CHICAGO – July 20, 2011. Lt. Governor Sheila Simon visited a third grade class in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood today, pledging to fight for the education reforms that will help them become the college Class of 2025.
Simon read and sang with the Irma C. Ruiz Elementary School students and told them to aim high when it comes to their future. She pointed out three summer school aides that graduated from Ruiz who now attend college at Northern Illinois, Emory and Georgetown universities.
“Never doubt that if you work hard and stay in school, you can go to college,” said Lt. Governor Simon. “I can tell you, and these young women can tell you, that going to college changes everything. It can open the door to your dreams.”
As the Governor’s point person on education reform, Simon has embarked on a statewide Complete College tour this year, visiting dozens of community colleges and addressing lawmakers, school leaders and teachers, urging them to make data-driven, student-centered reforms that could lead to higher graduation and completion rates.
Illinois wants 60 percent of all working age adults (25-64) to hold a college degree or certificate by 2025, up from about 40 percent today. In order to reach this goal, Illinois’ postsecondary institutions must increase the number of graduates statewide by 4,400 students each year, for a total of 600,000 additional graduates by 2025, Simon said.
Upcoming education reforms aimed at better preparing students for college include lengthening of the Chicago Public Schools’ day and creating principal and teacher evaluation systems that will make it easier for excellent teachers to get tenure and underperforming teachers to be dismissed.
Simon also called on Governor Quinn to sign a performance funding bill that’s on his desk, which would create a system to tie state higher education dollars to completion milestones. The state expects to hear this week if it will receive a $1 million Complete College America grant, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, to help develop and implement the reform.
“We have a performance funding system now that rewards enrollment, and we need to shift that to reward course completions, graduation and other markers of progress and success so that students in third grade today are more likely to earn a diploma come 2025,” Simon said.
Simon was joined by former Chicago City Clerk Miguel del Valle, whom she serves with on the state’s P-20 Council, a state education body focused on preschool to college reforms.
“Developing a seamless system of quality education is vital to maximizing students’ growth and future success,” del Valle said. “I am encouraged by Lt. Governor Simon’s work to motivate students to complete college, and look forward to working with her to make the state’s 2025 goal a reality.”
Ruiz Elementary School is a neighborhood school that primarily enrolls low-income, Hispanic students. About 69 percent met or exceeded state standards on the 2010 ISAT, according to its state report card. Simon interacted with second and third graders in “step up” and bridge programs, designed to help their transition to the next grade level.
Principal Dana Butler said he recruits Ruiz alumni such as Janet Anaya, Eunice Ruiz and Elisa Manrique to work at the school over the summer so students can connect to people just like them who are going to college.
“When a Ruiz student hears about a student who has gone on to high school and then college, they smile. When a Ruiz student talks with a student who has gone on to high school and then college, they are impressed and ask questions,” Butler said.