Northern Illinois University

NIU Office of Public Affairs

News Release

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

October 16, 2008

NIU-District 428 partnership at Chesebro
builds learning foundation on bilingualism

Professional development school focuses on best practices
in literacy, math; places value on native languages, cultures


DeKalb, Ill. — Half of the 298 children at Chesebro Elementary School are Latino.

Because Spanish is their native tongue – the language they hear and speak at home and bring with them to the classroom – their learning needs are different. They require dual-language instruction, not always a part of the college preparation for elementary education majors.

Chesebro group photoChesebro teachers have proven quite successful in that challenge. The school makes adequate yearly progress as prescribed by the No Child Left Behind legislation as students consistently meet or exceed federally mandated standards.

Yet as the gap between the children’s test scores and those standards started to narrow, the school leadership team began to ponder becoming a professional development school in partnership with Northern Illinois University.

Now teachers, professors and college students are working to make Chesebro a school that not only transcends educational barriers such as multiple languages and differing cultures but celebrates those differences as opportunities for incredible learning.

“Our teachers are really excited. This allows more collaboration and more professional development for everyone,” Chesebro Principal Sharon Giless said. “In addition, it’s exciting for Northern. Chesebro is an urban, diverse school. More and more for teacher certification, those types of building experiences are not only required but really help to build the repertoire of new teachers.”

The PDS model is dedicated to raising student achievement, improving teacher preparation and enhancing performance of teachers. The first NIU-DeKalb Community Unit District 428 professional development school is Wright Elementary School, which opened in 2004. A third PDS will open in the fall of 2011 at the new DeKalb High School on Dresser Road.

“Late last spring, we met with the school leadership team. They were curious about whether this was something they’d want to do,” said Sharon Smaldino, who heads the School-University Partnerships Office in the NIU College of Education. “Their call had come out of the blue. We were surprised but had no doubt in our minds that this was something they saw as a benefit.”

“When I came to Chesebro, I realized that we needed community resources,” Giless said. “I had previous experience with a PDS in my last school district, and I had visited Wright, talked to the principal and had a chance to review what they had done. I called Sharon Smaldino.”

Meetings were scheduled every third Tuesday morning. A mission statement and goals were drafted. An all-day retreat was held with NIU faculty and teachers from Wright Elementary School, the first NIU-District 428 professional development school. National conferences were attended to gain outside perspectives.

In May, the group presented its proposal to the school board. When school began this fall, Chesebro launched its rebirth.

“Our community is changing,” said Becky McCabe, assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction in the DeKalb Public Schools, “and the demands from the community as well as the world are that children need to have more than one language, and they need to be academically secure in that language.”

Framers of the Chesebro partnership expect that:

  • Chesebro students will develop language, literacy and mathematical fluency, become positive contributors to the learning community and play active roles in their own learning and assessment.
  • Families will be honored for their diversity and connection to learning.
  • Teachers and NIU interns will become knowledgeable in teaching diverse students, immersed in best practice for English language learners and versed in providing different instruction to students with different learning needs.
  • All of the Chesebro learning community – students, parents, staff and NIU – will participate in Spanish thematic reading activities in mixed groups of Spanish and English speakers.

Planners have created a three-year implementation schedule.

Year One, which began in August, has a focus on language and literacy in English and Spanish, including an afterschool program that offers Spanish as a foreign language. Year Two (2009-10) branches into math, bilingualism and best practices for English language learners.

Year Three (2010-11) adds a dual-language component: One class that enrolls both English and Spanish speakers will journey from kindergarten through fifth-grade together and receive instruction in both languages. It is expected that all of those students will become bilingual, and parents who want their English-speaking children to learn Spanish can volunteer to place them in the dual-language class.

Michael Morris, a professor in the NIU Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, will play an integral role this year as he works with some of the NIU pre-service teachers on their Spanish and teaches Spanish to English-speaking Chesebro students after school.

As NIU faculty begin to conduct practical research at Chesebro and pre-service teachers seek out clinical experience there, McCabe said she believes her dream will come true: Eager students will flock to NIU to earn teaching degrees and become well-prepared teachers in bilingual education.

Meanwhile, she said, the community will grow to value dual-language learning.

“Chesebro is becoming a lab where pre-service teachers as well as faculty work directly with people on the front line with kids, and we will all benefit from this collaboration. We will become better instructors. The children will become better learners,” McCabe said.

“This is an educational experience for all children that is rich and global,” she added, “and many of the communities where the students from NIU will return to as they become teachers are diverse. They’re going to have more children from different cultural backgrounds. They need to be prepared to teach all children. That’s what No Child Left Behind is all about.”

“Everyone comes out a winner,” Smaldino said. “The collaborative nature of a professional development school is about mutual benefits with a focus on children. The PDS model addresses what’s important to Chesebro, and we want to do what’s right for Chesebro. That’s the key.”

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