‘I enjoy a challenge’ – Lake County News-Sun

‘I enjoy a challenge’

by Judy Masterson jmasterson@stmedianetwork.com Oct 29, 2010 07:22:00PM

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Round Lake Area School District 116 administrators (from left) Katie Reynolds, director of teaching and learning and Connie Collins, superintendent, visit with Nanci Radford, the school board president, before talking on the Kathy and Judy show on WRLR in Round Lake Heights.

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New Round Lake schools Superintendent Connie Collins attended all-black schools growing up in Gary, Ind., except for her eighth-grade year, when she and other African-American honor students were recruited for the city’s first foray into busing.

At the all-white junior high, Collins was amazed to discover newer, better materials and equipment and greater academic opportunity.

“We were all part of the same district, but everything was so different,” said Collins, who headed the Zion Elementary District and schools in Oak Park before taking the helm in Round Lake in July.

More than 40 years later, Collins is still confronting inequities in education that plague children from low-income families. Low-income students make up about 70 percent of the Round Lake district’s population.

District 116 is set to emerge from state oversight, imposed in 2002, at the end of this school year. With stringent controls on spending, it is managing to stay in the black, despite late state payments. but it’s up to Collins to boost achievement. The district did not achieve AYP — adequate yearly progress — for the 2009 school year, according to state assessment data. The average ACT score was 18.2 out of 36, and the average ISAT score was 67.5 out of 100.

“I find I enjoy a challenge,” said Collins, 59.

The new superintendent cites steps she is taking to help students learn. she has added steam to the five-year strategic planning process, begun shortly before her arrival. Committees will present their recommendations at a meeting on Nov. 3. she has created a tool that focuses on student achievement as a means to evaluate administrators.

“I made it clear,” she said. “They develop a plan. we will meet four times a year to review the plan and its progress. It’s all data-based.”

Collins is big on accountability.

“If a child is struggling or not doing well, we need to look at what exactly are we doing — assessments, interventions, tutoring — to move the child forward,” she said. “It’s accountability. I realize this is a year of transition, but I have high expectations.”

When Collins talks about academic achievement, she talks of tiers, including the “top” 5 percent — those students who are the farthest behind. Under federal law, the district must account for the interventions it is using to bring up lower-performing students.

A recent federal infusion of $3 million will be used to hire “response to intervention” specalists, who will monitor, measure and help implement strategies to boost achievement.

“We have to tweak,” Collins said. “We have to ask if an intervention is working. I like to use a medical model. if you have high blood pressure, your doctor will put you on medication. but then you have to go back to see if it’s working. if not, you try something else.”

Collins is also leading a book study with her administrators. The hot new read is “Good to Great: Why Some Companies make the Leap…and Others Don’t,” by Jim Collins.

“The last chapter is about getting the right people on the bus,” Collins said. “We have to ask, are our employees in the right place, and are they the right people to get the job done, and what do we do if they’re not in the right place?

“We have to have people who have a passion for this work,” Collins said. “We have to have people who believe in the kids they’re working with, who believe in the community, who believe all kids can learn.

“This is not easy work,” Collins said. “And it’s not for everyone.”

‘I enjoy a challenge’ – Lake County News-Sun

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