ISBE Unveils New Friendlier Website

seallogostacked_100pixelstallonwhiteThe Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) provides a wealth of information for families, teachers, administrators, and community members on their website. However, finding the information you were looking for used to involve navigating an extremely complicated series of menus and links, backing up from dead ends, and sometimes futile searches. However, right before the holidays, ISBE debuted their redesigned website with easier navigation, topics arranged in several different ways, and even a short introductory videos on how to move around and how to search the new website.

Across the top of the website are links to areas for key education stakeholders, including administrators, teachers, families, communities, and new media. The topics link at the end of the menu takes you to a grid of 21 separate topics, including:

A dozen of these topics are highlighted on the lower half of the home page. The bottom of the page provides links to the Superintendent’s weekly message and a calendar of ISBE meetings.

As the deadline for the state’s ESSA implementation plan approaches this spring, the easy access to Illinois’s draft plan and reader’s guide will be critical to families wanting to provide feedback. The third draft of the plan is currently being completed and should be available in the near future. Likewise, the information on the upcoming state assessments, including the PARCC assessment for grades 3 through 8 and the new SAT assessment for high school juniors, will be helpful for families wanting to understand the schedule for assessments and the release of their child’s results. There is also information on the new physical fitness assessments that are starting this year.

With the proliferation of misinformation circulating on social media today, it is especially useful to be able to go directly to the root source for accurate information. The new ISBE website makes finding that core information directly from the source so much easier than it has been in the past, allowing families to find out exactly what their child’s school needs to be doing to provide them with a quality education.

4 New Year’s Resolutions for PTA Leaders

resolutions-list-600x400The start of a new calendar year is about the midpoint of the PTA year. Your PTA may have been less active during the holiday season when so many other events are going on at school and in life. Now that the new year is beginning, it is a good time to reflect on what your PTA has accomplished so far, think about what you still want to do, and consider how you can improve things as your PTA starts back up. Here are four New Year’s resolutions for PTA leaders to contemplate as their term heads into the home stretch.

  1. Be an advocate. PTA was founded to speak up for those who have no political voice—our children. As the new year starts, resolve to encourage your PTA members to be advocates for children and to be an advocate yourself. A great way to start is to encourage your Illinois representative to support SB550 during the lame duck session on January 9th and 10th. This bill would require testing every unique drinking water source in all Illinois schools for lead and notifying families if levels exceed the federal action level. This bill picked up numerous sponsors after Illinois PTA Advocacy Day in Springfield in November, and a big push now can pass this bill in the House and send it to the governor. Just go to our pre-written e-mail, add your signature and contact information, and enter your address (to identify your representative) to add your voice to the hundreds of others calling for safe drinking water for our children. Don’t forget to share the link with your members as well.
  1. Share more often. Your PTA has already done some great things for your school’s children, families, teachers, and administrators. Share your successes with your entire school and encourage them to join the PTA to help support what you plan to achieve this spring. People often avoid joining the PTA because they are afraid you’ll ask them to volunteer. Let them know that joining the PTA is to support your efforts and that volunteering is appreciated but not required.
  1. Be more thankful. Volunteers are the life blood of a PTA. Take the time to support your volunteers so that they feel their time and contributions are valued. Find fun ways to publicly show your thankfulness for their hard work.
  1. Prepare for change. Your PTA will be electing new officers this spring. Review your bylaws regarding when and how you should form your nominating committee. Make sure your officers and committee chairs are keeping procedure books to help make finding their replacements easier. Think about what you have learned that you wish you had known when you started your term, and prepare to share that information along with your PTA resources with your successor. Plan to make the transition to new leadership as smooth and seamless as possible.

Photo courtesy photos-public-domain.com.

Illinois PTA Clarifies Position on Chartering Scout Units

illinoispta-logoThe Illinois PTA does not allow PTAs to charter Scouting units, including Cub Scout Packs, Boy Scout Troops, and Venturing Crews. This has been a PTA position since 1990. The reasons for this prohibition are as follows.

  1. PTA insurance specifically excludes Scouting units. This means that your PTA’s insurance will not cover any Scouting-related claims or lawsuits.
  2. While the Boy Scouts of America (BSA) provides insurance to chartering organizations, it only covers approved Scouting activities. If a Scouting unit leader has Scouts participate in an activity that is either not allowed by the BSA or is not considered age-appropriate, neither the BSA insurance nor your PTA’s insurance would cover the liability. This means that local PTA unit leaders all the way up to National PTA could be subject to a lawsuit.
  3. BSA chartered organizations (e.g., the PTA) are required to assure that Scout leaders are suitable for their position and must review and sign off on each leader application. While BSA provides a criminal background check of all adult leaders, this is a potential liability for the PTA.
  4. BSA chartered organizations are to ensure appropriate facilities for the Scouting unit for its regular meetings. Since PTAs generally do not have facilities of their own, they cannot meet this requirement.
  5. Several requirements of a BSA chartered organization are in conflict with PTA bylaws; therefore PTAs cannot charter BSA units.

    1. The association shall be noncommercial, nonsectarian, and nonpartisan. While not specifically supporting any religion, BSA does require faith-based activities as part of its program. PTA is open to everyone who pays membership dues regardless of whether they have religious beliefs or not.
    2. The name of the association or names of any members in their official capacities shall not be used…for any purpose not appropriately related to the promotion of the Purposes of the association. While the BSA does great things for children, their activities are not related to PTA purposes and mission.
    3. The Illinois PTA or any of its divisions may cooperate with other organizations and agencies concerned with child welfare, but a PTA representative shall make no commitments as an individual that bind the group represented. The BSA chartered organization is to appoint a Chartered Organization Representative who serves on the local Scouting Council and the local Scouting district boards as well as district or Council committees.

The Boy Scouts of America is a fine organization with a distinguished history nearly as long as that of PTA. Their aims of citizenship, physical and mental fitness, and character development are ones that any PTA member would hope a child would develop as they grow. However, due to the reasons cited above, the Illinois PTA does not allow local PTA units to be the Chartered Organization for Scouting units and PTA leaders shall not sign any chartering or renewal agreements with the Boy Scouts of America.

Moving Beyond “How Was School Today?”

800px-mother_and_daughter_talkingIt’s a practically a ritual in most households, “How was school today?” While your kindergartner might share a lot in answering that question, as they get older, as teacher communication gets rarer, and as more things happen at school that we need to know about, the answer tends to get shorter—much shorter—“Fine.”

Elena Aguilar, a teacher, coach, and education leader, has shared a list of 15 questions to replace, “How was school today?” on Edutopia. She also notes that it is important how and when you ask these questions. You should only use one or two questions each day, and ask them at a time when you can focus on your child and our child is not distracted as well. For many households, these times may be around the dinner table or while driving in the car.

The key to these questions is that they are open-ended and can’t be answered with a simple yes or no or fine. The present the opportunity to have a real conversation with your child. When you start asking these questions, you might find you need to ask for more information or ask about how they felt when something happened to draw out an answer. Once your child is talking, don’t interrupt and validate any feelings that they share with you. Use these questions to pass on the values you want your child to develop, share stories of similar situations you faced as a child or an adult, and work with them to help them solve their own problems or learn from their mistakes. Thank them for sharing and praise them when they are honest about difficult things. Doing so encourages them to share more in the future.

The questions Ms. Aguilar developed can be used for children of any age, though you might need to tweak them slightly for younger children. Among the questions are:

  • Tell me about a moment in class when you felt confused.
  • Think about what you learned and did in school today. What is something you would like to know more about? What’s a question you have that came from your learning today?
  • Were there any moments today when you felt proud of yourself?
  • Tell me about a conversation you had with a classmate or friend that you enjoyed.
  • Is there anything you are worried about?
  • What are you looking forward to tomorrow?

Questions like these can help your child develop a growth mindset. Be sure to check out the article for the full list of questions and move beyond, “How was school today?”