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.


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.



Welcome Back Institute Day – 2016 – #Engage109

“Open your arms to change, but don’t let go of your values.”
– Dalai Lama


Today, August 18, 2016, was the first official day back for DPS109 staff. As we have done for the past four years we gathered as a whole school family at Alan B. Shepard Middle School for the opening institute day. This year our themes are Joy and Innovation.

Earlier in the week I sent out a note to the entire community, I’m sharing excerpts of that letter below:

Dear District 109 Parents, Staff and Community Members,

On Thursday, we welcome our teachers and staff back to work with a full day inservice that includes a keynote speech by Rich Sheridan, author of Joy, Inc., as well as collaborative learning time to prepare all of us to welcome our students back to school on Monday, August 22. …Nearly 50 staff members attended a three-day intensive workshop led by a faculty member of the Buck Institute to bring project-based learning to our classrooms.  In addition, teachers and staff set up classrooms, collaborated on curriculum, researched innovative methods, and mentored new teachers and staff, whom we welcomed to the District 109 family last week.

What’s New?

Click Here for a 360 degree view of a new library learning space

Click Here for a 360 degree view of a new art space

Click on image for a 360 degree view of labs in our district
…Every elementary school has reconstructed their library media space, adding PTO funded SmartLabs fulfilling a long held plan to incorporate more STEAM into the elementary schools. Click for live video of the construction progress – we’re getting close!

Both middle schools also have innovative and redesigned learning spaces; the art and music spaces have been completely transformed into areas that will inspire creativity, innovation, and future focused arts instruction.

Last year, the Department of Teaching & Learning awarded our second phase of innovation grants. Ten teachers across every building in the District won grants to have a classroom set of iPads, and two other teachers earned special grants for their exceptionally innovative projects. In addition, 100 teachers received individual iPads to begin exploring the potential of tablet technology to our already robust 1:1 transformative learning environments…


As part of my welcome remarks, I shared the following slide deck (I’ll also be sharing notes for clarity). The notes reflect my thinking and preparation and they are very close to the commentary I delivered in person at the assembly. As always, your comments are encouraged and welcomed!

Notes for slide 3: Our mission, our motto, our statements as to WHY we exist  –  Engage, Inspire, Empower our students, each other, and our community. You continue to do an amazing job of engaging, inspiring, empowering each and every day. I remain quite proud to serve you as the superintendent of schools!

Notes for slide 4: How do we engage, inspire and empower? One major way is through innovation. We innovate to increase student learning … We facilitate learning for our students as well as one another. Innovate means trying new and better ways of doing things. We started with Innovation grants three years ago and we keep on demonstrating new and better ways to inspire learning and to support a culture of excellence.

Notes for slide 5: One very public way we show innovation is through modern learning spaces. We have been designing and creating new and better learning spaces across the district for the past several years. With new lighting, better flooring, award winning classrooms and labs we demonstrate our commitment to excellent public education. We are proud to host visits from leaders all over the state and nation to our award winning middle school science labs. This year we cannot wait to open and unveil new middle school art and music spaces, PTO funded K-5 SMART labs, redesigned library spaces, student friendly furniture, and more. All of these physical changes are designed to support innovative learning and teaching practices. The spaces themselves do not reflect innovation though, it’s what you do with and in these spaces that truly creates new and better learning for ALL students. We provide the conditions for optimal learning and growing, the spaces provide opportunities for new and better experiences.

Notes for slide 6: We also innovate with new and better instructional tools and resources designed to support your work. With collaborative Google Apps for Education we have created opportunities for communication across boundaries of time and space. Other tools like the extensive suite of technology we offer support innovative learning and teaching practices. The tools themselves are not innovative; it’s what you do with these tools that creates new and better learning for our students. This year we’re proud to celebrate Innovation Grant Phase II with new and better ideas about how to leverage the power of technology. A focus area includes the 4Cs of communication, collaboration, creativity and critical thinking. These new tools allow for innovative practices supporting the 4Cs.

Notes for slide 7: We also innovate in DPS109 with professional learning opportunities. I am so proud of the hashtag #engage109 on Twitter where any day or time I can look and see what is happening in the classrooms around the district. #Engage109 is known far and wide as a space where DPS109 staff share and learn and communicate. Often our hashtag is trending due to the activity. Twitter is a space where anyone can learn and access virtually anything at any time. In addition, this year’s early release Wednesday structure is designed to create new and better ways for teacher learning. Through sustained job embedded learning opportunities we will create conditions for innovation. We are also proud of the Deerfield University an often replicated example of innovative professional learning and teacher support. The DU offers a voluntary personalized, learning platform where we can learn and grow any time any place at any speed or any pace, our motto is You can DU it! Finally, the upcoming EdCamp North Shore 16 to be held at Kipling on October 29 reflects yet another way we innovate in the professional learning space. I hope the folks from Kipling will tweet out the link to sign up via the #engage109 hashtag today!

Notes for slide 8: I consider myself to be an innovative superintendent. I learn from you and I learn with you. I truly enjoy learning alongside you and joining in classroom practices like Shark Tank shown in the photo above. I look forward to every visit to the classrooms. I learn new and better ways of doing education from you. Thank you for continuing to invite me and welcome me into your classrooms. In addition, I innovate through partnerships and professional memberships in forward thinking organizations like BrightBytes, Discovery Education, and the American Association for School Administrators, the AASA. This summer a group of 50 superintendents from around the USA came to learn our story – they came to visit our new and better learning spaces. Because of your great work I get to show off and share our stories of innovation. In addition, I learn from them and their expertise and I share that here in Deerfield. You give me great pride and so much to share! Finally I innovate by experimenting with gizmos and gadgets that support new and better learning, I am eager to see the innovative results of the 2nd phase of the Innovation Grant process.

Notes for slide 9: I seek out innovation in my personal life too. For the past 11 years my family has gone to the same resort in Elkhart Lake, Wisconsin. We love the vacation and the kids look forward to it each year. This summer we innovated – we experienced tubing for the first time. While it may seem simple or even silly for me to share this personal example, I wanted to share how we took an awesome family experience, our annual trip to Wisconsin – perfectly fine for 11 years; and with an innovation, the tubing, our first time as a family doing so, we innovated our vacation! We tried something new and better and created a new learning experience.

Notes for slide 10: I highly value being a connected educator and leader, I learn from others, I share our stories of innovation, and I become a better leader through collaboration. Please continue to reach out to me and welcome me into your learning spaces. You can contact me, and I encourage you to do so, through any number of addresses and social networks. Welcome back to another fantastic school year! Please give a warm welcome to Dr. Jeff Zoul who will continue our program this morning. Thank you.


Back to School – 2016 – #Engage109 Update

“Diversity: the art of thinking independently together.”
– Malcolm Forbes

downloadIt’s back to school time across the USA and Illinois! In the Deerfield Public Schools our teachers have been hard at work all summer and they are eager to return to their classrooms. The 25 new teachers have been engaged in New Teacher Orientation since August 11, and all staff return to the Welcome Back Kick Off Institute on August 18. Finally, our 3000 students will return starting on August 22. We in education get “do overs” every year! While we have but one opportunity to create the best and most impactful experience for each of our learners, we as educators get each year to refine our craft, hone our skills, and improve.

downloadThe Deerfield Public Schools are Future Ready! From innovative curriculum & instruction resources and practices to devices and engaging learning spaces, we are constantly improving and changing and learning how to get better at education. This year’s summer construction has been extensive.








One of the major frameworks upon which my beliefs are based is the Education Reimagined framework (the five core components are listed above). We’re seeking educational offerings that enhance and support the 4C’s (communication, collaboration, creative thinking, creativity). We are reading and learning all that we can in an effort to improve and refine our craft.

Workers have been quite busy renovating the four elementary school libraries, installing four SMART labs for STEAM learning, renovating the middle school art and music spaces, and re-cabling the entire school district!

This year marks the current executive leadership team’s fourth year in the district. Our aim is to Engage, Inspire, Empower each and every member of our organization – students, staff, leadership team, parents, community, everyone! We’ll continue to measure success and input and feedback with surveys and outreach. This year we’ll also start the strategic planning process where we’ll seek the input in focus groups, surveys, and interviews to ensure we’re representing the community values, norms, and visions for education.

The key to our student success is and will continue to be creating learning environments that support learning, growth, success, the 4C’s, innovation, creativity, and JOY!! We want to bring back and sustain joy and happiness in our school system.

ittakesavillageThank you for reading, commenting, helping sustain our success as a premier public school district. We Engage, Inspire, Empower as a matter of practice, vision, and course. This year the district proudly offers Innovation Grant II where a number of the teachers will push the limits and explore additional ways to facilitate learning in new, creative, and innovative ways. Through the blog and other communication venues we’ll share our story. We’re on a journey.


March Notes – From Staff Newsletter – #Engage109

“Certain things catch your eye, but pursue only those that capture the heart. ”
– Ancient Indian Proverb


Each month we share a newsletter for staff and I open it with some news, views, and information. I’m sharing an excerpt of my portion in the blog today:

As we approach spring it’s exciting to think about how fantastic it is to work in District 109 – and I’ve recently done some really fun work that has allowed me to see, firsthand, the sharing of learning and teaching across the district. In December, I shadowed a 4th grade South-Parkstudent in Samantha Johnson’s class at Walden, and in February, I was honored to teach Emily Wallace’s first graders at South Park as my “Presence is Present” gift. I loved being a teacher again – and I think the students were happy to have me; at least their notes expressed their appreciation! Across the nation there is a movement and news called “Shadow a Student Day” – I’m thrilled to be part of this in Deerfield. I’m so proud of my administrative colleagues who are also shadowing students, substitute teaching, and walking a mile in the shoes of employees!

bad59220-e2f2-4066-93db-3ae2f394b2b6We like to share the great things that are happening in our schools with other educational professionals worldwide.

Many of you use #engage109 and your school hashtags to share your stories with the Twitter world. It’s fun to see the photos and stories scrolling on the District home page, and the school pages! Many of our administrators also write articles and present at conferences about our schools and our work.  I’m proud to share an article that Greg Himebaugh and I wrote for UPDATE magazine, a publication of the Illinois Association of School Business Officials. The article shares how we’ve managed change in District 109 for the benefit of our schools, our students, and our community. Next week, Caruso will host the Illinois Association of School Boards Lake County Division Dinner; board members, superintendents and other educational professionals from all over the county will come for tours of Caruso’s science, STEM and CMA labs, and will hear from District 109 band, orchestra and chorus students. It will be a full-STEAM evening! Thanks to the staff members who are helping us show off!

As I mention often, this is one source of what’s happening in District 109; you can get more information from Board Briefs, found on the Board of Education Meeting Information page of the website, and feel free to check my blog for periodic postings about leadership, education, and District news.

Thank you for continuing your excellence and dedication to the students in the District and for your efforts to engage, inspire, and empower students, families, the community, and each other every day.