October 14, 2011

ISBE chair to keynote conference for educators

by Pete Rosenbery

CARBONDALE, Ill. -- A conference at Southern Illinois University Carbondale later this month will offer local educators and school officials a chance to share ideas for increasing student interest in social studies and civics education.

“Putting Action in Civics Education: We Can Do Better,” is Wednesday, Oct. 26, in the Student Center Ballrooms. The conference, sponsored by the Paul Simon Public Policy Institute, will focus on successful approaches for teaching civics in rural school districts, curriculum and teacher development, and using information technology in the classroom.

The conference is from 9 a.m. to 2:30 p.m.   Gery J. Chico, chair of the Illinois State Board of Education, will deliver the keynote address, discussing the need for civics education and his experiences as an educational leader.  Chico’s address will be available via live stream for free on the Institute’s website, paulsimoninstitute.org/

The conference is free and open to the public, but will be of particular interest to civics and history teachers, school administrators, school board members and other school officials.  Professional development credit for participating teachers and administrators will be available, and school board members may also receive applicable program credits.

Pre-conference online registration is required and available on the Institute’s website.  The registration deadline is Tuesday, Oct. 24.  For more information, contact Emily Burke, Institute program coordinator, at 618/453-4009, or by email at eburke@siu.edu.

David Yepsen, Institute director, and Marc Kiehna,   the regional superintendent of schools for Monroe and Randolph counties, came up with the idea for the event after attending a similar conference in Chicago.  For about eight years Kiehna’s office has coordinated “Project Citizen,” a program that teaches students how to become involved in making improvements within their communities through responsible participation and public policy.  Kiehna’s office provides services to approximately 11,000 students in 10 school districts.

Yepsen sees the conference as an avenue for educators to meet and share ideas to then take back to their districts to implement.

Kiehna said he believes that if teachers and school officials focus “on the positive side of democracy and how we can make changes in our world,” the outcome will have a positive impact on students.  He does not like the negative political discourse and vitriol often found today.

“We need to get back to the core principles of a democracy -- where we hear what people are saying,” he said.

In June, Gov. Pat Quinn named Chico to chair the Illinois State Board of Education.  Chico’s experience includes serving as board president of the Chicago Public Schools, president of the Chicago Park District Board, and a commissioner with the Public Building Commission of Chicago.  He is a senior partner in the Chicago-based Chico & Nunes, P.C., law firm.  He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and his law degree from the Loyola University School of Law.

“As the leading education official in the state, we thought he would be a good person to have visit,” Yepsen said.  “We are glad he is taking time to come here.  It will be a chance for him to see some of our problems and hear some of our concerns.”

Shawn Healy, resident scholar and director of professional development with the Chicago-based McCormick Foundation Civics Program, will provide highlights from a September 2011 national report, “Guardian of Democracy:  The Civic Mission of Schools.”   The report looks at the decline in civic learning and provides recommendations for restoring students’ civic education skills and knowledge.  Healy will then moderate a panel discussion on various approaches to teaching civics.  Panelists will include Daron Absher, chair of the social studies department at Carbondale Community High School, and Jamie Nash Mayberry, a history teacher at Shawnee High School.

Prior to joining the McCormick Foundation, Healy was a social studies teacher at West Chicago Community High School and Sheboygan North High School.  He has a master’s degree in political science from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and a bachelor’s degree with distinction in political science, history and secondary education from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. 

Jill Bass, who directs the Chicago-based Mikva Challenge Program’s Center for Action Civics, will focus on curriculum and development and teacher training with a session on “Action Civics.”  A former high school social studies teacher, Bass taught in the Chicago and New York City public schools for 14 years and was civic engagement program director at North Lawndale College Prep High School.  She has a bachelor’s degree in political science and literature and rhetoric from Binghamton University, and a master’s degree in  Instructional Leadership from the University of Illinois at Chicago.

The afternoon breakout session features Jan Waggoner, director of teacher education in SIU Carbondale’s College of Education and Human Services, and Suzanne Schmitz, who retired recently as assistant professor at the SIU School of Law.  Waggoner and Schmitz will discuss topics that include online resources, teaching methods, the state of civic education in today’s schools, and how to help teachers be more effective in teaching civics education.

Yepsen believes that instructors and schools “are doing a lot of things right in Southern Illinois.  We want to make sure we keep it up.”

“I think it has always been a challenge to get students interested in civics, only because they have so many other things that they focus on in life,” said Yepsen, who participated in the American Legion Boys State program while in high school.  “One of the challenges, and one of the purposes of getting educators together is to ask, ‘What have you done that works, and what do you do that connects with people?’ “

Yepsen said he also believes that social media can play a large role in civics education.

For more information on the program, contact the Institute at 618/453-4009 or visit paulsimoninstitute.org/.

The program schedule is:

         9 a.m. -- Welcoming remarks, David Yepsen, director, Paul Simon Public Policy Institute.

         9:05 a.m. -- Keynote address:  Gery J. Chico, chair, Illinois State Board of Education.

         10:15 a.m. -- “6 Approaches to Teaching Civics.”  Shawn Healy, resident scholar and director of professional development, McCormick Foundation Civics Program.

         10:45 a.m. -- Panel discussion on successful civics education approaches for rural schools.  Panelists include Daron Absher, social studies department chair, Carbondale Community High School, and Jamie Nash Mayberry, history teacher, Shawnee High School.

         11:45 a.m. -- Lunch buffet.

         12:30 p.m. -- “Action Civics.” Jill Bass, director, Center for Action Civics, Mikva Challenge Program.

         1:30 p.m. -- Breakout sessions featuring Jan Waggoner, director of teacher education in SIU Carbondale’s College of Education and Human Services, and Suzanne Schmitz, retired assistant professor at the SIU School of Law.

         2:30 p.m. -- Closing remarks, Marc Kiehna, regional superintendent of schools for Monroe and Randolph counties.

Gery Chico

Gery Chico  Download Photo Here

Shawn Healy

Shawn Healy  Download Photo Here

Jill Bass

Jill Bass  Download Photo Here