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Beginning in the 2020-21 school year, the Region 9 Comprehensive Center (R9CC) collaborated with the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) to support the implementation of their statewide system of support. This statewide system of support focuses resources on the schools and districts with the greatest need to build the capacity of school leaders to implement effective school improvement practices. The goal is to enable schools in improvement status to improve student outcomes and exit status.

In 2015, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) applied processes specified in the Elementary and Secondary Schools Act (ESSA) to identify struggling schools. The schools designated as Comprehensive or Targeted Support and Improvement (CSI or TSI) schools were eligible for additional services and supports aimed at helping them improve student outcomes and close achievement gaps between student subgroups. ISBE created the IL-EMPOWER program to support CSI and TSI schools statewide.

Despite funded initiatives to attract, hire, and retain teachers, Illinois continues to struggle with teacher shortages, particularly in hiring diverse teaching staff to reflect communities served by public school districts. In conversations with the Region 9 Comprehensive Center (R9CC) about the challenge, Illinois State Board of Education’s (ISBE’s) Department of Teaching and Learning staff raised the need for additional evidence, resources, and support to better understand teacher shortages and how to strengthen recruitment and retention efforts.

As the final chapter of the Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief (ESSER) program draws to a close, Iowa’s esteemed superintendents find themselves with a looming question: How can they sustain the critical staff and educational programs originally funded by federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan? School Administrators of Iowa (SAI), collaborating closely with R9CC, convened education leaders in Iowa to address the pandemic-induced hurdles impacting teacher recruitment and retention strategies beyond the ESSER era.

With student mental health and well-being needs rising, ISBE’s Office of Safe and Healthy Climate has been involved in overseeing more federal and state initiatives that promote student well-being. ISBE recognized that it had been working reactively to meet increased student needs in response to the COVID-19 pandemic and hoped to shift to a more proactive approach. This included breaking down silos to build alignment and coherence across its well-being initiatives, and understanding how and where they are being implemented with an eye to equity.