When Dr. Tiffany Brunson became Superintendent of Schools for Elementary School District 159, one of her priorities was to be transparent with all stakeholders. Throughout the school-year she held Chat n Chews with parents, staff, and students to receive input, feedback, and listen to their concerns. Her commitment to transparency was exemplified again on May 4th, when she presented the inaugural State-of-the-District Address to the community, sharing the District’s “glows and grows” of the 2022-2023 school year. During her presentation at the District’s Administration Center, Dr. Brunson highlighted the achievements, new developments, and future plans for each administrative department.
Dr. Brunson began her presentation with detailed information about the Teaching, Learning and Accountability Department, under the leadership of Assistant Superintendent Mrs. Tanya Fields. During the school year, the department provided curriculum resources and support to staff and professional learning opportunities for administrators. The department conducted student-centered instructional learning walks at each school, using a shared data collection tool throughout the school year and provided explicit feedback to school administration and teachers as appropriate. The department also engaged in courageous conversations with open and honest dialogue between district leaders, school administrators, and educational partners. For the upcoming school year, the department will continue to develop high-quality instruction by providing curriculum-based instruction and assessment, coaching, professional learning and feedback, and enrichment opportunities. The department will also improve STEM innovation by supporting teachers with classroom-based STEM extensions, providing STEM Center-based activities, and encouraging students to conduct research, solve problems, think critically, and challenge the ideas and findings of themselves and others.
Dr. Brunson also highlighted newly established STEM programs. In November of last year, the district opened its new Administration and STEM Center. The state-of-the-art STEM Center is led by Director, Ms. Sherrie Davis. During this school year, the department secured grants from Project Lead the Way and Green Our Plant to support the acquisition of STEM resources, including the creation of hydroponic gardens. The department also held community events including Family STEM Night and Saturday Coding Workshops, established a class rotation schedule to the STEM Center, provided equitable access to STEM education for all scholars, and revitalized K-8 technology courses and equipment to increase exposure to STEM and STEAM at each building level. For the next school year, the department will extend after-school programs, expand learning opportunities for scholars in aerospace technology, host a STEM fair and STEM Career Fair, and continue to provide district and community-wide learning opportunities.
Continuing her presentation, Dr. Brunson spoke about the Student Services Department which is overseen by Ms. Dana Ash. As director, Ms. Ash created and built a structure compliance for the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act, and the American Disability Act. She also wrote and managed the McKinney Vento Grant, which is geared towards the homeless population. This year the department hired a case manager, ensured the completion of Individual Educational Plans, hearing and screening assessments, and conducted family meetings. To address student well-being, the department assessed school Positive Behavior Incentive Systems, purchased a researched-based social emotional learning screener, and created wrap-around services for scholars. The department also increased the collaboration among the district’s social workers. Next school year the department plans to explore additional interventions for scholars, continue to build social emotional structures, build the capacity for paraprofessionals with professional development, and implement restorative practices.
The Business Department’s fiscal functions and responsibilities support every administrative department of the school district, and Dr. Brunson provided a recap of departmental activities. Mrs. Janiesa Owens, Executive Director of Business Operations and Human Resources, has worked alongside with Human Resources Department to ensure the development of processes, procedures, various handbooks related to student activity and employment, and the transportation plan. The department established an efficient payroll system, and efficiencies in purchasing, accounts payable, credit card requisition process, and food service operations. This year’s audit showed that the district is fiscally sound, and all audits' findings have been resolved. In addition, the department provided $1.7 million in tax relief to taxpayers through the State of Illinois Property Tax Relief Grant, which increased the Evidence Based Funding revenue by approximately $1.3 million. While maintaining a balanced budget, the department managed and completed an $8 million capital project for the new STEM and Administrative Center, as well as a $2 million capital project for four new playgrounds and renovated parking lots. Next school year, the Business Department major projects include the Sieden Prairie Elementary School new addition, which will have three renovated classrooms, a media lab, and two pre-kindergarten classrooms.
Dr. Brunson added that this school year the district revamped its Human Resources Department and has made significant departmental improvements. Under the leadership of Human Resources Officer Mr. Marcellus Butler, the department has improved the recruitment, hiring, onboarding and retention process. This year there is a fifty percent decrease in vacancies from the beginning of the school year, and a ninety-two percent retention rate. The department created partnerships with Governors State University, Grand Canyon University, the Environmental Technical Institute and the Golden Apple Foundation. “These partnerships will assist the school district in growing and promoting employees from within,” said Dr. Brunson. The department established employee surveys, Chat n Chew listening sessions, a new employee handbook and salary ranges for district employees. During the next school year, Human Resources will continue to build their digital capacity, expand the “Grow your Own Program,” to help expand the careers of staff, and improve the teacher mentorship program.
Dr. Cortez McCoy serves as the Assistant Superintendent of Educational Services. This school year, the department updated the Emergency Operations Plan and implemented Navigate 360 school safety platform. Each school is in one-hundred percent compliance with fire drills and evacuation procedures. The department also created a threat assessment team, district-wide threat assessment plan, and implemented the My Pal platform at Colin Powell Middle school as a reporting method used by students to report various safety concerns including bullying, potential self-harm, and harm to others. Student Services also improved student transportation by including a transportation component in PowerSchool that provides detailed information regarding student bus routes, ensured that parents and guardians signed up for Bus Bulletin to receive updated information about transportation, as well as established transportation procedures for athletic teams and extracurricular activities. Dr. Brunson reported that each school is fully staffed with custodians and the team meets monthly to ensure school safety and maintenance. Buildings and grounds ensured the efficient relocation of the administrative office and completed a 3-5 facility assessment plan conducted by Tria Construction Company.
Dr. Brunson also provided an update on the Communications Department. Under the leadership of Director of Communications, Mrs. Shelia Friday, the department secured nearly $8 million in continuation, competitive, and allocated grant funding in support of several district initiatives. Among them are social emotional learning curriculums, new playgrounds at each of the elementary schools, flooring upgrades throughout the school district, after-school programs, family engagement workshops, individualized counseling for scholars, and the Golden Apple Foundation teacher recruitment program. Grant funding was also secured for the Sieden Prairie Elementary School addition project. The department received an Award of Excellence from the Illinois Chapter of the National Schools Public Relations Association. The department managed the ribbon cutting ceremony of the STEM and Administrative center and was featured in media outlets several times during the school year. In addition, the Communication Department established a district-wide awards program honoring 23 staff members and 160 scholars. The department revised the Community Connection Newsletter, established internal and external communication procedures, and increased partnerships. During the 2023-2024 school year, the department will continue to seek funding aligned with the districts mission to support district-wide programs including restorative practice programs, establish a district communication committee, update the current communication plan, and increase relationships with the media.
Dr. Brunson highlighted the Technology Department and its continued enhancements to meet the technical and digital needs of the school district. Under the leadership of Mr. Eddie Short, Director of Technology, the technology department created and implemented the network design for the STEM and Administration facility. The department upgraded the bandwidth to the internet by one hundred percent in preparation to handle increased digital content, replaced network switches volume, replaced exterior monochrome LED signs at each elementary school, and began the transition to using all Google platforms. In the 2023-2024 school year, the department will continue to replace network switches, replace outdated AC equipment, decrease cybersecurity risks, and upgrade servers and operating systems throughout the school district. The department will also replace smart boards interactive white boards with smart interactive displays and continue the transition to all Goggle platforms.
Nearing the end of her presentation, Dr. Brunson noted that the school district welcomed fifty-eight newcomers from Venezuela this year, who were provided clothing, and other resources donated by the school district and community members, in addition to other needed supports under the direction of Bilingual Coordinator, Mrs. Miriam McCoy. The Bilingual Coordinator also provided ESL support for Sieden Prairie and Colin Powell schools. Goals for the 2023-2024 school year include developing a comprehensive newcomer program, providing ESL classes, literacy programs, and social emotional learning support. The department will also improve upon English language learning strategies and strengthen the Bilingual Parent Association.
Concluding the State of the District, Dr. Brunson spoke of the road ahead for the school district including the revision of the 2019 strategic plan. Brunson also spoke about equity and leadership as they relate to moving the school district forward and growing staff from within for promotions when positions become available. At the conclusion of her State of the District, Dr. Brunson encouraged staff and stakeholders to elevate and celebrate the school district as it continues to “Thrive in 159.”
The State of the District Address was attended by district administrators, staff, and community members, as well as Board of Education members Vice President, Mrs. Regina Edgecombe, Mrs. Veronica Franklin, and Mr. Ken Williams. Vice President Mrs. Edgecombe stated, “Excellent! Thank you so much for doing this. This had never happened before.” Former School Board Member and Village of Matteson Trustee, Mrs. Carolyn Palmer, and Village of Richton Park Trustee, Julian Alexander, also attended the event and expressed their appreciation for the State of the District Address. The State of the District was also available to the community via live streaming.
South Suburban News publisher, Mr. Michael Taylor attended the event and commented, “To my memory, this is the first time a school district has provided such detailed information to the community and this district has accomplished a lot in Dr. Brunson’s first year as superintendent. I congratulate the Board of Education, Dr. Brunson, her administrative team, and the entire district staff and students for a job well done. I look forward to seeing more great things from Elementary School District 159 next school year.”