Cuts helping District 69 improve in Skokie, Morton Grove
Sixth grader John Trinh works on his engineering tower during applied technology class at Lincoln Junior High in Skokie on Monday, Jan. 9. | Joel Lerner~Sun-Times Media
Updated: February 19, 2013 11:54AM
SKOKIE — Officials in Skokie-Morton Grove Elementary District 69 are planning ahead to meet new nationwide standards in science while at the same time looking back on progress the district has made over the past three years.
Superintendent Quintin Shepherd planned to address both the past and the future in special presentations at the Jan. 15 school board meeting.
“It’s sort of a mid-year progress check,” Shepherd said.
In his annual “State of the District” presentation, which will be put up on the District 69 web site, Shepherd is emphasizing improvements in district finances as well as gains in student assessments, the Illinois Standard Achievement Test (ISAT) and other measures the district uses.
When Shepherd took over the post of superintendent in 2010, the district, just a few years after voters approved a tax rate increase, was running out of money. In addition, officials were hearing from parents concerned about declining test scores.
Since that time the district has cut some staff members, replaced others and made other changes to both cut costs and improve the educational programming at the district’s three schools.
As a result, Shepherd said, the district has cut costs per student from $14,951 during the 2006-07 school year to $11,355 during the 2011-12 school year.
Even with those reductions, Shepherd said students have made progress on standardized tests as well as other measures the district uses.
“We’ve established a track record of success we’re really proud of,” Shepherd said.
Shepherd said the district has placed an emphasis on performance metrics to see what changes are working and what programs are not.
“I can live with not being successful (with a program) as long as we know why,” Shepherd said. “We’ve done a really good job of setting up targets.”
Shepherd said with the district’s improved finances and performance, officials are now looking toward next year, particularly in the areas of science and technology. New “common core” federal standards for science were released Jan. 8, and Shepherd said administrators are looking at those.
During the next few weeks, administrators will be meeting with the staff to discuss the new standards, and in late February the school board will hold an all-day Saturday session to plan for next year.
At that point, administrators will begin planning professional development for teachers as well as planning for new curriculum and materials for next school year.
“We have to focus on where we’re going next year,” Shepherd said. “We’ve been getting technology in use in the classroom, but for the 2013-14 school year it’s going to be huge for us.”
The district has already added an extra staff member in math at Madison Elementary School, who works with regular classroom teachers and students. It is part of an effort to meet federal math standards released last year.
The district will consider doing the same thing next year in science, Shepherd said.
“It helps us get a smaller number of kids with a teacher at one time,” he said.
Those staff additions, Shepherd said, have been possible because of the district’s improved financial position.
“We’re at a place where we can do that. Three years go we could not have done that,” he said.
The district also is preparing for a change at some point when the ISAT test is dropped and replaced by the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) testing that will replace it.
It will rely more on the new federal standards and will better prepare students for college or careers, Shepherd said.
“We know we have to prepare our students at a much higher level,” he said. “It doesn’t mean every kid has to go to college. It means every kid should be able to go to college.”
A major issue the district will address concerns the need for building improvements and more space.
Lincoln Junior High, he said, is in need of improvements; security needs to be upgraded at all three schools; and more space is needed at Madison, which is full.
Those issues have been made more critical by an 11 percent increase in enrollment this school year.
Whatever the district decides to do, Shepherd said, it will not require that officials ask voters to approve a bond issue to finance the improvements.
“There’s no chance we’ll go to the taxpayers,” he said.
A video of Shepherd’s Jan. 15 State of the District presentation and a presentation on planning for next year can be viewed at the District 69 web site, http://www.skokie69.k12.il.us/.