What does the superintendent do all summer? #Engage109

“Make sure that team members know they are working with you, not for you”
– John Wooden

What is going on in #Engage109 this summer?  What do we do all summer is a common question I have been asked for most of the 25 years I’ve been in education! Well it’s official – we are in school year 2017-2018! We have a guiding Strategic Plan, we have many new leaders, we will have a new board member on the way – it’s a whole new year. Aside from running summer school with more than 500 students, overseeing major summer construction projects approaching $5Million dollars, and the on-boarding of nearly 10 new leaders, we’re also making sure we have plans for meetings, workshops, professional development, curriculum development and other milestone events for all administrators.

As far as we’re concerned, it’s time for 2017-2018 to start (Ok … we’ll wait a few more weeks …).

In addition, we’re reaching end of life for hundreds of nearly 10 year old Promethean Boards, so the Technology Team is rolling out new projection and whiteboard systems to replace the Promethean boards in all six campuses.  Our Director for Innovative Learning, Marcie Faust and many of our outstanding iCoaches have trained nearly 64 teachers in summer workshops thus far and expect another 57 on the scheduled dates in July and August!  This is in addition to widespread learning sessions in the multiple classrooms at each building that we had set up last spring as a “debut”.  

We also continue to close the fiscal year that ended on June 30, and we prepare for the annual auditors who are scheduled to come spend two weeks conducting field test at the end of the month.  

In addition, the Director of Buildings & Grounds, Charlie Privett, and the B&G team are exceptionally busy working on a variety of projects throughout the district, including:  

Caruso & Shepard Locker Rooms, Security Projects (throughout the district), Casework at Kipling & South Park, Parking Lots at South Park, Walden, Shepard, & Wilmot, Roof Project at Wilmot, Flooring Projects & Painting Projects Throughout the district, and more!

In addition, I published an article in the IL ASCD Summer Journal and I’m working on a few other writing projects.

So … while the students are enjoying much needed recreation time, the leadership team is busy making sure everything will be ready for them in August!

I always smile when folks say “It’s easier in the summer, right?” – nope – but I would not want it any other way.


Our New Strategic Plan – #engage109

“If you want extraordinary results you must put in extraordinary effort.”
– Cory Booker

On Monday, April 24, 2017, the Board of Education of the Deerfield (IL) Public Schools District 109 approved the 2017 Strategic Plan! This new plan is the outgrowth of focus groups, interviews, surveys, studies, analysis, and leadership. More than 1700 voices have been heard as part of this process.

We have a Portrait of a Graduate, a mission, vision, guiding principles, goals and objectives.

This is the District’s Guiding Document! All actions, plans, initiatives, plans, programs and reviews will be aligned with and measured against this plan and its components.


From my letter to the community in the Plan:

On behalf of the Board of Education, I am proud to present the 2017 Strategic Plan. We developed this plan with input from more than 1,700 people in our community through interviews, focus groups, surveys, data analysis and student performance.

Those 1,700 people included representatives from the following stakeholder groups: teachers, parents, students, support staff, community members, business leaders, government leaders, administrators and members of the Board of Education.  The plan lays out the mission, vision, portrait of a graduate, guiding principles goals and objectives. This plan will guide our work on behalf of the children we serve. The three broad goals to which the objectives are aligned clearly share that which we value: Limitless learning experiences for ALL children.

The 2017-18 school year will mark the first year of implementation of this plan.  I look forward to working with our entire community as we embark on shaping the future of education in the Deerfield Public Schools. Thank you for your continued support as we continue to Engage, Inspire, Empower our students, each other, and our entire community.

We take the concept of limitless learning experiences for ALL children very seriously. We do believe that the current, 19th Century structures serve many of our students and families (it’s familiar and it’s a system that is not completely broken). But, there are more and more students for whom the current system simply does not work. There are more and more students for whom the current structures block their growth and potential. Just because the systems have worked for more than a century does not believe we have to continue them blindly with no options.

This current Strategic Plan allows us to move beyond the 19th Century structures. We can move beyond our 20th Century accomplishments and struggles. We can move forward in this current 21st Century with vision, mission, “the end in mind” and options!

The three goals form the umbrella of the driving forces toward our future – a future where we design, create, implement, and evaluate Limitless learning experiences for ALL children.

Tied to these goals we have six objectives each for a total of eighteen objectives. The objectives were vetted by members of the Board of Education, our research partners ECRA Group, and the Leadership Team (assistant superintendents, principals, associate/assistant principals, executive directors, directors coordinators, etc).

Tied to these eighteen objectives we have formulated eighteen action plans! We’ll tie our work to this plan. We’ll align our work to these objectives. We’ll report more throughout the next few years. In three years we’ll review the entire plan to see what is still relevant. Annually we’ll report on progress, planning, and evaluation. This will be a LIVE plan – not a plan that sits on a binder.




Addressing Equity -Opportunity- Acceleration for All #Engage109

“Continuous effort, not strength or intelligence is the key to unlocking our potential.” – Winston Churchill

In the Deerfield Public Schools, District 109, we have decided to make a change to mathematics program delivery models starting in


the 2017-18 school year in the 6th grade. We are going to eliminate “regular math” and offer “accelerated math” for all.

We engaged in a comprehensive review of our own student performance (status, growth, standardized test results) data and decision making processes. We also consulted with our research analytics partners, the ECRA team, as well as board members, we are confident that the right steps moving forward involve changing the math delivery model in 6th grade. We also made this decision after speaking with district and building administrators and a comprehensive review of research and data.

This equitable math curriculum delivery model change is based upon a substantial body of educational research, two years of our student performance data analyzed by professional psychometricians, and our unified, ongoing desire to create and sustain the most effective and proven structures for student learning possible. 
This decision is also supported by emerging themes of needed differentiation stemming from the input and analysis of the strategic plan information (from more than 1700 people’s input).
  • Strategic Planning Update: Board of Education President Nick Begley commended his fellow Board members and the administrators for a productive strategic planning meeting on Saturday, January 21. Dr. Lubelfeld reported that the District gathered input from more than 1,700 people as part of the process. He explained that the strategic planning process is an opportunity for stakeholders provide guidance to the Board to set the path of the District. The District 109 Board reviewed all the input and worked with ECRA in a half-day workshop to develop a draft plan that  includes the mission, vision, portrait of a graduate, guiding principles, goals and objectives. The administrative team will meet on January 31 to review the objective statements as they begin to plan the action plans to meet the objectives and goals. At the February 13 Committee of the Whole meeting, the Board and administrative team will meet to bring together their work. The final plan will be presented to the Board for action at the March 20, 2017 meeting.


As district and building and community leaders,we feel it’s incumbent upon us to design instructional structures that meet the needs of all children and provide equitable educational opportunities for all students. The current delivery model is providing barriers to access for some students, denying them the best opportunity to successfully master grade level standards.
The fact that less than 27% of 6th grade students enrolled in regular math for the past two years met minimum standards is simply unacceptable. We are not assigning blame to any teachers, of course, yet we are also not willing to make excuses for these results or overlook these results.
In our local situation, we discovered that sixty two students were enrolled in regular math (over the past few years) yet they had similar historical achievement levels to 32 students in accelerated math.  The 32 students in accelerated math grew at higher rates than the 62 students in regular math.
The issues surrounding how to best meet the needs of students is part of a broader look at education in general. Over the years, most recently through John Hattie’s meta-analysis of school studies, researchers have “proven”/found” that various instructional methods and organizational approaches have differing effects on student learning. Hattie’s findings relating to ability-based grouping are simply not encouraging.
In considering changing the model of 6th grade math offerings, members of the administration have reviewed and studied an abundance of research related to tracking, ability grouping, and instruction. In addition, the partnership with ECRA Group has allowed us to review and analyze multiple points of local student performance data over the past few years in each “program.”
Sharing one of many videos about ability grouping – causing us to pause, think, and “unlearn” for children – ALL children!

Our 6th grade math model moving forward calls for four sections of accelerated math on each middle school team with TAP (our gifted ed and high achieving track) still remaining separate. We understand that this will be a change for our current sixth grade math teachers.
However, it is worth noting what will not change: 6th grade teachers will move from teaching 4 sections of 6th grade math to 4 sections of 6th grade math with the curriculum map standards (as the “floor” for all students, but the “ceiling” for none) remaining identical to what they are now. The expectation for differentiation is not new, it’s done every day in every K-5 classroom across the district, and it has been happening in our middle school classrooms as well for decades.
We believe children must be allowed to show competence and mastery of their grade level standards, and when they do, the teacher must allow them to move beyond in an effort to remove the limits on our students.
Finally, this entire change process directly relates to the PLC (professional learning communities) work in which we have been involved. There are four basic questions we all must continuously ask and reflect upon every day:
  1. What do we expect our children to know and be able to do? (As mentioned before, with this change the answer will be the same: the 6th grade CCSS for mathematics will be the floor for all students and the ceiling for none).
  2. How will we know if they learned it? (Again, largely nothing will change; we will continue to use MAP, PARCC, DCA, and ongoing daily formative assessment data to monitor our results)
  3. How will we respond when some children do not learn? (Our answer to this question, based on all available data the past two years, is the “why” of this whole movement. This is something we’ve examined extensively and–having done so–determined we must now respond systemically; something must change to determine if we can get better results moving forward)
  4. How will we respond when some students already know/can do? (We want to spend more time on answering this question next year with the acceleration for all model, in which we insist on 6th standards as floor for all, yet the ceiling for none. How can we individualize/personalize 6th grade math instruction to make sure the ceiling is limitless for kids)

Internally we shared some of the following background information and resource collection:

There has been a lot of discussion, thinking, review and reflection about the administration’s goal to reduce tracking at the sixth grade math level next year. Our aim is to raise expectations and remove limits to student growth by making all or just about all math (except TAP/gifted) accelerated. Our “acceleration for all” philosophy is driven by research, best practices, literature, experience, professional judgement, resources available to us, and the performance on the achievement test of children in the “regular” class for the past two years. One hypothesis for the poor performance is the ill effects of ability grouping/tracking as has been in place. In addition, the past few years offers us incredible gains and growth – never before seen or experienced in the district. Our student performance K-5 is impacting needed changes in models at grades 6-8.

Please see these videos for perspectives from experts on tracking and ability grouping:

This is a complex and multifaceted issue that tracking alone does not explain. We believe that raising expectations for all students in the current “regular track” will improve student performance.

Additional literature/research information on this well researched topic:

According to Mary Fletcher, there are many benefits to expect when instructional staff are conversant with and dedicated to differentiated instruction and detracking:

  • Differentiation allows more students to feel invested in the lesson, thereby decreasing behavioral problems. Students who previously opted to be viewed as “bad” rather than “stupid” will have their learning needs met and other talents explored, allowing them to drop the “bad” act and become instead a valuable member of the class.

  • Students who might have been considered less intelligent because they learn in a nontraditional way become invaluable contributors to the heterogeneous classroom.

  • Differentiated instruction encourages flexibility. Teachers thus become adept at adapting lessons to fulfill each student’s individual needs.

  • Detracking removes the limits that come with rigid thinking about how learning should and does occur. Fair does not always mean “the same.” For example, allowing a student who struggles with the physical act of writing to type his notes can benefit that student and the rest of the class. Not only does the student get access to the material, but the entire class has a reliable set of notes that can be used for those who were absent. This student now becomes an expert—and essential—note-taker who takes pride in his responsibility and sees himself as a member of the class.

Eliminate the Lowest Track First

There is little doubt that tracking does the most harm to students who are consigned to the lowest track. According to the National Research Council (NRC), low-track classes have an especially deleterious effect on learning, since such classes are “typically characterized by an exclusive focus on basic skills, low expectations, and the least qualified teachers” (Heubert & Hauser, 1999, p. 282).

The preponderance of research regarding low-track classes was so overwhelmingly negative that the NRC concluded that students should not be educated in low-track classes as they are currently designed (Heubert & Hauser, 1999). It makes sense, therefore, to begin by eliminating the classes that do the most harm to students.

Why Ability Grouping Doesn’t Work by Shirley Clarke

Detracking for Excellence and Equity compilation of research findings from several sources

Moving Beyond Tracking by Wm Mathis

From: The Mathematics of Hope: Moving from Performance to Learning in Mathematics Classrooms– Jo Boaler:

Other changes need to happen as well. Mathematics teachers need to stop frequent, timed testing; replace grades with diagnostic feedback (Black et al. 2002; Boaler & Foster 2014); and deemphasize speed, so that the students who think slowly and deeply are not led to believe they are not capable (Boaler, 2014). Perhaps most significantly and most radically, schools should also remove fixed student groupings that transmit fixed mindset messages and replace them with flexible groupings that recognize that students have different strengths at different times (Boaler 2009; Boaler & Foster 2014).

Keeping Track: The Policy and Practice of Curriculum Inequality (Oakes)

Current DPS 109 5th Grade Data to review for Placement Discussions

Potential Resources for teachers:

Jo Boaler’s Online course for Teachers

Why Do Americans Stink at Math by Elizabeth Green

The American Math Crisis– Forthcoming Math Documentary

The Stereotypes that Distort How Americans Teach and Learn Math by Jo Boaler

How Math Should Be Taught – Jo Boaler

When You Believe In Your Students They Do Better -Jo Boaler

As always we welcome comments, thoughts, challenges, examples, etc!

Principal-Superintendent Collaborative Journal Article #Engage109

“It is not the strongest species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the ones who are most responsive to change.”
– Unknown

In the Deerfield Public Schools we have enjoyed three full years change, growth, progress and joy. We credit our Board of Education for their effective and impactful governance and vision, teacher and student and administrator collaboration and innovation, and community support!

In this blog post I am sharing an article that two Deerfield Public Schools District 109 principals and I co-wrote and was published by a national principal organization.

Your comments are always welcome!


The following article was Published by the National Association of Secondary School Principals, NASSP, in their journal, Principal Leadership

Reinventing Science Lab Space and Curriculum

by Brian Bullis, John Filippi, and Michael Lubelfeld

How one school district used a holistic approach to produce a dozen award-winning science labs

As principals move from No Child Left Behind to the Every Student Succeeds era, the traditional school improvement model that narrowly targeted student achievement is no longer standard operating procedure. In our district, we have broadened our view of school improvement, and the results have been dramatic—we’ve redesigned middle school science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) learning spaces and curricula.

We accomplished this by using a holistic school improvement planning process that utilized the power and collective capacity of student, staff, parent, and community voice. Working under an intensive, two-year Plan-Do-Study-Act process, principal leadership transformed student learning and school facilities for decades to come. For example, we now have 12 award-winning science labs available to all students in grades 6 through 8.

Potent Process

In 2013, Deerfield Public Schools District 109 embarked on a new format for school improvement planning. Rather than form a team of staff to focus narrowly on measures of student achievement—as had been the model in Illinois and across the nation for many years—we took steps to gather a large group of constituent stakeholders. One hundred and forty staff, parents, students, and community members came together to research areas for improvement. The Superintendent’s Task Force for Middle Level Education reviewed middle school education in six broad areas: fine arts, STEM, exploratories, world languages, gifted programming, and social emotional learning.

Each subcommittee of the task force was chaired by a middle school building administrator, and subcommittee membership comprised balanced representation among constituent group members. Subcommittees were encouraged to think and dream big. The task for each group was not to focus on incremental improvement, but rather to develop audacious goals for improved student learning experiences that reflected their vision for contemporary education. One student put it best when she stated it was her opportunity to, “share my ideas in order to make things work.”

One specific goal that emerged was the redevelopment of the middle school STEM experience. Principal facilitators educated the 27-member STEM task force subcommittee on the Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS) and the Common Core State Standards. The group studied and engaged in dialogue about current realities and future projections. The national and international need for improved science education was identified, and opportunities in STEM employment fields were discussed. With the United States underperforming in STEM education, and the unfilled STEM job gap growing, the committee felt it was incumbent on the school district to act.

The subcommittee developed a shared vision statement with the help of principal leadership. The shared vision was for “District 109 to lead the state in developing innovative and inspired thinkers and problem solvers.” To achieve that vision, the group set a goal to rewrite the science curriculum and to design new science lab spaces for all middle school students.

Dramatic Design

With the goal of developing cutting-edge middle school science facilities and curriculum, a team of science teachers and principals were selected to work with the district’s architects. The design phase was unique for two reasons: First, the curriculum that would be delivered in the space was still in development; and, second, the end users were highly involved in articulating the needs of the labs to the architects.

This design approach was a significant departure for our organization; past construction had focused on architect-directed design to meet established curricular programming. Now, the voice and leadership of the principals was central during all phases of design. The Board of Education and superintendent recognized the need to empower school-based leadership to effect lasting, second-order change.

Because the NGSS-aligned curriculum was not yet complete, the design team emphasized the need for flexibility and design agility in the final layout. What seemed an impediment to effective design emerged as a strength. The completed learning spaces would need to remain pliable: They had to serve the unknown now, and ultimately in the future. Furniture could not be static, the teacher’s mobility could not be constrained to a single demonstration station, the location of wet lab and classroom space could not be restrictive. The space needed to be versatile enough to allow for innovation now and in the future.

Design highlights of the completed space include:

  • Mobile student seating and lab stations
  • Movable walls
  • Three points of projection throughout the room for students to see teacher- or student-​presented material
  • Networked monitors at each lab station for use of science-specific software, and to allow students to see teacher lab demonstrations from a demonstration camera
  • Green-energy technology (wind turbines, solar, rain collection) with real-time consumption and energy generation available to students via a web-based dashboard
  • Real-time weather monitoring
  • Birdhouses with live camera feeds into the classroom

Design continued into construction, and construction of the 12 labs was split into two phases. Phase one took part in the oldest and smallest of the four labs during the summer of 2014, and the remaining eight labs were completed in 2015. This provided an opportunity for the phase two labs to be further improved by soliciting feedback from students and staff that experienced learning in the completed phase one labs.

Rewarding Results

Every square centimeter of space in the science labs and classrooms is available for learning, as defined by our current needs, but the spaces are also available for the learning of tomorrow. The labs won the Learning by Design award for “Outstanding Project” in spring 2016, as well as an “Award of Merit” for the Exhibition of Educational Environments Awards at the Joint Annual Conference of the Illinois Association of School Boards, the Illinois Association of School Administrators, and the Illinois Association of School Business Officials in 2015. In addition, the leadership team for the task force earned a 2014 “Distinguished Service Award of Excellence” from the Illinois Chapter of the National School Public Relations Association. Students, staff, parents, and visiting dignitaries-including the governor of Illinois and Illinois state superintendent of education-have raved about the capabilities of the new labs. One parent working in a STEM field went so far as to say the labs rivaled the capabilities of his work environment.

While we have enjoyed the positive feedback, the challenge we now face is how to measure the return on investment. Our board of education authorized nearly $10 million in support of these projects, and like leaders in other districts, we’re challenged to substantiate the benefit such work yields for the students in our care. We believe the answer to this challenge is to reinvest in the process—by engaging stakeholders in the meaningful study of student outcomes associated with the labs and redesigned instruction and examining again the research on effective STEM instruction.

Brian Bullis, EdD,is the principal at Charles J. Caruso Middle School in Deerfield, IL.
John Filippi, EdD, is the principal at Alan B. Shepard Middle School in Deerfield.
Michael Lubelfeld, EdD, is the superintendent of schools for Deerfield Public Schools District 109. 

Sidebar: Make It Work

Implement a holistic, redesigned STEM program at your school:

  • Inspire. Motivate teachers, students, and community members to dream big. Lead with data, energy, emotion, and hope. Encourage teams to produce tangible results through dream/do leadership.
  • Engage. Facilitate stakeholder group planning, review, and implementation recommendations.
  • Reinvest. Lead analysis of the change process. Encourage stakeholders to benchmark results of change against growth targets, and set goals for continued growth.



Reimagine Education – Superintendent Leadership Meeting

“If we don’t stand for something, we may fall for anything.”
– Unknown


I have often written about the power and value of professional associations. I am grateful to the coaching, guidance, mentorship, feedback, and opportunities that these associations afford me and other leaders in the field. As a member of the AASA Digital Consortium Advisory Board, I had the meaningful opportunity to co-host a recent gathering of this group in the Chicago area.

My friend and colleague Nick Polyak from the Leyden Township High Schools in Franklin Park and Northlake, IL and I engaged with a team of superintendents and school leaders from around the United States for two days of intense leading, learning, fellowship, and calls to action. Essential to school and community leadership, partnerships with business leaders, service providers, thought leaders, and coalitions serve to strengthen and amplify the value and reach of the leadership experiences. Key to the influence and success of the Digital Consortium are friends like Horace Mann, Discovery Education, Google, Google Chicago, Education Reimagined, and others.

Click on image for a 360 degree view of labs in our district
Click on image for a 360 degree view of labs in our district

During part of our learning experiences we visited incredible spaces for learning (also known as classrooms) at Leyden and in Deerfield. From modern advanced manufacturing programming at Leyden to modern Next Generation Science labs in Deerfield, we shared with the group HOPE and POSSIBILITY in progressive, future focused school systems.


We engaged with the Leyden Summer Symposium (a gathering of hundreds of teachers, administrators and students) from around the country. We engaged with Google Chicago – seriously the coolest work environment in which I have ever worked!

We worked through design thinking exercises and planning under the powerful new framework found in Education Reimagined.

View from Roof of Google ChicagoLike the amazing view of Chicago (and beyond) from the rooftop of Google Chicago (seen in the image) our view for the future is endless. The framework described in Education Reimagined (I encourage you to read the 12 page document) is organized into five parts (see image below):Edreimframework

As leaders, our work at this summit involved diving deeply into the meaning and possibility within each of the parts (competency-based, learner agency, etc.). We leaders worked in groups with one another, student representatives and our partners. Through Google led design thinking exercises and deep thinking, we ultimately produced IGNITE style presentations as part of our call to action and commitment to doing and leading with this information and guidance.

For a image and text view of our experiences, learning, and feelings, I encourage you to peruse the  tweets we shared under the #AASA_DigitalConsortium. Our challenge and charge as a group is to continue to lead with passion, energy, focus, and partnership. As critical friends we affirm that which is good and best and we constructively critique that which can be made better.

Together with our local Boards of Education, staff and communities, we commit to follow the North Star set forth in the framework for leadership as we reimagine education!