Illinois P20 Council comes to North Central Illinois

Article originally published in the Bureau County Republican, April 12, 2011
By Barb Kromphardt –

Educating our students

PRINCETON – The educators came to Princeton’s Prouty Building Tuesday, the first part of an effort to deepen community involvement in education reform presented by the North Central Regional Betterment Coalition (NCRBC).

J. Burt, president of the NCRBC, welcomed those in attendance. In 2002 the regional workforce board, NCI Works, conducted a Community Audit in Bureau, LaSalle, Putnam and Lee counties to determine its strengths and weaknesses with an eye on how to use that information to best prepare for the economic future.

Burt explained the NCRBC began in 2003 after the results of that audit were released. According to the report, the North Central Illinois Region would be held back in terms of economic development due to an abundance of low-skilled, low-wage jobs and a lack of people who seek higher education. The NCRBC was created by people who saw the problem and came together to identify and focus on the issues surrounding the major problems identified in the audit.

Since that time, the world has changed quickly, and Burt said it will change even more quickly in the future. Because of this, institutions have to be ready to adapt.

Area schools do produce bright students, but Burt said those students go elsewhere to college, and then don’t return to the area. Of the students who remain in the area and attend Illinois Valley Community College, Burt said 86 percent of all freshmen must take remedial classes.

“We need a culture that supports and values education,” Burt said.

Part of the way to accomplish that is to increase parental and community involvement in the schools.

Debra Strauss, president of the Illinois Parent Teacher Association, discussed the PTA’s National Standards for Family­School Partnerships.

Strauss said findings show that when families are involved at home and at school, students do better in school. To accomplish that, families need to understand that they should be involved, feel capable of making a contribution, and feel invited to participate by both the school and their children.

When parents are involved, Strauss said the children earn higher grades and test scores, pass their classes, attend school regularly, have better social skills, and graduate and go on to post-secondary education.

The six national standards include welcoming all families into the school community; communicating effectively; supporting student success; speaking up for every child; sharing power; and collaborating with the community.

In discussing the standards, Strauss said effective communication requires an ongoing, two-way, consistent communication between school and home.

The ways parents support student success has changed over the years. Strauss said that in the past, support meant a parent came to school during the day. Now, with many single parent homes or both parents working one or more jobs, that support might be shown by those parents making sure homework is done, and their children get a good night’s sleep and attend school on time.

Strauss said sharing power is the hardest standard. Families should be involved in all decisions about their children, much the same way the parents of students in special education are involved in all of their children’s decisions.

Melissa Trumbull Mitchell, associate director of the Federation for Community Schools, discussed the findings of a Family and Community Engagement in Illinois in April 2011 study.

Mitchell said family engagement is key to learning, and the school plays an important role.

First, the school must create a welcoming environment. Mitchell said administrators should consider what it’s like when a new parent first enters the school. If that first connection is positive, it goes a long was to ensure more connections in the future.

Other things the school can do is create a sense of teamwork and promote trust. Another more concrete example is for the principal to model engagement for teachers by listening to and valuing parents.

The Princeton session concluded with Putnam County School Superintendent Jay McCracken, who discussed the need for deeper involvement by parents in their children’s educational lives. The program moved to Ottawa in the afternoon, and then on to Illinois Valley Community College in Oglesby Tuesday night.