As the demographics of Kildeer Countryside Community Consolidated School District 96 began shifting within the last decade, administrators responded.
The solution they implemented in 2017 continues to benefit not only the K-8 students of Buffalo Grove and Long Grove but also the teachers.
“For a long time, we had been – not homogeneous – but we had been less diverse,” says Beth Dalton, Ed.D., assistant superintendent for Human Resources.
“We saw a new situation coming, in that we had far more kids coming from culturally and linguistically diverse homes or backgrounds than we’d ever had before,” Dalton adds, “and given that kids who have a second-language background may need different strategies to be used in the classroom for them to be most successful in school, we identified the fact that we needed to do something about that.”
NIU became that “something.”
Mayra Daniel, professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction, and Terry Borg, director of the College of Education’s Office of External and Global Programs, worked with Dalton to deliver a local cohort model for the M.S.Ed. in Literacy Education: English as a Second Language/Bilingual Education Specialization.
Kildeer has contracted with NIU for this program, which makes enrollment more attractive by removing upfront costs for participants who otherwise would need to apply for reimbursement; that provides the district more control over what courses are included in the 33-hour degree.
Students cover their fees and books; meanwhile, the Department of Curriculum and Instruction has waived the GRE requirement for this cohort.
Classes are held from 3:45 to 6:45 p.m. Mondays and Wednesdays at a rate of two courses each semester throughout the fall, spring and summer terms.
NIU faculty travel to Buffalo Grove five Wednesdays each semester for in-person delivery while other classes are taught in an asynchronous, online format.
“We really wanted the face-to-face aspect because we wanted to have the opportunity for our people to interact,” Dalton says. “Collaboration is incredibly important in our school system to be successful, and Northern was the only university that would offer that to us.”
Twenty-six teachers signed up for the first cohort; another 26 followed the next fall, and another 26 started their courses last fall. Thirty more will begin this fall in the fourth cohort.
“It has really been a partnership that has blossomed over the years,” Dalton says. “NIU has been incredibly responsive to our needs and helping us design programs to make sure that students who come to us from a second-language background are able to be as successful as they can.”
Critical to that outcome was “the opportunity to work with the university to make sure that the courses were designed to meet the needs of our district instead of teachers randomly going out and selecting the courses,” she adds.
“That’s been a big benefit for us,” she says. “The university has also asked us to then give them feedback on the programming. Our director of Language and Literacy has been meeting with them to just brainstorm what’s changing in the field and how the courses need to evolve as a result of that.”
Kildeer teachers “have found the courses valuable,” she says, “and the opportunities to meet in person, and to have that face-to-face experience, have really made it more meaningful because of the collaborative experiences that we expect our teachers to do on a day-to-day basis.”
Eager to improve their pedagogy, those teachers even pushed NIU to front-load coursework needed for the ELL endorsement so they could make a more immediate impact in their classrooms.
“We have a very conscientious group of teachers, so they want to do whatever they can to make sure that kids learn to their maximum potential. Kids who are identified as ELL – have a second language in their home – were not achieving at the high levels of kids who did not,” Dalton says.
As a result of their master’s degrees, she says, more teachers in Kildeer have developed their understanding of the learning needs of children from second-language homes and are proactively transforming and improving their instruction in response.
“Truly,” Dalton says, “the thing that is most significant is that the strategies that are being taught throughout this program are good teaching and are good practices for all students, not just students from second-language backgrounds.”
Dalton, who is also president of the American Association of School Personnel Administrators and is in her 26th year of work at the district level, encourages other professionals in her role to pursue collaborations with the NIU College of Education.
“Human Resources is all about growth. It’s growing our people,” she says. “It’s making sure that the teachers are growing because we believe that if the teachers are growing then the kids are going to grow in their skills. Developing them into the best employees they can be is a core aspect of HR.”
Want to learn how professional development cohorts can work for you?
NIU designs its programs to be flexible in how, when and where coursework is delivered. Likewise, teachers can work full time in their current jobs while completing their coursework and maintaining their personal lives.
For more information on School District Contract Cohort Development with the NIU College of Education Office of External and Global Programs, contact Kay Caster, assistant director, at (815) 753-3005 or firstname.lastname@example.org.