This year marks an important anniversary for our nation: 150 years since the end of the Civil War and untimely death of Abraham Lincoln, the president who led us through that historic period. Regional superintendents of schools also look to 1865 as the start of a long legacy of serving Illinois schools, a job that is as important today as it was in Lincoln’s time.
The office of county superintendent of schools was created by the legislature in 1865 to serve four-year terms and every officeholder was required to visit each county school every year. From the beginnning, these offices have served as the administrative backbone for our school system.
Over the decades, our makeup, roles and duties have changed dramatically. At the outset, county superintendents served as official advisers and assistants for school districts and as agents of the state superintendent of schools. We were there in the 1950s for the difficult decisions around massive consolidations of school districts. From the 1970s to the mid-1990s, county superintendent numbers reduced from 102 to 45 regional superintendents in charge of Regional Offices of Education (ROEs) around the state. In 2010, Cook County’s ROE reorganized into three Intermediate Service Centers performing the same duties as ROEs.
Today, we are going through more change. By July 1, there will be 35 ROEs instead of 44, yet our work demands will not decrease.
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We will do more with less, and we will provide schools the high-quality service they have come to expect through our commitment to three tenets: safety, support and success. We keep schoolchildren safe by training and testing bus drivers and inspecting school buildings. We support educators through top-notch professional development and by ensuring schools are meeting state and federal guidelines. We help so many students succeed through our high school equivalency degree and regional safe school programs. We are doing this while taking the lead in reducing costs and promoting a shared service model for school districts.
The challenges facing Illinois education are tremendous. While regional superintendents of schools appreciate Gov. Bruce Rauner’s plans to provide more state aid to schools, he has proposed cutting several programs that are vital to schools’ and students’ success. The safe schools program we oversee is a great example.
The Regional Safe School Program was created nearly 20 years ago to provide a safety net of alternative education for students removed from classes for disruptions. More than 4,000 students around the state in approximately 80 RSSP program sites get another chance to earn an education in a supportive, individualized learning environment. So many students use their new opportunity to improve behavior, attend class more regularly, complete their coursework and either return to their home school to graduate or receive their GED here. The counseling and life-skills training they receive in the safe schools turns around their lives for the better.
Where will these students go without a safe school alternative? What will administrators and teachers do when behavior problems disrupt classes and create dangerous situations? We need to work with the governor and legislators this spring to keep safe schools in place for all students to succeed.
As we join with other school administration organizations to support the Vision 20/20 push for a brighter future for Illinois schools from the inside, regional superintendents of schools are an important part of the solution for the problems that must be addressed now. At 150, we are energized and prepared for the work ahead.