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Local News

School District 308 chief to teachers: 'get to know our kids'

Convocation marks opening of new academic year

The faculty, administration and support staff of School District 308 gathered en masse at Oswego East High School on Monday, Aug. 14, for the annual convocation seminar, to open the 2017-18 school year.

After gathering in the gymnasium, bouncing beach balls around the room, and a performance from the Oswego High School and OEHS choirs and bands, district leaders spoke to the room about the mission for the upcoming school year.

Brad Banks, newly elected president of the District 308 Board of Education, thanked those in attendance for their work.

“As parents, we trust you with our most precious gifts – our children,” Banks said. “We know you have a tough job. You are educators, and you were born to make a difference.”

Superintendent Dr. John Sparlin addressed the district’s goals for the 2017-18 school year, as well as the district’s goals from the previous school year that were still under consideration.

Sparlin encouraged teachers to get to know their students, beyond a brief set of questions asked on the first day of school.

“Get to know our kids, what their interests are, what their desires are, what they aspire to be. ... If we do that, ladies and gentlemen, I promise you, we will spend more time teaching, more time to do what you were hired to do, and less time managing and disciplining, and we will all be happier for it,” he said.

Sparlin also spent a considerable amount of time on the state of the district going into the new school year. As part of the district’s efforts to consolidate the budget, staff at the administration level was reduced by 20 percent, through layoffs, transfers, consolidation or the elimination of positions. To emphasize the change, Sparlin showed a flow chart detailing the administration hierarchy for the 2015-16 school year, and compared it to the 2017-18 school year, which was noticeably smaller.

“It’s quite a difference,” Sparlin said. He told the audience that the “customer service” provided by the district would not decrease as an effect of the cutbacks, and that the district was “working smarter and efficiently” to get work done.

He did mention that the district’s restructuring led to the creation of a “Director of Junior Highs” position, which the district is currently looking to fill.

Sparlin touted the achievements of the district’s students, saying, “I’m so happy we’re not down here,” while gesturing to the floor. “I’m so happy we’re not here,” gesturing to a mid-level area. “We score better across the board in all areas of education. ... We do very, very well.”

Sparlin said that during the school year, the district will work towards raising student achievement levels across the board.

“If somebody has to be number one, why can’t it be us?” he asked.

Sparlin went into detail on the district’s goals for the coming school year, touching first on college and career readiness. This goal is influenced by a formula in development by the Illinois State Board of Education that would look at a student’s GPA, SAT or ACT score, two academic indicators, and two career indicators, as a way to measure a student’s readiness for higher education or a career.

“That’s a big deal,” Sparlin said. He called the model “holistic,” as it would look at a student’s academic growth over time, as opposed to a “snapshot” exam, or models like No Child Left Behind.

Along the same lines, the district will “rethink” the senior year of high school, by broadening secondary programs like internships or mentoring to make sure that “students are ready for the next step,” Sparlin said.

The state of the state’s education funding was also touched on by both Banks and Sparlin. Senate Bill 1 is the current effort in the statehouse to create a funding mechanism for Illinois schools. On Monday, the state senate voted to override Gov. Bruce Rauner’s amendatory veto that sought to remove nearly $3 million earmarked for Chicago Public Schools. The House of Representatives now has less than 15 days to vote on the issue, as state funds were originally supposed to be distributed to schools on Aug. 10.

“I just hope that our legislators, who represent our district, make the right decision moving forward, to do what’s best for the people that they work for and represent,” Banks said.

District 308 will also continue to improve its diversity, equity and inclusion plan, which is starting to be implemented throughout the district. Administrators throughout the district recently underwent training with members of the Midwest and Plains Equity Assistance Center from Indiana University.

“It was a really good day,” Sparlin said, expressing hope to continue the process in the coming years with administrators and faculty.

The day closed with a viewing of the documentary “Paper Tigers,” about school administrators working with students to overcome adverse experiences, followed by a panel discussion.

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