News From the Superintendent’s Office

It’s hard to believe that we are already finishing up our fourth full week of school! This has been an exciting and busy time.

We have just finished formatting the Back to School Edition of The Vision and will have it off to the printer shortly. Once the final copy is proofed, we will send a hardcopy to every Avoca mailing address and post it to our website. Hardcopies will be available in both school offices, as well.

At this time, planning and organizational groundwork is being laid for Avoca’s Communication & Engagement Committee. This committee has been developed in part to address Strategic Plan Goal 4: establish, trust, respect, engagement, and satisfaction among our families and communities. Look for the article on the back cover of The Vision for information about how to join this important committee.

As the year goes on, look to this blog for information regarding our efforts to address our strategic plan goals.

Off to College

On September 1st I will be dropping off my oldest son Jeff at the airport to catch a flight to Boston. A vocalist and Music Business Management major at Berklee College of Music, Jeff is beginning his junior year. The moment that he is out of the car and on the curb at O’hare, my wife and I will be heading north to meet our youngest son, Chase, at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. A freshman who is multi-interested (Isn’t that a nice spin on “undecided?”), he is excited for the opportunity to explore the variety of options that await him.

I don’t typically write personal blog posts, but at the moment the thought of leaving both of my children hundreds of miles away is all that is on my mind. Not that they won’t be OK. I have great kids with level heads, who I know are prepared for this next step.

What ties this all back to my role as an educator is my deep appreciation and admiration for all of the teachers, coaches, counselors, social workers, principals, and mentors who have influenced my boys over the years. On behalf of my wife, Jeff and Chase, I respectfully thank them all.

Enjoy your Labor Day weekend!

Welcome back!

It was great to see so many excited smiling people at both of the schools this morning! There is a level of energy and excitement in the schools today that has been missing for the last few months. It’s good to have everyone back!

An important change that came out of the four month strategic planning process was a slight change to the district mission statement. The committee still felt compelled by “maximizing the unique potential of each student,” but chose to remove the phrase “we serve.”

Over the next several years there will continue to be strong efforts made towards facilitating student ownership of and student responsibility for their own learning. The Strategic Planning Committee felt that the phrase “we serve” directed the district mission towards adults and missed the potential of children to impact their education.

The Strategic Planning Committee identified five goals as the “critical few” that will have the greatest impact on our organization over the next five years. They are:

  1. Provide a rigorous, comprehensive, personalized education to ensure success for all students at Avoca District 37 and beyond.
  2. Support Professional Learning Communities to ensure coherence, collaboration, innovation, and accountability.
  3. Establish data-driven systems to facilitate ownership, growth, and continuous improvement.
  4. Establish trust, respect, engagement, and satisfaction among our families and communities.
  5. Responsibly manage district resources including people, time, and money to achieve our mission, vision, and goals.

Planning teams will identify strategies for accomplishing these goals and tasks for addressing each strategy. This is an exciting time for Avoca!

A Few End of Year Thoughts

I want to take a moment to thank all of you for your continued support of this very special school district! Avoca is a throwback of sorts in our ability to hold on to so many programs that other school districts have had to cut out or cut back for either financial reasons or in order to focus more on academics.

With daily P.E., an instrumental program that starts at 1st grade, a master schedule that allows for in depth inquiry into technology, drama, science, writing and the arts, and a truly outstanding academic program, it is no wonder that our students love coming to school every day! Those things are not possible without the avid support of our parents and community. Please know that your cooperation and collaboration are greatly appreciated!

On Tuesday evening, we said goodbye to another great group of kids as they crossed the Marie Murphy stage in their long red gowns, diplomas in hand. I very clearly remember these kids from their years at Avoca West, and I appreciate those students who joined this cohort once they arrived at Marie Murphy. The 8th grade graduation theme was “make sense of problems and persevere in solving them.” Powerful, universal advice! I have linked my graduation speech here, if you are interested in reading it.

I also shared a few thoughts for all of the students on the opening page of the 2016 yearbook. I expect that most people flipped right past it to look for pictures of themselves and friends! Who reads a yearbook from the front anyway?

The last paragraph of what I wrote is about making sure that your summer goals and dreams have all been realized by the time we return to school in the fall. Here is a link to my yearbook blurb. I bolded and italicized the paragraph I am referring to here. I encourage you all to have a wonderful summer full of activities and adventures and to come back to school exhausted from a summer well done!

Winding Down or Ramping Up?!

As the heading of this blog states, it is difficult to tell whether we are about to say goodbye to another great year at Avoca or gearing up for the next one. A little of both, I suppose.

I want to take this opportunity to congratulate both Mary Rosic and Donna Toops on their upcoming retirements! For the past 15 years, Mary has epitomized exactly what a kindergarten teacher should be: someone with a caring heart, a respect for children’s potential and a passion for learning. We will miss her!

In just four years, Donna has made a tremendous impact on this district. She has guided our preschool, grown our English Learner Department and been a visible, outspoken advocate for our students with special needs. We wish her the best!

As our graduating class moves on to high school, I want to wish them the best of luck! I very clearly remember my time with them when I was Principal of Avoca West. Many new faces have joined the class since those days and helped them to develop into the strong class of 2016. I am confident that they will be successful!

That was the “winding down” part, now on to the “ramping up!”

The Strategic Planning Committee will be holding its final meeting on Monday, June 6 to review all of the work that has been done to this point and consider the input of those who were not on the committee. If you have been following the strategic planning process through the Strategic Plan Webpage or my blog, you know that tonight (Thursday, June 2) will be the last opportunity for parents to offer input on the Strategic Plan Initial Draft.  That meeting will be at 6:00 p.m. at Avoca West, just before the PTC meeting.

The Strategic Plan that comes out of this process will drive Avoca’s continuous improvement efforts for several years to come. I am looking forward to seeing the plan come to fruition and sharing it with all of you next fall!

Welcome, Ms. Harris!

If you have called the superintendent’s office lately, you may have noticed that you were greeted by a new voice! I am very pleased to introduce Suzie Harris as the new Administrative Assistant to the Superintendent.

Desk Pic 1

Ms. Harris comes to us most recently from Park View School in Morton Grove where she was the office receptionist.  Prior to working in a school setting, Suzie was a legal secretary and executive assistant at two different law firms.  

Originally from a very small farming community in Indiana, she has done some moving around the country and ended up in the Chicagoland area in 2008.   Ms. Harris is an avid runner and sponsored Park View’s Girls on the Run Program in their first, very successful, spring season.  She also enjoys hiking, tennis, reading and baking.   Ms. Harris has a seven year old son named Wyatt.  She also recently announced her engagement and is set to be married this July!

Suzie will be helping out at the Volunteer Appreciation Breakfast this Friday, May 27. If you plan to attend, please introduce yourself to her.

Welcome to Avoca, Suzie!

Things to Celebrate!

At last night’s Board of Education meeting, we had the opportunity to recognize our students for their many outstanding achievements! We celebrated children for their artistic accomplishments in writing, theater, storytelling and visual arts, and recognized their philanthropy, leadership and volunteerism, as well! There is much to be proud of in Avoca these days!

Speaking of volunteerism, if you are reading my blog, you are probably already aware of the Volunteer Appreciation Breakfast scheduled for Friday, May 27, 9-10 a.m. at Avoca West. This district could not operate without our volunteers, and we know how fortunate we are to have you contributing to the program! Please know how much we look forward to seeing you and thanking you personally for your time, energy and effort!

Finally, thank you to everyone who has already registered for the 2016-2017 school year. Your promptness makes it so much easier for us to plan ahead!

As a reminder, you should have received an email from with your child(ren)’s unique registration code(s). If you did not, please send an email to with the name and grade level of your child(ren). This email will go to our Technology Department, and they will reply as soon as they can.

Strategic Planning: Setting Direction Retreat

The Strategic Planning Committee will be meeting next Tuesday for the last of our three six-hour retreats. This next one is our Setting Direction Retreat.

During this meeting, the committee will be reviewing the Avoca 37 Strategic Foundation or Preferred Future that was created from the notes and discussions generated at the Data Retreat and reflecting on the input of various constituent groups.

Though we haven’t met yet, the agenda for this next meeting and four related journal articles are posted on the Strategic Planning web page under the Setting Direction tab.

I encourage you to read a few of these articles, and/or those posted under the tabs of our previous meetings, to get a feel for some of the ideas that are informing our committee.

Student Registration Now Open!

Returning student registration for the 2016-2017 school year is now open for all students. Parents of current kindergarten-7th grade students should have already received an email or multiple emails with a unique registration code for each child in the family. The email comes from

An email for incoming kindergarten students will be on its way shortly.

If you did not receive the email with your child(ren)’s unique registration code(s), there could be a variety of reasons:

  1. Emails were sent to what we have on record as the child(ren)’s mother’s email.
  2. We may have a different email address recorded in our database.
  3. The email could have gone directly into your spam folder.

If you check your spam folder and the registration email is not there, please send an email to with the name and grade level of your child(ren). This email will go to our Technology Department, and they will reply as soon as they can.

If you know of an Avoca parent who may only have limited access to the internet, please let them know that they can go to their child(ren)’s school office to register.

Last year’s registration process was a bumpy ride for many, including the district itself. Avoca’s Administration and Technology Department heard your concerns, and when our previous vendor could not alleviate the issues to our satisfaction, we made a change. I am already hearing positive reviews regarding the new process. Thank you for your feedback and your patience!

Strategic Planning Vision Retreat & Input Invitation

Last Tuesday, Avoca’s Strategic Planning Committee met for their Vision Retreat, the second of three full-day planning retreats. The committee reviewed the feedback of the Avoca Parents, Board of Education and District Staff as it related to the draft SWOT Analysis that was produced from the Data Retreat. Parent feedback was gathered during the Strategic Plan Parent Input meeting that took place on April 19 immediately preceding the PTC meeting.

The purpose of the Vision Retreat was to revisit Avoca’s Mission, Vision, Core Values and Commitments. The artifacts from the Vision Retreat include the Avoca 37 Strategic Foundation or Preferred Future. This DRAFT document is a synopsis of all of the notes and input collected from the six table groups, which were comprised of the 36 members of the Strategic Planning Committee.

If you are like me and want to know what is going on behind the scenes, take a look at the Avoca Vision Retreat Findings document. That is where all of the raw data is gathered broken down by the six table groups. All documents, artifacts and readings from the Vision Retreat are housed under the Vision Retreat tab of the Avoca Strategic Plan webpage.

You are invited to share your thoughts and input regarding the DRAFT Avoca 37 Strategic Foundation or Preferred Future document on Wednesday, May 4 at 6:00 p.m. at Marie Murphy School in the Porto Community Room. Like our last Parent Input meeting, this one will take place right before the regularly scheduled monthly PTC meeting. We look forward to seeing you there!