Sycamore Middle School teacher Chris Horan showed off his “Architecture and Construction” class, where students work with 3-D software to create their own designs.
He said the students really like working with their hands. In his class and other Science, Technology, Engineering and Math classes, the students must learn to problem solve.
“We’re trying to combine a lot of technology components with shop components,” Horan said about the class, which uses a 3-D printer and a laser engraver.
Sycamore Middle School Principal Jim Cleven said the school’s STEM labs help keep its students engaged.
Student engagement not only keeps students coming to school. It makes them want to learn, Cleven said.
“They really like the hands-on learning,” Horan said. “It’s a different learning style. It’s problem-based learning.”
That hands-on engagement seems to be working. In the latest Illinois State Board of Education school report cards, Sycamore Middle School improved, going from “underperforming” last year to “commendable” this year.
With that increase, all of Sycamore School District 427’s schools are now ranked commendable.
The grades schools can receive range from “exemplary” – the highest grade a school can receive – to “lowest performing.”
Two schools in DeKalb County – Indian Creek Elementary School in Shabbona and Somonauk Middle School in Somonauk – received an exemplary grade. No area schools received a “lowest performing,” grade, which is the lowest the state can give.
DeKalb schools also saw an improvement, according to the Illinois State Board of Education scores. In 2019, seven of the district’s 11 schools earned a commendable grade. The other four schools – Huntley and Clinton Rosette middle schools, Tyler and Gwendolyn Brooks Elementary schools – received an underperforming grade because of sub-groups. Last year, five schools were rated as underperforming.
Jamie Craven, superintendent for DeKalb School District 428, expressed optimism about the better rating for the schools.
Craven said that the district’s teachers and administrators were committed to improving the schools. He said that the school focused on improving the performance of the sub-groups that didn’t make the state’s grade – children with disabilities or those with Individualized Education Programs – at Huntley and Clinton Rosette middle schools, as well as black students at both Tyler and Gwendolyn Brooks elementary schools, which had previously not met the state’s standard.
The four schools in the Genoa-Kingston School District 424 received commendable ratings, just as they did in 2018. Brent O’Daniell, Genoa-Kingston’s superintendent, is happy about the consistency.
“Two years in a row. We’re excited about that,” O’Daniell said.
He said that while the school district’s staff members are pleased about its current state standing, it does have some areas it needs to look at that came from the state’s results.
“Our growth in testing in English Language Arts outperformed state average, but our growth in math did not,” O’Daniell said. “We saw at the district level math is something we need to improve.”
He said the high school’s SAT performance is below state average, too, although every other level of testing is at or above state average, including the Illinois Assessment of Readiness test, which replaced the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers test for third through 11th grades.
O’Daniell said the school district’s staff is why Genoa-Kingston performed well in the state’s eyes.
“In all honesty, we have a tremendous staff,” O’Daniell said. “The teachers work hard and they really care about our kids.”