Community High School District 218 is certainly on the way up. There has been an improvement in grades and a drop in failures across all departments throughout the district. This is mainly due to the ongoing effort to align instruction with Illinois Learning Standards and National Core Standards. Teachers have developed common assessments in core and elective subjects, and unit exams, quarter exams, and final exams are structured so teachers can enhance collaboration and improve instruction.

District 218 is based in Oak Lawn, Ill. It has more than 5,000 students in six high schools and one alternative high school. It is using data from common assessments to monitor student progress and provide a quality education to all students. Early Start and Small Learning Community programs are also helping students. In addition, the district is actively encouraging increased parent participation at the building and district levels as well. To continue improvements, the district is exploring career readiness programs used by surrounding districts.

Data, technology, and funding One way District 218 believes it can improve test scores is to improve the tools used to track student progress before students enter high school. The district uses web-based software so teachers can monitor student achievement of eighth graders through placement tests and math and English tests. Freshmen must take two to three hours worth of web-based English and math tests in the classroom every week. Test results are captured electronically so teachers stay current on student progress. Students falling behind take additional courses in math or English as needed.

Data is used to shed light on areas where students are struggling. The district is using the Explore test with eighth graders to help determine where incoming freshmen should be placed in English, social studies, math, and science. 

The test complies scores in math, science, English, andreading and helps measure academic growth over time.In addition, daily teacher meetings allow for the sharing of assessment results and planning for differentiated lessons. This fosters collaboration between departments.

Other efforts designed to improve academic achievement include a federally-funded program for at-risk pupils. The Title I program is typically targeted at disadvantaged and struggling pupils, but it was expanded to all district students because the percent of poor students in the district is higher than 40%. The program currently provides about $1.2 million in funding. 

Title I funding is used in areas like early intervention for low-performing freshmen, additional time for algebra and reading, technology to communicate with parents on student progress, intervention software for reading and math, hiring and professional development for staff, and tutoring. Additionally, funding has been boosted by roughly $4.4 million in from NCLB Consolidated, ARRA, Model Communities, Title III/TBE/TPI, IDEA, Career and Technical Education, High Schools That Work, Arts Implementation, SCISC4 School Improvement, Advanced Placement Classes, and Truants’ Alternative and Optional Education Program grants.

District 218 has also looked for ways to operate as efficiently as possible. The district explored investing in turf fields to increase the ease of maintaining football fields and reducing costs. It is looking into renovating fields at Shepard, Richards, and Eisenhower high schools. It applied for a $200,000 grant from the NFL Grassroots Partnership Program to assist with the cost of an installation at Eisenhower. Cost for the turf would be approximately $750,000 to $1 million.

An initiative that is helping District 218 improve is The Friends of Community High School District 218 Education Foundation, which was established a few years ago to assist the school system in securing funds for education. Individual and corporate gifts allow the foundation to play a role in raising and distributing funds for education outside of public funding as well as supporting post secondary scholarships.

Sampling excellence

There are many areas beyond simple academic performance where District 218 students and staff are excelling. The speech team from Shepard High School recently won the program’s third state title in Special Occasion Speaking and placed first at the Huntley tournament, first at Fremd, first at Santaburg Oaklaus, and second at Thornridge. The varsity speech team from Eisenhower High School won its first team trophy in 20 years, and two speech team members placed second in the state in Dramatic Duet Acting.

In addition, the varsity speech team from Richards High School placed fifth overall at the Illinois High School Association state finals; won the South Suburban Conference Red Division championship, placing second at the Bolingbrook tournament, second at Thornridge, third at Santaburg Oaklaus, fifth at Thornwood; and saw students place at the IHSA finals. The junior varsity cheerleading team from Shepard High School also performed well, winning first place at the Bloomington sectional to qualify for the state finals and placing fifth overall at the Illinois Cheerleading Coaches Association state finals at Illinois State University. Their big sisters, the varsity cheerleading team from Shepard High School, placed third at the sectional tournament and third overall at the Illinois Cheerleading Coaches Association state finals at Illinois State University.

Beyond that, the concert band from Eisenhower High School placed first in its division at the Midwest Music Festival at Lemont High School and won the special award for BestBrass Section at the Midwest Music Festival. The chess team from Richards High School won its 11th consecutive conference championship as well. Shepard High School’s Astro Television's iHigh.com site was also named one of the Top 100 Sites for the 2010-2011 school year by iHigh.com. These are just some of the areas were District 218 has performed exceptionally.

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