Thank you for participating in the 5Essentials!

Thank you to all of the parents who participated in the 5Essentials Survey. Due to your efforts we reached the threshold we needed at both schools and will be receiving parent reports along with our student and staff ones. We are looking forward to seeing what the data tells us, comparing it to previous years’ results and working to address our opportunities for improvement and celebrate our strengths!

Please complete the 5Essentials Survey!

The opinions of our students, parents and staff are very important to us, so please complete the 5Essentials Survey. According to UChicago Impact at the University of Chicago:

The survey gathers data related to five indicators that can predict important student outcomes. These five indicators that affect and predict school success are:

  •   Effective Leaders
  •   Collaborative Teachers
  •   Involved Families
  •   Supportive Environments
  •   Ambitious Instruction

The 5Essentials Survey window is open until January 31, 2018. Thank you for taking your time to give us your feedback!

Stanford research shows Avoca tops in the country for student growth!

Last month, the New York Times (NYT) published an article titled How Effective is Your School District? A New Measure Shows Where Students Learn Most. According to the article, this research out of Stanford, which included over 300 million tests analyzed and over 11,000 school districts nationwide, measured the growth of cohorts of students over five years from 3rd to 8th grade.

How did Avoca compare? According to this data, Avoca students average 6.6 years of growth in 5 years! And this coming from kids who were already over two years above grade level when the baseline 3rd grade data was collected!

According to the NY Times, this data puts Avoca in the 100th percentile! Now mathematically we know that the 100th percentile theoretically does not exist, but I am sure that the researchers carried the percentiles out to 99.9 (at least), and the NY Times just rounded to the nearest whole number. Look for a few spots in the article for boxes where you can type in the name of your school district (we are listed as Avoca, Ill., as in Illinois.) to visually see the growth in graphic form and to compare school districts.

This data is a testament to our students, their parents, the Avoca staff and the entire Avoca community for placing such high value on our school district and student learning!

5Essentials Parent Survey

(For convenience sake, if you just want to skip my blog and quickly get to the 5Essentials Parent Survey click here.)

A mentor of mine once told me, “if you don’t measure it, you don’t value it.” A bit of a twist on the saying often attributed to Deming, but it was in fact the word “value” that made his comment stick with me. Students’ academic data is obvious to measure from a school point of view, but at Avoca we take it beyond that. If you look at our Performance Indicator Report, you will see that we also value, and therefore track, Student Connectedness, Awards & Recognition, and Distinctive Impact.

The opinions of our students, parents and staff are also very important to us, which is why we administer the 5Essentials Survey at least every other year and are asking you to take it again this year. The survey is administered by UChicago Impact at the University of Chicago, which states:

The survey gathers data related to five indicators that can predict important student outcomes, including improved attendance and larger test score gains. These five indicators that affect and predict school success are:

  •    Effective Leaders
  •    Collaborative Teachers
  •    Involved Families
  •    Supportive Environments
  •    Ambitious Instruction

“Involved Families” has always been an Avoca strength, and we hope you will continue to be involved and participate in this survey! You can see the results of our schools’ previous administrations of this survey (as well as A LOT of other data) on the Illinois Interactive Report Card. Just type in the name of the district or schools in the search bar. The 5Essentials Survey window is open until January 31, 2018, but I encourage you take this survey now rather than putting it off until later. We thank you for taking your time to give us your feedback!


Avoca Schools Earn Technology Distinction

With so many important things happening and news to share about the Avoca School District this last month, I am a bit tardy in sharing this latest celebration. Last October, Avoca West Elementary School and Marie Murphy School were each recognized as an Apple Distinguished School for 2017-2019! This award was bestowed upon each school for their “continuous innovation in learning, teaching, and the school environment.”

Avoca has enjoyed a mutually beneficial relationship with Apple since we first launched our 1:1 laptop initiative in 2004. They have provided us with many excellent professional development opportunities, and we have presented and hosted site visits at local, national, and even international levels over the years. In just a few weeks Avoca’s technology leaders and some administrators will be meeting with Apple trainers at their Chicago headquarters to discuss Avoca’s new Technology Innovation Plan (linked here) and our Technology Innovation Implementation Plan (linked here).

An altruistic benefit of this relationship is that our Apple partners truly help us focus on facilitating our technology plan and vision, as opposed to just immersing us in an Apple environment. Having been out in front of technology implementation at the point of instruction for so long, the Avoca School District wants to make sure that we continue to explore new opportunities, enhance our current instructional practices, and prepare for and continue to support technology implementation.

Illinois State Report Card

Each year the State of Illinois shares schools’ and districts’ Illinois Report Cards as a way to help keep the community informed as to each school’s and district’s performance. Please click on this link to access the Illinois District Report Card for Avoca School District 37. That link will take you to the state’s “traditional” report card format. An interactive report card for all of the district’s in the state is accessible from this link. This is the site that’s more fun and easier to poke around in my opinion.

Both report cards share student and staff demographic data, and information regarding the district’s finances, as well as the academic results. Student performance on the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC), the state’s mandated test for students in grades 3 through 8, is reported by grade level and by academic subject, either English Language Arts (ELA) or Mathematics.

I encourage you to visit these sites to see how Avoca is doing. The interactive site has a feature that lets you compare schools. Unfortunately, there is not an option for comparing districts. I say unfortunately, because Avoca School District 37 is one of the highest performing school districts in the entire state, and we compare exceptionally favorably with our New Trier Township peers! You should be proud to be a part of the Avoca community!

I, too, am very proud of the hard work that your students and teachers put in to be as successful as they are. I also must credit everyone else who makes Avoca function so well day in and day out. None of this happens in a vacuum. From the bus drivers who get our kids to school to the principals who greet them at the doors, Avoca is fortunate to have such hard working, caring professionals supporting us! Our parents are also a huge part of our success, and I thank you, too!

Now with all of my goings on about how impressed I am by our scores, I do need to point out that the PARCC test reflects one moment in time for our students. All of our eggs are not in that basket, but it is one that is most obvious to many people and the media. I should also point out that because of our size, small fluctuations in results both up and down should be expected, but it is the larger ones that we look at from a celebration and “opportunity for improvement” standpoint. If you have any questions about the information here, please reach out to your school principals, our Curriculum and Instruction Coordinator, Jennie Winters, or me.

Important Updates: Northfield Housing Development and Avoca Center

In my September 22 blog post below and linked here, I talked about the 34 Unit rental townhome development that is being proposed at 1725 Winnetka Road, which is on the west side of our school district.

In an earlier letter that I wrote to Northfield’s Plan and Zoning commission and the Northfield Village Board (linked here), I asked them to consider waiving a section of their current Village Code and awarding the Avoca School District impact fees due to the high density of this development. At the moment, that does not appear to be a legally feasible option that the Village can honor.

However, the Village could include a financial contribution to the school district as a condition of approving the variances sought by the developer. That request is included in the letter linked here and sent on October 24.  Community members have been given the opportunity to address the Plan and Zoning commission on Monday, November 6 at 7:00 pm in the Northfield Village Hall at 361 Happ Road, and we certainly plan to be there to appeal directly to the commission. We will certainly welcome any and all students from the development, but would appreciate some financial consideration from the developer.

Avoca Center Update:

The Avoca Board of Education invites you to attend the Avoca Center Community Update on Wednesday, November 8 at 7:00 pm at Marie Murphy School. See the invitation linked here. Our plan is to bring you up to speed, discuss some of our financial priorities, share some collaborative considerations and talk about potential options moving forward. There will be a visitor comments portion at the end of the presentation. We are very interested in receiving your feedback. We hope you can attend!

Educational Finance, the State of Illinois and Avoca

As you are most likely aware, the state of Illinois went a full two years without a budget, before passing one last summer. Also mired in that quagmire was a great debate regarding the funding of education. At the beginning of this school year, the state legislature approved a new formula for funding education in the state of Illinois called the Evidence Based Funding model. The most comprehensive information regarding this model can be found on the Illinois State Board of Education’s website at

The impact on Avoca will be minimal this year. For the 2017-2018 school year, the state has shared that at a minimum all Illinois school districts will receive the same amount of money from the state as they did during the 2016-2017 school year. They refer to that as a “hold harmless” clause. Going forward, we do not know how this new funding formula will affect Avoca. It is a topic that many school districts are grappling with at this time.

The Evidence Based Funding model takes into consideration a minimum adequacy target, a district’s student characteristics (such as low income, English learner and special education), a regional factor (think of this as a cost of living multiplier), and the local community’s ability to contribute. We have received preliminary information from the state regarding how the formula will be implemented, but at this time do not know exactly what this will look like for Avoca. The state has asked for a few months to figure all of this out themselves, and we will update you as we learn more.

Recently, Avoca community members received the Annual Review/Back to School Edition of the Vision (linked here), our community newsletter. On page 4 there is an article titled Financial Review, which shares information about the district’s revenues and expenditures for 2016-2017, the budget expectations for 2017-2018 and exhibits that visually communicate our revenue sources, expenditures and reserve level. I encourage you to take some time to read that article.

As you will see in that article, at this time, Avoca’s expenditures are outpacing our revenues causing us to dip into our reserves to make up the difference. While we are currently investigating ways to minimize our expenses and increase revenues, we do project a pattern of deficit spending in order to continue to meet the educational needs of all of our students.

2016-2017 Performance Indicator Report

The Performance Indicator Report has its origins in Avoca’s 2007 Strategic Plan. At that time, we were using Jim Collins’ book Good to Great as our strategic plan framework. The original printing of Good to Great didn’t address municipalities, but a few years later Collins wrote Good to Great and the Social Sectors, a monograph to accompany Good to Great, to address that void.

In Good to Great and the Social Sectors, it was reported that the Cleveland Orchestra used the following three goals as measures of organizational success:

  • Superior performance
  • Distinctive Impact, and
  • Lasting Endurance

Borrowing from that model, Avoca has used the following tools listed below as some of our measures of performance since 2007. The links below will take you to the 2016-2017 reports that were shared with the Board of Education at the September BOE meeting. I hope you enjoy celebrating these accomplishments with us:

Though our current strategic plan uses the Baldrige Educational Excellence and Professional Learning Communities criteria as its framework, these performance indicators are still representative measures of how we perform as a district.

Northfield Housing Development & Avoca Center Update

I would like to briefly address a couple of topics that will directly impact the Avoca School District in the future. More detailed information can be found by clicking on the links below.

Early last August our friends at Sunset Ridge School District in Northfield informed us of a 34 Unit Townhome Development that was being proposed in the Northfield section of our school district. Each unit boasts at least three bedrooms and one “flex” room. For more details on the development, click on this link to Northfield’s website. This development would add at least 102 bedrooms to our school district. While we welcome everyone in our school district, we have petitioned the Village of Northfield to impose a fee on the builder to help address the impact on the school district. To see my letter to the Village of Northfield Board and their Plan and Zoning Commission click this link. It explains our concern in detail. Stay tuned for more news on this topic.

Another important topic for the district is the future of Avoca Center. While Avoca’s Board of Education continues to weigh all of its options, you should be aware of the fact that they have decided not to spend the funds to renovate the building, and our lease with our current tenants concludes at the end of this calendar year. For much more detailed information regarding the future of Avoca Center, options and potential partnerships, click here.