In The News

Community forum tackles economic inequality and school performance

This article appeared in Now Decatur on November 18, 2016. This event was the first Continuing Ed. townhall in Decatur. You can find the original article here.


November 18 – Numerous studies show a correlation between poverty and poor academic performance and a group of community members in Decatur are trying to find solutions.

Illinois Humanities, a group that facilitates conversations to shape culture, hosted a community forum Thursday evening at Dennis Lab School.  With a high poverty rate and a number of engaged leaders hoping to make a change, the group found Decatur was a perfect location to start some dialogue.

Decatur Public Schools Co-Interim Superintendent Mike Dugan knows there are equity issues across the district.  Many of the Montessori and Magnet schools are performing relatively well, while other schools have students performing sub-par.

“We talk about buildings, the level of experience of our teachers, and about the different programs,” Dugan says.  “We’ve really been trying to identify if we have equity across the district.  I’m glad we are continuing the conversation.”

Dugan says there are a number of things to look at when determining equity and it will take some further research to find out the best way to spread out resources.

ISU’s Lynne Haeffele, who’s part of the Center for the Study of Educational Policy, was the keynote speaker at Thursday’s event.  She’s says it’s important to study high-poverty schools that have high-performing students and replicate their programs.

She gave five ways to help combat low performance: align local policies for student success and match up curriculum across the district; staff qualified and committed personnel; monitor progress beyond just test scores like behavior and attendance; reward achievements, good behavior, and make individual education plans for each student; and create a school culture that is student-centered and learning-centered.

“Some of our buildings offer Pre-K and some of them don’t,” Dugan says.  “The earlier we can get to them, the better.  We look at testing and see a lot of kids in kindergarten not ready.  We need more Pre-K programs.”

The group will be hosting another community forum in January.