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Dist. 54 strives to challenge students to excellence

EDITOR’S NOTE — This is the fifth in a week-long series of columns written by Morris school leaders discussing their schools’ curriculums. In the coming months, similar series of articles will focus on other topics pertinent to local education.

Over the past three years, the Morris Elementary School District 54 Board of Education has gone through annual goal setting sessions to develop measurable goals that focus on improving the district.
One of the strategic goals developed is to provide a curriculum that will challenge the students to excellence. 

From this goal, the district worked collaboratively with Saratoga 60C. Three years ago, it began sharing a curriculum coordinator to write and align the K-8 curriculum. Two years ago, Morris Community High School, Saratoga and Morris Elementary entered into an intergovernmental agreement to share the curriculum coordinator’s services. The goal is to have an aligned K-12 curriculum in place for the Morris community schools.

The districts have developed and maintained a curriculum cycle that includes curriculum alignment to the Illinois assessment frameworks, Illinois learning standards and, most recently, the common core standards. Once the curriculum has been validated, the teachers then write common quarterly assessments that align to the curriculum. 

From those assessments, teams will be able to analyze the data to develop measurable goals to monitor student achievement. In a few short years, this cycle has become a part of the culture in the school improvement process.

Four years ago, the District 54 board chose to re-implement a fine arts program into the schools. The band and choir have shown their talent in parades and concerts throughout the year. Elementary school music performances have packed the gyms at White Oak. Art students at both Shabbona and White Oak have displayed their art projects proudly within the halls of the schools. 

The accomplishments from these programs have far exceeded the expectations of bringing the programs back into the curriculum at District 54.

A new curriculum offering this year was the addition of the accelerated language arts and literature program at Shabbona Middle School for grades six through eight. The addition of these classes has mirrored the offerings that have been available for math over the past 10 years. 

One of the highlights from the eighth-grade accelerated language arts/literature class this year was when students had to write a short story and share it with second grade students at White Oak. This project was a collaborative effort between the classroom teacher and a member of the Seniors Supporting Schools program, who happens to have a master’s degree in creative writing from Columbia. 

The biggest challenge we face is the movement of curriculum alignment to 21st century skills. Twenty-first century skills include critical thinking, problem solving, communication, collaboration and creativity. Schools are measured by one test during one period of time. It’s a snapshot of the school. We spend a great deal of time “teaching to the test.” 

Those core standards are taught, and taught exceptionally well as our test scores indicate. But, it’s beyond the core that our students need to thrive as they move into the next level.

We pride ourselves on the dedication of the teachers who work tirelessly to provide the best possible education for the students at District 54. Our teaching staff exemplifies the mission of the district: “Inspiring excellence in every child every day.”

To view the strategic goals, please visit the district’s website at 

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