Message from the Superintendent – Safety first and always

(reprinted from the March/April 2017 Superintendent’s Newsletter)
Every day, 12,000 teenagers enter our care and their safety is our first responsibility and priority. We can best accomplish this duty by working together and sharing information.  I want to highlight key factors to assist our shared partnership and priority surrounding the safety of our students and staff members.
Contact School Personnel: The best way to prevent potential danger is to contact a school staff member as soon as a concern may arise.  We have administrators, counselors, teachers and police officers in our schools who will respond to any report of potential harm or past action.  We strongly encourage and depend on students, parents and staff members to express their concerns directly.
Anonymous Tip-Line: Each student’s iPad and all our websites include an easy link for anyone to report any concern.  Information submitted on the tip-line goes immediately to multiple school personnel who can initiate a response or investigation.
Impact of Social Media: Communication in today’s world is everywhere, and its distribution is simultaneous to large numbers of people.  Unknowingly, people sometimes post inaccurate information about an alleged incident that may or may not have occurred.  Posting inaccurate information can have an overall negative effect by creating unnecessary fear or misdirecting our efforts to investigate or intervene.  Before posting anything that you do not know to be certain, we encourage you to contact our school personnel directly or to submit your concerns on the tip-line.
Safety Drills: We conduct safety drills to prepare students and staff members to respond safely to a variety of scenarios.  In addition to multiple fire drills and a bus evacuation drill, today’s world also requires us to conduct “lockdown drills.”  Two times each year, local police departments assist us in training students and staff members how to respond to a perpetrator intent on causing harm inside our school buildings.  In close collaboration with the police, we continually review and improve best practices following each drill.
Controlled Entry: We limit access to our school buildings to a single entryway during the school day.  Each visitor, vendor and contractor entering our schools is reviewed via a state-wide database.  We appreciate your patience and understanding associated with this check-in procedure.
Our schools are wonderful, supportive environments encouraging truly extraordinary opportunities.  To help assure safety for all, we will always be stronger when we work together.
Daniel E. Cates

Message from the Superintendent – A Look At Grading

(A reprint of the Superintendent’s Message from the January/February Superintendent’s Newsletter)
As we begin the second semester, I wish each of you a Happy New Year in 2017.  We continue to develop numerous important initiatives in District 211 and I want to focus awareness on our work in the area of grading.  Along with this newsletter, parents and students received a report card conveying the final grades earned for every course completed during the first semester.  Grades are central to much of what we do as educators and it is essential that we continually review, improve and communicate our practices in partnership with students and parents.
Regardless of one’s age or role, everyone has received grades of some kind and – knowingly or unknowingly – most people have a conception about what they think a grade should represent.  Grades are easily recognized for their universal nature, but grades are not always well understood for the complexity in their underlying assumptions or for the varying means and methods available to communicate an appraisal of student performance. 
Last year through our community engagement sessions, we gathered input from students, parents and school personnel about grading.  A committee of teachers and school leaders also met throughout the past year to examine potential grading improvements.  Drawing upon this comprehensive feedback, throughout the first semester faculty members and school leaders conducted extensive reviews of our grading practices, including: our grading scales, the electronic gradebook, the timing of grades, homework completion, final exams, mid-term reports, missing assignments, our critical learning standards and others. 
Diligent work among our educators to identify potential grading improvements will continue in the coming months.  A top priority for the upcoming semester is the articulation of recommended grading practices which will set the course for professional development among our educators, students and parents to ensure an understanding of the rationale guiding our improvements and how the implementation of our grading improvements will benefit students. 
Thousands of professional articles, books and conference seminars center on the topic of grading.  Within the professional field of education, opinions, beliefs and conclusions about grading often differ, and I have found these differences to exist in just about every conversation with any group of teachers, parents and students.  Our pursuit of continuous improvement includes our grading practices and though differing ideas will likely remain, communicating a clear understanding of our recommended grading improvements will benefit all of us in our work together.
Daniel E. Cates