Northern Illinois University

NIU Office of Public Affairs


News Release

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

January 23, 2006

NIU, District 428 to release report on first year
at partnership school Wright Elementary

DeKalb — A report on the first year of classes at Wright Elementary School, which leaders of the District 428-Northern Illinois University partnership will deliver Tuesday evening to school board members, confirms that the unique partnership school is exceeding expectations.

Although it's too soon to identify or even look for trends, data gathered during the inaugural year at Wright indicate all DeKalb public schools eventually will benefit. Innovative instructional methods are making a difference at Wright, where the budget and the makeup of student body are similar to the rest of the district.

Wright has made “an impressive start on ambitious goals,” according to the annual report titled “Exceeding Expectations.”

“I think when you have an opportunity to focus together, as we did with Wright, then you're going to see positive results,” District 428 Superintendent Paul Beilfuss said. “It's been wonderful for students, faculty and parents.”

The university is committed to the community and its schools, said Christine Sorensen, dean of the NIU College of Education. “It is our responsibility to train tomorrow's teachers, and we can help create first-rate school environments where they can learn their skills,” Sorensen said. “The university has a strong interest in raising the quality of schools.”

Academic highlights for Wright's opening year include these accomplishments:

  • 88 percent of students met or exceeded state standards in reading, math and science, placing Wright second in the district;
  • 97 percent of third graders met standards on the state mathematics test;
  • 96 percent of kindergarteners are on track for success in first grade.

The report found that students had an opportunity to not only learn about the arts and technology, but also to learn through them. Arts and technology extend across the curriculum, helping students strengthen skills in language arts and mathematics. For example, a lesson on the Titanic involves Internet research on the passengers and the science of sinking, making black-and-white photos in art class and playing old-fashioned games during P.E.

The technology in particular is a “hands-on approach to learning,” said fourth-grade teacher Pam Bybee. Today's children have virtually grown up with the computer, Bybee said, while the arts provide a way for them to express their ideas about the world.

The well-established collaboration of District 428 and NIU has improved chances to bring in grants, especially in technology.

Donations to the College of Education foundation paid for a cart with 28 Palm Pilots (PDAs) that are used in classrooms. For instance, kindergartners learned sequencing on the hand-held computers, and older students took spelling tests. When finished, students “beam” their answers to the teacher's PDA, where they are recorded. Also last year, IBM granted the partnership a dozen IBM Explorer units, which contain hardware and software suitable for kindergartners. These will be placed in kindergarten rooms at Wright and Malta schools.

All-day kindergarten, another exclusive feature at Wright, provides students more time to master skills and concepts. NIU's College of Health and Human Sciences worked with Wright kindergarteners on assessment activities in reading and language development. At the end of the year, results showed that Wright kindergarteners were more prepared for first grade than their counterparts at other schools.

Beilfuss sees many benefits to the district of the Wright School partnership.

“A major advantage is that it is a professional development school. Our staff and NIU staff, in collaboration, focus on learning and teaching skills that benefit our students,” he said.

As part of the professional development school concept, Wright faculty and future teachers also had an opportunity to learn last year, according to the report. All faculty meetings incorporate professional development, and faculty members had the opportunity last summer to travel to Yale University to collaborate with top education experts in creating lesson plans that will improve student learning.

Thirty-two NIU education students gained early exposure to the world of education by being immersed in the classroom for a full nine weeks, helping teachers and interacting with students on a daily basis, the report stated.

They were involved in the entire school experience, including open house and parent-teacher conferences and also attended their NIU classes at Wright for the entire semester, said Susan L'Allier, NIU assistant professor in literacy education and faculty liaison for Wright.

But the ultimate goal, according to the report, is to expand Wright's innovations to other district schools.

“Wright is an exciting project,” Sorensen said. “We're looking for ways to take lessons we've learned and expand them to other schools in the district and to our teacher preparation programs at the university.”

Anne Kaplan, NIU's vice president for administration and university outreach, shared similar sentiments. “This partnership serves as a catalyst for more connection between NIU and the school district, but the end goal is to improve all schools in the district,” she said.

Because Wright resembles the demographics of other district schools, the district and NIU partners believe that Wright's successes can be duplicated in other buildings.

Some of the dissemination work is already underway. This year, Malta Elementary School received computer hardware to update its technology systems, and an NIU faculty liaison to help teachers integrate technology into their classrooms. In addition, speech and language tests and activities used at Wright are helping kindergarteners and first graders at Litttlejohn and Malta. Professional development activities are under way there as well.

Wright was born out of the planning efforts of more than 60 NIU and District 428 staff members. The partnership school concept arose in fall 2003, when district officials approached NIU about helping to develop a new elementary school in the former Malta High School. NIU was interested, the timing was right and the pieces all fell into place, Sorensen said.

Two hundred and seventy-eight students are enrolled now at Wright, selected by lotteries in 2004 and 2005. More than 100 families stayed on last year's waiting list, hoping to send their children to Wright. “We want to see that our students are doing their best,” Wright Principal Gina Greenwald said. “We are dedicated to helping them exceed everyone's expectations.”

The report is available online at http://www.p20.niu.edu/P20/wright_school/2005_annual_report/index.html.

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