The Southern Illinoisan
August 19, 2011
By D.W. Norris
CARBONDALE - Students at Carbondale's Thomas School for second and third-graders got the chance to make music with Lt. Gov. Sheila Simon on Thursday.
Simon visited the school because the two dozen third-grade violinists with whom she played several versions of "Twinkle Twinkle Little Star" may be part of the college graduating class of 2025. In that year, Simon and Gov. Pat Quinn want to see 60 percent of adults in the state in possession of college degree or certificate.
Simon said she knows getting to 60 percent is an ambitious goal - 41 percent of Illinois adults currently meet the standard - but the state has to get there.
"It's what's needed to meet the demand for jobs in the future," Simon said. "We don't want to be the ones lagging behind."
Quinn and Simon are pushing for an additional 600,000 Illinoisans to graduate from college over the next 14 years. Simon serves on the state's performance funding committee to create a system in which post-secondary education funding is tied to performance milestones and graduation rates.
Thomas School proved to be a good choice as a place where Simon could put a face on the class of 2025. Almost all the children in Angela Compton's music class raised their hands when Simon asked who planned on attending college.
Each room in Thomas School features college symbolism. It has adopted the No Excuses University Network to prepare young students for the challenges they will face.
"The No Excuses University Network offers an excellent framework for instilling the expectation of college achievement, while helping align academic success to create a seamless transition from elementary school to higher grades," said Linda Flowers, Thomas School's principal.
Superintendent Michael Shimshak said Carbondale Elementary School District 95 is focused on providing its students with a holistic learning experience. In addition to math, science and reading, schools also require studies in the arts. Every student at Thomas School will at some point take a music class in violin.
Simon made sure students knew that musical rhythms are based on mathematics, which drew reactions of surprise from some, and some of those students' questions to Simon and Southern Illinois University Carbondale Chancellor Rita Cheng were also sur-prising.
When asked what the best college in the country was, Cheng and Simon had the same answer: The best college in the country is the one that will meet those students' goals.
How those students will get into those schools was also a subject addressed by Simon and Cheng. The cost of attending college rises annually, and both women said state and federal money must be available when its time to make the jump from high school to college.
Simon also said community colleges offer a chance for students to get up to speed on the skills and knowledge they will need to attend universities.
Additionally, Simon said she would like to see Illinois get a waiver from No Child Left Behind standards.
""It's not the direction we want to go," she said. "We want to measure progress."