We Love Illinois Schools

All Means All

January 18, 2023 Illinois State Board of Education Season 2 Episode 1
We Love Illinois Schools
All Means All
Show Notes Transcript

Gower District 62 Superintendent Dr. Victor Simon talks about data mining the 5Essentials, and how his personal background reminds him why it matters, and its connection to the Equity Journey Continuum.

Our theme music is by José Rivera.

Dusty Rhodes  0:02  

Hello, we are the Illinois State Board of Education, and we love Illinois schools. I'm Dusty Rhodes in the communications department at ISBE. For the next couple of months, students, teachers and families across the state have the chance to tell school administrators how to improve their learning environment through an annual survey called the Five Essentials. So today we are going to talk with Dr. Victor Simon, superintendent of Gower School District 62 In Willowbrook, about the importance of the 5E and how this culture and climate survey relates to our new Equity Journey Continuum.

 Dusty Rhodes  0:39  

All right, so why don't you just go ahead and introduce yourself?

 

Victor Simon  0:41  

Sure. My name is Victor Simon. I'm the superintendent of Gower School District 62. We serve communities of Burridge and Willowbrook, and I've been here as superintendent for the last … this is my 10th year. In the 16 years prior to that, I was a Chicago Public School administrator, teacher, a bunch of different roles during the time I was there.                           

 

Dusty Rhodes  1:03  

Let's talk about why you personally have this interest in Equity Journey Continuum. This is a podcast so people can't see you, but you're a white guy. So what is your personal interest in it?

 

Victor Simon  1:21  

Well, I mean, you know, white guy or not, right? I mean, it's like all means all so, so you know, white guy included in that equation. I mean, like this is, I'm a fierce advocate for students. I'm unapologetic about that fact, people that know me have heard me talk, it's been in my classes, it's seeing me present anything about education. 

 

It's just like, you know, a child's education, I say like this, it ain't no dress rehearsal. Like, I want to be casual in the language to get people's attention. So if this is that important, my situation is totally different. I'm not a superintendent, I don't have a master's, doctorate, I'm not even a first gen college student, if it's not for two teachers. In my personal experience, a lot of us have those stories. And I still have a chip on my shoulder, because of that situation, in multiple situations in my upbringing. 

 

But essentially, you know, this is about all means all. In my experience, it is just my story, but my experience was oftentimes it's like, everyone except you. It was, yeah, kind of this group, but not so much that group, you know, not the poor kid from the public housing project, you know, not you, you're not involved in this. It's these other kids that might have some, a little bit more resource or what have you.

 

Dusty Rhodes  2:36  

Be a little more specific about your background. You grew up in Chicago?

 

Victor Simon  2:40  

I did. I grew up in and around Chicago. I'm born and raised in Chicago, proud graduate from Chicago Public Schools. I used to say, a proud product or a product of Chicago Public Schools. And I've learned over time, that's not product. It's more than that. I'm a proud graduate of Currie High School -- so go Condors! -- southwest side of Chicago, giant high school there if you haven't seen it. So yeah, born and raised in and around Chicago. And here. And here's why. Not a lot of public housing options for white families in Chicago proper. I'm a Gen X guy. So you know, I'm talking back in the ‘80s here, so, you know, Section Eight housing complexes in nearby communities. Suburbs, generally stay here for a couple of years, stay there for a few years. So before I graduated high school, my family had moved well over 15 times. 

 

I mean, we moved a lot because this was poverty and domestic violence and a lot of other kinds of issues that go with that. So multiple relocations, gang violence, these are all part of my experience as a child. 

 

So my family was homeless for a brief period when I was right around 10 years old, very formative age. So I carried, as a student, a lot of what people might see as red flags today, we'll call them an ACE, right? Adverse Childhood Experience. And I know the sting of what it felt to be marginalized and not cared for, not connected with, you know, these are real barriers. I did not feel like all means all. And this has been a driving force in my work ever since. 

So it's like, I'm one of those sorts of people. That because of my story, and because of the influence of two teachers -- specifically, Mr. Havel and Mrs. Thelma Bond-Johnson were probably the most influential. These two heroes really pushed me in a direction to serve and to give back, and that's why EJC you know, that's why anything that's talking seriously about all kids, yeah, sign me up. You know, let's get to work roll up our sleeves and you know, I'm on it. 

So I don't know. I mean, that's that's not everything. I know that schools made assumptions about me based on where I live or about my free or reduced lunch status. I mean, I saw it, I felt it, and I know that lived experience.

 

But anyhow, out all that background and what really drove me into this work and education really happened as a young adult. I was home in the summer first gen college kid again, but um, ended up being targeted by some known gang members after an altercation and traumatic situation here, but I was I was shot nearly killed at 20 years old. It was a significant injury, terrible situation, and so that the whole idea about gun violence in schools is just constantly been around me for years now. And to say all that is, you know, I'm sharing something here, pretty vulnerable. 

But anyhow, there weren't many affinity groups for survivors of gun violence, and I don't know that there still are too many. So that makes me sort of like different than maybe a traditional school admin path. You know, it wasn't expectation go to college, it wasn't an expectation to become a school administrator, or even a professional of any kind, necessarily, so… so yeah, I mean, I feel like I'm ranting a bit here. But I'll just thank you for the question and say, that's what drove me into this EJC work. 

 

And yes, as a white guy, that I'm driven to help all means all. So, so that's what it's about, for me, always has been.

 

Dusty Rhodes  6:22  

So let's get back to the EJC. So as an administrator, what do you like about it? And do you think that it's something that can help you and your colleagues actually improve learning? I mean, I understand that you are a systems guy. But you know, there are people out there who are going to say, enough of this touchy-feely stuff, we need to teach math. How does this help you teach math?

 

Victor Simon  6:48  

Yeah, I mean, that's it. I mean, I love having it framed that way, because it's like, you know, forget this stuff, we need to teach math like, I don't know, I mean, maybe I'm supposed to feel that way, Gen X style or something, I guess? But I don't, I mean, like, it's anyone that's willing to listen to me talk about education, I will tell them all it's about three things: relationships, relationships, relationships. So it's not soft stuff. It's not I mean, like, you can't teach math unless you have the relationship built in with the student. You can't teach or improve academic outcomes unless you have a supportive environment in which those academic outcomes can flourish.

 

I know there's people that disagree with that, and have high expectations. And it's got to be about the standards, and we got to improve this test score and all that kind of stuff. But if you don't have the student, right, like, there's a saying out there, like you don't capture their heart, you're not going to get their mind. Like you, if you don't have the relationship, forget the rest of the stuff. Like I just that's, that's my perspective. If people disagree with that, then then maybe the EJC is not something they'll use. But I think there's even more powerful tools at the ready for them … the 5Essentials data, for instance.

 

Dusty Rhodes  8:02  

But yeah, the EJC relies a lot on the 5Essentials, a lot of districts don't participate in it. How do you feel about the 5E.

 

Victor Simon  8:12  

A giant fan of the 5E, first of all, so let's just get that bias, strong bias for the 5Essentials out of the way, strong bias for it. I don't know that it's about districts that don't have it. Of course, they have it. It's about the use of it. And, and a little known fact that I think is so cool about our school district, in the work here from our board and the admin team, is that the very first year that 5Essentials was put in place was that the same year that I was hired to become a superintendent out here in outside of Chicago.

 

So for years in Chicago, 5Essentials was there. I used it as a principal, I used it as a chief of schools, which is essentially like a regional office role. And it was fantastic. It was just like the language we had and used. And it was a tool that could help you improve systems, all these interconnecting parts of the 5Essentials, right? 

 

But um, two interesting facts. One is that fourth and fifth graders in Illinois were not asked the questions early on, and were not participants in the survey until a small little pilot took place with us, kind of lighting the fire there to get not only ISBE but the 5Essentials group to unlock fourth and fifth grade participation across the state. So I think that's just a nice piece of evidence about All means all like, you know, hey, we want fourth and fifth grade students if they can answer this question in Detroit, which they do, if they can answer these questions in Florida, where it's used, well, they certainly can answer to Illinois. So I'm really glad that that's that's in place and it has been for some time. 

 

It's there's a data set out there that's super transformative or could be if we would just not take what steps I see happen too often. which is just dismissed the data? Oh, I couldn't get the parents to fill it out or dispute the data? Oh, well, you know, 89% of my teachers strongly agree or agree, why is it yellow or something, it's like, well, who said to lump those two categories together? You know. So I just don't think it's been used a lot. So that I don't know, advice for admin is dig in. 

 

And if there's the officials, you know, hearing this or listening to it as like hey maybe some investment in more training on it for admin, because that tool's been around part of the value of the 5Essentials, part of the value is that it has got the research base that's now going on darn near close to 30 years. So the validity of these prompts, is what's valuable. And I think that could be more transformative and lead to more equitable outcomes for students, respectfully, than the EJC, in its current form, can -- at least that would be my feeling, that's my respectful answer to 5E and EJC.

 

Dusty Rhodes  11:01  

I have heard, you know, the idea of getting parents to participate in this, it is the kind of problem that people just throw their hands up, and just go, you know, that's impossible, can't happen, which is also a kind of the same way people approach, you know, students on free or reduced lunch, who live in public housing -- can't teach them, just can't, just, you know, you get the same kind of reaction of that's a problem that cannot be solved. And I know how you feel about the idea of teaching children who come from public housing, you believe it can be done. But so, this problem of how to get parents to complete that 5E survey, you said, your school district gets, like 30%, how do you? How do you get that?

 

Victor Simon  11:55  

At one point, to get a report from the 5Essentials, you needed to have 30% of parent participation. So we've set our standing goal is a district at 35%. Right? Our pre K-4 school will hit that with our fourth graders, essentially, it's just that one group that is sampled out of that school, they'll hit it at 40%. Our middle school might be at, you know, 30 to 35%. Yeah, as a district, we're right around in that 30%. 

 

Also, you know, is that highs and not high, you know, I'd have to FOIA that information to find out like what they all look like across the state, I'm not interested in doing that. But I know from experience that that's a, that's a good number, I get a report. And we feel pretty good about that. But it's taken some time to put that out there as not only a tool that we use, but constant reminders to folks about, hey, it's available, we can help you do it here in the school, and all that kind of stuff. 

 

But I mean, we could come up with a roundtable of half a dozen administrators and walk out with a white paper on all great strategies on how to involve parents, I just, to me, it's less about the parent participation than 5Essentials, because those colors you're going to see on the report I’m not talking about the EJC report, I'm talking about the 5Essentials report, those colors come from student voices and teacher voices. Those colors do not come from your Parent Voices. That's a supplemental report. 

 

So yeah, we get it’s awesome. But if we don't get it like I'm okay with starting right now, because I don't see a lot of attention on it. With what our students and teachers have said about our own systems, let's just use what we have. And try to fix what we have to fix based on those voices. If we can get the engaged family responses to move up over time, fantastic. But if I'm working directly with the school district, or advising or anything like that, I'm saying, what did your students say? What do you think about that? What did you what the teacher said? What do you think about that? It's months of work, maybe even a year or two or more? Before we're really talking about that the parent engagement piece on the 5Essentials, in my opinion, anyway. So there's, there's a lot of strategies to get people to do more survey taking. But to me, it's more about, hey, let's just look in the mirror as a system as a school because our teachers told us something, and our students told us something. And if we're not willing to make course corrections based on that, we have bigger problems, then you know, 22% on a parent survey or something. 

 

So academic personalism is part of the supportive environment, essential, right like that. We all think we have some sort of environment, we tried to build them, we want to build that. But when you dig into the actual 5E data, and below it, you see this academic personalism measure. That's part of the the supportive environment. I don't know them all, but I'm just going to tell you a couple of the ones here that from memory and I know this is what students say, okay, students will report that their teacher will help them if they're behind that their teacher will notice if they have trouble learning some thinking that their teacher will explain things in a different way. If I don't understand that, that's a child saying -- that's a student, I should say -- that's a student child's saying it. So if you get this data back and you're not seeing academic personalism, particularly strong or even neutral or something like that, that can make some change pretty quickly. That's compelling. You know, a teacher gets their hands on that, and they should that can change things overnight. 

 

So I think it's there. I think it's I think we have a lot of great tools available to us the attention on EJC stuff, but you know, we'll get into it if it drives more attention to 5E. But there's a lot right there in mind you too, that we can disaggregate this data that I'm talking about the 5E we can… you mentioned earlier about trying to disaggregate discipline data by race and not and having the ability to do it in a system. 5E does it right here. I click a button and I could see it by different racial categories and however it’s coded -- different grade levels, gender…  That’s powerful business right there.

 

Dusty Rhodes  16:05  

That was Dr. Victor Simon, superintendent of Gower school district 62. If you've enjoyed this podcast, please subscribe and share it with your colleagues and friends. Thanks for listening!

 transcription via otter.ai