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School chief: growth a continuing challenge : News : Oswego Ledger-Sentinel : Hometown Newspaper for Oswego and Montgomery, Illinois
School chief: growth a continuing challenge
Wendt notes Oswego School District now bigger than Naperville

by Lyle R. Rolfe

2/27/2014


Oswego School District Superintendent Dr. Matthew Wendt brought the district's teachers and administrators up-to-date on efforts to improve the school system during an hour-long workshop meeting held last week at Oswego East High School.

But before Wendt took center stage, Brent Lightfoot, a school board member, said the board spent a full day earlier this year going over 50 goals and initiatives for the district, some of which are now in effect, some that will be implemented next year, and others that will become effective further into the future.

Lightfoot emphasized that a board and administrative goal is to move the district to world class status, and added that "...it will not happen overnight and will not happen without everyone working together to make it happen."

He added that work on a new strategic plan for the district will start within the next month with one goal in mind: improving student performance.

"It's time for Oswego to have an upgrade," Lightfoot said.

Wendt noted that during one of the country's worst recessions, the Oswego School District continued to grow and will continue to do so. He said it is now the state's eighth largest school district because it has surpassed the Naperville School District. Oswego has 17,605 students compared to Naperville's 17,563.

"Valley View is next, but they are losing students and we are gaining so next year at this time we should be able to say we are seventh largest in the state," he said, noting that Valley View, which is in Romeoville, has 17,704 students.

The others above Oswego are Carpentersville, 20,888; Plainfield, 28,560; Indian Prairie (Aurora and Naperville), 28,706; Rockford, 29,160; Elgin, 40,537 and Chicago, 400,994.

Wendt said while he is excited about Oswego's growth, the district also faces more pressure and challenges because of it.

Wendt then charged the Illinois General Assembly has forgotten one of its primary duties-supporting all the state's school districts. He said the state is now providing the district with only 89 percent of the funds that the law says they must provide based on average daily attendance in the schools.

He reminded the staff that during the past three years the district has been "short-changed" $11 million from its past three budgets.

He said he has heard rumors that the district has too many teachers and too many administrators compared to others around the state.

"But when you compare the number of students and teachers with others across the state, no we don't," he said.

Oswego does not have more administrators than other districts either, he contended, and went on to say that the board has done a good job of seeing that money was spent where it was supposed to be spent.

Wendt noted that the past 12 months have been difficult. He said they have restructured and have hired new people. However, Wendt said he is pleased with the progress they have made. He thanked the board and the community for their support.

He referred to a list of priorities set by the board and administration that reached 100 at one time. He noted some of the priorities have moved forward and acknowledged there have been differences of opinion on some others.



Defends board's 'no'
vote on STEM School


One priority, he said was the board voting two weeks ago against joining three other districts in a proposed STEM Partnership School through Aurora University. The West Aurora, East Aurora and Indian Prairie school districts are expected to participate in the STEM Partnership School.

"If I thought this district was ready for the Partnership School I would have been the first superintendent to stand up and say so. The question should not be why are we not joining. The question should be why Dr. Wendt did not come out and fully support it.

"Do not blame the school board; they voted correctly," Wendt said, referring to their six no votes and one abstaining vote. "They had the best interest of the entire system," he said, referring to their vote.

Wendt add, "If you ever want to talk about that topic, please invite me over. I'd be happy to sit down and visit."

He then referred to quarterly reports he publishes after meeting with each principal.

Wendt said the board wants to know where principals are spending money, what their projections look like and how they are doing financially.

"One of their primary goals is to insure that when Dr. Wendt is done in 20-some years, the finances of this district are still in order. That's one of their primary jobs. We have a duty to respond to our board," Wendt said, noting that the district has an annual operating budget of about $150 million.

He said they are working with a board-approved five-year curriculum that is up-to-date. He said it will carry the district whether he is still here or not. A new math curriculum will be coming to the board soon, he added.

Wendt mentioned special education students and the audit of special education, which was recently presented to the board. He said they are outgrowing the way special education students are taught and added that improvements are being discussed.

He noted that the board would be hearing about gifted education at its next meeting (last Monday) and how these students are being under served.

He also discussed other items that will be on future board agendas such as online education, and the need for teachers to continue their educations.

The district also is working on a communications plan internally and externally to be sure the community is kept informed of what is going on in the district. A new website will be unveiled next year, he said.

Dual credit (high school and college), classes for high school students will be expanded and classes will be available at all hours, not just during school hours.

AP (Advanced Placement) courses will not eliminate the honors courses, because the honors courses will become available at the middle school level. This will allow those students to earn high school credit, he noted.

He told the staff members that if they have questions about anything he discussed during the meeting to see him.

"Don't talk to someone else about it. You question it with me," he said, offering to come to their classroom, or for them to come to his office to talk about anything in his presentation.

He then presented a set of goals for the district in 2020 and ended by saying that Oswego's students must be ready to compete internationally when they leave school district.

Wendt said his presentation should not make anyone think Oswego is a bad school district.

"But I am going to paint a picture that we have a good place that needs to get a lot better. We are lagging behind and we need to improve."

The future, Wendt said is a "world class" district producing students capable of competing internationally.

The Oswego School District is willing to do whatever it takes to accomplish this, he added.




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