This has been a year of transition and challenge for River Forest's District 90 elementary schools.
Common Core — more rigorous academic standards in math and language arts — is being rolled out. The iPad is becoming the resource of choice at Roosevelt Middle School.
And of course, there is the on-going controversy surrounding the exterior renovation project at Roosevelt.
At the center is Supt. Ed Condon, who on July 1 will begin his fourth year as the district's leader. Wednesday Journal sat down with Condon who spoke about this past year and where things are headed in the 2014-2015 school year.
What were District 90's accomplishments this year?
The work that our faculty and staff is doing on the implementation of the Common Core curriculum has been a huge and important undertaking. This has been challenging because we did not have English language arts materials until this year. Now we have "Journeys," and that has provided great guidance for teachers.
There also is the continuing evolution of our iPad initiative. Last year we deployed hardware for the sixth grade and did professional development for staff. Next year, we will move on to fifth. Once we have 1 to 1 iPad, the goal is continue supporting staff in professional development. I need to acknowledge that technology is never intended to replace foundational skills but facilitate learning. Where it is really helping is accessing information, building collaborative skills.
How can technology do that?
Much of the technology that students are working now – the programs, the apps – are helping students to work and learn in ways that are more practical. It can help students share and revise their work. We need to provide the ability to work as part of a team and learn to effectively collaborate. Common Core will help foster the skills that will help young people succeed when they go to on to college or a career.
Students of this generation will never have a problem accessing information. The skill needed now is how to discern information and use it effectively. Technology provides an opportunity to practice that.
Tell me a bit about the results of the recent Illinois youth survey. I understand that fewer sixth and eighth graders are embracing high risk behaviors such as drinking and smoking cigarettes and other substances.
This is really exciting to see. Saying no to drugs and alcohol works. But it's dangerous to look at two data points, i.e., this was administered in 2012 and 2014, and see a change. These are different responded groups. We continue to monitor its use and kids' exposure to substances.
Let's talk about the Middle School project. Do you think the district could have done a better job of dealing with this issue? Could you have done anything differently to get the community engaged or find the issues that might have been coming from the neighborhood?
I do not think we were as aware as we might have been of the complexity of that location of the village, where there were so many important entities coming together at one location with important roles to play within the village. That has added a level of complexity to the project and probably that was not fully understood.
What could the district have done differently?
Our communication overall has been extensive and had the very best of intentions at every juncture about trying to inform and solicit feedback from invested stakeholders and stakeholder groups. There may have been ways that we could have communicated differently or utilized different ways.
The school district gratefully acknowledges that the village is embarking on its parking study on issues that are outside of the scope of the school district but need to be better understood and have contributed toward the complexity of this project. This is a complex situation.
One element that I think is not clearly understood is where the money is coming from to pay for the work. Can you explain that?
All of the money is coming from the Operations and Maintenance fund (the fund that covers the cost of renovations and similar projects). It is important to acknowledge that the school district has healthy reserves. Early on there was a fear that this project might cause the district to need to go to referendum at some point. This project has been budgeted by the board. This will not contribute toward the district in any way going to referendum. The board has a long history of making responsible financial decisions.
Do you have every expectation that Common Core will be the best for the district, considering that districts and states are pulling away from it.
We are fortunate to have students who come from homes where learning is supported, they come here ready to learn and that we provide an education that is highly rigorous. Common Core state standards are rigorous; we are preparing for a new state assessment that will be rolled out next spring. The work we have done with these standards will be helpful.