The Flossmoor District 161 School Board continued conversations on rectifying the state’s underperforming designation for Parker Junior High School at its Nov. 26 meeting.
Potential avenues of improvement include hiring a former District 161 principal as a special projects consultant, continuing work on classroom culture and climate and enhancing district communications with parents.
Illinois rated Parker as underperforming for the 2018-19 school year based on the performances of its low income and special education students, while all four of the district’s elementary schools were rated as commendable.
The state’s four possible Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) designations are exemplary, commendable, underperforming and lowest performing. The ESSA measures student achievement and evaluates schools based on factors like standardized test scores, linear growth from year to year and chronic absenteeism.
Superintendent Dana Smith shared responses to questions posed by board members during their Nov. 13 meeting.
For example, developing a consistent “data dashboard” to measure progress was identified as an important step to anticipate trends. Technology issues were determined to be an unlikely culprit in eighth graders’ declining test scores.
English/Language Arts will be a particular curriculum focus area for eighth graders, as these scores were shown to be declining.
Attitudes toward standardized testing will also be investigated, as 53 Parker students opted out of a recent Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) state assessment tool.
“We have to make sure our families, parents and children understand the importance of this assessment,” Smith said. “It’s not life or death; it’s not the be all, end all, but it is a very important indicator on how we are doing as a district.”
Board member Stephen Paredes said a student survey measuring attitudes toward testing might be useful along with looking into how actively involved parents are in school activities.
“What do you mean you’re opting out? It’s like opting out of the school day,” Paredes said. “As a cultural level in our schools, this might be something we really need to address on a parent connection level.”
Smith shared a possible contract to hire Patricia McCraven, who retired as Flossmoor Hills principal in June, as a special projects consultant. McCraven would collaborate with the current administration and contribute a total of 20 working days between December 2018 and June 2019, according to the contract.
“If you look back at the incredibly strong data at Flossmoor Hills and the diverse student body, you will see a couple things: impeccable implementation, clarity of expectations and interventions directly tied to student needs,” Smith said.
Capturing Kids Hearts, a new program at Parker that emphasizes positive interactions among students and staff, was pinpointed as an area to keep building upon.
“At Parker we have to continue with our classroom and school culture,” Smith said. “It has to continue to evolve.”
He added that “best practices” in terms of instruction will be crucial in moving forward.
“Quality instruction is probably the biggest rock that we will put into this well,” Smith said.
Board member Merle Huckabee suggested continuing to collaborate with Homewood-Flossmoor High School on preparing students for their next level of education. She also said students with perfect attendance should be recognized, and staff should be aware of the effect their attendance has on students.
“I’m waiting for us to go to that next level,” she said. “I know we’ve got to clear these hurdles at Parker, but just to settle for commendable … somehow we have got to get these pieces together.”
Board President Michelle Hoereth said a complex problem will require a comprehensive solution.
“It’s not just about instruction or discipline,” she said. “We can’t be narrowly focused. We have to look at all of those pieces individually but also collectively in terms of how we move the needle.”
An Illinois Balanced Accountability Measure form that asks critical questions on how the district functions will be due Jan. 31, and a final work plan will be due Feb. 28. The state will allow the district to apply for a $15,000 grant to implement solutions.
Smith said his team is working to have a draft of this plan ready by the Feb. 11 board meeting and a concrete plan ready by the Feb. 25 meeting. The plan will cover the rest of the current school year and the next three years, he said.