School chief: time to move district forward : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
|School chief: time to move district forward|
|Wendt lists goals, notes challenges in addressing staff|
|by Lyle R. Rolfe|
Oswego School District Superintendent Dr. Matthew Wendt outlined his plans to improve education in the school district during a gathering of the district's 1,700 teachers, administrators and support staff this past week.
Wendt described the convocation gathering in the packed Oswego East High School gym as a celebration to mark the start of the new school year.
On Monday an estimated 17,700 students returned to class in the district's 22 schools and other facilities.
"I need the board to set goals. I have a few in mind. I'm going to advise the board but they're also going to get advice from other folks.
"We need to address technology in this district. We should not talk just about the technology but about learning and consider technology as one additional recourse to improving student achievement," he said.
There is a desire to move technology forward, and he admitted it has been slower than should have been. He said technnology is now a top priority and has been added by the school board as a fifth citizens advisory committee "so that we have people from the outside helping us on the inside."
He noted that many teachers are in constant contact with parents by email, and added that "... I would love to see every teacher communicate with their parents on a weekly or biweekly basis."
Wendt talked about online learning, a subject he will discuss with anyone willing to listen.
"If you reject online learning we need to sit down and have a conversation. This isn't about replacing teachers. It's about a different way of teaching kids. Kids are wired differently than when we were in school. If we don't respect and understand that, we have a serious issue. Online learning is about improving our system. Kids need it and I believe there are people here that want it," he added.
Wendt asked teachers who want to teach online classes to their students, to stand. He was pleased with the response and said they would be asked to serve on his online committee.
He said he has seen many elementary teachers in classrooms using iPads for teaching and said the only bad thing about this is that the teachers had to purchase them.
"We're going to stop that. We need to buy them for every teacher," he said.
Dual credit is on, he said, referring to classes that give a student high school and college credit for one course.
He added that the district will work to have high school seniors from both schools earn thousands of credit hours by graduation 2020.
"We will have graduates stand up who have earned their associate's degree from Waubonsee Community College or some other university. They will stand and be honored and that's the direction we're going to go," he said.
This will save parents money for college, but he said this is not the reason to do this. "We're doing it because we have kids in this school that need it. They need to be challenged in this way."
Wendt said they also are going to audit the way they teach special education students. They want to be sure they are spending their special education dollars for the right things, he said.
The gifted and talented students are not being forgotten. He said they are going to roll out a world class education program in January, February and March for these students. These students are bored and need and want more, he said.
Professional development and training will be changed and the English Language Learning services will be improved, he said.
Every elementary school should have K-5 grades, but not all do. This will be discussed during the coming year as well as whether East View should be kept as an all-day kindergarten center or changed back to a K-5 school, he noted.
Voice support for
all day kindergarten
Wendt said some people say all-day kindergarten is just doing the same thing for a longer period, but he believes this is just a perception, which can be changed through better communication with the people.
"I don't know how we can be world class if we don't have all day K. Some people say we can't afford it because it's not state funded, but common core and gifted education are not state funded and we still have them.
"Now let's go back to the funding. I think we've got it backward. I think we should be the first school district out of 800-plus in Illinois to tell the state that we're not interested in their philosophy. We believe it's more important for five-year-olds to be in school all day than 18-year-olds."
Wendt said he learned this by interviewing juniors in his office last year and wherever he saw them-in grocery stores, department stores and other places.
"There were probably clerks asking each other, 'Who's the bald guy asking the kids questions over in aisle five?'" he said
He said most seniors take the required classes and have time left over and don't know what to take during that time that must be spent in school.
"We must rethink the senior year," he told the audience. He said he would rather see seniors taking their required classes and spend the extra time on college classes or serving internships at businesses, which would not cost the district anything.
He covered a multitude of other issues and potential changes, but noted that all of them must be made and financed with no additional local property taxes.
"It will not be easy and we will have our challenges to make a transition to becoming world-class," he said.
The district must provide the necessary resources, include training, and adjust methods of instruction, he added.
Wendt said parents are sending their best to the schools, but 50 percent of the graduates are scoring below trends.
"We cannot improve by asking kids to change. We must change. We must improve. We must be willing to do school different," he said, adding, "Every student is our student; they belong to everyone. Kids should not experience a different quality of education based on a school or teacher. When kids think of integrity, fairness and caring, kids should think of us."
Wendt noted that at next year's convocation meeting, they will dedicate a big part of the program to honoring their employees for their major accomplishments.
School Board President Bill Walsh said his commitment is that by next year when they meet, the district will have a strategic plan ready for board vote.
Walsh also talked about how the district overcame a $7.5 million budget deficit and ended up with a balanced budget before last year ended and discussed the progress on the 600-student additions to each high school. Both were ready for students when the doors opened on Monday.
In the presence
of great people
Wendt also said he had never been in the presence of better people, which included Dr. Paul O'Malley, assistant superintendent; John Sparlin, assistant superintendent of administrative services; and Dr. Judith Minor, head of teaching and learning.
Wendt then introduced the heads of the four unions representing the district's staff. Each had time to talk about how their employees would serve the district in the coming year.
The union representatives were Darla Medernach who serves as co-president of the Oswego Education Association (OEA) with Andrew Gothelf; Kris Odum, representing the Oswego Support Professional Education Association; Alex Wallace, Oswego Transportation Association president; and Joe Mikalajunas, Oswego Custodial Maintenance Association president.
Wendt referred to them as "TEAM 308,"and noted they are responsible for transporting students, educating students and parents; assisting parents, students and staff members, and maintaining buildings.
He also praised the district's staff, the individual schools, the district's facilities and parent involvement. He lauded the community for its support, highlighted the district's potential, and its deep care and commitment to tradition.
Wendt acknowledged the district does have concerns for the future, which he said includes academic achievement, board governance and strategic planning for the multiple communities served by the district (Oswego, Aurora, Plainfield, Montgomery, Yorkville, and Joliet). Wendt noted the district's reputation to work through differences.
He also expressed concern about a lack of communication by the district to the people, employee turnover and the fear of losing good people. He added that high property taxes are something residents have been complaining about for some time.
Wendt said the district's significant accomplishments for the past year included reducing a $7.5 million budget deficit, restructuring the transportation department, moving the 2013-14 final exams to December. They also began early dismissals for fifth hour classes, made adjustments to institute days, restructured and hired an assistant superintendent for the teaching and learning department, and established a citizen advisory committees chaired by school board members.
Other accomplishments included an employee and parent climate survey, various administrative personnel changes, establishing a district leadership council, adding a new organizational chart, making all elementary school starting and ending times the same. They also implemented high school online learning and dual credit classes so students could receive college and high school credit for some classes and established a Pay-to-Ride student transportation program for students who do not qualify for regular bus service.
He said the time to move forward is now. Priorities for the new year include strategic planning, a technology advisory committee, a communications plan, online learning with blended models and dual credit.
He received loud applause from the staff after saying, "We're going to have discussions and we're going to make time in this district for teachers to meet often and regularly to collaborate with one another.
"You have to have that time as a professional learning community. There will be more on this throughout the year," he said.