textbook budget to purchase 32 iPads. “Our goal was to change the culture of the social studies classroom,” he said.

One of the biggest challenges for teachers was to convert a traditional learning management system to the electronic Moodle system. The iPads were distributed to teachers over the summer with the purpose of learning how to use the hardware and software themselves before launching it in the classroom.

The change in the classroom has been transformational, he said.

“My only assignment is to tell the kids go out and find the information. They now have access to multiple sources and viewpoints on the same subject. This gives them the power and allows them to decide what to use,” he said.

Another benefit is collaboration among students and to allow for project-based learning. One of their more recent assignments, for example, was to create their own political campaign ads. “They are taking it and running with it,” Sondgeroth added. “I now have students who used to use books for pillows checking out iPads for assignments.”

Results are showing fewer failures, higher grades, higher participation and more quality work.

In addition to Moodle, the students and teachers also rely on Skype, Dropbox and a variety of education-based Google apps for online sharing.

Scott Vance, Morrison High School principal, also noted that students who are absent for an extended amount of time, whether for illness or discipline, can stay connected with their school work.

One of the bigger obstacles to implementing online learning was the time and expense of installing a wireless network in the four building district. According to Ona Allison, director of technology for CUSD 6, this required 30,000 feet of Ethernet cable. She was able to take advantage of community college interns to complete the task.

Other issues discussed at this panel included the need for “end user agreements,” bandwidth availability, and computer breakage and maintenance. “So far, we haven’t had a single student break or lose one,” Allison noted.

Return to Menu

Mrs. John Doe? Transgender Issues in Schools

Alexandra Nicholson, superintendent, West Northfield District 31, Northbrook


A. Lynn Himes,
James A. Petrungaro, attorneys, Scariano, Himes and Petrarca, Chtd., Chicago

Jennifer Nelson, director, Information Services, IASB

The presenters began by giving a brief overview of transgender issues, including some statistics about the percentage of people who identify as transgender (0.3% of adults).

Although dealing with transgender issues is not widespread in Illinois districts yet, it is something that school boards are going to have to deal with in the future.

Some areas of concern in schools in regards to transgender issues include:

  • Bathroom/locker room access (should a transgender student be permitted to use the gender-based bathroom that corresponds with the student’s identified gender as opposed to the student’s sex?)
  • Gender identification classifications (which dress code applies to a male student who identifies as a female?)
  • Revising student records (this usually comes up in the past tense—for example, a past student comes back and asks for records of gender to be changed)
  • Disruption/climate issues (how does a board/school district protect a transgender student from bullying?)

One specific area of concern addressed by the presenters is transgender student participation in athletic events (for example, a male student who identifies as a female wants to participate on the girls’ softball team).

The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) permits transgender participation on athletic teams on a case-by-case basis. Under the policy, the school must collect information regarding a student’s gender identity and relevant medical documentation demonstrating “any hormonal treatments, sexual re-assignment surgery, and counseling”.

School districts should be aware of these transgender issues and have appropriate policies protecting both students and staff.

Both attorneys noted that information presented at this panel was given for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice. Please consult the district attorney for further clarification.

Return to Menu

One Page at a Time—Transforming Literacy in the K-12 Classroom

Sandra Wilson, assistant superintendent, McLean County Unit 5

Rexie Lanier, district literacy specialist
Dan Lamboley, principal, Parkside Junior High
Gary Niehaus, superintendent
Meta Mickens-Baker, board member, McLean County Unit 5

Linda Dawson, director of editorial services, IASB

During the past four school years, McLean County Unit 5 has worked to implement a literacy program throughout the district as part of a school improvement plan goal that all students will make progress in the area of reading comprehension and writing across all content areas.

Starting with American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) funding in 2009-10, the district hired and trained four district literacy coaches, a Reading Recover teacher leader, six reading interventionists and began the changes in two elementary and one middle school. The schools chosen and those initially trained were the ones who seemed the most receptive to the new literacy concepts.

Because the ARRA funds were used for “human capital,” the district needed to make tough budgeting decisions in 2010-11 because of decreased funds and the interventionists were released.

“You have to be creative with the money you have,” said Sandra Wilson, assistant superintendent. So by 2011-12, the district was able to hire and train additional coaches at the secondary level, hire an additional Reading Recovery Teacher and hire and train a strategic processing coach who could help teachers with how to use the reading interventions. Curriculum changes were made so that the district was not tied to one “basal” reading book.

For 2012-13, a number of “top dollar” teachers retired, freeing additional money so that the district could hire six building coaches and an additional strategic processing coach. Now that the reading curriculum had been redesigned, a writing curriculum was developed and aligned with common core standards for K-8.

All along the way, the district has provided professional development opportunities for teachers to learn about research-based literacy interventions that will help students the most.

Common Core State Standards were a big impetus for changes, according to Rexie Lanier, the district literacy specialist, because they emphasize the teaching of reading and writing across all the disciplines, including social studies, history, science and technical subjects.

“Literacy is important to our board, community, district and building administrators, teachers and students because they all see the power behind it,” Lanier said.

Data show that the district has many reasons to celebrate now that literacy changes have become part of the vision for students. The number of students exceeding standards has increased as students experience less stress and more success.

Dan Lamboley, principal at Parkside Junior High School, said there have been 30 opportunities for staff to participate and engage in professional development focuses on literacy since 2009-10.

He recommended that people interested in literacy issues look at Deeper Reading by Kelly Gallagher. When students say they don’t understand what they read in the assignment, Lamboley encouraged teachers to ask themselves three of Gallagher’s questions:

  • Have I give the student the proper level of support to make meaning from the text?
  • Did I anticipate the needs of the students prior to assigning the reading?
  • Am I assigning challenging reading, or am I teaching challenging reading?

His teachers also use what’s known as “Article of the Week” to help “surround core curriculum with real-world text.” The purpose is to broaden students’ knowledge of the world.

As a superintendent, Gary Niehaus said he is looking for sustainability. “When we reach 60 percent exceeds and 30 percent meets, that’s when we will know we have fidelity with this program,” he said.

When classrooms are struggling with reading scores, it’s also important to ask how many male students are in the class. Boys tend to be more interested in non-fiction, and should be offered more opportunities to read those texts. It’s the process of reading and practicing reading that helps students become more proficient readers and to understand what they are reading, not the subject matter.

Return to Menu

Principal and Teacher Evaluations under the Performance Evaluation Reform Act

Melinda Selbee, general counsel and editor, Policy Reference Subscription Service (PRESS), IASB
Amanda Collman
Susan Glover
Joseph Perkoski
Dennis Weedman, attorneys, Robbins Schwartz, Nicholas, Lifton, & Taylor, Ltd., members, Illinois Council of School Attorneys

David Schwartz, principal, Alton Middle School, Alton CUSD 11

Sweeping changes to teacher and principal evaluations will be required by the Performance Evaluation Reform Act (PERA). With the May 2012 release of ISBE’s final rules, schools now have some clarity as to their implementation obligations.  

Joseph Perkoski introduced the topic with the purpose of the reform: to reduce the reliance on seniority in employment decisions and depend rather on leveled performance evaluation. The Act provides control at the local level for retaining teachers.

Susan Glover covered implementation dates, indicating that most schools must include the student growth component by September 2016. If districts are uncertain as to their implementation date, they should check the link:

Qualified evaluators must have completed training modules 1-4 by November 1, 2012, in order to conduct any formal observations. Completion of module 5 is required when a district begins using student growth as a part of the teacher evaluation system. Continuing education requirements are still in place for administrators. The training is intended to bring inter-rater reliability to the evaluation process.

The law firm is recommending that, for those evaluators who haven’t completed the required trainings, to go ahead and conduct formal evaluations for teachers which you are likely not going to have concerns. The district may need to consider bringing in an outside qualified evaluator for those teachers about which there are likely going to be concerns. It is advised that districts refer to the local bargaining agreement for any complications using an outside evaluator may create.  

Amanda Collman shared that in the first two years of full implementation, districts may have the student growth component be 25 percent of a summative evaluation and 30 percent thereafter for plans developed at the local level.

For those districts choosing to use the state model, she said, 50 percent of the summative evaluation will be tied to student growth. The evaluation plans must also include professional practice as part of the summative evaluation and be aligned to the instructional frameworks by teacher category. The minimum observation requirements for tenured and non-tenured teachers were shared. Any tenured teacher receiving a “needs improvement” or “unsatisfactory” must be provided written notice well in advance of the final summative conference.

The Good Faith Cooperation requirement indicates that local design teams must meet by November 1 of the year before required implementation. The substantive aspects of the evaluation instrument are the school board’s decision, but they are required to cooperate in good faith with the procedural components through the local design team.

The new summative rating guidelines require a teacher rates as “needs improvement” to develop a professional development plan in coordination with the qualified evaluator. Those teachers must return to at least “proficient” in order to return to the regular evaluation cycle. Non-tenured teachers rated “needs improvement” or “unsatisfactory” would not develop a PDP nor a remediation plan, rather they should be non-renewed or dismissed (fourth year). Tenured teachers rated “unsatisfactory” would develop a remediation plan 30 school days after the rating, with duration of 90 school days. During this time there is a mid-point and final evaluation.  

Principals and assistant principals are to be evaluated annually with a minimum of 50 percent of the evaluation being professional practice.

In the first two years of implementation, districts may have 25 percent of the evaluation come from student growth, but must use 30 percent in the third year and thereafter. The timelines for administrative evaluations were indicated as follows:

  • Start of the school term: summary of plan and rubric
  • October 1: finalize goals
  • February 1: self-assessment completed
  • March 1: two formal evaluations completed with a summative rating and explanations for specific strengths and weaknesses

Return to Menu

Publicizing Common Core to All Audiences

Jill Gildea, superintendent
Elisabeth Freeman, curriculum director
Margaret Van Duch, communications coordinator, Fremont District 79

Gary Adkins, director of editorial services, IASB

Jill Gildea introduced the Friday afternoon panelists and noted that the Fremont district employs nearly 300 staff members and enrolls more than 2,200 students.

According to Freeman, there are numerous national resources and experts that school leaders can look to for background information on Common Core Standards, including:

• Prominent researchers

o The Dana Center

o Marzano Center

• Prominent research institutions

o American Institutes for Research


o Learning Forward

o Marshall Memo

• Teacher preparation programs

o Principals associations

o School board associations


Freeman said there are several excellent state resources, as well, including: regional offices of education, Rising Star, regional workshops, content experts by region, and the PARCC Leadership Cadre

District 79 Communications Coordinator Margaret Van Duch said school districts need to prepare for their communications about Common Core by developing a plan, and then follow through by “delivering one message in multiple formats, multiple times.”

She suggested sticking with best practices in communications, beginning by identifying strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

“Look at the potential for return on investment, or what you hope to get, and establish communication goals,” Van Duch advised.

She said a communications template and related information is available online at:

Return to Menu

Quality Education Environments in Older Facilities

David Henebry, principal, LZT Associates
Chris Hale , Architect, Perkins+Will
David Patton, principal, Healy, Bender & Associates

Nathaniel Wilson, principal, Vienna Grade School District 55

Many school districts throughout the state lack adequate facilities for giving students a proper education in a safe environment. Some schools simply lack adequate space, some do not have the infrastructure needed for 21 st century technology, some are not safe, and then there are some that lack all of the above.

This Saturday afternoon presentation focused on proper methods to assess a district’s facilities, discussed important changes that need to be made in facilities to accommodate learning, and showed examples of completed projects and discussed those projects.

David Henebry, with LZT Associates, led much of the presentation. He started with his discussion of the assessment methods. Some tips offered were:

  • Develop or select and pre-developed facility assessment tool
  • Create a steering committee
  • Create an assessment team
  • Establish workshops
  • Schedule facility walk-throughs
  • Create a final report complete with observations and recommendations

Henebry discussed the importance of team members who would be involved in the assessment process. He recommended that school board members, district administration, teachers, community members, and even students be part of the team. Having a good cross-section of representatives from the district is the desire.

Next in the presentation examples of projects were shown. Through these examples shown, there was discussion of how classrooms have changed throughout the past 60 years. The amount of space in classrooms now needs to be built for project-based learning. There needs to be adequate space for students to work on projects to the side of the room while not interrupting instruction that may be taking place in another part of the room. There is also a much greater emphasis on the quality of lighting in buildings than there was 60 years ago.

Many districts remodel their buildings just to improve this aspect of their facilities. The thermal comfort of buildings was another piece emphasized. Research has shown that temperatures kept between 68 and 72 degrees make a big difference in how distracted the students may become. Acoustics of classrooms is also given very close attention in design of facilities as well as the colors of the rooms.

Research that has been completed over the years shows that all of these things make a difference in how students and teachers effectively operate.

David Patton then shared examples of renovation projects that have been completed. One of these projects was completed in Joliet, Illinois for the Farragut Elementary School. This project was a renovation of two separate buildings. One was built in 1915. The other was built in 1925.

Patton discussed the challenges they faced as the project was done. Ideas were presented regarding handicap accessibility, instructional technology capabilities, secure entry-ways, and storage. These ideas shared again emphasized the changes that have been made in facility design over the past 60 years.  

Hale then discussed a project completed at Lake Forest High School. This building project saw challenges as well. Hale discussed some of these challenges, such as way-finding, ADA accessibility, and 21 st century learning needs. He discussed how the district’s assessment team worked to get an overall plan for the building so that it was something that everyone would be happy with.   

The team of presenters wrapped up the presentation with a question and answer session.   They shared good tips for districts thinking of renovating or constructing new facilities, discussed grant and funding issues, and offered research information to help schools get a good start in the process assessing their facilities.

The final emphasis was made again on how critical the assessment process is to help a district see things in black and white and prioritize the needs of the district.

Return to Menu

Rural Issues with a New Twist

Debbi Lowrance, board member, Robinson C.U. District 2

Gary Adkins, director of editorial services, IASB

Funding resource ideas were shared and discussed briefly by attendees of this Sunday morning roundtable, led by veteran board member Debbi Lowrance, who introduced topics through of a game of “Rural Issues Jeopardy.”

On the topic of hiring a new superintendent, someone said “it must feel right: trust your instinct.” To that, IASB Field Services Director Patrick Rice added: “Make sure your superintendent is a good fit for your district.” And another voice in the audience suggested hiring both a new superintendent and a superintendent-in-training school administrator at the same time.

On the subject of the new Common Core standards for student learning, Lowrance stated the ISAT test will incorporate Common Core questions, but will grade tougher. Rice added there is a social and emotional learning component to the Common Core standards, which can greatly benefit rural students and rural communities.

Another Jeopardy topic dealt with the so-called Classrooms First Commission, led by Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon, which completed its work and its final recommendations in 2012.

Lowrance suggested the audience members visit the Simon’s website for ideas on improving learning while cutting costs.   She noted the commission promised to introduce legislation in the spring to cut barriers to district consolidation.

One Classrooms First idea the participants discussed was a proposal to allow districts of 750 or fewer students to dissolve without referendum, simply upon the vote of the school board.

It was note some have already completed non-contiguous district consolidation, as recommended by the Classrooms First Commission, perhaps through intergovernmental agreement. But if legislation is approved in the spring to ease necessary non-contiguous district consolidation this might present opportunities for faster and simpler consolidations where most needed.

On the subject of dwindling state funding, one attendee suggested it would be wise to expect this trend to continue, perhaps with a 10 percent pro-rated decline in general state aid each year for the next few years.

In response to that suggestion, a board member from Rochester CUSD 3A, Dennis File, said it now makes great sense for school boards to take a look at a new school-year schedule designed to maintain schooling throughout the year.

File cautioned against labeling this “year-round schools” because teachers and parents may immediately reject that idea. He said the proposal instead should focus on creating school terms of equal length, with equal intervals between each term. “You can save on so many things,” he said.

And according to IASB’s Rice, “Some may hesitate if year-round schooling is proposed, but most love it when you actually go to it.” Rice noted that he witnessed just such an outcome as a former building administrator in leading the switch from a traditional calendar year.  

Return to Menu

School Community and Media Relations

Linda Dawson, director of editorial services
Patrick Rice, director of field services, Illinois Association of School Boards

Linda Dawson

Four primary questions guided this Saturday afternoon presentation:

  • How does the board engage its community?
  • How do we get started?
  • How do we tell our story?
  • How do we involve the community and build partnerships?

Community engagement is the main premise behind IASB’s second Foundational Principals of Effective School Governance. These two-way conversations with the public help the school board clarify the district’s purpose and detect the ends that the community has for its students and the district.

The process is what’s most important, Patrick Rice said, in making certain that all the diverse voices in the community are represented and in conducting a dialogue rather than a debate about the issues at hand. School boards allow the community to have a voice in the way their local schools are governed.

One of the most important things to remember is that community engagement is a process, not a one-time event. It must be viewed as a way of life and the way the district operates. However, the ultimate decision on any issue always resides with the school board.

Rice said boards should remember the 15-70-15 rule: 15 percent of the population will never like anything that you do; 70 percent can be open, honest and critical when need be on any issue; and the other 15 percent will like anything that the board proposes. A smart board focuses on the 70 percent, he said.

Linda Dawson said three additional principles guide successful community engagement:

  • Framing the question
  • Involving the community
  • Building partnerships

A portion of community engagement involves making certain that the people in the community have enough information about what’s going on in the district to help answer the questions that you might present. But community engagement is more than public relations.

Districts need to tell their story, but the board/superintendent team also needs to be willing to listen to what the community is saying in response to that story, she suggested.

Districts can use traditional media — newspapers, television, radio, newsletters and one-to-one contact — but they also have new social media tools to help them discern their community’s desires.

It’s important for school boards to be up front with the community and themselves about how the information gleaned from community engagement will be used. Asking for input and then ignoring it will leave the community upset. Not listening to all the varied voices in the community leaves out important aspects of the true picture, she said.

To reach a more varied audience, the board may need to consider conducting some community engagement efforts somewhere other than schools or the district offices.

Great care and attention needs to be paid to formulating the questions that will be asked of the community. “The most important idea to take away from this section on framing the question is to do your homework before whatever type of engagement you choose and begin with specific questions in mind. And make sure these are ‘owner’ or general issues, not ‘customer’ or specific issues,” Dawson added.

Unfortunately, time, apathy and resistance all can work as barriers to true community engagement, Rice concluded. “There may not ultimately be a right solution,” he said, “but let’s get it as close as we can.”

Return to Menu

School Law 2012: Top Five Things School Boards Need to Know

Nancy Rogers, attorney, Robbins, Schwartz, Nicholas, Lifton & Taylor, Ltd., Chicago


Heather K. Brickman
Stephanie E. Jones, attorneys, Hodges, Loizzi, Eisenhammer, Rodick & Kohn LLP

Jennifer Nelson, director, Information Services, IASB

The presenters divided their presentation into five subject areas of school law that should concern school board members.

I. Increasing Transparency in Local Government Business

The attorney general in Illinois is a big proponent of transparency in government, so the future trend is toward more and more openness from local governments, including school boards. One area of concern in transparency is the changes in the Open Meetings Act.

As of Jan. 1, 2013, public bodies must include in their posted agendas the general subject matter of any resolution that will be subject to final action at that meeting; what requires a resolution is not known at this point.

Another area in transparency that is worth watching is the release of board member electronic communications sent during a meeting (i.e. one board member texts or emails another board member from a personal phone/computer). The Public Access Counselor recently ruled (and was upheld by a trial court) that this action constitutes deliberations and as such is accessible under FOIA.

II. Teachers and Social Media

There are numerous social networking concerns for education professionals, including disruption in the school environment, impairment of the teacher/student relationship and potential tort liability.

When a board wants to discipline a teacher for potential Internet misconduct, it should consider: the employment status of the employee (tenure, etc.), the nature of the offending conduct, the connection between the conduct and job performance, any applicable board policies and procedures and any First Amendment considerations.

III. Teacher Abuse Cases

There are certain lessons learned from some recent court action about teacher abuse of students. Board members should consider their mandatory reporter obligations. Honest is the best policy in verifying employment and letters of recommendations of problematic teachers.

IV. Pension Developments

There are numerous proposals to change the way that the pensions of state employees and teachers are funded in Illinois. The presenters make it clear that all changes were still in draft form and no action had been taken yet.

V. Impact of Health Reform on School District Benefits

The presenters gave an overview of the main goals of the health reform legislation including to better make sure more people have health insurance.

This will be (ideally) achieved through individual states’ health care exchanges and by requiring employers to provide coverage or pay a penalty into the system for all full time employees (that work more than 30 hours a week). At this time, penalties for ‘Cadillac’ coverage and not paying into the system/covering employees have not been established.

The attorneys advised that the panel information was given for informational purposes only and should not be considered legal advice. Please consult the district attorney for further clarification.

Return to Menu

Superintendents, Board Presidents can Impact legislation

Ellen Correll, superintendent, Grayslake C.C. District 46  
Ann Dingman , board president
Catherine Finger , superintendent, Grayslake C.C. District 127  
Lawrence Gregorash , board president, Woodland C.C. District 5
Jason Lind , superintendent, Millburn C.C. District 24  
John VanPelt , superintendent, Lake Villa C.C. District 41

Andrew Johnson, assistant principal, Teutopolis UD 50

The five school districts represented as the panelists for this Saturday morning discussion group above decided to come together as a group to promote the chances of making a difference in Springfield yearly.

This group has been together for almost three years and has experienced some challenging times as initiated this group and process in their respective area of the state. All agreed that the time allotment to meet as a group was and still is challenging.

Initially this group focused their attention to school financial issues within the state and their particular districts. But as time has progressed, many issues not related to finance have been points of emphasis for them as well.

The main intent of this group was and still is to work in a collaborative manner to
help their voices be heard on major issues that affect education in their districts and region of the state.

The guidelines in which they utilized to establish this process are: to be productive, do not come across as just a group of complainers, provide open meetings with the public, each district must have at least two representatives present at all meetings, keep things clear and open to everyone. Only a few meetings were open to the public as they felt that the bigger the crowd, the more broad the issues might be discussed.

The intent is to be as concise and direct as possible and show as much evidence to support the stance in which they desire to take on each particular topic. A few of the issues that this group has targeted over the years are:

  • School construction — energy efficiency
  • HB 1341 — Property Tax — Debt Service Extension Base
  • HB 2134 — “Shared Services”
  • No additional cuts to transportation funding
  • Unfunded mandates

They said that the group meets with state representatives periodically on many of the topics in which they had gathered an immense amount of information to the impact it was going to have on their school districts.

In meeting with these legislators that represent the district in which these schools reside, the school board members would do most of the communicating of the concerns. The rationale for this form of presentation was that both parties were elected officials from the same districts and would have common ground as these discussions take place.

The group desires to build a good relationship with the legislators, which takes an incredible amount of time.

Return to Menu

Superintendent Employment Contract

Jane Westerhold, superintendent, C.C. District 62, Des Plaines
Sara Boucek, associate director, legal counsel, Illinois Association of School Administrators
Stanley B. Eisenhammer, attorney, Hodges, Loizzi, Eisenhammer, Rodick & Kohn, Arlington Heights; Member, Illinois Council of School Attorneys

Chuck Bleyer, principal, Zeigler-Royalton K-8, CUSD 188

The focus of the panel discussion was centered on the process of a school board employing a superintendent. In attendance were numerous board members that were on the verge of hiring new superintendents or approaching the renewal of the current contract. The majority in attendance were new board members.

Sara Boucek led the discussion that began with employment and compensation.   There were three main objectives: duration of contract, salary, teacher retirement and teacher health insurance.

The contract element is divided into one year contracts and multi-year contracts. Multi-year contracts must reference goals and suspension of tenure. Boucek recommended three-year contracts for first year superintendents. The salary component needs to have language pertaining to fixed raises and reference retirement issues if needed. Retirement and health insurance needs to be specifically outlined as to the contribution that is responsible to the board.

The next major issue is conditions of employment. Specifically, what are the necessary certification for employment, medical examination, criminal background check, and suspension of tenure.

The next portion dealt with benefits. She recommended that there needs to be specific language targeting business expenses, transportation expenses, insurance, vacation, involvement in professional organizations, professional activities, mandated memberships in community organizations, retirement, and annuities and other deferred compensation.

The fourth component was power and duties. The contract needs to state statutory duties are enumerated and listed other duties. Additionally, is the job full time, and does it need unlimited attention.

The fifth portion dealt with changes to the contract. Specifically, is the contact renewal or non-renewal at the end, can it be extended, what will cause termination, will there be liquidated damages language, and are there provisions for amendments.

The final parts were evaluation and goals, technical clauses, and miscellaneous issue.  

Return to Menu

Superintendent Evaluation - It’s All About District Goals

Jeffrey Cohn, director,
Larry Dirks, director, Field Services, IASB
Caroline Cummings,
Scott Hastings, board members
Carol Narvick, board president, Morris School District 54
Teri Shaw, superintendent, Morris School District 54

Steve Meyerhofer, assistant principal, Alton CUSD 1

Today the job of superintendent has more pressures and is open to more public scrutiny than ever before. The Performance Evaluation Reform Act (PERA) and Senate Bill 7 have called for more training on the part of board members, principals and teachers.

The focus is clearly on system-wide accountability for school districts in Illinois. The public now more than ever before expects excellence from the school that serves their children.

So what does this mean for superintendents in Illinois?

According to presenters at this Saturday afternoon panel session, superintendents are going to be evaluated by boards very closely each and every year. Historically, boards have not always done their jobs in terms of evaluating superintendents. There are several reasons for this.

First, evaluating superintendents appropriately takes a great deal of time and effort. It also takes training for board members. Evaluations are uncomfortable for most people and often times it is opening a can of worms. In addition, evaluation can often lead to conflict among board members. These are among the reasons why many districts did not conduct a comprehensive evaluation of the superintendent annually.

The evaluation of the superintendent is unique and now requires training on the part of board members. The evaluation process is unique because the evaluators typically have limited knowledge in terms of how to do the job of superintendent. Most board members have never served as superintendents themselves. In addition, individual board members themselves have little oversight over the position of superintendent.  

It is critical for every superintendent to understand what the board of education values. What does the board of education want to get accomplished? Have the smart goals or the goals identified in the strategic plan been well defined? More importantly, have the appropriate measures been put into place to progress monitor these goals? Finally, have these goals been met and to what degree?

IASB field service directors have identified some keys areas that are particularly meaningful to the superintendent evaluation process. These foundational principles include hiring a superintendent and delegating authority.

Increased public pressure and system-wide accountability have lead to an annual evaluation for every superintendent in Illinois. Ongoing communication with the board of education is critical to success as a superintendent. The superintendent must know what the board wants and this must be translated into realistic goals.

These goals need to be measurable and monitored frequently. There are many resources available in addition to the required training for members of the board of education. IASB has resources available online and there are several models to select from.

Return to Menu

Telling Your Story Your Way

Linda Dawson, director of editorial services, Illinois Association of School Boards

Linda Dawson

Talking about working with the media always elicits a number of questions not just because board members and superintendents want to make certain that their district is portrayed in a good light, but because of the threats that are perceived from misinformation in the community and the media not helping to clear the air.

Dawson said districts are in a better position now than ever before because they have tools at their disposal that will allow them to tell their story their way, including websites, Facebook and Twitter that they can add to their traditional printed newsletters and what the media covers.

Questions were solicited from those around the Sunday morning roundtable and included:

  • How do we communicate with the public during contract negotiations when there are certain things we are not allowed to discuss, but the union members can say what they want?
  • How do we begin now to build buy-in from the community so that we can be successful with a referendum or the county facilities sales tax option later on?
  • Consolidation questions included how to talk about this when no one shows up at board meetings, or when one faction wants to close the school or consolidate and their reasons keep changing?
  • What should we do when the media don’t cover some issues because they’re too complicated?
  • Everything for us is in the media, but how do we ensure that we’re communicating the things the community really needs to know?
  • How do you turn a negative mindset around?
  • Our community is almost too involved. What do we do about all the bloggers who are a twisted version of the media?

When it comes to contract negotiations, make certain that the public is aware of the things you are not allowed to discuss and why. Say what you can and explain that the process must proceed and under what parameters. A well-informed public is more likely to understand your message and your position.

Starting early when a vote is not imminent is the best way to begin. Schedule meetings in the community, gather a diverse group of stakeholders and ask about their vision for the district … not whether they would support a referendum or the county facilities sales tax.

These meetings are outside of board meetings. Serve food … it helps get people to come. And when you’re finally ready to go for that referendum or sales tax vote, don’t use signs that merely say, “Vote Yes!” Create a campaign and a logo that talk about needs, reasoning and options.

Consolidation is another issue best discussed first with the community outside of the boardroom. Go to where people congregate … churches, community centers, coffee shops … and engage them in conversations about their aspirations for their children and whether the current system provides those opportunities. Have data available so that people are informed of the costs involved, projected enrollments and what consolidation or annexation may mean down the road.

Consider what the reasons against consolidation have been in the past and find the data that you need. Then let the facts speak for themselves.

Just as no one was born knowing how to be a board member, Dawson said that reporters were not born knowing how to cover meetings. And their training in college may be minimal. She said that the superintendent should always be prepared to help reporters understand the issues, especially those surrounding the budget.

They can do this by simplifying complex issues as much as possible and always try to point out the important items on the agenda as far as the future of the districts and student impact is concerned. Those may not always be apparent to a reporter, especially if they come from a media outlet with high employee turnover.

Districts that have a glut of media coverage may find it difficult for stakeholders to sort out the messages. That’s why boards should be consistent with what they say … have talking points and key messages that everyone involved with the district can easily communicate.

This is also an opportunity to push out messages through Facebook and Twitter. It was noted that much of the social media work is best left to staff. Be aware that board member and administrator personal accounts are not appropriate for dissemination of district information.

It was suggested to leave that to a “professional” account or a community relations/communications employee in the district.

Turning around people to the district point of view or at least away from negativity involves consistency of the message. Make certain that those speaking for the district convey the positive messages that are necessary. That means everyone … from board members and the superintendent down through teachers and support staff.

Statistics show that 70 percent of people can be swayed to one side or the other, and 15 percent will be on the district’s side, no matter what. Focus on the vast majority that can be swayed and don’t worry so much about the 15 percent who won’t like anything that boards do.

Dawson also said that boards should not try to fight back against bloggers with comments on their site. That can easily backfire. “Although you may think that bloggers are read by everyone, they may only reach a small percentage in the community. Stay consistent with your messages and use the tools at your disposal to tell your story your way,” she said.

Return to Menu

The Business Official - The Other Leader You Can't Live Without

Bradley Shortridge, assistant superintendent, Genoa-Kingston C.U. District 424

Sarah Beyne , CEO, Digital Schools Midwest
Susan Harkin , CFO, Community Unit School District 300
Luann Mathis , business manager, Prospect Heights District 23  
Brian Mee , president, Association of School Business Officials International
Terrie Simmons , assistant superintendent, Sunset Ridge District 29
Ann Williams , business manager, Bloom Township High School District 206

Andrew Johnson, assistant principal, Teutopolis UD 50

The opening statements made very clear that a district must work in this manner or success will be a challenge: the board of education authorizes; the superintendent recommends; and the business official plans, implements, supports, and monitors the fiscal and operational stability of the district.

The panelists agreed that districts are faced with very challenging circumstances in which to conduct the business side of the educational arena. Families and communities are struggling with job losses, business closers, and many educational cuts. The impact that all of the financial constraints are placing on school districts are affecting the children that occupy the schools across our state. This makes the need for good financial leaders is a necessity.

The effective school business leaders of today must have the following: the skills and experience to establish sound fiscal practices that support educational goals be reliable and current information upon which to base good decisions, excellent communication skills, and a commitment to integrity and transparency.  

The business manager wears many different hats that are crucial to the operation of the district. Here are just a few of those different hats:

  • Treasurer
  • Finance and policy expert
  • People person
  • Learning architect
  • Savvy technical guru
  • Multi-tasker

The basic beliefs of the business manager are listed below. These beliefs are very similar to all educational leadership positions, whether it is the superintendent, the board members, or the building level administrator. The basic beliefs are listed below:

  • Conducting themselves within the highest standards of professional and personal ethics
  • Continuing ongoing professional growth and development
  • Develop these beliefs in others with whom they work
  • Members assume the responsibility for providing professional leadership in their schools, communities, and organizations
  • The members must have exemplary personal and professional conduct at all times
  • The business manager must be able to achieve a high level of trust, confidence, and mutual respect  
  • He or she must be able to show the board of education how you got to the decision that you have brought to them, this creates trust early and trust is vital in this position

Conference Menu


Connecting with the Community
Click on Banner for More Information

Although the IASB website strives to provide accurate and authoritative information, the Illinois Association of School Boards does not guarantee or warrantee the accuracy or quality of information contained herein.

Copyright 1999-2018 by the Illinois Association of School Boards. All rights reserved.
IASB Privacy Policy Statement