October Voice 2020

Page 6


THEVOICE • rockfordchamber.com

October 2020

Chicago-Rockford Passenger Rail moving into next phase State Senator Steve Stadelman announced that the Illinois Department of Transportation has reached an agreement to hire a project manager to establish passenger rail between Rockford and Chicago. WSP USA assumes responsibility for managing the project overall with the ability to

hire other companies as subcontractors to complete the work. Preliminary engineering and environmental analysis are among the next steps before final design and construction. IDOT will negotiate construction and maintenance agreements with Union Pacific and Metra.

DR. EHREN JARRETT Superintendent RPS 205

Using resources for the things that matter

We’re developing a discipline of analysis in the Rockford Public Schools that should be familiar to business people. It’s called Academic Return on Investment (A-ROI). Traditional return on investment measures the financial return for a business. However, in K-12 education, success is not defined by making money. While a traditional return on investment measures successful use of financial resources, academic return on investment measures improved student achievement.

We chose this initiative for deep analysis because little

And, of course, it involves studying achievement data, because student growth is our ultimate goal. If you get the idea these studies are complex, you are right. We could have abandoned A-ROI for now. We had an atypical year in 2019-20 because of the tech outage and the pandemic, and the pandemic continues. However, given what is at stake, we decided to forge ahead with a sense of urgency.

Deep Dive into Freshman Academies We are farthest along in our A-ROI

that we do is more important study of the Freshman Academies than getting students to the at our high schools. We chose this gate of graduation.

initiative for deep analysis because little that we do is more important than getting students to the gate of

At its core, A-ROI is about developing capacity: using data to analyze which programs and services bring the best outcomes for students with the best use of resources. In other words: What does the most good for whom? At the end of a study, you might say: “This is so good, let’s do more of it.” Or, “This is working for some students but not for others. So let’s target it.” Or, “This isn’t working the way we intended. So let’s stop it altogether.” In any school district budget, but especially in our $450 million-plus budget, there are literally 1,000s of line items. If you highlight everything, you highlight nothing. The whole point of A-ROI is to focus on what matters most. As a result, we have spent much of the last year learning about, and being trained in, the A-ROI way of thinking. We were led by the District Management Group, a national leader in this approach. Our school building leaders have gained skills in strategic budgeting. Our Superintendent’s Cabinet has joined with the School Board to choose the programs and positions worthy of the highest level of A-ROI analysis. Studies like these involve a lot of collaboration and data collection. It’s not just about figuring numbers of students affected, but their key characteristics and demographics. It’s not just about figuring costs but fully loaded costs, including staff hours, benefits and all funding sources.

graduation. National research shows – and our local experience bears out – that support during the freshman year is critical to whether a student gets a diploma or drops out. The




designed, is meant to engage students and provide a solid foundation for their next three years. It’s designed to flow seamlessly into our other college and career academies, which students enter in their sophomore year of high school. Is it working that way? That’s what we will find out. For our A-ROI team, it was a busy summer of planning and designing. Now, we’re poised to collect the data, evaluate and – eventually – take action. We’re excited to see where this study, and the ones that come after it, take us. Like all organizations, we have limited time and limited resources. We want to spend those resources on initiatives that matter. We want to recognize not only our stewardship of public dollars but our solemn responsibility to provide the most effective and equitable education for all students. Dr. Ehren Jarrett is superintendent of Rockford Public Schools. The views expressed are those of Dr. Jarrett’s and do not necessarily represent those of the Rockford Chamber of Commerce.