Posted Online: Oct. 05, 2012, 6:29 pm

EM school board develops plan for growing Hispanic population

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By Sarah Hayden,

Photo: Paul Colletti
Students at Wells school in East Moline gather for an English as a Second Language classroom in this 2008 file photo. Continued growth of the Hispanic student population has led to more ESL classes, and issues related to minority and low income students are among those discussed in the school district's new strategic plan.
A three-year strategic plan approved by the East Moline School Board last week calls for an action plan to address the growing minority population within the district.

Months of planning and research went into the plan, designed to help guide the East Moline School District through challenges in the next three years, ending June 30, 2015. Included are strategic objectives, core values and critical issues facing the district.

Critical issues include the growing Hispanic population and being able to provide English-as-a-second-language classes.

Three years ago, Hillcrest Elementary School had one self-contained bilingual kindergarten classroom, said Principal Ron Harris. This year, Hillcrest has separate classrooms for kindergarten, first and second grades, and one combined classroom for third and fourth grades.

"There's been a significant change in student demographics," said Mr. Harris. "Kids can now go all the way through Hillcrest with bilingual support."

A former teacher at Colona Grade School and North Scott Junior High, Mr. Harris said he can see how what happens at an elementary school impacts a middle school.

"We've identified cultural issues that have been lacking in past years," said East Moline District Transportation Director Evelyn Gay. "We are recognizing we have a cultural shock in our district that needs to be addressed."

Other critical issues include larger economic problems such as an expected rise in low income families within the district, the continued decrease in funding from Illinois, and the possible shifting of employee pensions from the state to school districts, which would add a bigger financial burden on school budgets.

East Moline Superintendent Kristin Humphries said it is important to provide direction to staff and let parents know the goals of the school district. He said he will be reporting on the progress of the strategic plan quarterly to the school board.

"It makes our jobs easier if everyone knows what we're working toward so they can help us move forward," said Mr. Humphries. "We need to refine our practices so we can do a better job of educating our children."

Mr. Humphries said a three-year time frame was chosen because it is a realistic goal. Going beyond three years is difficult to plan for, considering how circumstances, budgets and population can change. The strategic plan will continue to grow and adapt as conditions change within the district, he said.

The planning committee of 13 people included school board members, Mr.Humphries, district employees and members of the community.

With the direction of Strategy in Progress consultant Steve Sorensen, the group met twice per month for a total of 12 planning meetings and countless hours of work.

Mr. Humphries said the committee gave up a lot of evenings this spring and summer and they did an amazing job.

He expects the plan to have an immediate impact, saying an action plan was drafted to go along with the strategic plan outlining specific timelines. One immediate goal, said Mr. Humphries, is to close student learning gaps within the next six months.

"What excited me about this plan is our district has a vision," said Ms. Gay. "All of us have a part to play in this."

Mr. Humphries said every district employee and all families will receive a copy of the strategic plan October 17. A link to the plan will be posted on the district website:

"We'll do whatever it takes to make our children succeed," said Mr. Humphries. "This is a working, living, breathing document. We have the best teachers anywhere; it blows you away what they can accomplish when they work together."

East Moline school district strategic objectives

-- Maintain long-term financial stability to prepare for funding uncertainty from Illinois
-- Raise student achievement levels
-- Provide facilities, technology and transportation to meet student needs
-- Provide professional development for staff
-- Improve communication at all levels within the district, including between parents and teachers
-- Strengthen the relationship between the district and the community
-- Seek ways to collaborate with other districts and agencies
-- Create a district-wide student-first culture