Month: November 2016

Silicon Valley social entrepreneur to receive honorary NIU doctorate

Jim Fruchterman

Jim Fruchterman

NIU will confer an honorary doctorate degree this fall to James Fruchterman, who has devoted his career to bringing “Silicon Valley’s technology innovations to all of humanity, not just the richest 5 percent.”

The CEO and founder of Benetech will receive his distinction during the Graduate School commencement, scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday, Dec. 10, in the NIU Convocation Center.

A former rocket engineer who also founded two successful for-profit, high-tech companies, Fruchterman grew up in Arlington Heights, Ill.

He is also a MacArthur Fellow, recipient of the Skoll Award for Social Entrepreneurship and winner of the 2013 Migel Medal from the American Foundation for the Blind, the highest honor in the United States for service to the field of blindness.

“We are privileged to recognize Jim Fruchterman,” NIU President Doug Baker says. “He applies his skills in engineering and physics to discover, develop and deliver technology that helps people around the world to lead better and more-productive lives, and he has accomplished this in a selfless way.”

“Mr. Fruchterman is truly a model of innovation, social justice and interdisciplinary problem-solving,” adds Laurie Elish-Piper, dean of the NIU College of Education, which houses the Visual Disabilities Program. “What a wonderful model for our NIU students, faculty, staff and alumni to see that such a gifted individual has used his immense talents for the greater good.”

Called Arkenstone from 1989 to 2000, Benetech “combines the power of the human mind with a deep passion for social improvement, creating new technology applications that address unmet human needs.”

  • Global Literacy. People with visual and other disabilities have access to technology-based literacy solutions. Benetech also promotes systemic change to make its tools unnecessary in the future.
  • Human Rights. Benetech software, services and training keep human rights defenders safe. Its software also has become critically important in larger efforts to pursue reform, seek justice and begin the process of reconciliation.
  • Environment. Ecologists and conservationists are given tools to plan and manage their global efforts to protect natural resources.

braille-3Gaylen Kapperman, who led NIU’s Visual Disabilities Program for decades and nominated Fruchterman, is a grateful beneficiary of Fruchterman’s legacy.

“Jim established Benetech, a groundbreaking, nonprofit company, to provide the software which people who are blind could use to convert printed material into a form that they could read without the help of sighted individuals,” says Kapperman, now a Professor Emeritus in the Department of Special and Early Education.

Kapperman subscribes to Benetech’s Bookshare, which serves 425,000 members with an online library of more than 490,000 accessible books and periodicals – available free of charge for all U.S. students with qualified disabilities including blindness, vision impairment or another disability that interferes with reading, such as dyslexia.

“As a blind person,” Kapperman says, “I use that source of information on nearly a daily basis.”

Stacy Kelly, associate professor in NIU’s Visual Disabilities Program, calls Fruchterman’s honor “richly deserved.”

“Jim is a person whose efforts have resulted in the provision of social good on a large scale,” Kelly says. “This is an opportunity for NIU embrace the remarkable work of one of ‘our own’ Illinois natives.”



Educate U.S. program gears up for another January in Houston

Nicole Morales

Nicole Morales

If Nicole Morales ever dreamed of a job other than teaching, she doesn’t remember it.

“The materials have always come really easily to me. I’ve always done well in school,” says Morales, a senior Early Childhood Education major from Rockford.

“Even when I was growing up, there were classmates of mine who came to me for help – and I always found that I was able to show them the material in a way that the teacher wasn’t able to do,” she adds. “I could shine a light in a way that wasn’t there before.”

So when the opportunity arose to get her toes wet through Educate U.S. in the Houston Independent School District last January, Morales happily took the plunge.

“When I read about Educate U.S., I knew that I would get to see what it’s like being in a first-, second- or third-grade setting and the opportunity to get a feel of a primary classroom before I had to start my clinical observation,” she says. “Getting that experience before I had to do it for school was really good.”

NIU College of Education candidates in teacher licensure and athletic training have submitted applications for the trip in January, when more than 20 will get to take their turns in Houston.

All are eager for the donor-funded, all-expenses-paid experience to view, practice and live in an out-of-state school district that hires a significant number of new teachers every year.

educate-usMore than 215,000 children are enrolled at Houston’s 284 campuses, which are home to innovative programs that include dual language schools offering immersion in cultures and languages including Mandarin Chinese, Arabic and French.

Participating pre-service teachers live in the homes of HISD administrators, gaining a unique perspective of the business side of schools.

Jeff L. McCanna, the school district’s human capital officer who visited NIU in October to recruit for the program, places a great value on NIU’s pre-service teachers.

“The opportunities students are given through the NIU College of Education really prepare them to go to large, urban school districts and to be change agents and difference makers,” he says. “Many students here at NIU are the first generation in their families to go to college – and are committed as teachers to give other kids those same opportunities.”

Although Educate U.S. is only one week – the 2017 edition takes place from Sunday, Jan. 8, through Saturday, Jan. 14 – McCanna believes that pre-service teachers who participate always grow considerably in their professional skills.

Nicole Morales and Jeff L. McCanna

Nicole Morales and Jeff L. McCanna

“Educate U.S. gives them an experience that’s really entrenched at a campus for a week in a co-teaching environment. They’re really learning theory, and they start taking that theory and putting the art into the science,” McCanna says.

“They’re differentiating their instruction when they’re working with the kids. They really get to know their kids. They’re designing lessons to meet the kids where they’re at and getting them to where they need to be,” he adds. “That week will wear you out. You’re mom, dad, coach, cheerleader and counselor.”

By Friday, he says, there are plenty of hugs, tears, goodbyes and unexpected takeaways.

“Many find a true passion for working with underserved populations. We’re an urban environment, and if they like Houston, they can get jobs here and develop the skill sets to be successful,” he says. “But they’re going to be able to go anywhere and be good with what they learn here.”

Morales, who stayed with McCanna’s family last January, would agree.

Once she put her nerves aside to teach language arts to third-graders, she picked up ideas for different instructional strategies and a “vast repertoire of multiple activities you can use to teach a skill because not every students is going to get it one way.”

“I learned not to be afraid,” Morales says. “My cooperating teacher had me watch the first day, but from the second day forward, she threw me right into the curriculum. I did a lot of the read-alouds in front of the kids. I definitely got more of a sense for what a third-grader is able to do in terms of reading and writing, and I’m feeling more capable.”

As she confidently prepares for a spring semester of student-teaching in her hometown Rockford Public Schools, she heartily endorses the Educate U.S. experience.

hisd-logo“It is a chance to maybe work with a group of students at an age level or setting that you might not get to do back home, and I still stay in touch with my cooperating teacher. If I ever have questions, I feel that she’s one of the people I can go to,” Morales says.

Working in the children in Houston was a “privilege,” she adds, telling of sweet farewell cards they presented her on her final day there.

“You feel like you really got to know the kids well in that week, and you want to know them more,” she says.

“It definitely makes you feel like you did well,” she adds. “If a student can recall an experience you shared with them, a new skill you helped them to understand or a read-aloud you gave, you really feel like you made a difference – and you know what you’re doing is working.”



Z Nicolazzo: Schools need more than just policies on bullying

Z Nicolazzo

Z Nicolazzo

For K-12 educators who attended NIU’s Oct. 26 professional development conference on “Bullying: How Schools Can Respond,” a quotation presented by keynote speakers Z Nicolazzo and Molly Holmes painted a difficult picture.

“The dominant narrative (of LGBTQ bullying) depends on an inaccurate premise,” Nicolazzo said, reading from a 2013 study by researchers Elizabethe Payne and Melissa Smith.

“It assumes schools to be neutral sites where all students have an equal opportunity to succeed and that barriers to success appear when individuals’ injurious behavior or attitudes create a ‘negative’ school climate where student safety and belonging are threatened.”

What’s more, the presenters said, the increasing visibility of trans* people in the United States is matched by a growing vulnerability, risk of harm and threat of harassment.

LGBTQ students are experiencing educational environments that are less than ideal. They continue to face a lack of acceptance. Their lives are not reflected or affirmed through school curricula – and they are aware of that deficit.

One recent study found that 22 percent of students reported hearing negative remarks about gender expression from other students often or very often; 25.5 percent of students heard school staff make negative remarks related to gender expression.

“School officials condone this cruel dynamic through inaction,” according to the 2001 “Hatred in the Hallways” report from the Human Rights Watch, “or in some cases because they, too, judge gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender youth to be underserving of respect.”

ask-my-pronounsDespite all this, said Nicolazzo, who uses the pronouns of ze and hir, America’s “gender expansive youth are resilient. They continue to live they lives they want to.”

For example, ze said, the number of people younger than 18 who are identifying as gender-expansive is three to six times greater than the number of adults doing so. Meanwhile, gender-expansive youth are connecting online for kinship as well as exploration of gendered possibilities.

Encouragement is also available in the “trickle up” philosophy: If schools focus on their most vulnerable populations, the positive effects should “trickle up” and potentially impact all students.

Co-sponsored by the College of Education Office of External & Global Programs, the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences External Programming and the University Center of Lake County, the conference covered a variety of topics on bullying.

Nicolazzo, an assistant professor in the Department of Counseling, Adult and Higher Education, and Holmes, director of NIU’s Gender and Sexuality Resource Center, spoke on “Expanding Our Approach to Gender-Based Bullying.”

Among their key messages was the necessity of “enumerated” non-discrimination policies at schools – policies that outline not only the rules of conduct and the penalties for violating them but also statements of values.

Molly Holmes

Molly Holmes

Students who attend schools with enumerated non-discrimination policies report that they hear fewer homophobic and racist remarks than those in schools with no – or generic – policies. They also are less likely to perceive bullying as a problem at their schools or to feel unsafe.

But Nicolazzo and Holmes made clear that schools that are striving to create effective places for learning must update their policies at least every two years and actively enforce them.

Otherwise, Nicolazzo said, the policies are merely “caution tape.” They tell people what not to do, ze said, but they don’t really stop people from doing what they purport to prohibit.

“Pinkwashing” creates another problem, ze added, when schools and other organizations market policies of gender-inclusiveness but fail to carry them out.

The duo provided several other critical ideas for conference participants to ponder.

  • Educators must be diligent in the ongoing work of unlearning gender, specifically the how gender binary discourse structures school environments.
  • Educators need to remember LGBTQ students have agency to name their own lives, experiences and identities.
  • Educators need to seek and amplify counter-stories to LGBTQ deficit-based rhetoric and illogic.
  • Educators should infuse notions of gender throughout their curriculum.

“If we stop at having a policy,” Nicolazzo said, “we aren’t going to change.”



NIU offers first program to meet new guidelines for school superintendents in Illinois

illinoisRequirements have changed for educators who want to become school superintendents in Illinois – and NIU is the first university in the state to change with them.

Passage of Public Act 98-413 by the Illinois General Assembly updated the Illinois School Code and authorized the State Superintendent of Education, in consultation with the State Educator Preparation and Licensure Board, to develop standards for the preparation of school superintendents.

These changes have been fully implemented with the goal of ensuring the “people getting the new superintendent endorsement will have the skillset they need to be successful,” said Benjamin Creed, an assistant professor in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations.

Guidelines set by the ISBE now require three semesters of internships conducted at one or more public school districts “to enable the candidate to be exposed to and to participate in a variety of educational leadership situations” with “diverse economic and cultural conditions.”

Internships must include engagement in leadership activities at all levels from preschool through 12th grade; active participation in the hiring, supervision and evaluation of staff; and active collaboration in management, operations and decision-making.

Coursework must cover state and federal laws regarding schools, use of technology for effective teaching and learning, research-based interventions for students at risk of academic failure, bullying and the legal process for evaluating licensed staff.

All colleges and universities involved in superintendent preparation will have to redesign their program to align with the new standards.

“No new cohort can be under the old standards,” Creed said. “NIU was the first to present our new curriculum. We were the first to be accepted. We are the first to have a degree in place.”

Benjamin Creed

Benjamin Creed

Twenty-three students are enrolled the cohort Creed leads at NIU-Naperville. A second cohort will begin next fall.

“I’m surprised by the breadth of the people in the program,” Creed said. “We have K-12 principals, an English Language Learners coordinator, an early education coordinator, a school business manager, a director of research and accountability, an associate superintendent and an interim superintendent.”

All share a common trait.

“They see what they can do for a school, a program or a group of students, and they want to take that next step,” he said.

“A lot of it is that they’ve had a really good mentor. They might have seen how a good superintendent can positively impact a district and want to do the same. Or they see what’s going on and think they can do a better job,” he added. “For some, if they’ve had success in their current role, they ask the question: ‘What’s next?’ ”

NIU’s program spans two full years, including two courses each semester for six semesters (fall, spring and summer). Lessons include organizational theory, leadership theory, school finance and facilities management and current trends in educational research.

During the internship semesters, students will work with their cooperating superintendents on projects such as school finance and budgeting, multi-tiered systems of academic support and data analysis.

In one of their classes on the superintendency, students must attend and observe school board meetings in two other districts and, Creed said, “think about how different relationships affect policy.”

“The structure of our program is good,” Creed said. “We focus on relevancy – not just theory but how it applies to their work.”

Brad Hawk

Brad Hawk

NIU has a tradition of being the top program in the area, he said, a reputation that attracts high-quality students.

Among the NIU faculty is Brad Hawk, a clinical assistant professor of Educational Administration with a long career as an executive in P-12 public schools.

Hawk is currently serving as interim superintendent of DeKalb Community Unit School District 428, a position that keeps him current in school policy and able to teach his NIU students from that real-world position.

“We’ve got a good diversity of staff, and we have strong and rigorous courses that are thoughtfully designed to help students learn as they pass the various requirements,” Creed said.

“We also have a good diversity of students and district contexts – urban, rural, growing, shrinking,” he added. “We focus on learning from each other and pulling from the resources the students bring.”

Feedback so far has been positive.

“The students enjoy the fact that there’s room to learn from each other,” he said, “and, by seeing each other over the next two years, they’re developing strong networks.”



Professor, grad student develop online training to help teachers make data-driven decisions

Todd Reeves

Todd Reeves

NIU has created an online training to help K-12 teachers to make data-informed decisions that will improve learning in their classrooms.

Todd Reeves, an assistant professor in the Department of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment (ETRA), and ETRA doctoral candidate Jui-Ling (Raye) Chiang, developed the “D5x4: Data in Five by Four” training.

More than 200 in-service teachers and pre-service teachers currently are participating in the 10-hour training, which presents participants with numerous data sets to review and dissect in search of how those numbers may inform instruction.

Five refers to the number of student levels at which training participants work with data: individual; subgroup; classroom; grade; and school. Four represents the types of questions explored by participants during the training: location/identification; strengths and weaknesses; status and growth; and instruction.

“5×4” is also an allusion to the aeronautics expression meaning “loud and clear.”

“We’re grateful for the opportunity to reach out from NIU to the community and serve current and future educators in this way,” Reeves says. “Today’s teachers are inundated with data, and their capacity to use data productively is a salient but complex skillset.”

The training is also the focus of a series of experimental research studies, Reeves says.

Jui-Ling (Raye) Chiang

Jui-Ling (Raye) Chiang

“Our ultimate goal is to study the impact of the training on teachers’ actual classroom practices and their students’ learning,” he says. “But it’s important to first verify that the training is having an impact on more proximal outcomes, such as the teachers’ knowledge, skills and self-efficacy.”

Chiang, who’s currently teaching an undergraduate course at NIU, says she looks at data “every day.”

“Data tells me, ‘This is how I need to change my instruction,’ or ‘This is when I need to call in an individual student for an assessment or intervention, or to look at resources at NIU to help students improve their performance,’ ” Chiang says. “Data impacts me in my teaching, and if other teachers can look at their data in this way, they might do different things.”

Participants in the asynchronous “D5x4” training are required to engage in online discussions with others and both Reeves and Chiang; they also are encouraged to pose data-related questions from their own classrooms to gather ideas and advice. The training incorporates a mechanism by which feedback is automatically provided to participants as well.

Although trainees can move through the material at their own pace, each of several modules must be completed within a set time frame. They also will find the tasks growing in difficulty as they progress; for example, Reeves says it is generally easier to locate and interpret a data point than to select a suitable instructional method based on data.

mouse-2Participating in the “D5x4” training should benefit every teacher, Chiang adds.

“We’ve got a pretty good framework. We feel this is a very solid way to train teachers,” she says. “Everything is lined up systematically, and the knowledge is transferable.”

Reeves and Chiang eventually will make their own data-informed decisions. Their next step is to analyze the results of their study of the current D5x4 training, before tweaking its design and carrying out further studies of its impact.

“Going forward, our goal is to offer this to as many educators as possible,” says Reeves, adding that he and Chiang also plan to write a paper and deliver several presentations regarding “D5x4.”

Their work has enjoyed financial support from an NIU College of Education Dean’s Grant for Partnerships. Kappa Delta Pi, the prestigious international education honor society, also graciously assisted with recruitment for the training.