The library room inside of Gordon Bush Elementary was filled with excitement and energy as educators in District 189 talked about the areas where they will be using School Improvement Grant money they will be receiving.
Gordon Bush will receive $4.8 million over a period of five years, as part of federal grant money to begin targeted programs focused on improving student performance and getting them ready for college.
Gordon Bush was chosen along with four other Illinois schools in Springfield, Chicago and Rockford to receive a total of $20.4 million.
Bush, who the school is named after, talked about his emotions over his school receiving the federal funds.
“It means a lot to everyone who’s touched by these funds... starting with the principal and down to the last student,” he said.
The grant money comes with rules and regulations which must be followed. “We have got to do things right. We have to do our evaluations and other things as required. In short, we have to produce and we will produce,” Bush said. “I know there are good students throughout the state, but being a little impartial, I feel we have the best students and we will meet our challenges.”
Arthur Culver, superintendent of District 189, talked about the opportunities the district now has.
“We have the opportunity to provide the resources the school and community need to enhance student achievement. We want to increase parental involvement, increase the school day by 30 minutes — to provide a 30-minute extension to each school day to focus on reading and math. We can focus more on technical instruction and professional development,” Culver said.
The Illinois State Board of Education announced recently the five recipients. Tony Smith, state superintendent of education, said, “SIG grants provide funding as well as invaluable support and resources to the state’s neediest schools with the goal of transforming their climate and culture.”
“This is essential to fostering continued academic growth and greater opportunities for all students,” Smith said.
All five recipients will receive grant money through 2020, pending reapplication and approval each year.
To receive money through the competitive grant process, each district had to submit a pan to implement one of six school intervention models that were approved by the Department of Education: Transformation, Turnaround, Restart, Early Learning-Transformation, Evidence-Based Whole School Reform or Rural Flexibility.
All of this year’s grantees have chosen to implement the transformation model, which includes replacing the principal and using a rigorous evaluation system that incorporates student growth and rewards teachers who are effective in improving student achievement.
Culver said, “The state indicated that since the inception of the grant (in 2007), East St. Louis schools have shown most improvement across the state. From the high school to Lincoln and Clark middle schools, we have moved up. We have not reached the top, but as far as state rankings, we have moved up double digits.”
He said the SIG grant money “will enable us to further equip our children with the academic foundation necessary for success in college, work and life.”
Culver also praised the work Bush does for the school and the students.
“It’s an honor and blessing to have the person who the school is named for still living. And, he is very involved in the school. He spends time here and annually he gives students here scholarships,” Culver said.
Bush said he and his wife, Brenda Bush, founded the East St. Louis Community Youth Foundation and each year they host fundraisers to provide $500 scholarships to students. It started with two students, a boy and girl. Now, it’s two boys and two girls. The money is given to the students when they head off to college, Bush said.
Lonzo Greenwood, president of the school board, said receiving the grant money “is a testimony to the hard work the superintendent and staff put in to receive this competitive grant. I look forward to expanded our resources. This grant money will enable us to do a lot more. We’re going to see a lot of great stuff happening with our students in the next couple of years. I am very excited.”
Trenese Steel, principal of Gordon Bush, said she is very excited to have the opportunity to focus on the things she knows will improve student academics.
“It’s so exciting. We are ready to go to work. The SIG grant money will enable us to do many things including increasing parental involvement, increasing academic development. We will focus on building capacity within our school to enhance our climate and culture,” Steel said.
There are 462 students in grades 1-5 at Gordon D. Bush, she said. The middle schools, Clark and Lincoln, also received SIG grants to the tune of $5.3 million over a three-year period.
Culver said the district’s SIG schools are making progress.
“This past week, we reviewed the state rankings for the Partnership for Assessment of Readiness for College and Careers (PARCC) test. Compared to 2014-15 Prairie State Achievement Exams (PSAE) rankings and the Illinois Interactive Report Card, our high school rank improved by 31, Clark by 53, and Lincoln by 52,” Culver said.
“Although the entire state performed poorly on PARRC on average,our SIG schools did a slightly better job preparing for the assessment. It is likely that the curriculum alignment work, the development of of common unit assessments, instructional coaching, leadership coaching, the PLC structure, and several other district and SIG initiatives have played a major role. We have a long ways to go, but it is certainly nice to know we are on the right track,” Culver said.
Carolyn P. Smith: 618-239-2503