May 14, 2004

SIUC leads effort to improve kids' math, science skills

by Paula M. Davenport

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- While their pupils are relishing summer vacations, some teachers and principals from a half dozen downstate school districts will be buckling down and hitting the books.

The ultimate goal is to dramatically improve math and science abilities of youngsters in deep Southern Illinois, all of whom attend public middle schools, high schools, vocational or special education programs in Union, Johnson, Pulaski and Alexander counties.And here's the kicker: They'll be tackling perhaps the toughest subjects of all -- math and science. Luckily, they'll be "tutored" by engineers from The Boeing Co. a giant in the aerospace industry and manufacturer of F-18 fighter jets known as "Super Hornets."

Test scores show an alarming number of pupils in these schools -- some of Illinois' poorest -- are failing to comprehend even the most basic math and science knowledge.

"These schools are in a position where they've got to turn around performance to prevent sanctions" under the federal No Child Left Behind legislation, said Southern Illinois University Carbondale's Randy J. Dunn, head of the project and also chair of the SIUC Educational Administration and Higher Education department.

That's why Dunn and his colleagues in SIUC College of Education and Human Services felt compelled to help. The college, known for producing high-quality teachers, views the program as an important way to lend its expertise in service to others.

Joining in the venture are Boeing's St. Louis center, Ullin's Shawnee Community College and the Ullin-based Regional Office of Education #2, which oversees the 10 participating schools.

Shaping cooperative ventures and serving others are among the goals of Southern@150, the blueprint for the development of the University by the time it celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2019.

Dunn said he believes the program may ultimately provide "meaningful jumps" in student performance and achievement. Looking down the road, that could give more youngsters better shots at coveted high-paying careers.

A $320,000 Illinois Board of Higher Education grant is fueling the one-year program.

Participating schools are Alexander County's Bennett Elementary, Cairo Junior High and Cairo High School, Egyptian Junior High and Egyptian High School; Johnson County's Buncombe Elementary; Pulaksi County's Century High, Meridian Elementary and Meridian High; and Union County's Dongola High.

Here's how the project will unfold:

In upcoming months, groups of teachers and administrators -- who've formed smaller groups according to their academic specialties -- will pore over all sorts of academic and cultural information on their respective schools. A Boeing engineer/scientist assigned to each team will make suggestions on course work that will best prepare today's kids for tomorrow's job markets.

Then, over the summer, the targeted schools will send a total of 50 teachers and 10 principals to SIUC for separate group-training institutes.

Teachers will study with faculty mentors from SIUC and Shawnee Community College; they'll also interact with talented visiting math and science instructors and will learn about work- based learning activities from area businesses.

In addition, secondary teachers will discover a variety of University-based, hands-on research opportunities to increase their core subject knowledge in math and science. And the middle school teachers will get to road-test new instructional strategies on area youngsters attending Saluki Kids Academy, which brings youngsters to SIUC for academic and cultural activities each summer.

Meanwhile, school principals will devise school improvement and academic assessment plans, learn to bolster leadership in the faculty's ranks, and brainstorm on ways to involve parents in their children's learning.

Formally known as the Southern Illinois Teacher Quality Collaborative, the program will run through the end of the year.

In fall, teachers will implement what they've learned into their classroom lessons and will meet regularly to discuss their progress with their summer mentors, who'll also assist them in aligning instruction to meet the Illinois State Learning Standards.

Shawnee Community College will also host ongoing learning activities for the teachers and school administrators.

To kick it all off, Boeing brought all the players together for a meeting in St. Louis.

The aerospace company, which has its own K-12 educational outreach program, helped the participants get acquainted, introduced the program's many facets and gave school teachers and administrators a peek at the superb jobs math and science whizzes can look forward to.

Boeing prides itself on an active educational outreach program.

"We believe exposing students and educators to the operations of a business is an excellent opportunity for them to learn how math, science, language and the arts are applied in the workplace. Technical, communication and teaming skills are what many companies such as Boeing are looking for in their employees. Whether students want to be aircraft mechanics or engineers, they benefit from being multi-skilled," the company's Web site explains.

Toni Bailey, Boeing vice president for community and education relations and an SIUC alumna, said: "This is a unique opportunity where we have all the ingredients for systemic change and can assist with ... improving teaching abilities among middle and high school math and science educators."

A list of the program's partners, by county:


  • Cairo Junior High and High School: Suzan Partridge and Diane Symington, both special education; Bill Dicus, math and science teacher, Rose Pickett, school administrator.

  • Egyptian Junior High and High School: Lori Pender, middle school math; Becky Tucher, middle school science; Brett Gowin, high school math; Carrie Arbuckle, special education; Terri Johnson, vocational education; Consi Kubitz, school administrator.


  • Buncombe Elementary: LaRae Harner, math; Vicki Tripp, science; Mary Jo Evans, special education; and Kathy Anderson, school administrator.


  • Century: Stan Basham, middle school math; Mark Fahlberg, middle school science; Myndi Duke and Michelle Martin, both middle school math and science; Nancy Dillow and Maureen Mann, both school administrators.

  • Meridian Elementary and High School: Novella Harris, middle school math; Crystal Smith, middle school science; Cynthia Thomas, high school math; Carol Thurston, vocational education; Vickie Swartzentrover, high school special education.

  • Regional Office of Education #2: Dan Anderson, Janet Ulrich, Donna Keyes, Ed Shoemate, Debbie Thomas.

  • Shawnee Community College: Elaine Johnson, Rhonda Dillow, Richard Diefenbach, Darrell Dillow, Chris Vellella, Lori Armstrong.


  • Dongola High School: Sally Castleman, junior high and high school math; Beth Dievolt, junior high math and science; Lori Haack, high school science; Preston Hall, vocational education; Gretchen Cozby, high school special education.