We Keep Fighting the Good Fight: Professional
Development and Financial Constraints.
By Dr. David M. Mouser
There is a growing level of frustration among educators in Illinois. As a school superintendent, it is my duty to position our school district for success financially and academically for the students that we serve. Training and experience create the necessary skills to work together to provide opportunities for students. Yet, the financial stresses that are forced upon us by our state can be overwhelming. These financial realities are simply part of the challenges that we face on a daily basis. In other words, “how can we do more with less” is always on my mind.
I have chosen for this article to focus on that which we can control. This article will highlight the developments that we are working on as a staff and some of the ways that Tri-Valley works collaboratively to overcome challenges that we face through targeted professional development and increased teacher collaboration. Lastly, I will provide a few ideas on how we can work together to continue to overcome the challenges that we face.
One question that we often get involves how we prioritize our work. Each year, our administrative team works with teachers in each building to create a new set of priorities for the following year that fall under the categories of curriculum and instruction. These building level school improvement teams meet often to discuss student progress. Priorities are developed collaboratively in each building and as a district based on data that we analyze on student outcomes and performance. Our administration takes the goals and works to create action plans associated with each. These school improvement plans are presented to our board of education each November, along with state assessment results. The outcome helps us develop ongoing professional development for our staff and board members.
This year alone our staff has already been involved in several professional development opportunities. We had staff from the elementary school participate in a unique CGI math course that helped them align instruction to elementary students’ needs in math. Some of our middle school staff have presented to others regarding literacy and improving student achievement. In addition, our staff has been working on the creation of Common Core aligned assessments that will help us analyze the progression of curriculum at grade level, while being able to quantify student growth. Our board of education recently attended the state school board conference. The board of education members attended sessions on school finance, school safety, maintenance, and measuring student growth. Our administrators attended technology training, PAARC assessment training, the Illinois Principals Association Conference, the Illinois Association of School Administrators Conference, and building level meetings hosted by the Heart of Illinois Conference. In addition, we have several staff members that elect to take graduate level courses toward Masters degrees or National Board Certifications. Tri-Valley staff members work very hard to maintain the level of success we have come to expect. I am very comfortable in saying that our staff is doing our part to continue to be effective.
Though we have a number of professional development opportunities and work hard to maintain high levels of academic success, we still face mounting financial challenges as a district. We are currently operating in deficit budget and were disappointed to learn that our state may again cut our funding in transportation and other categorical payments this year. These financial shortfalls are devastating, and coupled with a general state aid proration have forced us to lay off over 15 staff members in the last four years. Unfortunately, we are faced with the same issue as we plan for next school year. It is certainly frustrating to work so hard to meet expectations while our state is not meeting their minimum obligations to adequately fund our schools.
Nevertheless, we plan to continue to innovate our way to providing opportunities for students. We have the luxury of a supportive community and parents that value education and appreciate the work that we all do together. What can you do to help? Stay informed, demand state support from legislators, and send your child to school every day. Our state funding is based on average daily attendance and not simply enrollment. We need our students in school every day that they can be here to avoid learning gaps and increase our daily attendance. In addition, please share the successes of our school district to those around us who are looking to find a place to settle to raise a family in a school district that leads the area in student achievement. The more growth we see in enrollment, the more flexibility we can have to provide quality programming to all of our students. Finally, continue to support our teachers that work so hard to educate our kids.
As we move toward the end of the first semester of the 2014-2015 school year, we have much to be proud of. Our behind the scenes work as a staff to remain focused and up to date on the latest developments in education will continue as we start a new semester together. We expect change, and have prepared ourselves for it. We look forward to continuing to partner with you to maintain the levels of success that we all have come to expect. Please stay tuned for further developments and communication via my website at www.tv3unit.com. Go Vikings!