'New View,' New Ideas for Valley View
Supt. James Mitchem holds second of two community forums Thursday; series of Q&A sessions scheduled for September.
To some, the ideas might seem revolutionary.
Grading students based not on what they do but on what they can prove they know. Not allowing kids to fail by making sure they retake tests — again and again, if necessary — until they show that they’ve mastered the material.
Expecting more from students by eliminating lower-level classes to let them know that they are capable of academic excellence.
Those are just some of the ideas shared by new Valley View School District Supt. James Mitchem this week at two community forums held to give parents a better look at what he calls his “New View” for the district.
Mitchem was host for “The New View: A Design for Change” twice, first on Monday at the Romeoville Recreation Center, then on Thursday at the Sara and Joseph Levy Center in Bolingbrook.
Like the first event, Thursday’s forum drew hundreds of parents, teachers and community members, all eager to hear how Mitchem plans to address issues from the achievement gap — the difference in academic performance for white students as opposed to minority pupils — to low scores on state tests and on-campus violence.
“I’m not a real big believer in the American education system,” he told the crowd gathered at the Levy Center. But, he said, with the help of the entire community and a willingness to make big changes, he believes the system can change for the better.
Mitchem’s goals aren’t modest. He pledged that local schools will show an improvement within three years.
"My aim is for Valley View to be one of the finest school districts in the state," Mitchem said.
He also took questions from Valley View stakeholders — from parents to students to local teachers — in an open-mic session. Here are a few of the questions posed to the new superintendent.
Where’s the challenge?
A mother expressed concern about the level of rigor posed by so-called honors classes, saying her son has been enrolled in challenging classes since second grade. “I’m not overly impressed with the education he’s getting,” the woman told Mitchem.
Mitchem didn’t disagree. “One of the problems is that we’re really only challenging [students] the first year” of honors classes, he said. After that, Mitchem said, honors students learn pretty much what the rest of their classmates do. “They’re just learning it earlier,” he said.
That will change with increasingly rigorous material being presented in the years to come, he said.
“By definition, the challenge program will become much more rigorous,” Mitchem said, but noting it won’t happen overnight, and it could take several years for curriculum changes to be completed.
Another mom wanted to know what’s being done about fights at the district’s two high schools.
Mitchem acknowledged it’s a problem, but said the number of fights has dropped at the Bolingbrook campus since he became principal in 2005. The number of security guards and deans has increased, along with police presence, at the school.
“The kids who fight, again, are kids who are disenfranchised,” he said. “… We need to start ensuring our kids have enough self-esteem at an earlier age to know they don’t have to engage in that type of behavior.”
The key, he said, is getting at the cause of the problem behavior. To do that, Mitchem plans to implement a therapeutic discipline system, rather than a punitive system that simply punishes students for acting out.
That has already begun at BHS, where staff members have initiated the alternative to suspension program, which gives kids and parents a choice between an out-of-school suspension, and adhering to a set of conditions to keep students in the classroom.
Most parents, given the choice between their child being at home learning nothing or being in school, will choose the in-school option, according to Mitchem.
The program has a therapeutic component that addresses the cause of behavior issues, Mtichem said.
“I want to get to the root of why that kid is engaging in that behavior,” he said, adding that 75 percent of BHS students who have participated in the program have not repeated their offenses.
Another parent had a question about the new policy that aims to prevent students from failing by requiring pupils to retake tests until they have mastered the material.
The mother told Mitchem that, in the past, her son, who has attention deficit disorder, has been allowed to take tests home and fill in the correct answers. She wondered if the new retake policy will be different.
“It’s pretty apparent he hasn’t learned the material,” the woman said, but noted her son still got Bs in his courses.
Mitchem said that won’t be the case with the new policy.
“Retaking is not saying to a kid, ‘Go home and correct your answers,’” he assured her. “That should not happen.”
Ask the superintendent
The community forums won’t be the only time Valley View stakeholders will get the chance to question Mitchem. The new superintendent, who took the reins from retiring Supt. Phillip Schoffstall on July 1, has promised to hold six more question and answer sessions this fall.
Mitchem said he won’t offer a presentation at the sessions, instead dedicating the events solely to fielding questions from parents, students and community members. The events are scheduled as follows:
- Pioneer,1470 Raven Drive, Bolingbrook: 6 to 8 p.m., Sept. 13
- R.C. Hill,616 Dalhart, Romeoville: 6 to 8 p.m., Sept. 15
- Lukancic, 725 Normantown, Romeoville: 6 to 8 p.m., Sept. 20
- Humphrey, 777 Falconridge, Bolingbrook: 6 to 8 p.m., Sept. 22
- Bolingbrook, 365 Raider Way: 6 to 9 p.m., Sept. 27
- Romeoville, 100 N. Independence Boulevard: 6 to 9 p.m., Sept. 29.
Spanish language interpreters will be available for to assist community members in asking questions. If you need a sign language interpreter, contact Community Relations Director Larry Randa at 815-886-2700, ext. 261.
For more on Mitchem’s presentation and plans for the district, click here to read Bolingbrook Patch Editor Brian Feldt’s recap of the Aug. 1 forum.