Northern Illinois University

NIU Office of Public Affairs


News Release

Contact: Mark McGowan, NIU Office of Public Affairs
(815) 753-9472

October 2, 2003

NIU partners with Rockford schools
to enhance teachers, prepare future principals

$5 million federal grant also helps
recruit teachers from under-represented groups

DeKalb — Children in four Rockford Public Schools will become prime beneficiaries of a partnership between Northern Illinois University, District 205 and Rock Valley College, recipients of a $5 million federal grant to enhance teacher quality and student performance.

The five-year U.S. Department of Education grant of $4.875 million to the Rockford Education Alliance – or Project REAL – concentrates on Jefferson High School, the Rockford Environmental Science Academy, Nelson Elementary School and, with a focus on special education populations, Rolling Green Elementary School.

Faculty and students from five NIU colleges, including Education, Engineering and Engineering Technology, Health and Human Sciences, Liberal Arts and Sciences and Visual and Performing Arts, will become extensively engaged in the four schools next spring through mentoring and professional development of teachers and future school leaders.

“High quality educators are everyone’s business at this university,” NIU President John Peters said. “This federal grant recognizes and affirms our belief that faculty across every college campus play a vital role in the preparation of excellent teachers. Children and parents in Rockford soon will see why, and share our enthusiasm for partnerships and ideas like these.”

Partners in Project REAL will induct and mentor new teachers, provide on-site professional development connected to individual school improvement plans, offer online learning opportunities for Rockford teachers, integrate technology into teaching, place more student-teachers from a wide variety of majors for clinical experiences.

They also will work with school personnel to solve educational problems, cultivate best practices and collaborate with classroom teachers to develop a more rigorous curriculum for both the K-12 classroom and for NIU students preparing to be future teachers.

NIU Outreach will support the project’s communications network and develop online professional development materials for teachers.

“Our overall goal is to improve student performance in schools,” said Chris Sorensen, dean of the NIU College of Education. “What really makes a difference for kids is the teacher in the classroom. The better prepared the teachers are, the more the kids gain.”

Raising the level of NIU faculty involvement in the Rockford schools allows professors to “bring back different experiences to our programming here at the university,” Sorensen said. “It also provides us a setting to examine issues in education, and learn about educational problems and how to solve them.”

Classroom teachers will receive professional development which will enable them to become nationally certified and assure that they are “highly qualified.” Those who seek promotion to administrative posts can take part in leadership academies taught by NIU faculty.

“This is wonderful news for our schools, our students and our community,” said Ann Rundall, interim director of curriculum for Rockford School District 205. “The grant will provide us with the opportunity to work with NIU to completely transform teacher preparation and initiate a mentoring and professional development program focused on retaining teachers and building a ‘pipeline’ for recruiting diverse students into the teaching profession.”

Project REAL also will create a “pipeline” for recruiting diverse and under-represented groups into the teaching profession to serve local needs. Rock Valley College will coordinate this effort, enlisting Rockford Public Schools students to enter the teaching profession and return home to teach. NIU will continue to provide degree-completion programs in Rockford.

“Rock Valley will be responsible for coordinating the pipeline and tutoring projects, co-offering teacher preparation programs at the school sites, participating in school renewal teams, conducting professional development activities and participating in curriculum design teams,” said Diane Kuehl, assistant dean of Liberal Arts and Sciences at Rock Valley.

“My hope for this grant is that it will enable Rock Valley College to continue in the partnerships with Rockford School District 205 and Northern Illinois University in assisting our at-risk schools and creating a seamless transition for quality teachers of the future in our district.”

The grant reflects – and rewards – NIU’s commitment to the “P-20” initiative.

“P-20” is a movement that promotes better coordination of the entire education system, starting earlier than kindergarten in pre-school and continuing beyond high school (12th grade) and even further than a bachelor’s degree through the completion of graduate degrees that enable teachers to improve their knowledge and skills.

Led by NIU, deans from arts and sciences, education, engineering, fine arts and health sciences at 10 state universities mapped out statewide coordinated action on critical problems they believe span the P-20 bridge from pre-school through graduate school.

“The grant really indicates the central role that NIU plays in our region in bringing research and outreach together to help teachers in our public schools,” said Fred Kitterle, dean of the NIU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences.

“The strength of NIU in responding to statewide education issues is based upon a strong sense of collaboration, long-standing grant-supported multidisciplinary efforts and an individual college commitment that is shared in the development of teachers,” Kitterle added. “This really is a major regional collaboration and can serve as a model for other universities in this state.”

Community and corporate partners of Project REAL are Abilities Center, Alpine Bank, AV Worldwide, Black Health Care Initiative Coalition, Burpee Museum of Natural History, City of Rockford, Larson & Darby Group, Rock River Valley Council of the Girl Scouts, Rockford Area Chamber of Commerce and Rockford Health Council.

The Gurnee office of the Utah-based AV Worldwide donated 140 Mimeo Classics to the College of Education, which in turn will give the units to the Rockford Public Schools. Mimeo classics attach to “white boards,” transferring what teachers write to the computer.

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