Illinois CSI Year-End External e-Newsletter

From the Executive Director

Celebrating 5 Years of Success and Counting!

Tis the season! It is great time to catch up with family and friends and share happenings from the year, and that is the purpose of this communication. As you are aware, the Illinois Center for School Improvement (Illinois CSI), operated by American Institutes for Research (AIR) on behalf of the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE), was created to coordinate the statewide system of support to provide identified districts with strategies for transforming schools performing below state standards. At the end of June, we saw our initial 5-year contract come to an end, but we were not willing to give up on the progress being made in our districts because we believe in them. As a result of many discussions, we were granted the opportunity to extend our partnership with district leaders and continue together on the road to transformation through June 2018.

The data that resulted from the work in districts around the state provided evidence of progress and supported the need for the partnerships between districts and Illinois CSI to continue. Recently, Maywood–Melrose Park–Broadview School District 89 presented the results of their district improvement planning in partnership with Illinois CSI at the 85th Annual IASB IASA IASBO (Triple I) Joint Annual Conference. In the district’s session Implementation with Fidelity, district members were joined by their Illinois CSI district assistance team and shared how, in 3 years, with focused planning, data management, and progress-monitoring support from Illinois CSI, the district has seen increases in student achievement and improvement in the delivery of education: 15 percentile point increase in mathematics and 14 percentile point increase in reading scores. The district has also seen a 50% decrease in middle school suspensions in 1 year through dedicated climate in culture efforts, which started with the middle school, and has increased family involvement and gained financial stability. Be sure to read the District Spotlights to learn of progress and accomplishments of other districts and schools.

This year, in addition to supporting our districts through their continuous improvement efforts, we are concentrating more efforts at the school level, and we are also helping districts and school leaders navigate a smooth transition to IL-EMPOWER, the statewide system of support that is expected to begin for the next school year. This transition includes helping districts and schools make the connections between the expectations of IL-EMPOWER and the work already done in districts and schools through Illinois CSI’s Theory of Action, which states:

IF a district/school

  • establishes interdependent district, school, and instructional leadership teams;
  • creates a culture that manages and uses an intentional data system for decision making; and
  • monitors and refines best practices on feedback to ensure deep implementation with fidelity;

THEN adult and student performance will improve and result in greater student achievement and opportunity.

This Theory of Action, when enacted through the lens of the Illinois CSI’s Core Functions and Indicators of effective practices to improve management, operations, teaching, and learning and to ensure continual improvement are in agreement with ISBE’s drivers of systems change—governance and management, curriculum and instruction, and climate and culture—we have witnessed impact on student learning as referenced in the report The Illinois CSI Effect.

With this progress in mind, I am proud to share that Illinois CSI’s parent company, AIR, has been approved as a professional learning partner for IL-EMPOWER, and many of us will have the privilege to continue to work with many of you in the future.

No matter how or what you celebrate this season, we celebrate the progress that YOU made over the past 4.5 years. We look forward to staying connected with old friends and making new ones on this road to transformation.

Season’s Greetings, and here’s to an impactful New Year!

Betheny J. Lyke, EdD


District Spotlights

Illinois CSI Collaborates With Proviso West High School to Set Direction


In July 2017, Dr. Nia Abdullah, new principal of Proviso West High School in District 209, embarked on an exciting yet challenging endeavor of starting her new job with her new district. Managing new staff, getting to know students and tasked with the development a school improvement plan, Dr. Abdullah had a full plate.

In our 4 plus years of service to the district beginning in 2013, Illinois CSI’s district assistance team built a strong relationship with Proviso Township High Schools District 209 by becoming a thought partner to the district leadership team through its coaching and supports, thus lending a hand to improvement efforts.


The Story

The team met with Dr. Abdullah and, after rich conversation, she quickly discovered that the Illinois CSI district assistance team would be a resource. To facilitate her school improvement plan efforts, Illinois CSI assisted Dr. Abdullah with data collection and review. To make meaning of this data collection, the district assistance team led Proviso West through Illinois CSI’s Intentional Data Review (IDR) process. Illinois CSI’s IDR process walks education leaders through a needs assessment review to analyze data in order to uncover the root causes of systemic issues that impede continuous improvement. The IDR includes a co-interpretationSM session, an all-day distinctively hands-on, collaborative, evidence-based approach developed by AIR to help communities reach consensus on critical issues revealed from their review of their own data. Guided by Illinois CSI, district and school leaders, teachers, and community stakeholders (in some cases including students) roll up their sleeves and spend the day interpreting a wide range of district data collected by Illinois CSI to identify strengths and challenges in closing achievement gaps. The day was very successful for Dr. Abdullah and her Proviso West team. The following are Dr. Abdullah’s reflections on the day.

“The experience was amazing because we included a variety of stakeholders, including students, and together we were able to digest large amounts of data, come to a consensus on what we wanted to prioritize moving forward in the school improvement planning process. I look forward to us looking further at those priorities and doing a deep dive to understand what are the root causes to create a transformation plan to improve our high school. What has been awesome about working with Illinois CSI is that they have been a partner in helping us create the right kind of protocols so that we are able to collaborate effectively. The IDR was absolutely phenomenal for my process as a new principal in getting to know who is in the building and helping me make sure everyone feels like they have been heard in the improvement process.”

The IDR process served as a critical first step for the Proviso West team to build rapport and set direction for the course ahead. As a new principal for this school, Dr. Abdullah was able to encourage team members to be ambassadors for the process and the plan with their colleagues. They have come together with the energy to believe that there is something they can do together to meet the challenges they face.

(Pictured: Dr. Nia Abdullah, Principal, Proviso West High School, Hillside, Illinois)
Photo credit: Proviso West High School


South Pekin Grade School District 137 Thankful for Moving the Needle

Superintendent and Principal Seth Mingus has a lot to be thankful for this holiday season. His district, South Pekin Grade School District 137 (SPGS), a small rural district in central Illinois, serves 226 students in prekindergarten through Grade 8. During the past 2 school years, school staff and the Illinois CSI district assistance team have worked side by side on improvement goals determined after the district’s IDR needs assessment. The district targeted its efforts on aligning the curriculum in both English language arts and mathematics, developing collaborative environments in the classrooms and professional development, improving questioning strategies, and focusing on data-based decision making. The district is excited about the progress made to date toward the district’s goals. According to district-reported and statewide data, the district’s students have realized the following increases in their achievement:

English language arts

  • Local assessment, % of students above the 41st percentile: 52% to 54%
  • PARCC: 8% Proficient/Advanced to 24% Proficient/Advanced


  • Local assessment, % of students above the 41st percentile: 38% to 48%
  • PARCC: 6% Proficient/Advanced to 15% Proficient/Advanced

Chronic truancy

  • Down, from 3% to <1%

“I couldn’t be any prouder of the staff and students at SPGS. Their hard work is paying off, and I look forward to our continued successes. Throughout the past two and a half years, Illinois CSI has worked side by side with SPGS to provide quality professional development to our teachers and other staff members as we analyzed data associated with student achievement. This relationship has helped foster a positive culture based on student-centered objectives at our school,” said Mr. Mingus.

(Pictured: South Pekin Junior High School English Language Arts class featuring Mrs. Ashley Helleman-Dorethy, teacher)
Photo credit: South Pekin Grade School District 137


Hard Work Pays Off at Rock Island High School

Rock Island High School, the sole high school in the Rock Island Milan School District 41, serves 1,657 students. Located on a bluff on the banks of the Mississippi River, the district serves a racially and ethnically diverse and somewhat urban population. Principal Eric Moore and his staff have spent his first 2 years at the school working diligently, with the support of Illinois CSI, to provide students what they need to succeed, and their efforts are paying off. Building-level goals are aligned to district goals, teams are developing actions to implement the strategic plan, and new curricula have been implemented in English language arts as well as in mathematics. Pilot programs begun by a few teachers have resulted in aligned curriculum districtwide. Data-driven decision making has been a focus across the district and within the building, extending to the district and building leadership teams. Teams reflect the community’s population, and engagement levels have increased.

Results take time, but the school has seen growth in several areas when comparing 2016 to 2017 Illinois Report Card data:

  • Freshman on Track data have seen an increase of 6 percentage points in 2017 and are closing in on the state average.
  • The 4-year graduation rate increased by 3 points and is only 3 points behind the state average.
  • The 5-year graduation rate increased 5 points to meet the state average.
  • College readiness scores have increased by 8% overall.

“Rock Island High School has more internal assets than gaps. We celebrate our incremental progress toward making sure all students accomplish their academic and developmental goals. As we increase in altitude on our continuous improvement journey with Illinois CSI as a thought partner, we acknowledge the dedicated teachers as one of our greatest assets who diligently work to improve student performance and overall academic achievement. We have families committed to seeing their students thrive academically. We have a diverse body of students who authentically care for one another and seek opportunities to promote high expectations of learning among their peers. All in all, Rock Island High School has much to celebrate,” said Principal Eric Moore.  After taking a brief time to celebrate these accomplishments, Mr. Moore and his team are back to work, continuing the trajectory and meeting the needs of the students.

(Pictured: Mr. Eric Moore, Principal, Rock Island High School)
Photo credit: Rock Island High School

Principals Institute on Demand  — Next Stop South Cook

Illinois CSI is partnering with districts in the South Cook region to host two professional development sessions to connect principals with content shared during Illinois CSI’s renowned district leadership team learning network (DLTLN) and Principals Institute programs.

The Principals Institute is a series of professional development sessions developed by Illinois CSI and designed to provide participants with practical tools and insight to problem solve and apply Illinois CSI’s continuous improvement process in their settings to help school building leaders enhance their effectiveness.

Rich Township High School District 227 will be the host site for two sessions to be held in the first quarter of 2018. Participants will be a mix of seasoned and new principals who will convene to discuss the degree to which data are currently used to inform team decisions, examine evidence-based practices to strengthen the use of data across the district, and collaborate with colleagues on how the effective use of data supports continuous improvement efforts.

These peer supportive networking sessions have been a hallmark of Illinois CSI’s work with districts and school leaders in placing them front and center of their own transformation. In this setting, team members gather to share and learn from each other, away from the school building, to review and apply research to their context, think critically about their plans, and receive objective feedback from peers to help them grow in their craft. We look forward to hearing more positive feedback once the Principals Institutes are completed in South Cook, and we know that these sessions will set a model for other areas to follow.

If you are in the South Cook area and would like more information about the Principals Institute, please contact Dorith Johnson, Assistant Director of District Services,

From all of us at Illinois CSI, Happy Holidays!

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