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U-46 pathway plan ignites interest, debate

By Seth Hancock
  The School District U-46 administration gave a presentation to the Board of Education regarding the career pathways plan.
  One of the reasons for the planned change in focus for secondary education according to the district is for compliance with the Every Student Succeeds Act (ESSA) which was signed into law by former Democratic President Barrack Obama in 2015. ESSA replaced No Child Left Behind (NCLB) signed by former Republican President George W. Bush.
  Both the NCLB and ESSA showed that controversy and angst can be bipartisan when the federal government attempts to exert control over education. ESSA has sparked controversy among many U-46 parents, and the board meeting brought out a packed audience for the presentation.
  According to the presentation a Career and Technical Education audit was done and recommendations from it include “provide opportunity to earn industry certifications and credentials for all pathways,” “intentionally emphasize all postsecondary options, not just 4 year colleges,” “provide career exploration opportunities as early as middle school,” create up to 14 “clearly defined pathways for students that conform to the economic and workforce needs of the community” and develop a definition for college and career readiness.
  Some of the industry credentials being sought are in areas such as manufacturing, automotive, welding, healthcare and culinary arts.
  The district hopes to achieve magnet status for its current high school academies, commit time to career exploration, create “smaller learning communities” for every student, create several paths to graduation and develop more chances for industry credentials.
  The plan is by the 2020-21 school year that every freshman in U-46 high schools would be enrolled in a career academy. Students would be able to stay at their home school, take fine arts and elective classes and change their path according to the district, and transportation would be provided for students attending non-home schools.
  The intended paths would be Project Lead the Way engineering at all five high schools, business paths at four, government (public administration, public safety, military, etc.) at two or three, education and human services at four and healthcare at three. Autos would be offered at Bartlett, welding and autos at Elgin, precision manufacturing and autos at South Elgin and precision manufacturing and diesel at Streamwood.
  Part of the controversy is around the idea that middle school students will be forced to choose a career path with no general education option, but the district said that is not the case.
  Board member Jeanette Ward asked why there was no general education path before the meeting, and during the meeting she said: “How I think that you answered that is you said the professional pathway and many of the career pathways offers that because of the choices that they have in taking electives it’s really adding more choices than they have now and that is the general education option. Am I understanding that correctly?”
  Suzanne Johnson, deputy superintendent of instruction, said “that is correct” and “the professional pathway option will provide just that for students and provide even more opportunities for them.”
  Ward asked: “But do I also understand correctly that you still have to pick a pathway, and the professional pathway is inside the pathway that you pick. So you still have to choose, right?”
  Johnson said “that is correct…. At this time, that is the proposed plan that we have brought to you tonight.”
  Ward asked, which received applause from the audience, why not have an option “that lets them have the freedom of not having to choose a pathway, or it’s a pathway called general?”
  Johnson said “if that’s the direction that you give this team, we can certainly consider it,” but she suggested the district may not be in compliance with ESSA if they did that.
  In further response to questions from Ward, Assistant Superintendent Terri Lozier said career endorsements are required on all diplomas by 2021 and the district said it could not provide costs for this change at this time. Lozier said high school schedules will go from six periods to seven allowing for more electives to be taken.
  Board member Melissa Owens said she was “having a really hard time understanding… the ESSA requirements” and suggested this change is swinging too far away from college preparation towards career readiness.
  Owens called the ESSA indicators “terrible” but wanted further presentations to understand ESSA’s requirements. She said how a district is judged, although she said she doesn’t “like the word judge,” on career readiness is “a very small portion.”
  A work requirement in the plan also raised concerns for Owens who said “I don’t know why we’re asking students to work 12 consecutive months in their junior year” and it’s “ridiculous to ask students to work for two consecutive summers.”
  U-46 CEO Tony Sanders said he found some of ESSA’s requirements “troubling,” but it “does assure that students are both college and career ready.”
  Board member Veronica Noland said she agreed with Owens’ concerns and Donna Smith, the board’s president, said special meetings were being planned to better understand ESSA but were pushed off due to the need to fill a vacant board seat.
  Board member Phil Costello said there were still a lot of logistical and cost discussions that need to be had before he can make a final judgment, but although recognizing he may be in the minority he said he likes the initial idea of the plan saying: “I really think it does tell our community that we want successful kids, and they have to identify what it is to be successful.”
  “It’s probably a counterpoint, but it is genuinely exciting to see the focus on careers whether its college based or technical or whatever else,” Costello said. “And I think you’re asked to focus on something, you’re asked to explore something and at some point you’re going to say ‘I don’t want to do this’ and that’s a very distinct possibility that we have to recognize and I think that’s what this program is about.”
  Costello added: “So I’m kind of excited about the return on investment of what we’re doing here to provide our community with the jobs that are out there that we need to focus on. This to me is very dynamic because of all the kids, your children, who hasn’t said ‘well, what do you want to be when you grow up?’ This is the model for getting there.”
  The district does plan more presentations to the public, and Ward said: “I don’t think you can over communicate on this issue because obviously the community is very, very interested in this.”





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