Illinois Education

Spencer Tritt

DeKalb Public Schools has hired a new superintendent. Her name is Minerva Garcia-Sanchez. She’s currently the Pilsen, Marshall Square and Little Village chief of schools in Chicago. WNIJ education reporter Peter Medlin talked to her about her expectations and goals as she starts at a new school district during the pandemic.

Taylor Leach

This Week: Another edition of Student Teachers’ Lounge! Host Peter Medlin talked to Taylor Leach, who has experienced the pandemic as both a student and as a teacher. She just graduated with a master’s degree from Northern Illinois University and finished up student teaching at Kingston Elementary School in Genoa, Illinois.

Spencer Tritt

A new Illinois law going into effect in 2021 is meant to safeguard student data from breaches and ransomware.

With this update to the Student Online Personal Protection Act, parents will be able to review and correct their kids’ data held by schools or operators of online services who work with the school.

Parents can also request data be deleted in some cases. State Rep. John Carroll was a co-sponsor of the act.

Spencer Tritt

Most Illinois students have been learning remotely for some if not the entire fall.

Students of all grade levels are struggling with the academic and emotional stress of remote learning in a pandemic.

School districts have offered additional social-emotional support to try and help them manage the array of challenges.

Illinois State Board of Education

The Illinois State Board of Education released an interactive report showing how teacher preparation programs across the state are performing.

The Illinois Educator Preparation Profile allows employers and prospective education students to scour data about college programs to see how well they recruit students of color, what percentage of graduates get placed in teaching positions and a host of other metrics.

Spencer Tritt

Illinois has had a shortage of teachers for years now, and that extends to substitutes. But, during the pandemic, that pool of subs has dwindled even further. That made it challenging for in-person schools to have socially-distanced classrooms staffed at all.

Chris Mehochko is the regional superintendent for Kendall and Grundy counties. Regional education offices serve as the hub for subs, helping them with licensing and background checks.

Susan Stephens

The Kishwaukee College Board voted to extend its president’s contract through 2024. It gives Laurie Borowicz a $10,000 base salary increase to $200,000 per year. The college also upped her employer contribution retirement match from 1-1 to 2-1.

Bob Johnson is the president of the Kishwaukee College Board of Trustees. He said she deserved the upgrades.

Goodly Creatures, LLC

This week’s episode is with Katrina Syrris. She leads a double life. By day, Katrina is a high school theater teacher at St. Edward Central Catholic. By night and weekends, she owns and operates Goodly Creatures -- her theater production company.

She’s a producer, a director, a playwright -- the list goes on and on. 

Host Peter Medlin talked to Katrina about being an artist during the pandemic. Goodly Creatures lost their studio space during COVID so she’s had to pivot online both for her theater company and her high school classes.

Rep. Jeff Keicher

Illinois residents voted down the proposed graduated income tax plan. Some education experts were hopeful those extra funds could help restore a portion of funds lost due to pandemic revenue shortfalls.

State Representative Jeff Keicher wasn’t surprised the graduated income tax amendment failed. The Sycamore Republican says it was a matter of a lack of trust in the legislature and Governor J.B. Pritzker to spend that money wisely. He sits on the higher-ed finance committee.

Peter Medlin

Illinois voters said “no” to the graduated income tax on Tuesday. 

 

More than 100 labor groups including the Illinois Education Association came out in favor of the proposed amendment. Kathi Griffin is president of the IEA. She said Illinois needed the tax proposal to pass to continue paying for Evidence-Based Funding (EBF) of K-12 schools.

 

Every year, tens of thousands of Illinois college students who qualify and apply for a Monetary Award Program (MAP) grant receive nothing. The need-based aid is "first come, first-served" and the state runs out of money well short of meeting the demand.

SD209

Students in the Proviso School District are still learning remotely as COVID-19 case rates go up across Illinois. But their teachers are now working inside the district’s school buildings, despite safety concerns and the Teachers’ Union filing of an Unfair Labor Practice & Grievance against the district.

 

Almost 300 Proviso teachers have been back for a week now. Maggie Riley -- she’s the president of the Proviso Teachers’ Union -- said the conditions are exactly what they were worried about. 

 

Peter Medlin

Over the summer, the school year was still in limbo and racial tensions were running high in Rockford as well as communities across the country. A former student reached out to Amanda Becker with a simple question: “Mrs. Becker, how are you going to teach about this?”

Becker is a history teacher at Auburn High School and a Rockford historian. Her answer was a philosophy she learned from her own teaching mentors.

“The best thing to do is to let the kids talk. That's it. Don't teach them anything. Let the kids talk,” she said.

Peter Medlin

On a new episode of Teachers’ Lounge, we have Jason Cavanaugh. He’s a high school math teacher and baseball coach in Sycamore.

They’re learning remotely. So, Jason is going into his empty, retrofitted math class to teach kids who are at home. Obviously, he’s never done this before, the students haven’t either. And, as you can imagine, the technology is not always flawless.

Brett Callow of Emsisoft

In April, Illinois Valley Community College’s servers shut down. It happened soon after COVID-19 closed down the campus and shifted classes online. Hackers locked the college out of its own networks. That caused its website and email system to crash. 

In the directory where files should be, the hackers left a message demanding cash for ransom.  

Spencer Tritt

We’ve got a special episode this week. Remember a few months back when we heard from those valedictorians about what it was like graduating in the strangest senior year ever? And remember when we heard from some parent surveys about the challenges of learning from home a few episodes ago?

Well, today we’re hearing from the kids just starting their school journey: elementary schoolers from pre-K to 5th grade in the West Aurora School District.

On a new Teachers’ Lounge episode we have Deb Baird. She has ran her own at-home daycare business since 1984.

She talked to host Peter Medlin about her 36 years raising hundreds of kids in her own home. They went into how much it’s changed as she’s gotten older, her focus on nature -- especially monarch butterflies -- and so much more.

Spencer Tritt

Many Illinois students are more than a week into remote learning, and parents are still finding new challenges and trying to get used to the new normal.

“We’ve just had a morning recess mishap. Did that land on your foot? Are your toe-sies okay?” One of Colleen Chavez’s children was crying. After a few seconds comforting them, she told them to run along and play with something safer. Only got a few minutes before it’s time to log on or school.

Spencer Tritt

As the pandemic began to surge, schools closed and most students switched to online learning almost overnight. Schools with less access to technology relied on paper packets, especially for elementary students.

It was more like crisis teaching, like building the plane as you’re flying it. That’s how Lindsay Zelly described sudden changeover. She’s the director of professional learning at the Illinois Digital Educators Alliance. They provide professional development and online resources to teachers.

Spencer Tritt

Only weeks from the first day of school, some districts are reversing course and choosing not to have any in-person instruction right away.

Several teachers’ unions are calling on their schools to start the year virtually. Educators in Elmhurst are opposing their district’s back-to-school plan.

Max Schoenberg is the president of the Elmhurst Teachers’ Council. He says Elmhurst District 205’s plan would bring hundreds of students back into its buildings.

Peter Medlin

Rockford Public Schools just became the latest district to release a plan for reopening.

No matter the grade level, parents can choose full-time remote learning.

But in-person will look different depending on a student’s age.

The elementary school option will be all day, five days a week.

Heidi Dettman is the executive director of academics.

“The biggest reason is because of how critical their time with their teachers is at this developmental stage,” said Dettman.

Public Health Educator Weighs In On School Reopening

Jul 24, 2020
Spencer Tritt

The Illinois Federation of Teachers recently urged higher-ed and K-12 schools to start their semesters completely online. Many schools are releasing reopening protocols to return partially in-person during the pandemic.

Beth Squires is a professor at Northern Illinois University’s College of Health and Human Sciences.

She said, to open in-person, schools must first be able to guarantee that students wear a mask, keep at least six feet apart and wash their hands regularly.

On a new Teachers’ Lounge, host Peter Medlin sat down digitally with Ayla Peczkowski. She taught English & Special Ed at the Roosevelt Community Education Center in Rockford. Now she’s going to be in an administrative role at East High School, also in Rockford.

They talked about Ayla’s mixed feelings about schools reopening, teaching her students about news literacy during the pandemic and much more.

This episode goes in depth on what goes into a reopening plan. And there’s a story highlighting the struggles international students have faced during COVID-19.

Spencer Tritt

It’s just less than a month before the first day of school, and DeKalb is releasing their plans to reopen amid the global COVID-19 pandemic.

Students returning will see a different kind of classroom from what they left in March when schools shut down.

Schools are enforcing health and safety guidelines to try and limit the spread of coronavirus. Students will be required to wear masks. Classrooms will be reoriented to account for social distancing.

DeKalb’s plan uses a hybrid in-person and online format.

Spencer Tritt

School districts across Illinois are starting to release reopening plans for this fall.

Many parents are uncomfortable with their kids going back to school during the pandemic. They worry if social distancing is possible and if younger students will struggle to wear a mask all day. But not all.

Of the seven people in Renee Olson’s house, nearly all of them have had COVID-19. After quarantining inside for weeks, she still has a cough but said she feels about 95% back to normal.

niu.edu

As COVID-19 started shutting down international travel in March, students from Northern Illinois University studying abroad had to be rushed back home.

Anne Seitzinger said she knows it was devastating for them. She’s the director of the study abroad office at NIU.  

Months later, her staff is still helping them deal with the consequences of the abrupt change in plans.

“They're trying to get refunds for the students, and most of them have been able to do that,” she said. “And the ones that haven't been able to tell us about refunds yet, it's sounding positive.”

Spencer Tritt

Illinois recently released guidelines for schools to return in-person this fall. Some concerned parents are choosing to homeschool their kids this year rather than send them back to in-person classes during COVID-19.

Brandi Poreda has homeschooled three of her kids over the last 20 years. She said the biggest advantage of homeschooling is flexibility.

Her first piece of advice to parents homeschooling for the first time? Don’t try to replicate the public school classroom experience.

'Dear Class of 2020...' | Teachers' Lounge Podcast

Jun 26, 2020
Spencer Tritt

This is a special episode of the show we’re calling “Dear Class of 2020…”  The teachers are gone. This week it’s all about the students graduating after the strangest senior year ever. You’re going to hear four valedictorians give the speeches they would have given, in a normal year, to an auditorium full of their friends and family.

The Class of 2020 valedictorians are:

Xavior Hutsell of Roosevelt High School in Rockford

Nina Mitchell of DeKalb High School

Ashley Althaus of Amboy High School

And, finally, Tessa Harbecke or Sycamore High School

Spencer Tritt

The State guidelines that were announced Tuesday for schools to resume in-person classes this fall need more work. That’s according to one of Illinois’ biggest teachers unions.

The pandemic put schools across the country in a tough position. They know many don’t consider the quality of e-learning equal to that of in-person instruction. But, even with new in-person safety protocols, some parents say they aren’t going to feel comfortable sending their kids to school.

Peter Medlin

The DeKalb School Board held a special meeting today on Juneteenth to ask members of the public to talk about their experiences with racism and inequality in the school system.

The need for more staff diversity was brought up by several speakers. Surveys show racial disparities between the numbers of black students and teachers exist across the country.

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