Tuesday, June 7, 2016 || By Michael Romain
David Negron — appointed by the District 89 school board to succeed Michael Robey as superintendent last May and having started in the position last July — isn’t so new that he can’t list off some strides he believes the district has made since he’s taken the helm.
“As I said [when he was first hired], one of my goals is to be one of the top-performing districts in Illinois,” Negron said in an interview last Saturday. “That’s still my goal.”
Negron said his main focuses over the last year had been improving the district’s communications process, enhancing the curriculum and establishing a more visible administrative presence in the district’s school buildings.
“One of my goals when I first started was to be visible, so I’ve been to every single school on a regular basis,” he said. “Any teacher or administrator will say, ‘The superintendent is here a lot.’ Some may like it more than others, but when I’m in those buildings it’s a positive experience.”
With respect to communications, Negron lauded what he said was a “first-ever communications plan.” That plan included the administration of three separate communications surveys for community, parents and “internal stakeholders” (teachers, administrators, board members, etc.).
“Based on the results of the surveys, we’re developing some goals and a plan that we’ll share with the board in the next few weeks,” Negron said, adding that between 800 and 900 people responded to the three surveys. He said a final communications report will be presented to the public in the coming months.
Negron also noted that the district would rollout a brand new mobile-friendly website, which he said should launch on Aug. 1.
“We’re still working out some bugs, and some bells and whistles, but I think we’ll be right on the money within a week or two of the launch date,” he said.
Negron also touted the recent introduction of new district-wide curriculum measures, which the school board approved within the last year. The new system — which includes new textbooks and teaching standards, among other features — replaced a system that was over 10 years old, he said. The new learning standards were introduced to 6th through 8th grade students this academic year, with kindergarten through 5th grade students set to receive them in the fall.
Along with the new standards, Negron said, will come increased and enhanced professional development opportunities for teachers and staff members. The district, he noted, will also continue partnerships with outside entities, such as the University of Illinois at Chicago and the West 40 cooperative, to supplement traditional instruction in science and math.
“The most important thing is our curriculum and academic rigor,” Negron said. “We’ve been preaching this year about making data-driven decisions, so we’ll have a data retreat with teachers and administrators, and will delve into the data.”
Negron also addressed the state’s ongoing budget crisis and how the loss of even more state funding might negatively impact the district.
In 2014, according to Illinois State Board of Education data, nearly 60 percent of D89’s revenue came from state funding. That year, the district spent around $4,800 per pupil on instructional spending — around 55 percent less than the state average of roughly $7,400.
“We still haven’t gotten all the money owed to us by the state,” Negron said. “For the past six years, we haven’t received 100 percent of our budgets. We’d been getting a prorated amount, so the state would pay out a portion of the money it has promised. For instance, last year, the state paid out 87 percent of the money it said it would give us.”
Negron expressed support for a school funding bill introduced by state Sen. Sen. Andy Manar (D-48th) and supported by state Sen. Kimberly Lightford (D-4th) that would allocate funds to school districts based on need and introduce a funding formula that is much simpler, and fairer, than the complex one currently in place.
“I think we’re doing well with what we have,” said Negron, “but it’s about providing services to our students.” VFP
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