Category: LEPF

Unlocking potential: LEPF will honor donor Marguerite F. Key with launch of fellows program

Carolyn Pluim and Alan Clemens

Carolyn Pluim and Alan Clemens

When Alan Clemens attended a recent annual conference of the National College Access Network, which works to open the doors of higher education to underserved populations of students, he noticed something missing.

Representatives from colleges and universities were few.

“Higher education was heavily underrepresented,” says Clemens, an instructor in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations (LEPF).

“Some sessions were designed specifically to speak to college retention, but those were more sparsely attended,” he adds. “The primary emphasis being put particularly on college access for these populations was at the high school level.”

At the same time, Carolyn Pluim, acting chair of LEPF, was soliciting ideas from her faculty about the possible creation of a fellowship program.

Dollars were available from the Marguerite F. Key Expendable Fund for the College of Education, but Pluim needed a purpose – a focus – for those who would participate in an annual institute in DeKalb.

“Our department has been blessed by Marguerite’s generosity for a few years now,” Clemens says, “and while the funds were being used effectively to enhance various student programs in the department, Carolyn was looking for something more substantial, something that honored the scope of Marguerite’s commitment.”

Marguerite F. Key

Marguerite F. Key

Clemens proposed a program that would bring together high school principals from across NIU’s service region to share their innovative ideas and best practices for not only shepherding underserved students into college but also preparing them for success there.

Pluim loved the concept.

“The Marguerite F. Key Fellows Program is a project in line with the vision and passion Marguerite has for supporting the preparation of future educational leaders,” Pluim says. “The program will recognize the great work Illinois principals are doing, and provide them with specialized professional development and growth opportunities.”

Nominations will open July 1 for the first class of fellows, who will meet in June of 2018 for a series of workshops and dialogues.

“What we’re hoping to find is real evidence of innovation, energy and ingenuity that’s being brought to the table in service of this very poignant need, and to put additional focus on this innovation, to increase opportunities for students to successfully achieve their college dreams,” Clemens says.

“There is research that shows – and I personally believe this – that those students across the country who, at this moment are facing the most significant obstacles to college access and college success, are the country’s largest source of growth potential,” he adds. “I can’t see any more noble purpose, or more potentially powerful purpose for the future of our country, than empowering these underserved voices.”

A seven-member advisory committee will guide the ongoing framework and rationale of the program as well as the selection, and work, of the fellows.

The advisory committee will consist of representatives of the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations, local school districts and the NIU Center for P-20 Engagement.

Fellows need only serve one year, Clemens says, but are always welcome to stay involved.

key-puzzleUndergraduate and graduate students with an interest in college attainment and success, public educational policy or other related issues also can participate, possibly obtaining independent study or internship credit for administration of the program or assistance with the institute.

Students who seize those opportunities will witness a sharing of expertise – the wisdom and work of leading principals in the region – along with the possible births of partnerships or design of grant proposals.

It’s something Clemens says matches current thinking on campus – “President Baker has always been very interested in examining the factors that contribute to student success throughout their P-20 educational experience,” he says – as well as the values of Marguerite F. Key.

Key graduated from Northern Illinois State Teachers College in 1944 with a major in biology and a minor in music. She taught one year, and then earned her master’s degree at the University of Michigan’s School of Public Health.

During most of the next year, she worked in the Illinois Department of Public Health in Springfield as a health educator. When the Kellogg Foundation funded a program in Illinois to place a health educator on the staff of each state college, Key came to Northern.

arlington-public-schoolsAfter she married four years later and moved to Washington, D.C., where her husband worked with the National Education Association, she began a 40-year career in the Arlington Public Schools as director of guidance in a middle school.

In 1995, after the death of her husband, she returned to DeKalb, where she continues to live.

She was on the original committee to place a one-room school on campus, served for 12 years on the Development Committee of the College of Education and has been able to assist 10 non-traditional women in the college in obtaining scholarships through the Philanthropic Educational Organization.



Community Learning Series: Five ways to make sure kids grow through their love of tech

Parents can’t help but worry.

Phones, tablets and apps galore are competing for the undivided attention of their children and teens – and chances probably seem good to many moms and dads that the technology is winning.

So what can we do to make sure that our kids are getting the most out of their Internet-connected gadgets? Is there a way to promote their educational potential while mitigating the negative consequences?

Five experts convened March 23 by the NIU College of Education to explore “The Digital Lives of Children: Giving Screen Time a Closer Look” offered opinions and strategies that can help parents make sense of it all.

  • Remember that quality of content and user experience matter. All devices are potential tools for learning through their rapid feedback and just-in-time information. Developers of instructional technology consciously design software to deliver active learning that follows educational best practices. Ask yourself: Is this device or app helping my child to learn about the world – and to make sense of it? Is it making a stronger impact than a textbook? Searching the Internet for information can turn users into critical consumers who spend their learning time deliberating what this information means rather than digging for it.
  • Set rules. The American Academy of Pediatrics in October 2016 issued new recommendations for screen time, including zero hours a day for children from birth to age 2 and no more than one hour a day for preschoolers. For school-age children – kindergarten through high school – establish screen-free places, especially bedrooms, and screen-free times, such as family dinner and one hour before bedtime. Parents also must realize that their own digital lives influence those of their children; if they’re watching you, turn off the tablet or put down the phone.
  • Keep a close eye on your child’s digital life. Remind your kids that part of the agreement of supplying them with tech is that you are free to monitor their devices, scroll through their screens and ask questions. Make sure you understand the functions of their favorite apps. If they’re on Snapchat, you should join Snapchat. If you aren’t familiar with their apps, yet you choose not to intervene, consider that akin to allowing them to spend the night at the home a friend whose parents you’ve never met. Network with other parents to stay informed.
  • Encourage active programs. The hugely popular Minecraft – “Legos with no parameters,” said panelist Jennifer McCormick, a fourth-grade teacher at West Elementary School in Sycamore Community School District 427 – requires users to think creatively and to interact. Many videos on YouTube are instructional, harnessing the medium of “modeling” to teach viewers to cook, knit, braid hair or thousands of other things in a way that’s far more effective than words on a page. Even video games require players to remain actively engaged by plotting strategies and making and executing decisions. Many video games also spool out instructions as the games progress, something that forces constant attention – unlike presenting all the rules before the game starts and likely causing players to ignore them.
  • Pay close attention for “red flags” of digital addiction. Are their devices getting in the way of their normal activities? Are they choosing their phones over other alternatives for human interaction or physical activity? Are they ignoring you? Do they put up a fight when asked to turn off, or turn over, the tech? Are their grades suffering? Is their use of technology a way to self-medicate for depression?
Panelists, from left: Jennifer McCormick, John Burkey, Jason Underwood, Susan Goldman and Danielle Baran.

Panelists, from left: Jennifer McCormick, John Burkey, Jason Underwood,
Susan Goldman and Danielle Baran.

 

For parents who fear it’s already too late, panelist Danielle Baran, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Park Ridge, has advice: Ask yourself how you got to this place. For example, if your children need screens to calm down, did you instill that behavior?

Baran also agreed with fellow panelist Susan Goldman, Ph.D., distinguished professor of psychology and education at the University of Illinois at Chicago: Human interaction – human emotional connection – is key.

“No technology you can invent has more buttons than you,” Baran said. “You are limitless.”

Other members of the NIU College of Education’s Community Learning Series panel were John Burkey, superintendent of Huntley Community School District 158, and Jason Underwood, senior instructional designer at assistant director of the NIU eLearning and Digital Convergence Lab.



Digital dilemma: CLS panel to examine children’s ‘screen time’

cellphone-girlDo you think your children spend too much time glued to digital devices? Are you worried that they’re more connected with their phones, tablets and TVs than with their families and friends?

You’re not alone.

Children ages 8 and younger engage with their screens an average of six hours each day, according to a recent study.

For some school-age children, that connection could improve academic achievement, especially language skills and literacy. Others, however, might experience losses in those areas along with higher rates of obesity and depression.

How can educators, parents, guardians and professionals promote the educational promises of screen time while also mitigating the negative consequences?

The NIU College of Education’s spring Community Learning Series will examine this question from all sides Thursday, March 23, with “The Digital Lives of Children: Giving Screen Time a Closer Look.”

Moderated by Dan Klefstad, host of Northern Public Radio’s popular news program Morning Edition, the panel discussion will take place from 6 to 7:30 p.m. in Barsema Alumni and Visitors Center, 231 N. Annie Glidden Road.

Top: Carolyn Pluim (Vander Schee) and Ben Creed. Bottom: Lindsay Harris and Amy Stich

Top: Carolyn Pluim (Vander Schee) and Ben Creed
Bottom: Lindsay Harris and Amy Stich

WNIJ-89.5 FM is the media sponsor of the event, which is free and open to the public. A networking reception is scheduled from 5 to 6 p.m.

Carolyn Pluim (Vander Schee), chair of the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations, organized the event with faculty members Benjamin Creed, Lindsay Harris and Amy Stich.

“Where does research stand on these questions? To what extent is research considered by technology developers and educational policymakers? How have parents and educators dealt with increased screen time in homes and schools?” Pluim said.

“Our panel will explore these questions through dialogue between the evidence-based opinions of experts in the fields of psychology and educational technology,” she added, “along with the experiences of professional educators and the experiences and perspectives of the audience.”

Panelists will address what current research says about the relationship between screen time and cognitive and emotional development; academic engagement and achievement; literacy, language and communication skills; and physical health.

They also will provide strategies for parents, Pluim said.

Members of the panel:

  • Danielle Baran, a clinical psychologist at Advocate Children’s Hospital
  • John Burkey, superintendent, Huntley Community School District 158
  • Susan Goldman, Distinguished Professor of psychology and education, University of Illinois at Chicago
  • Thomas Kim, principal, Huntley Middle School, DeKalb Community Unit School District 428
  • Jennifer McCormick, fourth-grade teacher, West Elementary, Sycamore Community School District 427
  • Jason Underwood, assistant director, NIU Outreach eLearning

wnij-logoThe NIU College of Education’s Community Learning Series brings together experts from various disciplines and occupations to discuss topics that have included public school leadership, innovative classroom teaching, gender, civil rights, concussions, athletic training and more.



Ed.D. in Ed Administration receives new name, focus

il-school-codeFollowing the Illinois General Assembly’s update of the Illinois School Code standards for new school superintendents, the NIU Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations accordingly redesigned its programs.

That work has resulted in untangling the Ed.S. – an educational specialist degree that leads to the superintendent endorsement – and the Ed.D., a non-licensure degree.

During this process, the degree was redesigned and renamed as the Ed.D. in Leadership and Policy Studies, a name that underscores the dual strands available in educational leadership or policy studies.

“We felt it good to change the name to be more reflective of the content and the expertise of the faculty who will now teach in the program,” said Carolyn Pluim (Vander Schee), chair of the department. “Faculty in the Educational Foundations and Policy Studies program will now be more involved in teaching and mentoring students, a change which will only augment the diversity of learning experiences available to students.”

Students pursuing only the superintendent endorsement complete the 30-hour Ed.S. and can then finish with both a degree and endorsement. Students who wish to continue on to complete the doctorate can apply to the new Ed.D. program with the 30 earned credits from NIU’s Ed.S. program rolled into the Ed.D. program upon acceptance.

Meanwhile, new prospective students can apply for the stand-alone Ed.D. and, if they desire, focus on educational policy rather than school leadership. This provides prospective students a path to an Ed.D. without first needing to obtain a superintendent endorsement and Ed.S.

“Altering the focus to offer a strong policy dimension is consistent with contemporary learning needs of school leaders and administrators,” Pluim said. “Our program is committed to offering students a broad-based education beyond logistics into thinking creatively and critically about leadership in our current policy environment.”

appleFaculty involved in the revisions – Benjamin Creed, Christine Kiracofe, Dan Oest, Pluim, Patrick Roberts, Amy Stich, Kelly Summers and Teresa Wasonga – expect that their work will positively impact school districts and their students.

“Our new program is premised on the belief that purposeful change in education policy and practice is accomplished through meaningful engagement that is transformational in nature; promotes equity; and improves policy and practice on a local, state, national or international level,” said Roberts, an associate professor of Foundations and Educational Policy Studies.

“With this in mind,” he added, “we designed the program as a way to develop action-oriented scholarly practitioners who blend practical wisdom and professional skills with research and theory to impact problems of practice in formal and non-formal educational settings.”

Additional benefits of a separate Ed.S. and Ed.D. include:

  • focusing the Ed.S. on providing the necessary training, information, resources and experiences needed for students to successfully fulfill the role of superintendent.
  • focusing the Ed.D. on providing the necessary training, information, resources and experiences needed to be a scholarly practitioner through the newly developed core classes offered to all Ed.D. students.
  • program evaluation, reporting and accreditation. The separation makes it easier to identify students who are pursuing only the superintendent’s endorsement, data required by the State of Illinois.

For more information, contact LEPF Graduate Program Advisor David Snow at (815) 753-1465 or dsnow1@niu.edu.



NIU professors explore peace, policy at Macedonia conference

conf-bond

Graduate School Dean Brad Bond (left)
and State University of Tetovo President Vullnet Ameti.

Still energized by the Center for Peace and Transcultural Communication’s first-ever international conference, held in Macedonia, organizers already are gearing up for this fall’s second installment in DeKalb.

NIU and the State University of Tetovo are partners in the center, which was launched to foster “better social platforms for younger generations” and “a better society” in a country torn by nationalistic sentiments that stir hatred and war.

December’s gathering explored of “The Impact of U.S. Policy in Promoting Democracy, Peace, State-Building, Economic Recovery and the Protection of National, Religious and Civic Values in the Countries of the Region.”

Around 225 people, including presenters, professors, students and interested stakeholders of the region, attended.

Patrick Roberts, an associate professor in the NIU College of Education’s Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations, says the conference facilitated “a sharing of ideas” and “stimulated an understanding, and a conversation, about what are some pretty difficult issues.”

It also provided a mirror of sorts for the NIU contingent.

Patrick Roberts

Patrick Roberts

“Being there really opened up for us a better understanding of the complexities of that region,” said Roberts, who served on the conference organizing committee. “Macedonia recently had an election, and they are still sorting through the issues, anxieties and concerns. They were just as anxious and unclear about the outcomes.”

Uncertainty is familiar ground for the University of Tetovo, which provides access to higher education to ethnic Albanians.

Tetovo is the only school in Macedonia where the language of instruction is Albanian rather than Macedonian, Roberts says. Its students, who are Muslim, also must deal with religious, ethnic and language tensions in their homeland.

“For a number of years, the university was not recognized by Macedonia. It was operating illegally. Over time, it grew – and became officially recognized,” he says. “That really speaks to the power of education. A lot of people in the world have had to struggle for access to higher education.”

Roberts delivered a keynote address on “Cultural Heritage Preservation as a Strategy of U.S.-Foreign Relations in the Balkan Region.”

Colleagues on the trip included Teresa Wasonga, presented on “Philanthropy in the U.S. and Education of Indigent in a Developing Country.”

conf-programAndrew Otieno, a professor in the NIU College of Engineering and Engineering Technology, spoke on “The Role of NGOs in Sustainable Development: A Case Study of Engineers Without Borders Increasing Energy Capacity in a Rural School in Tanzania.”

Laura Heideman, an assistant professor in the NIU Department of Sociology, addressed “Tocqueville in Croatia: USAID and the Promotion of Associational Civil Society.”

Graduate School Dean Brad Bond delivered the conference’s opening remarks.

“It was important for us to meet as collaborators from the two universities to develop a common understanding of the purposes of the center, mutual responsibilities and mutual benefits,” says Wasonga, an associate professor in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations.

“Tetovo as a university has a very unique and difficult history, and its success – that we were only able to comprehend through experience visiting the various historical sites – is inspiring,” she adds. “This put into perspective the significance of this conference and the need for collaboration.”

Roberts left with a call to action.

“For me, the takeaway was that there’s a lot going on here, and that access to higher education is a pivotal point of addressing tensions – political, economic, linguistic, geographical,” he says. “It underlined the need for transcultural communication. In the United States, sometimes we can overlook the complexities of countries overseas.”

He is grateful for the collaboration – and the hospitality that made the NIU delegation comfortable.

conf-1

“Dr. Vullnet Ameti, the rector, was a gracious host. He truly believes in and values his university’s partnership with NIU. He delivered some welcoming remarks, and he presented both me and Brad Bond with a lovely token of appreciation,” Roberts says. “Artina Kamberi, who is the director of the Center for Peace and Transcultural Communication, did an extraordinary job of organizing the conference.”

Organizers of the October conference at NIU will choose a theme later this spring, he says. They also are exploring the possibility of exhibiting University of Tetovo artifacts at the Blackwell History of Education Museum in Gabel Hall.



Mizzou honors Teresa Wasonga

Teresa Wasonga

Teresa Wasonga

Teresa Wasonga is grateful for ignorance.

Without it, she says, she probably wouldn’t have felt compelled to learn so much during her doctoral program at the University of Missouri-Columbia.

She probably would have doubted that climbing aboard the single-engine plane sent to fly her to an interview for her first faculty job in the United States was worth the trip.

Most importantly, she probably wouldn’t have embarked on building and opening the Jane Adeny Memorial School (JAMS) for girls in Muhoroni, Kenya. A school is nothing but walls, right? What else could it possibly need?

“I was really naïve when I went to Missouri,” says Wasonga, a professor in the NIU College of Education’s Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations. “I didn’t know anything about the American education system. Zero. I had to start from scratch.”

But her studies at Mizzou did more than stuff her head with information. They bolstered her confidence, stoked her imagination and stirred her ambition.

“In the midst of all these professionals, who were so knowledgeable, I felt like I didn’t know anything,” she says. “But I longed to be like them. I longed to do what they had already done.”

And with all of their accomplishments in the United States, she wondered: What was left? And, then, another question: Why not in Kenya?

jams-500

Graduation Day at the Jane Adeny Memorial School.

JAMS is the result of those questions – and a major reason behind Wasonga’s selection for the 2017 MU College of Education Outstanding Professional Achievement Award. She will receive her honor March 10 at the MU College of Education 49th Annual Recognition Awards Banquet.

Candidates for the award must have completed at least eight years of professional service since the most recent MU degree was earned, along with demonstrating tangible accomplishments with positive impact and results as well as the potential and promise for continued growth and success in their field.

Humble as ever, though, Wasonga says her alumni award truly belongs to everyone who helped her along the way and who continue to support the school. That includes her husband, Andrew Otieno, a professor in the NIU College of Engineering and Engineering Technology.

“The work I do, and the fulfillment I get out of it, is enough for me,” she says. “I’m just happy to prove that, even if you are poor, and a girl, you can emerge and do something. I proved it to myself, and I proved to everyone I met and told, ‘We can do better.’ And they said, ‘What do you mean?’ ”

JON TURNER, WHO NOMINATED WASONGA for the award, met her when they both began the doctoral program at Mizzou.

Wasonga

Wasonga

“Teresa has a way about her that makes you want to help,” says Turner, an assistant professor of educational leadership at Missouri State University. “She is so organized and dedicated that you know you’re not wasting your time when you work with her. She’ll put the resources and help she’s offered to good use.”

He remembers well when his classmate began talking about her visions for Kenya.

“If most people told me they were going to take on a project that large, I would have been skeptical. But with Teresa, I thought she might just be able to pull this off – and, of course, she has,” Turner says.

“It is truly a credit to Teresa that she never forgot about the challenges girls face in Kenya, and it is a blessing for the girls that Teresa’s memory is paired with exceptional leadership skills.”

Ehren Jarrett, superintendent of the Rockford Public Schools and alum of the NIU College of Education, calls Wasonga a “truly extraordinary” educator committed “to the highest standards of professionalism and quality. She embodies innovation, engagement, diversity, collaboration and equity.”

In chairing Jarrett’s dissertation committee, Wasonga prepared him to “co-create leadership,” a skill the superintendent relies on daily to “empower, engage and energize” his team of 4,500 employees.

Jarrett is equally inspired by Wasonga’s labors on the other side of the world.

“The power of Dr. Wasonga’s work goes beyond the impact on Kenyan children,” Jarrett says. “The thousands of supporters of JAMS have been connected to a much-larger world moving far beyond the confines of our comfortable lives.”

WASONGA’S FIRST STEPS TOWARD building the Jane Adeny Memorial School came while she, Otieno and some fellow Kenyans in the Chicago area began sending money to their homeland to pay student fees for children there.

But when she learned that most Kenyan boys were performing well in school while many girls were not, it sharply troubled her – and she told the school leaders so: “I said, ‘These are brilliant girls who could do well if only we showed an interest in them.’ ”

jams-logoPointing out that the girls’ human needs were basic, however, accomplished nothing. “They’d say to me, ‘What’s your problem?’ ”

So Wasonga began to tuck $1,000 from every paycheck aside, denying herself anything beyond her own basic needs. Similarly, if she skipped a meal during the day, those unspent dollars funneled into the kitty.

One year later, she had $20,000 – as well as 10 acres of Kenyan land her mother had found.

“I took off the summer of 2009,” she says. “By the time I came back, I had four classrooms built. I never looked back.”

After easily convincing Otieno of the need to obtain a home equity loan, she and her husband returned in 2010 to work more on the new school. During her 2011 sabbatical, Wasonga opened the doors – seven years ahead of the 10-year deadline she gave herself.

Looking back, she shakes her head and dubs it all “unbelievable” – and says she believes that “ignorance was probably the best skill I had.”

She remembers asking Kenyan parents to have faith in her, that sending their daughters away to JAMS was “better than this situation – they were not in school at all – and that we couldn’t do any more harm than society was already doing to them.”

When the first semester of classes began, Wasonga gathered those young pioneers for a pep talk.

“I told them, ‘Let’s just give it our best shot. This is your chance. This is an opportunity. We will buy books. We will study. We will work hard, and we will succeed,’ ” she says. “I looked at these girls, and they were so empowered. I thought, ‘They will do whatever it takes. Now I can’t disappoint them.’ ”

Teresa Wasonga and Andrew Otieno

Teresa Wasonga and Andrew Otieno

Plenty of bright and talented young girls now have graduated from JAMS and moved on to college; one of them – Revela Odhuna – is a nursing student at NIU.

And, as Wasonga prepares to return to Missouri to receive her award, she is grateful for the preparation she received there – and for a long-ago vote of confidence from Professor Phillip Messner.

“I felt like I had so much to give, but I wasn’t giving. He said, ‘You’ll do great things someday.’ To hear this from someone I had looked at and thought, ‘Wow, he can do anything;’ to think he’d seen something in me. I thought maybe I didn’t know myself well. Maybe I could do something.”

It’s something she now instills in NIU College of Education students because, she says, JAMS is the proof that a curriculum of best practices is a sound one.

“The Jane Adeny Memorial School has been my laboratory of practice. Everything I learned at Missouri, I tried there. I tried everything I could remember,” she says. “Empowering children. Giving children a voice. Providing an environment conducive for learning. Distributed leadership. I had absorbed all these things – and they actually work.”



CoE online graduate programs earn high U.S. News rankings for fifth consecutive year

Laptop and coffeeOnline graduate programs in the NIU College of Education continue to perform near the top of the country, according to new rankings released today by U.S. News & World Report.

NIU places fourth (tied with the University of Nebraska-Lincoln) in the current honor roll of 200 schools, earning a fifth consecutive spot among the nation’s Top 5 and its sixth nod overall.

Among the nine other Illinois schools ranked, only the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (tied for 10th) and the University of St. Francis (tied for 29th) are in the Top 50. Ten universities in the Mid-American Conference are ranked, including Buffalo and Ohio, which are among the five institutions tied for 10th.

Dean Laurie Elish-Piper considers the college’s annual recognition as “evidence of our high-quality online graduate programs.”

“Our faculty are at the cutting-edge of designing and delivering online education that is rigorous, engaging and interactive,” Elish-Piper said. “Our faculty, advisers and support staff are available to assist students in our online programs every step of the way so they can be successful in their programs and in their professions.”

The NIU College of Education offers three online master’s degrees within the departments of Educational Technology, Research and Assessment (ETRA) and Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations (LEPF).

•    Educational Research and Evaluation (ETRA)
•    Instructional Technology (ETRA)
•    School Business Management (LEPF)

ETRA Chair Wei-Chen Hung heralds a continued and collective effort “attributed to faculty credentials, both academic and specifically for teaching online courses, and student engagement.”

Wei-Chen Hung and Carolyn Pluim (Vander Schee)

Wei-Chen Hung and Carolyn Pluim (Vander Schee)

“One particular highlight this year is that we further enhanced our assessment approach by working closely with Research and Assessment faculty to develop assessment instruments and rubric that help us better prepare our students for job markets,” Hung said.

“We are also in the process of updating our curriculum to integrating emerging practices and technologies in the field.”

Acting LEPF Chair Carolyn Pluim (Vander Schee) calls the six-year streak of U.S. News recognition a “nice salute” to the hard work of students as well as talented faculty, including Patrick Roberts, who chaired the department from 2013 to 2016, and full-time professors and adjunct instructors who bring decades of diverse and practical experience.

“We’re committed to continually improving our modes of delivery, to making sure that our course content is relevant and current and to engaging students in what they need to know as school business officials,” Pluim said. “We also have a fabulous relationship with the Illinois Association of School Business Officials that helps us to recruit top students to the program.”

U.S. News & World Report began collecting data on online programs in 2012 – NIU made the “honor roll” that first year – on the belief that “online learning is becoming integral to all types of education, including higher education, and that consumers are hungry for information related to online degrees.”

Its rankings make no distinction between not-for-profit and for-profit sectors.

Rankings are based on five categories, which are weighted: student engagement (35 percent), student services and technology (20 percent), admissions selectivity (15 percent), faculty credentials and training (15 percent) and peer reputation (15 percent).



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.”



Merritt speaker to encourage valuing ‘everyday actions’

Angela B. Hurley

Angela B. Hurley

Good is all around us, Angela B. Hurley believes.

Unfortunately, says the professor of education at Transylvania University, the negative often distracts our attention and drowns whatever impact something positive might have made.

For example, almost everyone turns their eyes toward parents screaming at a misbehaving child, but few notice the examples and lessons of excellent parenting that are far more common while largely invisible.

Recognition afforded to people who “stand above the crowd” creates a similar disconnect.

“We live in a time when you have to be exceptional to be noticed, and we’re always telling our young people, ‘Be the best you can. Be exceptional. Go out and excel,’ ” Hurley says.

“But if everyone did that, we’d have to change the meaning of the word ‘exceptional,’ ” she adds. “And, in doing so, we devalue the importance of the normal, everyday actions that we do in our lives, that give us joy as human beings and give us meaning. Much of what is really important is what we’re not even noticing.”

Hurley, the 2016 recipient of NIU’s James and Helen Merritt Distinguished Service Award for contributions to philosophy of education, will visit Thursday, Oct. 20.

She speaks at 4 p.m. on “The Importance of All We Do Not See” in the Holmes Student Center Sky Room. A reception begins at 3:30 p.m. All are welcome.

Named for the late James Merritt, philosopher of education and professor in the College of Education, and the late Helen Merritt, artist and professor of art history in the College of Visual and Performing Arts, the series welcomes scholars who have deeply influenced educational thought and practice.

Helen and James Merritt

Helen and James Merritt

“Both shared a vision of philosophy of education defined by a belief that this subject could really help teachers in a practical way,” says Kerry Burch, professor in the Department of Leadership, Educational Psychology and Foundations, “not only to teach their respective subjects better, but also to gain insight into the deeper purposes of education.”

“It was Jim’s hope,” adds colleague Leslie A. Sassone, “that we would all better understand that, in his words, ‘Every feature of teaching and learning has a relevance to philosophy of education.’ ”

While Hurley will focus on a question – How do we live good lives in a culture that values exceptionality? – she also plans a direct message to current and future educators.

Following political philosopher Hannah Arendt’s notion that bringing children into the world “opens a space for them,” Hurley will challenge the audience to ponder “what our culture seems to be focusing on at this point that a new one coming into this life would see emphasized.”

“How should we transform education for children and youth so they live their lives in a more joyful and meaningful way?” she asks. “I hope everyone who comes realizes that the ordinary things we do have great meaning, and that it matters how we interact with all of the people in our lives and on the earth.”

For more information, visit http://www.niu.edu/philosophy-of-education/merritt/index.shtml.



Reimagined courtyard opens

courtyard-3Once home to a frightening thicket of withering trees and patchy grass, the courtyard outside the ramp between Gabel and Graham halls now offers a picturesque place of serenity.

Funded entirely by the generosity of friends of the College of Education, the work wrapped up just in time for the autumnal equinox.

Visitors can study, eat picnic lunches, wander the stepping stones or simply enjoy the sunshine and tranquility, says Betsy Hull, assistant to the dean in the College of Education. Faculty with small classes also are welcome to teach there for a change of scenery.

“It’s open to everyone,” Hull says, “and we hope that everyone uses it.”

The “Confluence Courtyard” began as an idea in February of 2015, when the former chair of the Department of Special and Early Education proposed turning the space into a “sensory garden.”

Barbara Schwartz-Bechet and Hull needed an expert in horticulture to guide them, however, and realized that resource was available at nearby Kishwaukee College.

What happened next came as a pleasant surprise.

Matt Ewert, an instructor at Kish who took their call, asked to see the space for himself. During his visit to NIU, Ewert mentioned that he taught a course in landscape design: Why not turn the courtyard planning into a class project?

courtyard-1Schwartz-Bechet and Hull happily signed on, and the creativity began to flow from Malta. “Essentially, we were their clients,” Hull says. “His students really had some phenomenal plans.”

Ewert’s Kishwaukee students “talk more about non-residential design” in the spring.

“This was a nice commercial project where we had an actual client, and we tried to make it as real as possible,” Ewert says.

“It was good for the students to be able to ask questions of someone and get that real-world experience. They had a budget. They had things to work through. They learned client communication skills. This was the first project where they could see that mattered on a larger scale. It took them a bit out of their comfort zone.”

Around that same time, however, the College of Education saw several administrative departures – Schwartz-Bechet among them – and the dream was shelved.

Understandably disappointed, Ewert still saw the potential for learning in the courtyard. He called Hull in January, wanting to know if his new students could undertake the project again, this time as no more than an assignment for his course. The courtyard’s confined space provided interesting challenges and opportunities, he explained.

The “before” picture

The “before” picture

New Dean Laurie Elish-Piper wanted more, however.

Elish-Piper liked the concept of garden transformation and was ready to turn that into reality, says Hull, who assembled a working group that included Greg Conderman, Dina Fowler, Dianne Fraedrich, Toni Tollerud and Pat Wielert.

“We told Matt, ‘Here’s the budget we have. If you can wow us again, we’ll put something into motion,’ ” she says. “His students gave us a very professional presentation. They did a nice job.”

Not wanting to choose one plan over another, the working group identified favorable elements from all of the student-designed landscapes. “We told Matt, ‘OK, now make us a plan that incorporates all of those,’ ” Hull says.

Ewert, who owns Plano-based Escapes Landscape Design Inc., did just that. NIU alum Ben Entas, owner of DeKalb-based Blue Hills Inc., was hired for the installation.

“Blue Hills did it just two days,” Ewert says. “It looks amazing. It’s a whirlwind of a difference.”

courtyard-flowersMoving forward, Ewert and his future horticulture and landscape design students will help the College of Education maintain the courtyard landscaping; they will come each fall to assist with clean-up and appropriate seasonal preparation.

Low-maintenance perennial plants were chosen to ease the upkeep, Hull says.

“They’ll get some pruning experience,” Ewert says. “They’ll also get to see how a landscape can grow up over different seasons, and the rate at which different plants mature.”

Courtyard hours are 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday through Friday and 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. An Emergency Assistance Call Box is available in the courtyard if necessary to reach the NIU Police.

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