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students working on an art project

Rethinking Accountability for Alternative Schools

Alternative schools serve students who may be several years below grade level and have experienced disrupted schooling leading to struggles with academic achievement. Public school accountability systems are designed to distinguish between schools that are high and low performing so that the latter can receive support and improve. However, accountability systems that rely heavily on measures of academic achievement might not do a great job identifying alternative schools that are helping their students get back on track, versus those that are neglecting students.

State: Regional

Teachers sitting in a circle discussing plans

Optimizing Education: The Crucial Role of Effective Resource Allocation Systems in K-12 Education

As a district leader, you know that the allocation of resources is critical for improving student outcomes and the equity of educational outcomes. So, what does good resource allocation within districts look like?

State: Regional

Garry Davis

New Year and a New Face for Region 9 

A new year brings about a time of reflection on the year before, an audit of the present, and an opportunity to set intentions and visualize the future.  And while technically, any time is a good time to stop, start, or continue a practice, behavior, or habit, there is something about a new year and the idea of day one of a calendar year that provides a timestamp to mark the start of what was to what is.  

State: Regional

Desk Chair and Desk

Region 9's Top 2023 Resources to take with you into 2024

Let’s be honest… You’re a busy school or district leader. We all have the best intentions to keep learning and finding new resources, but your time is limited and precious. If only there was somewhere you could go to get a lot of great information in one place… We’re here to help!

State: Regional

coach talking with little leaguer

Avoid the Comfort Zone! Two Simple Questions to Add Value to Your Leadership

Leadership is tough. It doesn’t matter if it’s a baseball team or school district or whether you’re a manager or superintendent. The demands on your time and attention exist and you are counted on to guide others and make decisions. Sustaining success in an organization for the long-term is even harder. Although leadership is very rewarding, it can also be exhausting and lead to the need for a break.

State: Regional

students listening to a teacher

Collaborating to Support Student Well-being

Social and emotional learning (SEL) and school mental health are two approaches that are often highlighted to support student well-being. These two terms are sometimes used interchangeably, which can cause confusion and misinformation about their purpose and use. SEL and school mental health should be implemented as two approaches in a larger system of supports. It is important to understand how these two approaches differ, and the relationship between them, so that school communities can implement them in ways that properly meet the needs of students.

State: Illinois

Empty school auditorium

4 Essential Questions about Financial Transparency in School Districts

In an era of information overload with internet access nearly everywhere, accountability has become paramount and financial transparency emerged as a foundational principle for businesses and institutions. Now more than ever, school districts are tasked with maintaining financial transparency with school communities. This blog shares 4 essential questions school leaders must consider when practicing financial transparency.  

State: Regional

five pyramids in Egypt

Laying The Foundation for Teacher-Wellness: What We Can Learn from the Pyramids

There are many lessons from the Egyptians that school leaders can use as a driving force to create sustainable and impactful foundations for school structures to support teacher wellness. Much like the Egyptians who built Pyramids to protect what was on the inside, school leaders can build a culture of support into the school structure to proactively address teacher mental-health and care. School leaders are in a unique position to make the back-to-school transition this year easier for teachers. And these back-to-school tips can lay the foundation for a successful school year! 

State: Regional

John Spence speaking at the event.

Strengthening Investments to Accelerate Student Learning and Improve Well-Being

A few weeks ago, we had the opportunity to convene education leaders in Iowa to discuss some persistent challenges students face to the academic recovery needed after having their learning interrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic.

State: Iowa, Regional

basketball hoop against a brick wall

Triple-Double Leadership: Skills for Success Beyond the Court

Great leaders obviously come in many shapes and sizes across different fields. We’re not all 7 feet tall or blessed with superior basketball skills. However, as I was watching the NBA playoffs I couldn’t help but wonder if there is a lesson that leaders from any profession can learn from NBA stars like Nikola Jokic? Great leaders are also committed to raising the performance of their team members.  Great leaders demonstrate Triple-Double Leadership.   

State: Regional

family planting plants

Cultivating Fertile Ground in Career and Technical Education for Industry-Recognized Credentials

Spring is a time when gardeners begin to scan the seed catalogs for the perfect hybrid cucumber, check the almanac for the last freeze date, and locate that Master Gardener Newsletter article on organic pest control methods. Just as gardeners know to seek know-how beyond their backyard, so do state Career and Technical Education (CTE) directors striving to implement the updated Strengthening Career and Technical Education for the 21st Century Act (Perkins V) modifications.

State: Regional

student listening to the teacher

Ingredients to Student Success: Integrating Social, Emotional, and Academic Learning

You may be wondering, “Will social and emotional learning practices take time away from academic instruction?” The answer is, explicit social and emotional learning instruction improves academic learning and student engagement, which can then maximize instructional time. Educators can intentionally modify quality practices they already use in their classrooms to incorporate social and emotional learning into their academic instruction.

State: Regional

Supporting Students in Effective Transitions Webinar Image

Webinar: Supporting Students Transitioning from Alternative School Settings

Region 9 Comprehensive Center hosted a free webinar with the National Center for Safe and Supportive Learning Environments (NCSSLE) on supporting students in effective transitions on April 25, 2023. Attendees heard directly from students and staff from West40, R9CC advisory board members, and experts on the barriers students face when transitioning from alternative school settings.

State: Regional

Image of an education savings bank

A New Guide for Braiding and Blending Federal Funds

For the past 3 years, R9CC has been working closely with ISBE and district leaders across Illinois on multiple projects related to planning for and using ESSER funds. Through these collaborations, we codeveloped a tool that we believe will be helpful to district and school leaders who are looking to maximize their remaining ESSER funds to support and sustain improvements in teaching, learning, and student wellness for years to come.

State: Illinois

Two female teachers during faculty meeting

Exploring Opportunities to Increase the Practical Usage of NAEP Results: Ideas for Improving Data Literacy

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) 2022 results were released in October, and they confirmed what many of us already knew: the pandemic had a significant negative effect on student learning, and the gap between higher-performing and lower-performing students continued to widen. This prompts us to ask, "How states can carve a path forward to improve student achievement?" This question doesn’t have a clear-cut answer because states vary in how (and if) they leverage NAEP data to make policy decisions and to create a vision for teaching and learning. Regardless of these current uses,  more can be done with NAEP results if NAEP data literacy is improved.

State: Regional

two students and a teacher working on letters

The "New Normal" in Education: Where are we now and where are we going?

In February 2021, we wrote about the “new normal” in education and what shifts we might expect to see coming out of the pandemic. We predicted that in the 2021-22 school year we might see more flexibility in teaching and learning approaches, efforts to combat learning loss, and strategies to address teacher shortages. We also predicted a continued focus on equity and collaboration. To some extent, we have seen these efforts continue in 2022-23.

State: Regional

New years resolutions list

Practical Recommendations and Promising Practices to Improve in the New Year

Problems and opinions are everywhere. You don’t even have to look very hard to find them. Unfortunately, real-world examples and practical solutions to solving all these problems are often in short supply. Make a New Year's resolution to take time next year to read and reflect on some solutions.

State: Regional

Teachers sitting in a circle discussing plans

We’ve Been Identified for Comprehensive Support and Improvement - Now What?

It’s the day before the news hits the paper!  District and school staff know the phone calls will be arriving shortly thereafter.  “What do we say?  How do we explain what it all means?  Where do we even begin the work ahead of us? Who can help?” These are often the questions asked by district and school leaders when a state department of education announces its designation as CSI or TSI.

State: Illinois

Teacher sitting with two students

Overcoming Common Teacher Recruitment & Retention Challenges

You’ve heard it all before… There are not enough teachers to fill all the open positions out there. The teachers who are applying aren’t as qualified. Class sizes are getting larger. There’s higher teacher turnover and lower enrollment in colleges of education. These and many other issues often boil down to two factors: teacher recruitment and teacher retention.

State: Regional

 Group of ninth graders assembling robots

Ways Schools Can Help Foster Student Interactions Following the COVID-19 Pandemic

Hear from an Illinois high school student on their experience as a high school student during the COVID-19 pandemic and importance of student interactions in improving students' sense of inclusion, mental health, and to reduce stress.

State: Illinois

students in the library

What Students in Illinois Are Doing to Support Social and Emotional Well-Being

Hear from an Illinois high school student on how the ISBE Student Advisory Council focused their work on social and emotional learning and the related recommendations made to the State Board.

State: Illinois

Redwood forest with a road running through

A Lesson from the Redwoods: Tools for building a root system of support across initiatives

While Redwoods can grow to be hundreds of feet tall and have trunks that are 20 feet or more in diameter, their roots only go about six to twelve feet deep. These shallow roots extend up to 100 feet wide, interconnecting with the roots of their fellow redwoods to support their immense height and general well-being. Redwoods rely on each other for support and understand the power of connection. That power of connection and support is the goal of Region 9 Comprehensive Center’s (R9CC) capacity-building work with the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) Wellness department.

State: Illinois

Helm of a ship

Navigating the Seas of School Improvement

The process and functions of “school improvement” can be overwhelming for school leaders, especially when a state agency is involved. This blog will examine the planning and development of a three-pronged approach to supporting IL-EMPOWER coordinators (IECs) as they develop the skills needed to help their schools navigate the seas of school improvement.

State: Illinois

Screenshot of the title page of the webinar

Be Quick to Listen: The Importance of Student Voice and What Students have to Say in Illinois

Are you familiar with the saying, “be quick to listen, slow to speak, and slow to anger”? So, as education leaders, who should we be listening to right now? Whose perspective and voice will help clarify the real challenges facing our schools today and identify potential solutions?  The Region 9 Comprehensive Center believes that we should start by listening to a group that represents the largest set of stakeholders in the education system, but too often is the most overlooked – students!

State: Illinois

Frank Lloyd Wright reviewing plans at a drafting table.

What does Frank Lloyd Wright know about School Improvement?

What does Frank Lloyd Wright know about school improvement? Well, maybe not a lot. But the characteristics he utilized in his work certainly lend themselves to the way we think about school improvement today. R9CC worked with ISBE and IL-EMPOWER leaders to share their stories and advice on the development of systems and organization for their statewide systems of support in this three-part blog series.

State: Illinois

Derecho storm with shelf cloud approaching

Preparing for Post COVID-19 Storms in State Accountability Systems

The COVID-19 pandemic felt as if it popped up out of nowhere. School leaders were suddenly asked to search for any emergency plans that may have existed and try to find a way to respond to all the challenges facing them. Even leaders who thought they had planned for everything didn’t have a plan for a pandemic. No one could have developed a plan flexible enough to compensate for the changes that states, districts, and schools had to make due to COVID-19.  

State: Regional

Soda machine filling up cup

When Cups Runneth Over: 3 Simple Ideas for Creating a Positive Teaching and Learning Environment in Your School During the 2022-23 School Year

The last two years have been hard for everyone, with rapidly changing safety protocols, increasing student and staff mental health needs, learning loss—and the list keeps growing. Attempts to address these new challenges on top of previously existing ones may have you, your leadership teams, and teachers feeling like that soda cup.

State: Regional

rope knot

Braiding and Blending Funds: Learning, Collaborating and Understanding

What can schools do with millions of dollars in federal funding? Funds from the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) were plentiful but to make the best use of these and other existing funding sources, school and district leaders need a different approach beyond straightforward, simple use. They needed to braid and blend their ESSER funds.

State: Illinois, Regional

Venn Diagram

Integrating trauma-informed practices (TIP) and SEL: Journeys of three districts

On October 13, 2021, the National Comprehensive Center and Region 9 co-hosted a virtual roundtable session on how to integrate SEL and TIP. When intertwined, SEL and TIP can transform structures and systems to foster healing, empowerment, and culturally-affirming conditions that support well-being for all.

State: Regional

Child wearing a mask behind a room divider

How can social and emotional learning (SEL) and trauma-informed practices (TIP) help us right now? Risks and Recommendations

What do you do if a bear claws its way through the front door of your school? I don’t know either, but it reminds me of that nursery rhyme about a bear hunt: “Can’t go over it, can’t go under it, can’t go around it…got to go through it!” And indeed, educators are going through it today.

State: Regional

Two school administrators standing in a library

Creating a Comprehensive K–8 Master School Schedule

Although we are only at the midpoint of this current school year, it is time for schools to start planning for the next school year. Seriously!? Yes, seriously! It is time to think about creating the “master schedule.”

State: Regional

teachers standing infront of their classrooms

Resources related to teacher shortages and strengthening the workforce

A recent survey of U.S. teachers found that nearly 1 in 4 teachers said that they were likely to leave their jobs by the end of the 2020–2021 school year, up from one in six teachers in earlier years. As you consider your teachers’ and district’s needs, we hope these resources will help you to understand shortages, strengthen your workforce, and improve working conditions.

State: Regional

teachers collaborating around a computer

Making ARP ESSER investments sustainable through evaluation

The American Rescue Plan Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ARP ESSER) fund has made billions of dollars available to state and local education agencies to use for supporting students' social, emotional, and academic needs. Putting evaluation systems and processes in place makes learning from ARP ESSER investments possible. Integrating evaluation systems and processes early and intentionally, with the resources that are now available, makes ARP ESSER investments sustainable.  

State: Regional

school leader surrounded by teachers in a meeting

Helpful Habits for Examining Your Role as a Leader

Monday morning. Your alarm clock is buzzing as it flashes 5:30 a.m. You want to hit the snooze button but realize that you might need those 10 extra minutes to make some progress on your tasks for the day. You begin working through your morning routine and immediately start to wonder what challenges might arise. As a leader, how can you consistently take time to examine three key responsibilities: to communicate, model, and reflect?

State: Regional

Teacher observes three students working on tablets.

How to Deal With Missing and Unreliable Academic Data Due to COVID-19

Teachers depend on academic data for all sorts of important tasks, but the disruptions of the COVID-19 pandemic mean that the information on which they relied in the past may not be available or trustworthy. As we kick off this unique school year, many educators are struggling with what data to use and how to do so responsibly. Formative checks offer one simple strategy.

State: Regional

High school student and masked staff member bump elbows in greeting.

6 Ways Educators Can Embrace Student Engagement During a Unique School Year

Student engagement is more important than ever as students return to schools in large numbers and deal with the lingering academic, emotional, and social effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. This article offers students’ perspectives on how educators can help students reacclimate to the school setting and incorporate their voices into decision making.

State: Illinois

Two adults engaged in discussion at a table in a library, one points at a laptop screen.

Key Levers for Successful School–Family Relationships

Region 9 staff spent the past year listening to recommendations from Illinois stakeholders on how to improve the educational experience for students and their families and then mapped these recommendations with current research on equitable family engagement practices. This work determined four “levers” that school and district leaders can employ to promote effective family engagement.

State: Illinois

Masked student looks out of school bus window, with video play button overlay.

Pushing Educational Boundaries: Student Recommendations for Spending American Rescue Plan Funds

The 2020–21 Illinois Student Advisory Council spent months researching how to use the current influx of education funding to make the biggest impact for students. This webinar, hosted by the Region 9 Comprehensive Center, features their instrumental recommendations to help all students achieve educational success and incorporate student voices in decision-making.

State: Illinois

Two people wearing masks brainstorm at a whiteboard.

How Can We Leverage American Rescue Plan Funds to Improve Equity in Education?

One of the most pressing issues school and district leaders currently face is how to effectively spend an unprecedented influx of federal funds. But how can districts and schools leverage these funds to address the long-term, persistent inequities faced by their low-income, historically disenfranchised, and underserved students? Education leaders can use this four-step process to analyze new and existing policies and practices through an equity lens.

State: Regional

Teacher discusses data.

Time to Sharpen Your Axe! This 6-Step Checklist Can Help District and School Leaders Plan to Use Federal Funds to Support Learning Recovery

The recent passage of the American Rescue Plan added billions of federal dollars to support education, but how can leaders use these funds wisely? This checklist provides a guided process for district and school leaders that includes reviewing existing strategic plans, analyzing data, reflecting on the past year, prioritizing equitable and evidence-based practices, evaluating implementation, and reinforcing best practices.

State: Regional

Mother helps daughter use laptop.

Remote and Hybrid Learning May Be a Permanent Strategy: How Will We Know Whether It Is Successful?

Our recent community of practice tackled the challenge of measuring the effectiveness of remote and hybrid learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. This project uncovered three key learnings and developed two tools that can inform implementation of remote and hybrid instruction now and into the future.

State: Regional

Person selects screwdriver from toolbox.

Tools for School and District Leaders’ Professional Learning Toolbox

An evidence-based technical assistance model has been a crucial tool in guiding our capacity-building work with state education agencies and districts through the COVID-19 pandemic. Similarly, district and school leaders may find it a useful approach to guide their own plans for professional learning.

State: Regional

Elementary students listen to teacher during class.

Looking Forward to a “New Normal” in Education: What Can We Expect in 2021–22?

The 2021–22 school year will bring an opportunity to contemplate education priorities in a new light and consider bold, innovative solutions to persistent challenges. Two challenges exacerbated by the pandemic that are likely to become even higher priorities are equitable education and teacher shortages, recruitment, and retention.

State: Illinois, Iowa

Masked second-grade student works behind a protection shield.

Using a Peer-to-Peer Approach to Coordinate a Statewide Back-to-School Response to COVID-19

Education leaders spent the summer and fall grappling with how to start the 2020–21 school year amid the COVID-19 pandemic. During this uncertain time, we partnered with the Illinois Association of Regional Superintendents of Schools to facilitate a space in which district leaders could discuss challenges, share successes, and examine strategies to deal with the reopening of schools and beyond.

State: Illinois

Two educators wear masks.

Tools to Hone Your Teacher Retention Strategies

How can education leaders discern which of their efforts are actually improving teacher retention? The imminent effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on the teacher workforce make answering this question even more urgent. Our recent project with Chicago Public Schools offers some lessons and tools for states and other districts to consider as they grapple with this issue.

State: Illinois

Young student writes in notebook.

What’s Working in Education During COVID-19?

Despite the shifting landscape brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, educators, students, and families in Illinois and Iowa are problem solving and adapting. We’ve collected some back-to-school success stories from across the region.

State: Illinois, Iowa

Mom and two small children smile at laptop screen.

Let’s Invite Parents and Families Into “The Room Where It Happens”

No matter their race, religion, or socioeconomic status, parents and families want to make school a better place for their children to learn and grow. So, what can education leaders do to ensure that schools are meeting student needs? Try using these creative ways to bring families into the spaces where decisions are made.

State: Illinois, Iowa

Teacher helps student working on a laptop.

How Can Educators Honor Their Expertise While Using COVID-19’s Opportunity to Transform Their Practice?

The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed education to new modalities of face-to-face, hybrid, and remote learning, but many effective tenets of teaching and learning should remain. As education experts, teachers should consider which parts of their practice are worth preserving in this new era, as well as how to use COVID-19 as an opportunity to grow and transform.

State: Illinois, Iowa

Two teachers chat in school library.

4 Key Insights About Teacher Leaders: Best Practices From High-Growth Districts

Region 9 staff spoke with nearly 100 teacher leaders and administrators in districts across Iowa with high year-over-year growth rates on state assessments to learn more about how the teacher leaders contributed to their success. The results yielded four insights into how teacher leaders can influence meaningful and measurable improvements in teaching and learning.

State: Iowa

Black teacher chats with teen student.

How Can Educators Balance Academics and Trauma Sensitivity During a Pandemic-Era Back to School?

Given that students missed months of instruction due to COVID-19, it is natural to be gravely concerned about learning loss. However, the creation of a safe, supportive, equitable, and engaging learning environment must not be overshadowed by the urgency to address academics.

State: Illinois, Iowa

Woman speaks while gesturing with hands.

9 Questions for District and School Leaders to Consider in Getting Ready for the 2020–21 School Year

Informed by conversations with our advisory board, this starter list offers 9 obvious and not-so-obvious questions that district and school leaders can ask themselves and their leadership teams during summer planning.

State: Illinois, Iowa

Teen student wearing headphones works on laptop.

Leaders Must Design COVID-19 Recovery Programs to Be ‘READI’ for the Highest Need Schools

Although equity has been top of mind for many educators for years, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted and exacerbated inequities like never before. Leaders must look closely at the initiatives and programs they are implementing and ask themselves: Does this program reduce achievement gaps or contribute to them?

State: Illinois, Iowa

Shelves of books

8 Resources for Responding to COVID-19

We know that right now, educators are focused on responding to the school closures and stay-at-home orders brought by the global pandemic. The Region 9 Comprehensive Center has rounded up the following COVID-19 resources from the federal network of support.

State: Illinois, Iowa

Region 9 Comprehensive Center icon and states

What Is the Region 9 Comprehensive Center?

The Region 9 Comprehensive Center recently kicked off our work in Illinois and Iowa. This article answers your questions about what the center is, what we are working on, and why it is important.

State: Illinois, Iowa