The Equity First: Building Toward a Better Future and Revitalizing Learning conference hosted 767 attendees from February 28 through March 3, 2022. The annual conference of the Illinois Education and Career Success Network (formerly the Illinois 60 by 25 Network) featured 88 speakers who shared their experiences and visions for equitable postsecondary attainment.

The annual conference is presented by the Success Network’s three organizers: Advance Illinois, Education Systems Center at NIU, and Illinois Student Assistance Commission. View the full archive of session recordings and resources on the Success Network website or the YouTube Playlist.

We invite you to check out the following sessions hosted or presented by the EdSystems team:

Welcome from the Network Organizers and Opening Plenary

Aiming for Equity in Postsecondary Attainment

We kicked off the 2022 Equity First conference by hearing from members of the Network’s Student Advisory Council about how best to support students in their secondary and postsecondary goals.

Then, Lumina Foundation Vice President of Impact and Planning Courtney Brown, Ph.D. and Strategy Director for Community College Participation Shauna Davis shared recent attainment data and strategies that communities nationwide use to increase equitable postsecondary attainment, highlighting work to re-engage adults without a postsecondary degree or credential. Then, Education Systems Center’s State Policy & Strategy Director Emily Rusca at NIU shared how Illinois fits into this national context with emerging equity-focused targets for the State’s 60% by 2025 postsecondary attainment goal as we consider how to dismantle barriers to postsecondary access and success for all Illinoisans.

Edith Njuguna, the Network Director, shared exciting news about the Network’s new name that reflects it’s continued commitment to advancing equitable postsecondary outcomes.

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Newcomers’ Orientation to the Network

An overview of the Network including current activities and future plans.

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Rethinking Postsecondary to Ensure Adult Student Success

Adult students bring unique qualities to the higher education landscape: prior experience, learning, and responsibilities that need to be balanced with their learning program. Illinois college and university leaders will discuss how their institutions structure programs and supports to meet the needs of adult students and allow them to complete degrees and certificates that have value in the job market.

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Equitable Practices through the Eyes of the School Counselor

Stephanie Miller-Henderson, School Counselor at Chicago Public Schools, Diana Mondragón, School Counselor at Dundee-Crown High School, and Nilufar Rezai, School Counselor at Chicago Public Schools, shared their experiences and the Illinois School Counselor Association’s race and equity work. Glean examples of the implementation of equitable practices in academic, personal/social, and college and career readiness development and tools to ignite equitable practices in your space.

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Middle Skills Pathways and Beyond: Raising the Ceiling on Programs of Study and Entry-Level Occupations

Too few Illinois workers are able to navigate the complicated skills training necessary to fill the current demand for high-quality middle-skills occupations. Pathways Director Juan Jose Gonzalez of Education Systems Center at NIU shared preliminary research on middle-skills occupations and frameworks for regional collaboration and alignment between education and workforce systems. Then, Vice President of Workforce Pathways Thackston Lundy and VP and Dean Aarti Dhupelia introduced National Louis University’s innovative Accelerate U, an affordable, rapid training experience that comes with college credit, industry credentials, and an immediate path to a full-time job.

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Understanding Critical Race Theory and Addressing Equity in Education

Miguel Saucedo, PhD, Director of Postsecondary Strategic Interventions at Chicago Public Schools, provided an overview of the history, principles, and application of Critical Race Theory then shared how CPS’s strategic populations and district-wide initiatives address equity concerns.

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Using Innovative Practices to Reimagine Learning: Lessons Learned from 3 Districts

Educators from Belvidere, Kankakee, and Round Lake shared their journeys, challenges, and lessons from using innovative practices to focus on learning and remove barriers for all students in their communities. Hear from Genevra Walters, PhD, Superintendent, and Felice Hybert, Assistant Superintendent of Curriculum and Instruction at Kankakee School District 111; David Carson, Assistant Superintendent at Belvidere School District 100; and Donn Mendoza, Superintendent, and Susan Center, Chief Academic Officer at Round Lake Community Unit School District 116, moderated by Ginger Reynolds, Senior Fellow at Education Systems Center at NIU.

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Piloting Career Exploration and Career Development Experiences: Resources and Insights from Illinois Communities

Two communities piloting Career Exploration and Career Development Experiences through the Illinois State Board of Education shared their learnings and resources. Hear from Karen Lockhart of ISBE plus Leah Gauthier, PhD, Superintendent, and Kimberly Ontiveros, PhD, Director for Curriculum & Instruction, Elmwood Park Community Unit School District 401; Ashley Groeneveld, Principal, Elm Middle School; and Terry Stroh, Director, Northern Kane County Regional Vocational System EFE 110.

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From Plan to Practice: Lessons Learned from the First Year of Campus Equity Plan through the Illinois Equity in Attainment Initiative

Since 2018, 25 Illinois colleges and universities have remained active partners in the Illinois Equity in Attainment Initiative (ILEA), a cohort-based higher education reform effort designed to close racial and socioeconomic disparities in graduation outcomes. Hear from Danielle Terry, Equity Coordinator, Oakton Community College; Beth Ingram, PhD, Provost, Northern Illinois University; and Joe Saucedo, Equity Program Manager, Partnership for College Completion on local and statewide efforts.

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Sustainability of Pathways: How to Create Buy-in for Dual Credit

Bridget French, Executive Director of College & Career Readiness at Rockford Public Schools, and Shavon Taylor-Booker, District Director of Early College at City Colleges of Chicago, explored the successes and challenges they are experiencing as they navigate dual credit classes and pathways.

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Engaging Employers to Support Student Career Exploration

Employers and community partners shared how they work together to provide students with diverse and equitable career exploration opportunities. Kari Rauh, Director of Workforce Solutions at the Greater Peoria Economic Development Council discussed CareerSpark, an interactive work and career readiness experience for students from 8th grade through high school. Samir Desai, Vice President at NorthShore University HealthSystem, joined Neil Gambow, Chair, and Tana Francellno, Career Partnership Manager of the Mayor’s Employer Advisory Council to discuss how they’re offering internships that lead to employment.

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Student Voices: A Panel of the Illinois 60 by 25 Network Student Advisory Council

Members of the Illinois 60 by 25 Network Student Advisory Council shared their experiences navigating the education system as they consider their choices for life after high school.

How Illinois Higher Education Can Foster a Thriving Illinois for All

IBHE Executive Director Ginger Ostro shared how the new Higher Education Strategic Plan – A Thriving Illinois – advances the vision for a thriving ecosystem and builds from lessons learned from other key equity initiatives statewide. Plus, we heard from Lisa Castillo Richmond, Executive Director at Partnership for College Completion, and Kim Tran, Chief of Staff at Chicago State University, on initiatives which deeply informed the Strategic Plan’s development.

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Building Bridges to Postsecondary: Transitional English Implementation

Melvin Harrison, Director for Academic Affairs at Illinois Community College Board, covered Transitional English course implementation and how the courses can build bridges for student access. Then, Anji Garza, Director of Professional Learning & Educational Services at ROE #47, shared resources and insights on developing or enhancing Transitional English.

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Regional Partnerships and Investments in Essential Skill Development

Dawn Koeltzow, Workforce Equity Project Director at Illinois Central College, and Courtney Carson, Assistant Vice President of External Affairs at Richland Community College, shared how their communities are embedding the development of essential employability skills in regional opportunities to support individuals to be ready for work, learning, and life.

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Workshop on Strengthening Collaborative Data Capacity

This workshop provided tools to figure out what data can help answer the questions you may have about your community or work, and what to do with the information once you obtain it, presented by Emily Rusca, State Policy & Strategy Director, and Charlie Rosemond, Data & Outcomes Manager of Education Systems Center at NIU, with Melissa Figueira, Senior Policy Advisor at Advance Illinois.

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Where Are We Now? Reflecting on State and Local College and Career Readiness Data

Jon Furr, Executive Director, and Emily Rusca, State Policy & Strategy Director at Education Systems Center at NIU, reviewed State-level college and career readiness data, then highlighted Network Leadership Communities that have made notable progress in readiness markers, such as significant drops in college remediation course enrollment. Leadership Community presenters included:

  • Elizabeth Carrico, Professor of Mathematics Illinois Central College
  • Megan Kelly, Director of Academic Programs & Pathways High School District 214
  • Arnitria Shaw, Vice President of Workforce and Diversity Illinois Central College
  • Janis Jones, College & Career Readiness Facilitator Sauk Valley Community College

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Promising Practices & Lessons Learned: High School Youth Apprenticeships

How can we support high school students to complete a Youth Apprenticeship? Presenters shared their models and experiences: We heard from Superintendent Darryl Hogue of River Bend CUSD #2, Principal Robert Gosch of Fulton High School, Youth Apprenticeship Manager Kena D. Franklin of Chicago Public Schools, and Director of Career Launch Chicago Stephanie Gomez and CTE Pathways Manager Hector Gonzalez of City Colleges of Chicago.

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Integrating Social-Emotional Learning into Academic Performance Tasks: Process and Products from CPS CBE Schools

Senior Program Manager of Competency-Based Education Damarr Smith of Chicago Public Schools joined Senior Fellow Ginger Reynolds of Education Systems Center at NIU to share how Competency-Based Education (CBE) CPS high school teachers developed and implemented academic performance tasks that integrate social-emotional learning.

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Building Currency for Teacher Pathways

To help strengthen the teacher pipeline in Illinois, a growing number of postsecondary and scholarship organizations are offering new incentives for Illinois students graduating with the College and Career Pathway Endorsement (CCPE) in Education. Pathways Director Juan Jose Gonzalez of Education Systems Center at NIU provided an overview of the CCPE and existing scholarship opportunities. Then, Director of Capacity Management Sam Nelson of Illinois Student Assistance Commission introduced the special consideration for CCPE students through the Minority Teachers of Illinois Scholarship Program and changes made to the MTI program, effective for the 2022–2023 award year.

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