Wednesday, August 28, 2013

What is the Common Core?

One of the most discussed topics in public education right now is the implementation of the Common Core Standards.  I want to take some time to explain what is meant by the Common Core, and also how these new learning standards will impact our classrooms and students in District #1.

The Common Core State Standards establish clear expectations for what students should be learning in English language arts and mathematics at every grade level from pre-kindergarten through 12th grade.  This initiative commenced from the work of 40 state governors and state education leaders from across the United States.  The resulting Common Core represents a collaborative effort to raise expectations and improve instruction for all public school students.  In short, the Common Core sets a uniform high and clear standard of performance with the purpose of preparing students for college and the workforce.

Illinois has had uniform state learning standards in place for many years.  The Common Core standards have taken the place of those state standards for English language arts and mathematics.  The major difference between the Common Core and the previous state standards is the emphasis on critical thinking and concept mastery.  In English, the Common Core focuses on the importance of reading nonfiction, using evidence to back claims and expanding academic vocabulary.  The English language arts (ELA) standards also have standards to encourage social studies, science and career and technical subjects to increase writing and the reading of informational text in their areas. This promotes a more well-rounded approach to preparing students as the focus isn’t entirely on the tested subjects of ELA and mathematics.  In math, the new standards call for a focus on fewer topics so students gain a more comprehensive understanding of those key topics.  They also emphasize the application of math towards solving real-world problems.  In both English and math, the goal of the Common Core is to give students the ability to apply their knowledge to succeed in college and/or the workforce.

With the former Illinois State Standards, school districts still maintained local control over the implementation of these standards.  This will still be the case with the state's adoption of the Common Core.  District #1 will continue to write local curricula, assessments and lesson plans for our classrooms.  The Common Core establishes the benchmarks for what our students need to know and be able to do, but District #1 will still determine the best strategies, resources, and methods for achieving those benchmarks.  District #1 teachers will continue to make their daily instructional decisions about how best to meet the individual needs of their students.

District #1 started preparations for the Common Core in the spring, 2011.  In the summer, 2011, our teachers in English and mathematics started to rewrite their curriculum and assessments to align with the new Common Core learning standards.  This process continued in the summer, 2013.  By embracing the Common Core early, our goal was to provide our students with the best possible chances for academic success as schools across Illinois are required to fully implement the curricula  during this school year.

Our hope is that our students will benefit from the higher expectations for critical thinking and concept mastery that the Common Core demands.  By encouraging our students to apply and demonstrate their knowledge in real-world settings, we hope that our students will be even better prepared for post-secondary and career success.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Welcome to the 2013-2014 School Year!

We are very excited about the start of the new school year in Coal City Community Unit School District #1.  Our school year started on August 14th and 15th with Teacher Institutes, and the first day for students was on August 16th.

At our opening day in-service, we talked about our District theme for 2013-2014, which is "Passion & Professionalism".  One of the highlights of the first day was a short video of Rita Pierson, which was shown to all faculty members.  Rita was a fierce defender of public education and the important role educators play in the lives of our students.  She believed that "Every child deserves a champion", which is a phrase we will be using often this year in District #1.  Unfortunately, Rita passed away only a month after giving this passionate speech.  I hope you get a chance to view the video as it is quite powerful.  Our faculty and staff looks forward to putting our "Passion & Professionalism" on display everyday as we proudly serve the students and wider communities of District #1.

As we start the new school year, there are a couple of items I wanted to share.

Some of you may be aware that the Early Childhood Center is now a "Peanut-Free School".  This procedure was instituted because we have a student in that building with a very severe allergic reaction to any peanut protein. The American's with Disabilities Act requires that we educate all students with disabilities in the "least restrictive environment."  Also, the school district is required to make any "reasonable accommodations" necessary to provide that "least restrictive environment".  The court system has consistently maintained that making a school "Peanut-Free" is a "reasonable accommodation" and one that must be made to provide students with an education in their "least restrictive environment".  A very recent appellate court case out of Michigan once again supported this position public schools must take.  As I expected, our parents and school community have been very supportive of this new procedure…especially once they understand the potentially dire consequences for this student.  However, anytime a new procedure is put in place, people want to know the rationale behind the change.  Hopefully, this provides that information.

During this summer's HVAC project at the Intermediate School, the contractor discovered some damage to a roof truss above the Library.  Therefore, we have closed the IS Library until we can get the issue fixed.  In the meantime, I would like to thank Tina Vignocchi and the Coal City Public Library for still providing library services to our IS students during this time.  The Public Library has even been opening early to accommodate our IS students, and Mrs. Vignocchi has gone above and beyond for our kids.  It is nice to see two public entities cooperating so well to provide a valuable service to our students.

All of us in District #1 are excited about the 2013-2014 school year.  We look forward to partnering with you to provide the best possible educational experience for our students.