Joliet D204 superintendent details effort to close achievement gap among students
The work of those at Joliet Township High School District 204 trying to ensure the schools are delivering what school officials say is a culturally responsive educational experience for students hasn’t missed a beat, despite the uncertainty prompted by the COVID-19 pandemic and the civil unrest that ensued.
In its strategic plan and action report, year after year, the district highlights the areas of opportunity and progress in several areas of school improvement. Among those detailed is the effort to deliver a culturally responsive educational experience in order to close the achievement gap among students.
Superintendent Karla Guseman said she wants to ensure residents and community members the district has all but stopped monitoring its progress and areas of opportunity amid the pandemic.
Over the past year, the district updated the media center at both campuses so each is connected to the tutoring center.
“However, as we are still remote, we have been unable to implement that yet,” Guseman said. “The construction has been accomplished.”
In response to the pandemic, the district has implemented online tutoring in all areas including special education. It is run from 4-10 p.m. Sunday through Thursday.
“These are our staff members working with our students,” she said.
Guseman said online tutoring has been important for all students, including those of color.
Joliet District 204 also has continued collaborating throughout the pandemic with area school districts that were preparing to send students into Joliet District 204 ahead of the start of the 2020-2021 academic year.
Guseman said they have been working with the sender schools to gather information on how to ensure at-risk students are identified and supported.
“Counselors and deans were still able to reach out to those students, so that we can provide that additional support,” she said.
Guseman said the pandemic also has not halted the effort to identify and support students who will transfer to Joliet District 204 in the 2021-2022 school year.
“This is happening right now,” she said. “Eight-grade teachers in our sending school districts recommend placement of our students that are coming to us because they know they’re students better than we do right now.”
There is no single assessment that can communicate to the district all they need to know about incoming students, which Guseman is why school officials turn to eighth-grade teachers at the sender schools for more information about what they know.
Another example of how the district is trying to support all students, including those of color, is through professional development training on cultural responsiveness.
“This summer, we had additional training for 16 staff members, and I was one of them,” Guseman said. “We were all trained to be trainers.”
About 90-95% of Joliet District 204 staff completed implicit bias training last year, which Guseman said was another district goal.
“However, we did have to put a halt to it because the pandemic when we were forced to close,” she said. “As soon as we’re allowed to be in person, we will start doing that training again. That is something we’re committed to—to ensure that all of our staff members have implicit bias training.”
The district is currently looking to implement an implicit bias training for students, as well.
“We’re hopeful to initiate training for students next semester,” Guseman said.
Gusemand said the school board also has an anti-racism commitment.
They had adopted a diversity statement, which is posted to the district’s website along with various resources for families to reference.
The district’s strategic plan and action report for the 2019-2020 academic year has yet to be released, to date.
“Because of the pandemic, we were unable to participate in our summer strategic planning process,” Guseman said.
Guseman had transitioned into the superintendent position in February, at which point Mike Hanson and the district decided to part ways, citing differences in philosophical direction and approach.
Guseman said her predecessor hadn’t been keeping tabs on the district’s progress with its strategic plan and action report.
“He didn’t, but we were still working on it,” she said. “I actually collected progress at the end of the previous year.”
At the same time, Joliet District 204 officials have been prompted by the pandemic to compile a two-year strategic plan and action report. Typically, the details are released by the district annually.
Guseman wanted it to be clear this is not an unusual change in practice and that it remains an ongoing effort to review where the district stands with carrying out its strategic plan and tracking its progress.
The district anticipates its strategic plan and action report will be released in the summer of 2021.