Wednesday, November 2, 2016

IASB and IASA executives preview Annual Conference on radio program

Ben Schwarm, at center, shared a Conference overview.
Executives from the Illinois Association of School Boards (IASB) and the Illinois Association of School Administrators (IASA) recently joined St. Louis radio station KTRS 550 AM to preview the upcoming 2016 Joint Annual Conference and discuss a host of education issues currently on the minds of school leaders.

“Issues in Education” is a forum aired live on KTRS 550 in partnership with Ittner Architects. The roundtable was created to allow “a voice for educational and business leaders to share their vision and expertise on the issues that impact 21st century learning.”

Joining Thursday’s broadcast from the Old State Capitol in Springfield were IASA’s Executive Director Brent Clark and Associate Director and Legal Counsel Sara Boucek, and IASB’s Deputy Executive Director Ben Schwarm and Associate Executive Director Dean Langdon. Also featured on the program was Mahomet-Seymour Superintendent Rick Johnston.

Billed as a Conference preview, the program’s guests discussed a number of workshops and presentations that will be of benefit to Illinois education officials attending the Nov. 18-20 event in Chicago. Among the topics covered were education funding reform, the Vision 20/20 initiative, and school safety and security.

Clark emphasized the importance of the ongoing conversations about changing the way schools are funded and how revenues are distributed to districts. Citing Illinois’ ranking as near dead last when it comes to state funding for public schools, Clark said the current system is heavily reliant on property wealth, making for an inequitable and inadequate funding distribution system.

“Schools with lower property wealth rely more on the state for funding. They are the ones struggling most severely,” Clark said, while referencing Vision 20/20’s alternative plan for dispersing state funds. “Vision 20/20’s Evidence Based Funding Model incorporates rigorously researched and successful ideas that work in schools. When money is tight, we need to direct funds to the areas that we know work and that show a return on investment as a state.”

Langdon reiterated a similar message, saying the Evidence-Based Model will create a more balanced system for schools across the state. “The Vision 20/20 proposal does a much better job incorporating the diversity of property wealth we have across Illinois. It breaks the state into tiers so that funding is provided from the state to the local level based upon the real cost of programs,” said Langdon.
IASA's Brent Clark and IASB's Dean Langdon were
featured in a broadcast from the former capitol in Springfield.

School finance, Vision 20/20, and education funding reform will all be featured topics at the 2016 Annual Conference. Panels and workshops on these and other issues can be found in the Conference Preview.

Another major issue that will be highlighted at this year’s Conference is school safety and security. A half-day school safety seminar will take place on Friday, Nov. 18 from 8 a.m. to noon. Additionally, eight panel sessions that focus on the importance of school security will be held throughout the three-day event.

IASB’s Ben Schwarm and IASA’s Sara Boucek served on the School Security and Standards Task Force created by the General Assembly. The task force was charged with making recommendations for schools to use, with the goal of creating more secure and safe learning environments. Both stressed that the safety of students and staff has become a top priority for districts.

“This is not something that schools can or should look the other way,” Boucek emphasized. “Schools really need to balance keeping kids safe and providing an educational environment that kids feels safe in.”

Superintendent Johnston echoed a similar sentiment. “Safety has to be the number one priority. Parents understand and appreciate that,” he said. “What is considered safe in one district may be different in other districts. What was safe 20 years ago look different now. We are a product of the world we live in. Each district has to decide internally what ‘safe’ really means to them.”

Schwarm stressed that because safety and security are so important to schools, there are a number of newly accepted practices that can be put to use to create secure learning environments. “You don’t want the school to look like a fortress. There are new techniques to create buffers, landscaping changes, and things such as where playgrounds are located. There are a lot of design effects that can be used to improve school security without making a school look and feel like a prison.”

Schwarm also spoke about the benefit of practice situations. “Drills help to address and calm the fear of students,” said Schwarm. “Our state is so diverse there can’t be one plan that fits every school district across the state. It is important for schools to work with their local responders and create a plan that can be carried out in case of an emergency.”

Boucek concluded by underscoring the importance of district preparation for all types of situations. “Schools need to do three things to be prepared: be proactive, plan, and practice. Those are the best things schools can do to be ready if an incident were to occur.”

The broadcast can be viewed in its entirety on the “Issues in Education” website.