State Of The School Address

Please accept my appreciation to all of you for being here today. Thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to hear about the state of Rockford Public Schools. A special thank you to our elected officials: Senator Dave Syverson, State Representative Dave Winters, Jim Ryan representing the City, County Chairman Scott Christiansen and our Board Members, President Nancy Kalchbrenner and David Kelley.

It is a privilege and an honor to lead our schools, and I am delighted to share my thoughts with you. When I moved to Rockford in 1976, I never thought I would stay in Rockford for more than thirty years.

We grew to love the community and now think of it as our home. I started my career at St. Bernadette School after my youngest child went to school.

My husband and I made friends, and we enjoyed watching our children grow and succeed in school. I made the move to the Rockford Public Schools in 1986 as a teacher at McIntosh School and Brookview.

I went into curriculum work in the early 90s, and then I moved to administration. I was the principal of two elementary schools and a high school before my first position as a superintendent in Wisconsin. I was the superintendent of the Iowa Grant Schools in 2001 when I received a call to come back to the Rockford Public Schools to serve as an assistant superintendent, and now as the superintendent.

My family has always been the core of my life, and I think of the School District as a family. We have our days of celebration and our days of concern. We have members who we enjoy being with and others that we welcome to holiday dinners. But through it all, we never lose sight of the fact that we are a family.

We must get through the tough times – together -- with hard work and commitment to the progress of each member of our extended family. An abrupt change in leadership this August caused some upheaval, but many came together to launch the school year properly. Our School Board members acted decisively to ensure stable District leadership. We extend our appreciation to the Board for its united leadership. Their jobs are not always easy, but our Board members are diligent in their duties and truly seek what is best for all of our students.

I also extend my gratitude to my cabinet: Tom Hoffman, Chief Operations Officer; Colleen Cyrus, Assistant Superintendent for Student Support; Thomas Schmitt, Assistant Superintendent for Community Outreach and Procedures; Marcia Strothoff, Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction; and Steve Katz, General Counsel and Board Attorney; my administrative assistants, Gina Nelson and Dianne Mulligan; and to the many staff members who rolled up their sleeves, worked hard and helped us produce a positive start to the school year.

We have a competent and committed-to-Rockford staff that is set to maintain the progress we have enjoyed on several fronts the past few years. We are determined that all students become positive and productive learners who are capable of building a bright future for themselves and for our community. Of course, we cannot have success or any accomplishment without our dedicated principals, teachers, staff and families.

Today, I will talk about six areas:
• Financial Update
• Curriculum and Instruction
• Freshman Foundation
• Academic Career Education High School (ACES)
• Community Relations

As we pause to reflect on the state of our schools, we see areas that deserve recognition. At its worst, the Education Fund had an accumulated deficit of $39.1 million as of June 30, 2002, the result of serious overspending. Due to improvements in the District’s financial practices, the deficit in the Education Fund has been completely eradicated and there is an accumulated surplus of $33.2 million as of June 30, 2007. Over the past decade, the District has relied on short-term borrowing in the form of Tax Anticipation Warrants each year -- as much as $77 million in both FY02 and FY03 to provide adequate cash flow to pay the District’s bills. Fiscal Year 2007 was the first time since 1993 the District was able to meet its cash flow requirements without any short-term borrowing. Since the inception of the School District Financial Profile, which was created by the Illinois State Board of Education in FY 02 to help monitor the finances of school districts, the District has been making improvements. From painful and devastating cuts to building interventions and programs for greater student success, we have persevered together, like a family should.

I was here when we made the cuts and I am here now when we are reaping the benefits of fiscal discipline. Let me assure you, it is more enjoyable, more exciting, and more beneficial to students to maintain our positive progress on the financial front. I promise you my administration will continue to exercise tight financial controls so that we can reach the highest financial rating and build a world-class educational system that meets the needs of all of our students.

I came back to the District as an assistant superintendent when the No Child Left Behind law went into effect. We discovered that our curriculum was in disarray, student achievement was languishing, and our central office was insufficiently staffed in Curriculum and Instruction. We needed to increase staff to effectively meet the No Child Left Behind requirements. Tremendous gains in this area have occurred over the past four years. These additional human resources and programs were the direct cause of our current success, along with our teaching staff.

The number of students who meet or exceed state-specified targets has increase significantly since No Child Left Behind was enacted. Focus and determination on the part of our staff helped students and schools meet the mandated targets. Significant progress occurred at the elementary and middle school levels. We also have continuing challenges in this area. Student achievement, as measured by standardized tests, was flat last year when compared to the prior year. After five years of steady and broad-based gains, we saw scores plateau. We cannot stand by and allow scores to stagnate, especially as the No Child Left Behind mandated targets increase by 7.5 points each school year.

We began a new Three Year Instructional plan this school year and anticipate our progress will continue. We built our success over the past years on hard work, and a simple principle – “put students first.”

A curriculum aligned with Illinois Learning Standards and revamped instructional strategies is part of our approach to improvement. And, we – the Board and Central Office – have invested in people over the past four years to build the capacity of our educational team: the goal being improved student achievement and positive development. We have reading coaches in each elementary building; we have added a math and a reading specialist at each middle school, and we have English and math department chairs at each high school. This is the first time in several years that we have department chairs in the high schools. Our Curriculum and Instruction Department has grown from four to thirteen individuals who guide interventions, provide training and work with a variety of stakeholders to improve student achievement. All of these initiatives should help our students during state testing to meet the ever-increasing targets. We have expended thousands of dollars in training for teachers, paraprofessionals and parents to ensure a consistent, competent and data-driven approach to increasing student achievement. Several exciting initiatives to increase the effectiveness of our schools began this year.

We launched the Freshman Foundation initiative in each of the high schools. This initiative lowers class sizes in core classes, designs schedules better suited to each student and provides Extended Learning Opportunities for students who almost meet quarterly learning objectives. Extended Learning Opportunities gives students another chance to achieve a passing grade and make positive connections to their school through expanded extra- and co-curricular activities. Studies have clearly shown two things which serve as our targets in this initiative:
1. Students who are connected to their school do better academically, and
2. Students who successfully complete their freshman year have a much greater likelihood of graduating in four years.

Some preliminary results seem positive. We have just completed one session of Extended Learning Opportunities for first quarter. I want to explain this slide and show how we try to help students. You may also be able to help us with this.

# of Students Recommend # of Contracts Returned Week 1 Regular Attendees Week 2 Regular Attendees # of Students Who Passed % of Students w/Contracts Who Passed
Auburn 66 30 27 24 24 80%
East 25 10 8 7 7 70%
Guilford 55 47 40 38 24 51%
Jefferson 37 17 15 12 11 65%
District Totals 183 104 90 81 66 63%

It will take time to see the effectiveness of the Freshman Foundation, but early reports from staff are positive. We believe this investment in our high schools will pay rich dividends for our students. We look forward to sharing more data about this initiative with our community as it becomes available. This year we doubled our training efforts in all curricular areas. A well-trained educational staff, equipped with the right resources, is essential to our students’ success. We know it is the teacher in the classroom that has the greatest influence on each student’s achievement.

We are currently working on a new approach to elementary social studies classes that we will begin in August 2008. This initiative will support reading goals while ensuring students learn social science standards and vital American citizenship principles. Various studies have shown that integrating curricular areas leads to success in raising student achievement, reflects how we all tend to learn and should help students and schools meet the ever-increasing No Child Left Behind achievement targets. The practice of using good reading strategies is another way of insuring that all of our high school content area teachers begin to see themselves as reading and writing teachers, too.

We are making good on a promise made years ago – the formation of a career high school.

A study completed for the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation found 80% of dropouts surveyed said their chances of staying in school would have increased if classes were more interesting and provided opportunities for real-world learning.

There are a number of important attributes to the Career Education High School, some of which are outlined on this slide. Internships are an integral part of the plan.

Based on this premise the Board unanimously approved the founding of ACES, the Academic Career Education High School. ACES will start serving students in August 2008.

We believe this initiative will meet students’ interests and prepare them for productive adult lives.

ACES also demonstrates an essential component of our strategy to produce a world-class educational system in Rockford. We must forge positive and productive relationships within our community.

ACES was designed and supported by various members of the Rockford community. We appreciate the partnership with Rock Valley College, Dr. Becherer and his staff.
We value the insights and support from the various businesses and business organizations that have worked with us, and will work with us, in the coming years.

Our hope is that we will build experiences for students that foster their development and increase their academic and life skills at the same time.

We will continue to build upon this model – District and Community Partnerships – to form a better school system for all of our students.

The school will begin initially with Manufacturing and Health Care and grow to include Engineering Technology and Aerospace.

The community is concerned about communication from the District, and we have addressed this concern by forming a committee to study and recommend a notification system to let families know as quickly as possible if anything out of the ordinary is happening in a school. The committee has had three meetings and should have a recommendation soon.

I have also begun a monthly guest column in the Rockford Register Star to discuss education issues and relate positive news about our schools.

I would be remiss if I did not talk about the Community Education Partnership that was formed in Rockford by Mayor Morrisey and several business and community leaders.

The collaboration of the community, the county, the city and the school district is having a huge impact on the truancy issue and on post-secondary access in the schools.

A big thank you to Fritz Jacobi as Chairman of the Community Education Partnership, Adam Smith from the mayor’s office and Michael Call from United Way for taking the lead on this partnership. It is impossible to put a value on the results of this wonderful collaboration.

Zones for 6th and 9th grades began this year. Lincoln Middle School shows a significant decrease in disciplinary referrals and even greater drop in 6th-grade referrals. East High School shows a significant drop in disciplinary referrals overall with a greater reduction in freshmen referrals. The Board also considered zones for elementary schools, but felt that programs needed more student before moving the zone plan forward.

We have another group that is active and always looking for more volunteers. It is a way for our business leaders to get involved. Please join the Support Our Students group. Maggie Kempel helps to coordinate the SOS efforts.

She has a table in back for anyone interested in signing up. There are no requirements except that you want to help kids. We don’t want anyone to think that they aren’t qualified. Simply listening to students read is enough. So please stop by her table on your way out.

Some of you may have participated last year in our Principal for a Day program, which we are conducting every other year. You will have the opportunity to participate and see our schools from the inside in the fall of 2008. If you’d like to participate, please contact Mark Bonne.

I have invested most of my adult life in the Rock River Valley, and I know the power we have when we work together to solve problems.

I believe we can do great things for our students, our school district and our community’s future.

In 2007, we have seen the strength of our shared ideas. We have seen the strength of our commitment to excellence through lowered truancy rates, increased rigor and relevancy in classes and our improved financial condition.

We must continue, though, to seek higher levels of partnership, success and focus. Each and every person in our community can help our students grow, even in little ways.
Anyone of us, for example, could help a kindergartener learn his or her colors by observing and discussing the passing cars on the street.

Businesses can invite students into the workplace to see how what’s being taught in class comes into play on the job. Or church groups can offer activities that reinforce the principles of citizenship and work ethic.

Oprah Winfrey can motivate people to read books. Maybe she can motivate us as a school system. I like this quote of hers: “My philosophy is that not only are you responsible for your best life, but doing the best at this moment puts you in the best place for the next moment.”

It echoes the ideas I have always tried to instill in my own children. And it is a philosophy that should help our family of learner, our School District.

We – students, parents, grandparents, teachers, staff, Board of Education and the Rockford community at large – are responsible for our individual and collective lives. We must celebrate our success and strive to put the District in a better place each day in the future.

I invite you to roll up your sleeves and go to work with me and the students in the Rockford Public Schools. We are indeed a family, and it takes all of us to make each part of the family successful.

I want to thank Einar Forsman & the Chamber for the opportunity to speak with all of you today.
I wish you and your family a wonderful holiday season.

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