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District 113 Designing Program to Engage More Families

Administrators call on community volunteers to help layout program.

District 113 is developing a program aimed at engaging more families in their children’s education.

“The research is really clear that when families are connected to school, their children do better in school,” Andrea Johnson, District 113 Director of Equity and Grants, said.”

District 113 launched an Equity Action Plan at Deerfield and Highland Park High Schools four years ago. The goal was to increase the academic performance of all students regardless of race, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economics and disabilities. Part of the plan was to get families---who weren’t typically involved in their children’s school---more active.

District 113 looked to Susan Hans, the Coordinator of School, Family, and Community Partnerships at Northern Suburban Special Education District (NSSED), for help. District 113 also invited a diverse mix of parents from Deerfield and Highland Park High Schools to participate in the discussion.

“Without these conversations you will have pockets of students that don’t feel that they belong,” Hans said. “District 113 is truly leading in these kinds of conversations.”

The group, dubbed All Voices Family Partnership, has been meeting once a month for the past year to discuss questions like: What parents might be engaged? What parents might not be engaged? Where are the gaps? How do we get more families connected to the school?

“At the end, we looked at our notes and discovered the dissemination of information was a key component to the problem,” Johnson explained. She added that traditional methods weren’t reaching certain families like those who had transferred in, hadn’t grown up in the area, didn’t speak English at home, were experiencing financial difficulties, or were connected to the military.  

That’s when the group decided to create a mentoring program. The idea is to match families with other families in the District who are going through similar experiences.

“Let’s say a family with a child who has special needs comes into the District. Then that child starts struggling with being included,” Johnson gave as an example. “We want to connect that family with another similar family in the District, who might have already figured out who to talk to at the school for help.”

According to Johnson, information gets disseminated in formal and casual ways, which is why the District wants to tap into both. “Let’s say there’s a meeting coming up at the school,” Johnson gave

as another example. “A group of parents could have a dinner first, which could
then be a hook to get them all to come to the school event.”

All Voices Family Partnership plans on spending this year designing a mentoring program that can be implemented next year. Right now, the group is looking for community volunteers to be part of the design team.

“We have very strong and really fantastic avenues for our students and families to stay connected to our high school,” Hans said and added the challenge is to start accessing them.”

If you are interested in helping design the mentorship program, contact Andrea Johnson at ajohnson@dist113.org or 224-765-1028.

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John Russillo July 24, 2012 at 04:05 PM
Nice to see a district actively engage the parent community. I know many want to see 113 and 109 combined, mostly for financial reasons, but I am beginning to think that the educational reasons may even outweigh the financial ones. Obviously, eliminating the 109 Board and administration would be beneficial right away, both financially and educationally. If the 113 Board is open-minded enough to work with a teachers union, then this thing could have legs. Deerfield needs to take control of its high school feeder system. Why should the high school have to correct the problems of the elementary district?
Richard H Heineman Jr July 24, 2012 at 04:21 PM
John: Remember that dist 113 has 3 feeder districts. Each of these districts has it's own and very different issues. I gather that 109 has issues with administration (I live in dist 112 and have no direct knowledge about 109). 112 has issues with facilities and 106 will want to remain independent at any cost. I am sure that getting all 4 districts to agree will be almost imposable. I am also not sure that it is even a good idea.
John Russillo July 24, 2012 at 04:25 PM
Oh, I understand its a HUGE undertaking. 113 would really have to be split up into DHS and HPHS. And I'm only looking at it (selfishly) from the Deerfield side. 109 is in excellent financial health and would not be a burden to DHS.
Tony Horwitz July 24, 2012 at 06:16 PM
While there may be reason to consider consolidation at the primary or middle school level (primarily educational consistency), I think there are too many differences in how a high school functions compared to the feeders. Further, is it wise to have the high school "control" its feeder schools? The high schools already work very closely with the feeder districts to ensure that curricular standards are consistent and that students from all districts are prepared for what the high schools offer. As for the economics, there just isn't that much administrative savings. You still need principals in every venue and the amount of support staff is proportional to the size of the building or school, so just consolidation at the high admin level doesn't save much, but it does cause more pull away from the concept of the neighborhood school. For example, in d102 students never attend a neighborhood school...Laura Sprague K-2,,,another school for 3rd and 4th and Daniel Wright for 5-8. There are many who prefer the concept of a primary school as close to home as possible. d112 will be wrestling with that one soon, as facilities are their upcoming concern. Also, don't mess so much with what works well....use the knowledge from that experience (d113 and its staff/admin/community relations) to help fix the problems that do exist in the other districts. Why take on such a "HUGE" job when only parts need fixing?
Tony Horwitz July 24, 2012 at 06:22 PM
Kudos again to d113 for being proactive in this. Lots of parents and community members are already invested in their high schools through sports and performing arts as well as academic clubs and service organizations. Bringing in those who have less involvement can only improve the relations the schools have with the community at large, and also helps the educational achievement of all students. This is one of the things in our community's culture that makes d113 so consistently great!
John Russillo July 24, 2012 at 06:27 PM
Well obviously, it wouldn't happen without the agreement of many parties. I think there may be quite a bit of support in Deerfield for a consolidation of the elementary and high school. If something works well, you want to expand that knowledge and expertise into the area that doesn't work so well, don't you? And again, I'm not so focused on the financial savings as the educational benefit. I've seen zero evidence that the high school works very closely with the feeder district, at least not in Deerfield. In fact, one of the issues we have is that elementary students are NOT prepared for high school. So, again, I think it's something to at least take a look at to see if it's feasible and in the interest of the community at large. I don't think anyone would object to that course of action. Maybe I'm wrong.
John Russillo July 24, 2012 at 06:32 PM
And as a matter of fact, I just recently met two outstanding DHS students who will be collecting signatures for our 109 petition. The reason? They struggled in elementary school and when they hit DHS the light came on. And I've heard this story from parent after parent.
Tony Horwitz July 24, 2012 at 07:13 PM
I'm indeed sorry to hear that. I know d113 does track students as they enter high school and does communicate with the feeder districts regarding student readiness for hs. What the feeder districts do with that information is the question. All of that is statistical, of course. That doesn't address any area in which the feeder districts could do better, just identifies trends in student readiness. Can't otherwise argue with your logic, John. Certainly there are some aspects of the high school culture which trickle down to the middle schools (mostly outreach from athletics and some from performing arts). We could do more to try to extend the HS culture up the line to the feeder schools.

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