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​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​Visible Leaders Build Successful Education Communities

Betheny Lyke, Ed.D. Director, Illinois Center for School Improvement

Most district leaders will agree that the real work of improving student achievement happens in the classroom. In turn, district and school leaders' jobs are to ensure that teachers have the resources they need to promote student learning. There are many resources that teachers need to be successful, and chief among them is the physical presence of school leaders.

Visible, engaged, and supportive leaders are key to overall school improvement. That is why Illinois CSI works with district and school leaders to ensure that they understand the underlying factors necessary to support their agents on the ground. We strive to build leaders' opportunities so that they can be visible leaders to the teachers who ultimately drive student achievement.

Our work at Illinois CSI initially began by supporting district leaders only. Once district leaders gained the knowledge and skills to support others, we coached them in developing the capacity of their building leaders. Now, many of our teams are working with building leaders to build the capacity of their instructional team leaders.

By increasing the capabilities of each type of leader, we are increasing the chance that positive change will be self-supported and sustainable. It is our wish that the districts we work with will no longer require our intensive services, but will have the capacity to drive their own change and serve as examples to other school districts—in Illinois and beyond—of how leadership support and availability can be a strong first step to improving schools and increasing student achievement.

Betheny Lyke, Ed.D.


Illinois CSI Hosts Principal Summit With a Focus on Coaching Up


On March 1, Illinois CSI hosted a Principal Summit at the Group Picture 2Bloomington Doubletree Hotel and Conference Center. The Principals Summit served as a culmination of Illinois CSI's year long Principals Institute, a community of practice that supports and connects leaders in building on the continuous improvement efforts in their districts. School leaders from all over the state came together to discuss leadership strategies and best practices. Scott Kuffel, superintendent of Geneseo Community Unit School District 228, served as the featured keynote speaker for the event and led discussions on Coaching Up: Having the Conversations That Support Leaders of Highly Effective Teams.

Participants were given the chance to practice these skills and formulate strategies that they could take back to their schools. In the article below, Superintendent Kuffel shares some parting thoughts with us.


Scott Kuffel, Superintendent, Geneseo Community Unit School District 228

Facilitating Focus and Fidelity

Scott Kuffel, Superintendent, Geneseo Community Unit School District 228


Few educational leaders would deny that developing strong relationships with staff, conducting effective meetings, and assisting in empowered decision making are all important outcomes for success. But often, we disregard the foundational skills and attributes necessary to engage in such capacity-building activities in our schools.

Scott Kuffel, Superintendent, Geneseo Community Unit School District 228

Developing and embedding good coaching practices as a leader are essential in today's public school setting. The expectation that we enhance the capacity of quality instructional practice, and utilize strong dialogue during the evaluation process, is imperative. Great leaders ask strong and powerful questions. These are questions that elicit reflection and allow the emotional parts of pedagogy to align with the intellectual parts of a teacher's toolbox. It is no longer enough to provide data sets of student achievement without coaching teachers to understand and identify where they may be "stuck" with a student or with a colleague, so that they can feel secure in arriving at a decision or next action that makes the most sense in particular situations. This is but a small glimpse of what individual coaching can do.

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Similarly, educational leaders will need to develop and embed skills to lead conversations during small-group and team meetings that provide a structure for focus and lead to decisions and commitments. A simple ORID structure can offer such an avenue for productive and guided discussions. The ORID includes a question or questions that are Objective in nature: what the team sees, hears, and observes in particular settings or within a specific data set, for example. Next come question(s) that are Reflective: providing an outlet for the fears, anxiety, and/or the excitement and passion of the team related to the challenge. Next is the Interpretive phase, whereby the facilitator helps the team make connections to their values and answer the question, "So what does this mean?" Once threads of understanding of what we observed and what we feel can be constructed into some individual and group meaning, the final Decisional phase is appropriate. This is when the group or team is ready to announce their commitment to a decision or action or next step. Too often, teams or departments meet with no discernible next steps, but an ORID helps facilitate conversation with purpose and diplomacy.

Twenty-first century leaders need to be able to coach both individuals and teams. Our students deserve nothing less than focused action.


Illinois CSI Supporting Work at the Instructional Level


Beginning in the fall of this school year, Illinois CSI extended its services to the Instructional Leadership Team (ILT) level with the intent of more purposefully strengthening the feedback loop among the District Leadership Team (DLT), the School Leadership Team (SLT), and the ILT. We defined ILTs as the teams that are present at the building level to support instruction and curriculum, knowing that the names of these groups could run the gamut from PLCs (professional learning communities) to BLTs (building-level teams). Regardless of the name, we wanted to extend support to the teams within a district responsible for monitoring the adult practices outlined in continuous improvement plans.

The team identified within Illinois CSI for this work were the Instructional Support Specialists (ISS), who work statewide under the supervision of the Director of District Resources. Each specialist had already been assigned to one of the 10 service areas for Illinois CSI, thus allowing the ILT work to be done in collaboration with the District Assistance Teams (DATs) and Area Assistant Directors (AD-Ds).

Internal protocols and procedures were established and communicated, and the DATs and AD‑Ds began an inventory to identify services that were needed at the ILT level to support district goals and worthy targets. The ISS and the DATs soon were deployed to meet with district teams. We found that administrators were excited about the availability of specialists to support identified needs within their schools.

Over this past school year, ILTs have provided a variety of ILT services, including classroom walk-throughs and feedback with school teams, supporting curriculum directors and teachers around Illinois education standards, English learners, and mathematical practices. Professional learning opportunities have included strategies for building rigor in instruction, assessment literacy, multi-tiered systems of support, the use of Khan Academy, and navigating the requirements of SAT® and the College Board.

Illinois CSI also has collaborated with the Content Area Specialists team from the Illinois State Board of Education, who periodically delivered follow-up on professional learning provided through Foundational Services. The work of the ILT continues to grow, and we are excited about this opportunity to serve our schools as we continue to build successful educational communities.


BSpencer Byrd, Superintendent, Meridian School District 101

Hope for Tomorrow: Meridian Focuses on Climate and Culture to Improve Education Delivery for Students

Spencer Byrd, Superintendent, Meridian School District 101


When I was hired last year as superintendent of Meridian School District 101, Illinois CSI already was in place and lending a helping hand. I immediately recognized that Illinois CSI was here to help in any way possible, and we quickly joined forces to improve the culture and climate of the Meridian School District.

Meridian is a small school district in southern Illinois with very limited resources. It is extremely valuable to me to have access to Illinois CSI and all the services that they can provide to us. In particular, District Liaison Joy Baker-Battagliotti, with support from Kevin Junk, are in our district weekly, and I feel as if they are a part of my administrative leadership team. To have them sit in on our meetings, lead some of our professional development, and be at our table to suggest ideas and alternatives is crucial for our success. To have another set of eyes and ears, and to bring another perspective to our discussions, raises the professional level for all. 

In collaboration with our Illinois CSI colleagues, we were invited to present on our successful restorative justice practices at the 2017 Every Student Succeeds Act Conference in Chicago. Since the conference, we have received many calls and e-mails asking questions about our practices and requesting copies of our presentation. We are very humbled by the overwhelmingly positive response that we received after this experience.

Most recently, I asked Illinois CSI whether they could help us dive deeper into our student achievement data. Understanding our STAR360 data has been identified as a need for our ILTs. I had heard Instructional Support Specialist Dan Frederking speak on the topic at a District Leadership Team Learning Network (DLTLN) event, and it was very apparent to me that he was extremely knowledgeable and passionate about data and the understanding and use of it. I specifically requested Dan's help, realizing that it might be difficult to secure some of his valuable time; but without hesitation, he has been here to help us begin this process. This semester, he has already led professional development activities twice for our teachers, and we are trying to schedule him for a third professional development workshop soon.

With the help of Illinois CSI, our small school district has a solid plan for the future. We talk optimistically about tomorrow and how the future is bright for our students. I would like to personally thank Illinois CSI and the countless individuals who have assisted us and joined our team on the pathway to success! I appreciate the effort, time, and support!


Go Bobcats!


Priority Districts Convene in Naperville and Springfield for Learning Event

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Recently, 18 districts receiving Priority Services brought leadership teams to participate in the Priority DLTLN, focused on "Developing and Strengthening Systems of Professional Learning," to events in Naperville and Springfield. District teams collaborated to explore the relationship between effective professional learning and improving student outcomes, to apply standards of professional learning to initiate changes in adult practices leading to improved student outcomes, and to deepen thinking on how integration of professional learning supports continuous improvement efforts within a district. Teams closed each event by sharing

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action plans to continue the integration of effective professional learning systems within their districts.

"Research has proven that no school-level factor has greater impact on students' success than high-quality teachers and leaders. Increasing the effectiveness of professional learning is the pivot point with the greatest potential for strengthening and refining school and classroom impact of our professionals! This day afforded Morton District 201 the opportunity to affirm some of our professional learning practices against the standards and more deeply examine practices where growth is possible to continue to provide even more transformational learning for staff and administration so that we can move even closer to our mission of Every Student Succeeds!"

—Dr. Terry Mootz, Ed.D., Assistant Superintendent, J. Sterling Morton District 201


"Today I was able to learn more about professional learning communities in depth. Professional learning needs to be continuous to strengthen teachers' craft, and all stakeholders must be accountable for student success. It is a collective responsibility. Most importantly, professional learning must be aligned with the goals developed from the data collected of students' and teachers' needs. Professional learning is necessary to improve student and academic outcomes. I enjoyed working with Illinois CSI and my district team."

—Ms. Gayle Bradburn, Principal Martin Luther Elementary School, West Harvey Dixmoor 147


Social Media Sound Bites

Below are clippings from social media highlights from Illinois CSI's work with districts from across the state.

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