Superintendent's Blog

April 21, 2017 - Today Matters






If feels good to finish strong...

The reality of the close of the school year really has begun to settle in. For both students and staff, there is a lesson to be gathered about finishing something you started and finishing in such a way that the task is completed with your best efforts. This becomes something that is personally satisfying. 

Although this blog typically centers on educational matters, this lesson — finishing strong — can certainly apply inside the classroom walls as well as in life in general. In some instances, our own personal effort can get us to the finish line. At other times, we need the help of a friend or a team. In most instances, we all experience a mix of these two paths to accomplishment.

The real challenge, at the end of a school year, is to complete our work with the same tenacity, vigor, excitement, and drive as when we began. It is at these crucial moments in life when character counts. Are we who we say we are? Are we who we protray ourselves to be to others? Am I a "thinker" or a "doer?"

At some point, we just have to put the work in to get the job done.

With summer approaching, what are the things on your list that need to get done? Only so many items can be added. What's practical and what's a priority? If you had to write down your most important tasks and were limited to the size of a Post-It Note, what would your list look liike?

I challenge you to give this a try. Jot down the things that you are committed to accomplishing in the next six weeks (the number of weeks remaining in the 2016-2017 School Year). The lighter side of me began to think about listing items such as "lose one pound" or "get my car's oil changed," but these items don't push my character where it needs to be. Instead my list looks something like this:

> Complete the adoption of my children from Haiti (three years in the making: Hallelujah!)
> Lay the groundwork for students and staff to be successful as we close out this school year and continue to plan for next year (especially moving to a 1:1 Technology environment in many of our grades for next year)
Finish reading the book Visioneering, by Andy Stanley
> Attend as many musicals, choir and band concerts, ceremonies, and end-of-year school events as possible (making sure to visit Field Days at each school so I can congratulate our students personally and wish them well as they move on with their education)
> Reflect on the many challenges and successes of this school year, particularly for our outgoing 8th Graders (as I put pen to paper to write a meaningful message that expresses my sincere pride in our students and gratitude to the entire District 142 community)

I realize that to fit my list above on a Post-It, I could simply write the the word "children," referring to my own family and all the children in District 142, whom we give the same type of familial care and attention. All of my daily and long-term efforts (including the list above) are connected to putting children first. I am so grateful to be part of the District 142 family, "Where Children Always Come First." And, where we always strive to finish strong.

April 7, 2017 - Today Matters






What we have... What we look for... Makes a World of Difference

The character of a school district is the sum of its parts. When magical things happen in a district, one needs to look no further than the members of the team. In fact, in the book Creating Magic: 10 Common Sense Leadership Strategies from a Life at Disney, by Lee Cockerell, he states, "Many people think of a brand in terms of a product or logo, but I soon discovered that in reality, your people are your brand. No matter how good your product and services are, you can't achieve true excellence unless you attract great people, develop great people, and keep great people."

At District 142, we pride ourselves in seeking out the highest-quality educators, nurturing all staff through meaningful professional development, and growing as a school community through a collective of extraordinary individuals. From teacher to custodian to secretary to administrator, the common denominator in District 142 is a commitment to excellence.

Recruiting and retaining the best and brightest — and those who always put children first — is an ongoing process. In fact, as we come to the close of the current school year, we are actively working and purposefully planning for next school year. Every year as the needs of our students evolve and with the natural progression of staff retirements and anticipated instructional needs, we devote a great deal of time and careful energy to ensuring we have the staff in place that will ensure all District 142 students and families will have a high-quality educational experience. 

If the character of District 142 is the sum of its parts, we believe it is crucial to examine each part closely to ensure we have what it takes today and in the future to give the very best to the students and families we serve. To achieve this end, we spend countless hours looking through resumes, interviewing applicants, and making some of the most important decisions on behalf of the district. In short, selecting people to join our team is an extraordinarily important decision, but the key is to understand what our team is all about.

I'm often asked what my thoughts are from behind the Superintendent's desk when interviewing applicants. In answering this question, I realized that I apply these same expectations and directives to current staff.

  • Knowing what type of learner you are may make all the difference.
    As we are in the business of learning, it's a good exercise, whether you're a candidate applying for a position in District 142 or you are a current staff member, to analyze what type of learner you are. It's important, in the critical field of education, to be able to identify, in detail, the ways in which you seek out information, process what you've learned, and how you put that knowedge or skill to use. We are in the practice of identifying what types of learners our students are. District 142 seeks and develops the type of educators who would not ask any less of themselves than they'd ask of a student.

  • Collective learning communities inspire learning and growth.
    An educational community like District 142 works best when information and best practices are shared. Not only does this foster a culture of shared professionalism, but it also has the effect of bringing us together as human beings — strengthening our resolve to do and be our best for our students. Fortunately, with technology, communication and sharing is limitless. Just last year, several staff members came together for an online book group. The discussions were lively, thoughtful, and each participant came away with a deeper understanding of educational practice, and their role in it. As Superintendent, I try to consistenly — through vehicles such as this blog, my Twitter account, newsletters, and countless one-on-one and face-to-face group interactions — to keep all staff in the loop. So too, I never pass up an opportunity to listen and learn and be inspired by someone else on the District 142 team as they share knowledge and ideas with me. It's always a win-win for our students.

  • And yet, it is more than just knowledge, or degrees, or references...
    It's easier to teach someone to teach than it is to teach them how to be a good person. It is imperative that teachers and all of our school staff who interact with students and families be good, decent, moral people. Children spend more waking time with teachers than they do with their parents or anyone else during the school year. Ensuring that the right influence is in the classroom is vitally important. In my opinion, every bit as important as having the talent to teach academically.

Our students are often the most unfiltered barometer of whether or not a staff member is a good match for District 142. Children know when the teachers and staff who interact with them day in and day out are authentic in their commitment to their learning and growth. Through the interview process we look for people whose passion for education is obvious and sincere. We're looking for people in it for the long haul and are willing to invest in them in countless ways.

Our students get one first grade, one fourth grade, one sixth grade, etc. We've got to ensure that the teachers and school staff who shape their educational experience are more than good. They need to be great.

This blog was actually very easy to write because I found myself describing the employees we already have. It is their collective, cohesive work, in all areas, in all positions throughout the district that make us excellent. The fabric of District 142 is the sum of the weaving together of over 180 extraordinary individuals. Again, if things are going well, it's because the right people are in place, doing the right work.  

March 17, 2017 - Today Matters

"The strength of our student relationships makes the difference in translating our passion for teaching into their passion for learning."

Beth Morrow

Relationships are essential in developing positive student and parent school experiences. The question is: Is the investment in relationship enough to help transform classrooms and improve student achievement?

Think back to elementary school, which for some of us, like me, was quite a long time ago. What do you really remember? As much as I would like to say I can vividly remember the math or English lessons taught to me by my teachers, the truth is... I can't specifically remember but a handful of individual lessons from all of my elementary years.

Some of us might even be able to say, "I love reading because of my 4th Grade teacher," or "If it wasn't for my 7th Grade teacher, I wouldn't have started to like math." Perhaps the 4th Grade teacher referenced was an exceptionally dynamic reading teacher, who brought stories to life. So to, the well-remembered 7th Grade math teacher may have used a unique approach to math concepts (e.g., music, technology, etc.) that you strongly connected with, improving your understanding and mastery.

It's likely that beyond the objective memories, these teachers may also stand out in your memory because of the way they interacted with you, your parents, and other teachers in the school.

Ultimately, I remember how I was treated by my teachers. I was really unaware of (and mostly like unconcerned about) whether or not they were even really good at being a teacher. What I remember is if they were kind, understanding, demanding of me, and wanted me to perform my best. I remember if they had taken the time to build relationships with me, with my parents, and with one another. Now I'm sure it's not as idealistic as I remember... much of this happens outside the counsciousness of a seven-year-old. But my best recollection, the summary of my remembrances, is that many of my teachers took their time and really got to know me. Now I/we are the adults... so what are our thoughts about relationships?

Relationship-building is not limited to simply being a "nice" teacher, who is kind to his or her students. It is truly getting to know your students on a personal level. But to harness the pwoer of the relationship — to transform it into student achievement — "knowing" your student involves identifying their strengths and challenges, honing in on their personal interests directly in relation to lesson plans and activities, and building a trust level with a student so he or she will be willing to challenge themselves. Having a trusted teacher who a student knows believes in him or her is a powerful catalyst to learning.

Relationship-building of this type create safe places where our students can explore, take risks, fail, be supported through this process, and grow from it. I think a universal truth is that we learn more through failure than through success. And strong relationships can change the perception of a failure and the trajectory of a lesson learned from it. This points to the importance of the teacher and the relationships they build with their students. If, as teachers, we have developed a rapport with our students where they are open to trust, I venture to say they would be more willing to take a risk... thus more apt to learn skills they would have shied away from had relationship not been nurtured. If we support the social-emotional needs of our students, give them a place to belong, and demonstrate that they are truly known, I would suggest that student achievement would skyrocket.

This is the charge in District 142: That teachers build deep relationships with students (and their parents) to help them grow and achieve to their full potential. When this occurs, there is no limit to what can be accomplished.  

March 3, 2017 - Today Matters

Success Through Failure

"People who fail forward are able to see errors or negtive experiences as a regular part of life, learn from them, and then move on."
John Maxwell

I recently heard the phrase, "failing forward," being used in a positive light at a meeting with my colleagues. To be honest, I had to really think about what this means, and its implications. What could be positive about failing forward? I think we've spent a long time, decades, maybe longer, trying to avoid failure in education; but the truth is that failure often offers the pathway to success. As always, I like to pose questions in my blog that are provocative. So, what does "failing forward" mean to you?

Very few things are accomplished on the first try. So, as humans, we know that persistence (another softer term for failure in this instance) is a part of our DNA. No tee ball player knocks the ball out of the park with their first swing. The light bulb did not illuminate on the first try. We didn't put an astronaut on the moon with our first rocket. And our students will not solve the world's most difficult problems with their first attempt. We must support our students through the learning process of failure... and then... move them forward. Thus, the term "failing forward" is more appropriate. 

As I examine my own life and learning, I find that very few things of significance were accomplished on my first try. I've met failure many times and in some instances, had to look at it right in the eye and determine if I had the gumption to continue. In retrospect, those were the experiences that defined who I am. I argue that those are the experiences that will define our students... our learners.

There is meaningful, high-reaching language out there that we use to define 21st century learners, problem solvers, and critical thinkers. The fact that this language is conveyed as a lofty goal almost implies that some type of "fall" or failure is inevitable. However, it is exactly those problem-solving and critical-thinking abilities that will help us move forward; will help us learn in significant, empowering ways. If this is the charge of the public school system — our Forest Ridge School District 142 system — to empower our students (sometimes through failure), then we must create an environment in which difficult problems are suggested and a supportive environment exists for our students to wrestle with them.

In the end, no matter the result, learning will occur and our students will remember this for a the rest of their lives.  

February 17, 2017 - Today Matters

Knowers vs. Learners

Are we producing knowers or learners?

In a recent read of Will Richardson's, Freedom to Learn, this question was posed and it caused me to think deeply about our children and their education.

There is a philosophical question embedded in how one replies to the question above.

Are we okay with our children being educated in a way that we were not? This is a hard question, so let's unpack this together. Think back to the education we were provided in a model where teachers doled out facts, information, etc. and then a test was given. The test was designed to measure the information that could be memorized and then recalled when prompted on the test.

This type of education is no longer the model. With the advent of technology seemingly at every child's fingertips, students can quickly access the information that we used to have to memorize. Additionally, students can delve further, understanding the information provided by the teacher on a deeper, more complex level. When it comes to truly learning versus knowing, students are no longer limited to the confines of the classroom or even the physical library.

Years ago, the leap from knowing and truly learning was a longer one, usually involving a paper card catalogue, encyclopedias, periodicals either in print or on micro fiche (to then print out), and usually some additional assistance was needed from the librarian. Consider the looks on our children's faces today if we walked them to the public library, checked the card catalogue, went to the stacks for that edition of the encyclopedia and... it was already checked out by someone else! Just imagine the reaction our children would have if we told them they would have to wait for the book to be returned before we could access the information we were researching.

In the time it took us to decide to walk to the library, they would have Googled the information in a nanosecond and begun to determine how to use it. There's the key — please don't miss it. The once-needed and later-memorized information is readily available even before a teacher introduces a lesson. 

Presenting that information in a sequenced, meaningful way, taking into account individual student learning styles and needs, is still incredibly important. Computers do not replace teachers. However, teaching students how to look beyond what is presented, how to access further information from reliable sources through the use of technology, how to use that information to deepen their understanding (and further curiosity and creativity), and how to help them transform information from memorized facts to knowledge that is alive, fluid, and a natural part of the learning process is vital. It is crucial in preparing today's students for tomorrow's jobs and careers (some that have not even been created yet).

Knowing versus learning has direct implications for adult success in the real world.

It is up to us, the adults in every community in which every school system is found, to help change the conversation about how children are educated. We should advocate for children to have hands-on experience with as much technology as we can relevantly offer. We must support teachers in this process — guiding our children to vet good sources online, modeling how to use the power of discernment to determine which sources are most accurate and reliable, and then helping them, coaching them, as they put the information they have found into use. We can no longer prepare our students for the world we encountered when we were their age; we need to prepare them for the world they will encounter when they are our age.

Preparing students with the right amount of knowing so they can fully, completely, joyously engage in being a learner is and should be the mission for every progressive school district. Please continue to follow this blog and follow me on Twitter at

Dr. Paul McDermott

February 3, 2017 - Today Matters

The Power of an Audience

"Tell me and I might forget,
show me and I remember,
involve me and I understand."


Understanding is the key to true learning. Children learn in many different ways, but one of the key elements of learning is involvement at a level beyond listening and viewing. Allowing a child to be an active partner in the process — performing in some way — that includes a discernible audience, instills a deeper sense of ownership in what they produce from what they have learned.

I recently attended a wonderful play at Kerkstra Elementary School, "The Fairy Tale Network." I was reminded of the importance of the audience in relation to the learning process. Music, Band, Visual Arts, Physical Education teachers and coaches have had this right for ages. The energy before the big game or the big concert is undeniable. It's exciting, it's motivating, and it definitely improves the quality of the work being produced. Every time a teacher lets students know their finished work, be it an art project or written work, will be showcased in some way, they raise the bar for a student to strive to do their very best.

So, the questions becomes: "How do we infuse this audience-inspired energy into our academic classrooms on a daily basis?" If students are producing work that only the teachers and students will see, the audience has been reduced to just the two of them. If a product will be hung up for the class to see, will be displayed in the hallway for all of the students to see, or will be posted online for everyone to see — inevitably students' work will reflect this more public awareness.

In this day and age, with the ease of use of technology, students should be given the opportunity to see one another's work, peer edit, comment and refine their work. This more closely resembles what happens in the "real world," where as adults we are evaluated on the quality of the work we produce. Additionally, the notion that students may copy can be laid to rest by an attentive teacher. With an audience greater than one or two, a student is incentivized to not only do well, but take complete ownership for their one-of-a-kind work. Once the work has been completed, allowing a wide audience to view it, it shows students that their work is important, valuable, and worth the effort.

Think about it; this is part of who we are as humans. At the earliest ages, litte ones incessantly ask their parents to, "Look Mommy/Daddy. Look what I did!" This affirmation, this audience is their way of gathering worth and value through their work. It inspires curiosity and learning to try new things and master new skills. As children get older, as the audience grows, as the work becomes more complex and significant, we have the opportunity to celebrate a work carefully and thoughtfully produced. This "publication" of student works via physical displays or electronic and interactive renderings helps draw our parents, guardians, and community into our schools. It keeps our community abreast of the abilities of our students. And, it fosters a well-being and supportive environment for our students.

I recognize that the District 142 community is comprised of students, familes, staff, and the greater community. To this end, I will continue to share educational insights and information unique to this district through a variety of media. In addition to reading our teacher web sites and our district's Facebook and Twitter postings, I encourage you to follow this "Today Matters" blog. Also, feel free to follow me on Twitter at

As our audience, I invite you to continue to engage with District 142 as we continue to promote our students' work and successes. 

January 20, 2017 - Today Matters

Everyone is looking for community. Deep down, we were created to share life alongside others. A school environment is no different — whether it be interacting with teachers and school staff, or navigating classrooms of children — we all long to be heard and understood by those around us. Outside of home, school is where children spend a great deal of time, where they learn helpful social skills that hopefully help them feel they belong, skills they take with them into the world. 

Still, that sense of community is something to be cultivated and nurtured and practiced. Even then, sometimes children and adults can find themselves feeling alone, on the outskirts of things. Feeling isolated is not a good feeling. It affects our attitudes, our personalities, our mental and social well-being, and our work. As I reviewed my New Year's resolutions or "declarations," as one of my close friends calls them, one of the most important was to be more connected.

At District 142, we strive to make our parents feel welcome, connected, a part of the school community. When a parent is involved in their child's education through various activities, we often see a corresponding positive effect in their child's school experience. Feeling needed when it comes to your child's education is a good feeling. It forms the opposite of isolation and strengthens community.

But how can parents be a part of their child's school community? Here are just a few ways you can feel more in the loop: 

  • Engage with your child about school. In a recent conversation with one of my children at home, they were providing copious details about a topic that was very important to them. Although it was not as important to me, it was important to them. In the whole world, this child picked me to share their thoughts with. Listen to your children, ask questions that show you're interested, and allow them to unveil what's going on in their minds. Children experience a lot at school. Use their stories as a valuable resource to find out what they think about their education, themselves, and life.
  • Connect online. Please continue to follow this blog, follow me on Twitter at, and follow your children's teachers' websites. By being engaged in these online platforms, you can hear directly from the people at school about what they are trying to accomplish, their philosophies about learning, and how they are working to inspire your children. The information you gather here may help with the conversations in the above point, when listening to your children talk about school topics, themselves, and life.
  • Volunteer. There are many, many ways to help out at school including taking part in our READS Program, assisting in the library, at room parties, at events, with the PTA, and more. It is exciting for your children to know that you are coming to school to help out. It has a profound affect on them and is appreciated by the people at school who receive a helping hand.
It's cliche to say it takes a village to educate a child, but there's also some truth in these words. By working together, supporting our children and showing interest in their education, their individual thoughts, we will continue to help our school system evolve into a place where every child wants to be. Where every child feels connected. Where every child can grow and learn because they know they matter. 

January 6, 2017 - Today Matters

New Year, New Choices

"Happy New Year!" We see this mantra show up in letters, newspapers, and online postings everywhere at this time of year. It's an interesting observation about human nature to see that the arbitrary turning of a page—one day—may instantly make a difference in the behaviors, attitudes, and practices accumulated and adopted over a lifetime, or just the prior year. Depending on how you look at it, this type of change can be more a dynamic choice versus a perfunctory resolution. Either way, there is a sense of rejuvenation when choosing to challenge oneself in this way (or ways). 

My past blogs on choosing happiness, peer coaching, etc. come down to the choices we make as individuals. When we gather all of our choices together it defines who we are, both to ourselves and to the people around us. Sometimes it's not the big choices that make the most difference, but the accumulation of small daily choices that actually leads to the meaningful changes we desire.

In order to make change, diligence has to enter the conversation. Some call this grit; I call it persistence. Either way, the idea that we have to ever be on guard, protecting against settling into our old ways, and ensuring that we resolve to change is imperative. So, there must be an intentionality associated with choosing change. The conscious determination to do things differently, to set new goals, or try something new. Ironically, the impetus for change is often a persistent sense of the need for change, which can fuel the persistence needed to achieve our goal or goals.

At District 142, we approach the New Year with renewed optimism. When we put this in the context of the students of Forest Ridge School District 142, some amazing possibilities present themselves. Growth. Transformation. Achievement. Discovery. Opportunity. We begin this New Year journey by reaffirming our commitment to continue to put children first. It is timeless in its sincere and vital intention—putting children first. A commitment not measured in calendar years, but usually in modest moments and interactions—the small daily choices we make—that everyone at District 142 strives to fulfill for every child and family in our school community.

So, in all decisions made, in the efforts of the Board, the administrators, the teachers and staff, and for everyone who calls District 142 their home, we put children first! Just imagine what's in store for the young people attending our schools when the system educating them is all-in on their behalf.

I look forward to providing staggering results and a relevant, cutting edge education for our students. I choose to grow and change in order to most effectively lead and serve the District 142 community.

Enjoy and continue to follow our progress through this Superintendent's blog, Today Matters, and on Twitter at

Thank you and Happy New Year!

Dr. Paul McDermott,

December 16, 2016 - Today Matters


The past several themes of my blogs have been leading up to today's thoughts. To review, I've recently written about choosing happiness and about partnering together in a coaching relationship to both improve performance and build strong collegial relationships. 

As we stand, right between Thanksgiving and the winter holidays, and in considering the themes above, my mind quickly settles on a feeling of thankfulness. Today's blog attests to my thankfulness for the people inside the school system. No doubt, I am thankful for our parents and community members; without you, our educational environment would be incomplete. Here are a few thoughts about the people who are in our schools every day, participating in one of our greatest freedoms, the freedom to be educated.

I am thankful for every student who attends our school system. For the ones who excel and the students who struggle with school, I am thankful for each and every one. For the children who participate in a variety of extra-curriculars and those who find their way to District 142 strictly for our academic programs, I am thankful for each of them. For those who can follow the rules and for whom navigating school life is easy, and for those who need a fidget chair or extra help, I am thankful for each of them.

The recurring theme here is that we have a school community of wonderfully unique individuals. The melding of children with different experiences, challenges, languages, and backgrounds is one of Forest Ridge School District 142's greatest strengths. Think how mundane our school system would be if every single student were exactly the same. I marvel at the resiliency of our students, at the joy they bring to school. I am inspired by the willingness of our students to be led towards realizing the power of a good education; discovering how this will unlock doors for them in the future. For all of our students, every single last one of them, I am thankful.

For my staff, the people who make educating over 1,600 students possible, I am just as thankful and happy that there is no cookie cutter template for being an excellent teacher. Our teachers are amazing, working to provide the group of students they encounter the very best they have to offer. Many don't know how creative, inventive, and passionate the educators in District 142 are concerning their work, but in an endless variety of ways this is demonstrated. Without their dedication, without the one-of-a-kind talent each shares with students every day, our system would be ineffective.

I am thankful for all of our staff - from support staff to professional staff - who have heeded the call to work in education. I am thankful for them because they are the difference-makers. While I can point to the classroom as the single most important place of learning in a child's school day, it is all those moments in between that can and do truly make a difference. Every person a student comes into contact with outside of the classroom has an educational impact. Everyone, from secretaries, district office staff, nurses, social workers, custodians, psychologists, therapists, and paraprofessionals, by collectively supporting the mission of the District — "children come first" — is intrinsically important in the learning, growth, and overall school experience of students.

District 142's staff strives for excellence. As colleagues, we challenge one another to dig deeper and reach higher. We also recognize that we are the role models for this type of commitment and excellence we wish to see in our students. Truly, the difference between a good school district and a great school district will always boil down to the staff. Here in Oak Forest, in Forest Ridge School District 142, we have a tirelessly dedicated staff and an excellent school system, and for that I am thankful.

Have a safe, happy, and healthy winter.

The Today Matters blog is posted on the first and third Fridays of each of the school months.

For additional information pertaining to Forest Ridge School District 142, please follow me on Twitter at

December 2, 2016 - Today Matters

Reaching Full Potential

"Coaching is unlocking a person's potential to maximize their growth."
John Whitmore

Many of us, as we walk the path of our careers, long for meaningful interaction. We are constantly, sometimes secretly, longing for someone to support our work and challenge us to become better at what we do — a coach. The students we are teaching now are looking for just that as well. They want to be involved, they want to be "in the game"; the encouragement, guidance, support, and constructive feedback, aimed at causing growth and better performance, can make all the difference.

However, what makes a great coach? The descriptors below provide the characteristics of an exceptional coach. In gathering this information, I realized that these are attributes I try hard to cultivate every day as a teacher, a district leader, and as a parent. I'm certain that a teacher, staff member, and parent will come to mind as you read on, because I see these leadership qualities every day in District 142.

To be a great coach, you have to:

Be a Patient Listener
> Taking the time to allow for the people around you to express what's on their minds validates their thoughts, their perspectives, and them as a person, even if you don't agree.
> Being active in a conversation, especially on the listening end, allows for you to gather information that will help you offer good advice and direction to both the individual and the team.
> The information being gleaned may only be available from the person speaking right in front of you. Listening fosters the development of relationship — a necessary ingredient for growth and success.

Ask Questions that Provoke Thought and Reflection
> Most people, including students, don't just want to be told what to do, how to play, or how and what to learn. The skillful coach asks the right questions — questions that provoke an individual to consider a thought they had not previously considered. This takes time, but allows for critical thinking and better progress.

Honestly Assess Performance and Hold People Accountable
> A great coach doesn't tell the team what they want to hear; they tell them what they need to know to improve their performance.
> A great coach offers good reminders. They re-teach a skill. They point to other teams who have figured out a way to run that play, and tell their team, we can do that too!
> A great coach is a student of the game (or lesson plan) and has a general sense of how each individual is doing, within a group, and incorporates what might work for them into the "game plan."

Supports: Takes the Time to Be Present
> A great coach has to show up. They have to be there for the blowout losses and the monumental victories.
> They have to be engaged at a high level with what's happening around the players and with the performance of each individual.
> They have to have a "big-picture" mentality so the support delivered hits the mark.

"A great coach and leader does not take the team where they want to go, rather they take the team where they have the potential to be, where they ought to be." (Rosalynn Carter, modified) At Forest Ridge School District 142, we are committed to student growth, one child at a time. 

November 18, 2016 - Today Matters

Choosing Happiness

It's that time of year, when there is less daylight... often we leave for work when it's dark and return home at the end of the day when it's dark again. This has an effect on the psyche, for adults and children alike. I think this is where we recommit ourselves, where we consciously choose happiness over unhappiness.

Our environment, the people around us, etc. can be factors; but the most significant factor influencing our outlook is us. We are the common denominator. We are in every situation we are in. It is not really anyone else's job to ensure our happiness. This falls squarely on each of us. To approach challenging tasks, opportunities, learning situations, and more with a hopeful spirit goes a long way in helping our mindset.

A few notes from my recent address to the entire staff and faculty of Forest Ridge School District 142 at our Insitute Day included some of the following thoughts. As I revisit these messages, I realize that many of the ideas are intrinsically tied to choosing happiness. Words like enrich, re-imagine, work, grow, and refine are all at the root of choice, and in so choosing this positive path, happiness can be a powerful outcome and a way to sustain momentum, particularly over challenging seasons:

> The purpose that drives our work is to enrich the life of a child.
> To remain relevant as an educational institution, we need to re-imagine what schooling looks like for our students. We cannot educate students like we were educated decades ago... our world is radically different... so we must adjust.
> Doing the right work is hard work. The ironic thing about taking the easy road, or the shortcut, is that it can accelerate our progress but undermine our long-term success.
> We cannot allow fear to paralyze our growth. We must release responsibility for learning to our students, offering them a flexible environment, saturated with technology and research-based resources, facilitated by a teacher who understands how to offer problem-based learning appropriate for a wide range of students. A teacher, or any person for that matter, is limited to teaching what they know. By releasing autonomy to the students, this artificial barrier to deeper knowledge is removed.
> The teacher who continually refines their practice remains relevant.

While our days during this time of year may feel shorter and less light-filled, keeping students at the forefront brightens the doorstep of any season. At District 142, our motto of "Children Always Come First" makes choosing happiness less of an option and more of a consistent motivator and state of mind.

Consistent communication is a good way to shed light on what is happening in our schools every day. Please feel free to follow me on Twitter at for updates on items that are occurring within our district. The Tweets I post are to encourage teachers and cross-pollinate ideas across our district. This is another good connecting point for staff, students, parents, and community members who want to experience the positive flow from Forest Ridge School District 142.

As for me, as for our team, as for our students — we choose happiness. How about you? 

November 4, 2016 - Today Matters

21st Century Teaching & Learning: A Work in Rapid Progress

If you are uncertain as to what is happening in the photo above, you are not alone. In the realm of 21st century learning, Play-Doh is no longer just for modeling objects out of clay, the alphabet is more than just the building blocks for words, and computere hold the power to create and transform. Imagine playing a digital piano on your computer with "piano keys" made of Play-Doh in the image of letters! It's happening now through 21st century engineering concepts and tools. Children are able to interact with the world around them with the mindset of inventors, taking into account science, technology, engineering, art, math, and more! Within this 21st century education environment, saying "the sky's the limit" now means "the sky's the beginning." Likewise, "Today Matters" takes on greater significance.

We talk often of 21st century skills and what students need to be future-ready. In looking deeper at this topic, I found the following illustration (below) online and thought it represented both skills that are needed by students and methodologies that need to be embraced by the school.


Some research suggests that 65% of the jobs that elementary school students will have in their adult lives have yet to be created. This in and of itself presents a challenge for educators. Although it is challenging, I feel that it is one that provokes something deep within me. I would venture to say that it also provokes something in all of our teachers as well. Yes, "Today Matters" because we are inventing — through our children — a "tomorrow" unimaginable but not impossible.

Still as with the basic, known elements — Play-doh, the alphabet, music, computers — 21st century education is grounded in very basic and timeless concepts needed in school and in life.

As the illustration above shows, children need to:

- Be open-minded
- Analyze, reason, and evaluate
- Reflect on learning
- Engage in problem solving
- Collaborate with others
- Make real-world applications
- Think critically and creatively
- Communicate clearly and accurately

Educators need to be the conduit to help children realize the importance and potential of the above concepts, and more.

As Forest Ridge School District 142 continues our quest to provide a meaningful, relevant, engaging 21st century learning experience for our students, we continually meausre up what we're doing with what our students truly need. For example, to engage our students in problem solving in an effort to cultivate higher order thinking skills, the work must be relevant to the lives of our students, it must be thoughtful in its content, it should include technology embedded into the work, and the results should be something shared with a large enough audience that the students put forth their very best work.

As we reimagine education in Forest Ridge School District 142, we look forward to the deep and meaningful partnerships between parents, our community, and the FRSD142 staff. Together, we can embody the type of learning environment needed to produce tomorrow's leaders. 

October 21, 2016 - Today Matters

Happy Principal Appreciation Day!

Many people are completely unaware that this day is celebrated. The observance was designed as an opportunity to say a formal "thank you" to principals everywhere and to share all the amazing things that principals do every day.

For me, this day holds a true significance for the leaders who work in each of our school buildings:

- Mr. Curt Beringer, Foster Elementary
- Mrs. Elizabeth Ehrhart, Ridge Early Childhood Center
- Mr. Jeffrey Kulik, Kerkstra Elementary
- Mr. John Orth, Hille Middle School
- Mrs. Amanda Brown, Hille Middle School

I congratulate and honor each of you for your hard work and dedication to the profession of educating children. Each of you, who in daily acts of service, provide support and leadership to the students, parents, and staff at your respective buildings. Without you, alongside the staff in each our buildings, improving student achievement would be impossible.

It takes a special kind of person to step forward to lead such a complex organization. A principal is more than simply a leader of a school building. A principal — through often unseen, extraordinary efforts — embraces and guides the entire school community, one person at a time, to achieve collective greatness. A principal embodies the culture and spirit of a school building. Student growth thrives on positive school spirit.

With dozens of employees, hundreds of students, and thousands of parents, our principals perform a balancing act of where to invest time to ensure the proper running of the school. In an active quest to improve, school leadership is a common topic of conversation among our principals, administrators, and teachers.

In the past, principals "managed" buildings versus "lead" school communities. Management involves creating order, with students quiet in the halls and classroom, lined up in straight lines, obedient to any and all directions given by an adult. However, here in District 142, our principals are striving not to be the managerial leader of the school building, but to become the instructional leader. The chief difference is that the majority of the principal's time is spent improving teacher practice and student learning, while maintaining needed structure and safety for our students. And a principal might do this while wearing a funny costume to school to help promote a fundraiser or to lead a school assembly on the importance of respecting people's differences. 

Our principals and teachers and staff have and will continue to go to great lengths for the success and growth of our students. Our principals are our change agents, advocating for the needs of the people they lead. I am honored to witness the difference our principals make every single day at District 142, where even on Principal Appreciation Day, "Children Always Come First." 

October 7, 2016 - Today Matters

Season of Motivation

October brings falling leaves, cooler, crisp days, progress reports, and the thought that we are nearing the end of the first quarter of the school year. The newness of the school year has passed and teachers and students have earnestly settled into classroom routines. 

A regular routine is invaluable, especially for children. The key is to make sure you don't slip into complacency or get too comfortable with the status quo. As educators, we have to continually dig deeper, get to know our students better, and step outside of the comfort zone — always trying new approaches to meet students where they are and perhaps encourage them to reach beyond that. In addition to the customized instruction, this requires a certain amount of motivation.

But what really motivates us? What motivates teachers, what motivates students, and what motivates us as parents? Can the proper motivation break us from habits that have already been established? And how do we maintain the motivation that is moving us forward to being our best selves?

There are certain traditional motivators inherent in public education like letter grades and general skill scales. Report cards — whether they be standards-based or traditional — will be coming home in a few weeks. However, if we see a particular behavior, whether good or bad, can proper motivational strategy reinforce or alter the behavior, and ultimately shift the trajectory of the student?

In a recent reading of the book Drive, by Daniel Pink, the author suggests that autonomy, mastery, and purpose are motivators that can help people reach for their best. I tend to agree and relate this back to the classroom. Think about it this way. If we have a degree of control and are working towards something that deepens our knowledge concerning something we care about, we will tend to do better work over a lengthier period of time. This is the kind of work most wish for and the kind of classrooms we long for our children to be a part of.

Forest Ridge School District 142 has been subscribing to this methodology for years — motivation through purposeful, customized instruction — and we continuously work to ensure it's a part of our classrooms. If teachers know their students, really get to know them and then purposefully, intentionally plan activities in class based on what they know about students, students will be more engaged and likely to perform better in class.

As Todd Whitaker is quoted,

"The best thing about being a teacher is that it matters.
The hardest thing about being a teacher is that it matters every day."

Thank you to our teachers, who really plug in, getting to know their students and then using this information to motivate, engage, and teach our children. Thank you to our parents for continuing this support and encouragement beyond the school day. Knowing that we are all in this together is motivating in and of itself.

Happy Autumn!

Dr. Paul McDermott,

September 16, 2016 - Today Matters

Seeing the World in a Grain of Sand

It is great to have the staff and students back! School buildings come alive when the learning within begins to unfold. There is tangible energy in our buildings. This process of working with students is equal parts exciting, humbling, and inspiring. 

Will this initial wave of teaching and learning spirit last? When we get to January or February, will the educational practice wane or will the education being provided to the students be just as dynamic as it is during the first month of school? To that, I offer: it depends on the purpose driving the work. Consider...

"Purpose, it's the difference between filling sandbags and building a dike to save a town."
Andy Stanley, Visioneering

The act is the same... shovel into sand, sand into bag, repeat. But when there is purpose attached to it, when our work has meaning — true meaning in the deepest sense — the act has a transformative nature. Filling sandbags, the mundane repetitive act, is transformed when the bags are being assembled to hold back water or to save a neighbor's house. As we consider educating students... there are few nobler causes. Equipping students with the tools necessary to live their life to the fullest after their classroom days are over is a mighty task that is hugely rewarding.

Every person alive, whether formally or informally, has had countless "teachers" — from parents and family to educators and community members. Every person — every shoveler — has had contact with a "teacher" who has shown them how to complete the task — ideally, with purpose. Perhaps our most important job is to ensure that our students see the purpose in their work.

I have seen firsthand the incredible, purposeful work our staff does on a daily basis with the students of our district. Each grain of sand — a fact, an equation, a kind word, an appreciation for the arts, a story, an experiment, a digital tool, an example — can create a compacted and firm pathway to enhance a child's future. There is real purpose in educating students. We take this job as seriously as those filling sandbags to save a life, a community, or a future.

In the end, it's not the sandbag that saves the town, but the will and the purpose driving the work. To answer the question posed at the beginning of this convsation... will education look different at the end of the year from what it looks like in the beginning? I say we're in the process of helping students fill themselves with information and experiences, purposefully, intentionally; so that their education remains engaging and relevant throughout the year.  

September 2, 2016 - Today Matters

Stepping Forward Into Growth

Today Matters, a lot! Our students need us to help prepare them for their future, so the work we do today is very important... thus, the impetus for the Superintendent's Blog. I want everyone in our school district and larger educational community to understand that every day matters in the lives of our students, so we begin today with our work... because today matters. Check back on the 1st and 3rd Fridays of the month for new content published in this blog. It's a great way to connect with Forest Ridge School District 142. If you are new, welcome. If you're returning for another year, thank you for engaging. Last year we had over 3,000 visits to Today Matters. So please pass along a recommendation to friends, family, and students that this resource exists. Enjoy!

I recently came across an article in eSchool News by Alan November that outlined seven questions that every new teacher should be able to answer. The seven questions highlight a methodology shift from how education was thought of, to how to how it can be thought of, as we prepare students for a very different kind of future. I really think that every educator should be able to answer these questions, not just new teachers, which will lead to both reflection and for growth for all. I've added a third question for parents/families to consider as we continue to build a supportive educational environment that wraps around our students at school and at home.

Old Question: What do you know about your subject?
21st-Century Question: How do you manage your own professional growth?
Parent Question: Do you know where to find resources that will help your child with their schoolwork?

Old Question: How do you share what you already know with students?
21st-Century Question: How do you teach students to learn what you don't know?
Parent Question: How can you help your child with homework, particularly if it's a subject you're not familiar with?

Old Question: How do you teach students to solve problems?
21st-Century Question: How do you teach students to become problem designers?
Parent Question: How do you model problem solving in everyday life at home?

Old Question: How do you assess the work students hand in?
21st-Century Question: What are your expectations for students to self assess and publish work for a wider audience?
Parent Question: Are you maintaining the academic expectations at home?

Old Question: What is your contribution to our faculty?
21st-Century Question: What is your global relationship?
Parent Question: What ways are you involved with School District 142?

Old Question: How do you make sure students are on task?
21st-Century Question: How do you give students an opportunity to contribute purposeful work to others?
Parent Question: Do you maintain a set study routine at home?

Old Question: How do you manage your classroom?
21st Century Question: How do you teach students to manage their own learning?
Parent Questions: How do you manage helping your child with homework while ensuring they do the work mostly on their own?

Here in District 142, we have embraced the idea of a growth mindset. More specifically — consciously — we have chosen to step forward into growth, rather than backward into safety. At the opening Institute Days this year, we worked together to ensure that this mantra would carry us into the school year... and I am proud to confirm that evidence of this work is already observable. School should be fun, challenging, safe to explore, and supportive for both teachers and students. If employees enjoy work, they are happier. So to, if students enjoy school, they are happier and more open to learning. Our goal is to create a relevant, interesting, thought-provoking place where learning occurs daily in each of our buildings.

Embedded in the questions above are a methodology about teaching, learning, and parental involvement, in relation to a child's education. The picture we all have of a traditional classroom has been redesigned through guided exploration, the proliferation and availability of online resources, and teachers who are keenly aware that educating students must be more personalized. Excitedly, as District 142 steps forward, no only will school be more engaging for our students, but it will better prepare them for the ever-changing world in which they live in and lead.  

August 19, 2016 - Today Matters

Putting Children First Every Day

Welcome to the 2016-2017 school year. I am excited to welcome back staff and students as we
head into another exceptional year of student growth and learning. Our team is ready, filled with optimism and a passion for teaching. We aim not to teach, but rather create an environment where learning is possible... and optimized.

In working with our new certified staff members (pictured above) this past week, I was thrilled to see this group engage with the District philosophy, "Children Always Come First." In Forest Ridge School District 142, these words are more than a slogan on the walls and letterhead. Rather, putting children first is what we do here every day.

When asked about students — more precisely, what kinds of students our new teachers and other certified staff expected to see this arrive at their classroom doors, they offered the following:

  • passionate,
  • excited to learn,
  • engaged, 
  • ready to explore,
  • curious,
  • open-minded,
  • honest,
  • empathetic, 
  • respectful, and
  • active learners, who come with a real desire to learn.

If our students come to us this way — and I believe they do — how will the teachers and staff of District 142 need to approach their classrooms this year? This same group of new staff members offered the following strategies to truly meet our students' desire to learn and grow from the moment they arrive:

  • respect students,
  • be compassionate,
  • get to know our students,
  • encourage,
  • make learning exciting,
  • think outside of the box when it comes to student learning and the manner in which we instruct our students, and
  • be supportive, collaborative, available, and engaging.


The revelation that occurred was that, in the process of learning, teachers have the ability to change the trajectory of a child's life. Our job is really that important!

With both veteran and new District 142 staff, who are lined up and ready to encourage, engage, and educate our students... I can't help but look forward to this year with great anticipation. This is a special school district — ever looking for ways to provide excellent service to our students and families. I am glad to be a part of this with you: our students, parents, community members, and staff. Be prepared for amazing results again this year!

August 5, 2016 - Today Matters

Synergy: We can accomplish far more by working together!

August! It's hard to believe we are here already. After opening the Sunday paper and seeing all the back-to-school ads fall out, I know it is time to gear up for another amazing year at Forest Ridge School District 142. 

Approaching this school year, we are focusing on "Synergy: We can accomplish far more by working together!" This simple concept truly works! Whether it be in a group effort to do yard work around the house, seting the table at dinner, working together as a sports team, or... groups of teachers working together in grade-level teams to plan purposeful curriculum for students or parents partnering with administrators to benefit our students. There is truth in the statement that we can do immeasurably more together than individually.

As we speak, teachers are readying their rooms, decorating, and planning dynamic activities designed for our students. School should be exciting, engaging, and cater to the students we serve. This year, you will see that we are looking closely at our data, making decisions that will push student achievement forward, and working hard to ensure that each student grows to their full potential. We are designing a school system to which people long to send their children. Innovative, inclusive, interesting... an environment that cultivates a love for learning and a sense of wonder.

Research tells us that 65% of the jobs our students will have in their futures have yet to be created. Wow! This signals a change is needed in the way that we educate students. We need to closely adhere to the standards, while also teaching the students skills that will be transferable. Combining creativity, hard work, sound computational skills, reading many types of literature, learning how to write well, practicing good citizenship, and teamwork generates an invaluable synergy that will prepare our students for the future. This dynamic, purposeful, multi-disicplined approach to teaching and learning fuels that synergy — helping us accomplish more.

What an exciting year awaits the students of Forest Ridge School District 142! I can't wait for their return...


Dr. Paul McDermott,

July, 2016 - Today Matters

Summer Fun AND Learning!

Greetings and Happy July!

During the summer months, the focus is on sunshine, outdoor activities, creating fun family memories, and rejuvenating ourselves for the next school year. So there will be one blog post each month until school begins. Then we will resume our regular blog schedule of the first and third Fridays of each month.

So, how is the summer going with the kids at home? Are you finding the days are slipping by too quickly? Are your kids taking part in District 142's "Our Kids Read" program? Or are they resistant to doing academic work, or any work at all? Here are a few items that may help inspire that love for learning that matches the love for playing at the park:

  • Create a schedule. For students who thrive on routine, knowing what is likely to come up soothes some anxiety. A dry-erase board is an easy tool to help with this, and allows for flexibility in planning activities. 
  • Spend quality time with your children. Choices between playing a board game with the family or watching TV can make all the difference. Games spark conversations and promote problem-solving skills.
  • Maintain a consistent bedtime. Bedtimes can be later, but children should know that there are limits and what the limits can be. This will help avoid kids sleeping in all day (which usually means noon). Maintaining a schedule will help make the transition back to school that much easier.
  • Reward academic work. Reward reading, mastering tablet/computer learning apps, and taking part in educational activities at the library, etc. with something the kids really want to do, like swimming, playing video games, etc.
  • Think outside the school box. Learning activities don't have to be boring... find things that are informative AND fun. Planting gardens, stargazing (very easy with new phone apps that identify constellations), taking part in a thematic scavenger hunt (i.e., taking photos of bugs, birds, or flowers and identifying them), or creating a summer blog/journal with photos or drawings, etc. 
  • Get involved with the Forest Ridge School District 142 "Our Kids Read" program. We have nearly 500 students participating in our summer reading program, and research shows that reading as little as 10 minutes per day helps students from losing academic skills over the summer. AND, if students meet the reading goals of the program, families will receive a Super Reader yard sign at Packet Pick-up. For more information, please click here. 

The bottom line is that kids learn more while they are engaged in something they enjoy. Having a conversation with them will yield plenty of things they are interested in... taking the time to listen is all that's needed to get started.

Have a great summer!

Dr. Paul McDermott,

June 3, 2016 - Today Matters

School is a Journey Not to Be Missed

Sometimes the completion of a school year can feel like an ending of sorts. However, in many ways, it is a beginning to what’s next. Students will be moving on to a new grade. Some will attend a new building, entering 1st Grade or Middle School. Some teachers may be moving into new positions within the District. Some longtime teachers will be entering a new phase in life — retirement. Some instructional materials will be replaced with new, more comprehensive, well-reviewed, updated curriculum. Some school initiatives and practices will be looked at closely to find new opportunities for improvement. 

The common denominator with all these beginnings is the sense of everything being new. And "new" implies growth and change. At District 142, from Early Childhood to 8th Grade Graduation our focus is on student growth, providing our students with progressive change and challenges—dedicated to providing them with a high  quality education. We utilize guides such as the Blueprint Strategic Plan 2015-2020 to ensure we are working toward offering—via staff, instructional materials, technology, and support services—the very best to our students and families.

In this sense, our quest for excellence is never-ending. Each day we begin anew to provide a school experience “Where Children Always Come First.” That said, putting children first involves a celebration of their achievements and milestones.

So, it is with a great sense of joy that I congratulate the Class of 2016! The 8th Grade students have completed their elementary school education and are moving on to high school. What an exciting time for the graduates as they begin to move into adulthood. Thank you to each and every staff member who contributed to the growth and development of these children along the continuum of their education… each having a distinct influence, creating a unique memory, honing a specific skill. The compilation of all of this work, coupled with the amazing efforts of parents, family, and friends is what helped shape our graduates into the students we saw walk across the stage on May 31st.

We also celebrated our Kindergarten students leaving Ridge for 1st grade, and this reminded me that all of our students are in transition, moving from one grade to another and from mastering one skill to learning another. Our mission is to place children first, so we are designing a school district that does just that. Please take full advantage of our summer reading program, “Our Kids Read.” At last count, we had over 450 students signed up to participate…wow! Thank you parents for supporting this effort. Having students return to school in August after a summer of reading will help minimize summer regression and help put our students on the fast track for picking up where they left off. 

I am so proud of this district and the work that is being done here. Humbly, we are thankful for the awards being bestowed including the Blue Ribbon and the Gold Circle of Quality, along with fantastic exposure on CBS News and a visit from State Superintendent, Dr. Tony Smith. When you work hard doing the right work, the results can be amazing. For us, that’s our students… each student is amazing and we are fortunate for the privilege of educating them.

May 20, 2016 - Today Matters

The Gift of Joy in Learning

On a recent visit to our elementary schools, as I watched students listening, learning, speaking, carrying backpacks, changing classes, running at recess, reading, using iPads and computers, and taking tests, I realized just how much school is a microcosm of adult life to come. The structure and busyness of it all struck a familiar chord. Aside from what curriculum we choose, the methodology by which we teach it, the mastery of skills and concepts, the testing, and more… what do our kids really want out of school? And what is the best gift we can give them?

In hearing the children play on the playground, I think they want joy. They want a happy experience – the kind that makes for good memories. Our students want school to be interesting, safe, caring, challenging, but fun too. This is a good reminder for all of us adults. We as parents, teachers, and supporters also thrive, learn, and feel fulfilled when we find joy in our work, amid all the demands of life. Modeling this quest for joy while working and learning (especially when it is sometimes difficult) is an important gift to give our children.

Children want to be accepted for who they are too. There is joy inherent in truly connecting with a child; getting to know them. When we learn all we can about the individual children we serve, the return is almost immeasurable. When a child decides to open up, it is a privilege. That child is telling you that they have chosen you, from all the other people in the entire world, to share a little about what they are experiencing in their world. What a gift! Sometimes their ideas are unrefined and raw; sometimes they are brilliant. Children want people around them who will help them meet the world, interpret it, and make sense of it. Students want to feel safe, free to express themselves, and valued for their uniqueness.

Children want to be engaged. Students learn better when they are actively engaged in the learning process. The recipe we have created here in District 142 is that teachers are asked to really get to know their students and then to plan lessons specifically related to what they know about their students. By turning a simple math problem into a comparison of batting averages of White Sox versus Cubs hitters, they engage students at many levels: intellectual, conceptual, sports-wise, competitively, etc. They are more likely to be interested in the results, including the process of discerning those results.

This is how most of us approach the world as adults. We investigate things we are interested in and want to learn more about. This is the same process that we should have in schools for teaching kids.

So, to reflect, students want school to be fun, they want to be accepted, and they want to be engaged; this is the manner in which we will approach education for our students so that they can be the best they can be. It’s an effective model for school and for life.

If you are looking for a way to keep the learning going over the summer, please click on the following link:

You’ll be connected to the District 142 “Our Kids Read” summer reading program. By logging the time that books are read to students, or if students are reading independently, we can help ensure that our students are not only ready for school in the fall, but also so that joy of discovery outside of school continues. Students who meet the goals set forth in the program will be deemed a “Super Reader” and will receive a yard sign at Packet Pick-up on August 15th. That way, you can let everyone know in your neighborhood, that you value reading and the education received at Forest Ridge School District 142.

Good luck with the reading challenge and have a wonderful end to the school year!

May 6, 2016 - Today Matters

Educator Appreciation Week


What is an educator? Is it someone who teaches, facilitates, leads? Is it someone who supports, organizes, communicates? Further, what makes an outstanding educator? Skill, dedication, trustworthiness?

The first week in May is Teacher (Educator) Appreciation Week and these were the questions that came to mind when I thought of all the people who interact with our students every day.   

At District 142, the term “educator” covers a wide umbrella of staff, including: Teachers, School Nurses, Secretaries, Paraprofessionals, Special Education Specialists, Custodians, Administrators, Coaches, and Principals. District 142 Educators are in our classrooms, buildings, and offices every day—devoted to a common purpose—helping each and every student realize their fullest potential.

When we are looking for educators to make a difference in students’ lives, we start with a lengthy hiring process. First, we determine candidates have the proper credentials, requirements, and experience needed. Second, we often screen candidates by phone or in person. We have a first-round and typically a second-round interview. Finally, only the very best candidates then meet with the recommending administrator and myself. To get this far in the process, the final candidates must be of the highest quality.  

The last interview—after all necessary steps and checks have taken place—I am able to focus more on what kind of person they are. Will they be fair? Will they treat children with respect? Are they the type of teachers/professionals who our students will attach to? Are they good, moral, decent people? Do they put children first in all things?

With this understanding of the interview process, it is with great pride that I speak of our District 142 Educators. They are dedicated, creative, loving people who care about the children and families we serve.

Think back to your own education umbrella—all the people who comprised your learning experiences. A favorite teacher. A kind and gentle school nurse. The custodians who shoveled snow with a smile. The office secretaries who always made you feel special. A principal who knew every child’s name.

As we celebrate a week set aside to honor our educators, we appreciate that it is our students who daily inspire us to be our best. 

April 22, 2016 - Today Matters

Superintendent's Bookshelf Sparks Discovery


Did you ever wish you could be invisible and accompany your child to school? Discover everything they experience in a school day? Have you ever wondered what the teachers and staff are thinking about students, learning, success, and challenges? Discover what motivates, inspires, and challenges them?

Over the course of several weeks, nearly three dozen employees of the district — teachers, administrators, paraprofessionals, secretaries — took part in the first-ever District 142
Superintendent’s Bookshelf. This online book discussion of, The Genius in All of Us, by David Shenk, generated many unexpected and inspired discoveries.

Completely voluntary, the online book discussion was designed to bring district staff together for guided and expanded conversations relevant to education, service, leadership, and personal/professional growth. Through the use of Google Classroom and scheduled in the evening, participants were able to log on from home or wherever was convenient via their computer or smart phone to take part in what turned out to be a very thoughtful, astute, and lively discussion. Aside from the book discussion, I was eager to see how this type of technology could be used for teachers and students. Taking this online, interactive journey together with staff was an ideal way to discover the unlimited potential of technology in education.

I was greatly impressed with the technology, but extremely moved by the thoughts and words of staff generated through the process. I learned more about the book’s content, but I discovered so much more about what our teachers and staff are thinking and doing in and out of the classroom to change the lives of our students. Over five sessions, we averaged 250 comments per hour as the Forest Ridge team shared how important education is to them, how important your children are to them, and their ideas about how to offer a world-class education to every District 142 student.  

I think it’s important to know more about the people who are making a difference in your child’s life. The following comments are excerpts of the book discussion from various staff members. I hope you can feel the passion and commitment that comes through their words. I hope you enjoy discovering more about what inspires and drives District 142 to continually place children first. Enjoy!

  • A few months ago made an agreement that we would always add the word "yet" to "I don't get it." This little change is making a big difference in my students.
  • We need to know how each student can express their greatness… not all show their knowledge by getting A’s on tests.
  • It is mind-boggling to think of how much potential there is in our children...
  • …remembering that we are there to teach how the students learn. The students are not there to learn how we teach.
  • We want our schools to be places where children develop a worldly curiosity and are encouraged to use this motivation to understand and explore.
  • School should be a place where you experience things you never dreamed before.
  • Perhaps including concepts like "struggle" and "failure" in the same positive light as "trying" and "achieving" is a start to making our students feel safe. 
  • I found that giving the students a choice in the product they create to show their learning challenges them to live up to higher expectations… they are putting themselves on the line… and we should recognize and encourage this.
  •  When people feel known, they feel valued. When they know they are valued, most want to be a part of where you are trying to take them. 
  • Our job is to find the process that produces the best possible individual. Building relationships will help us develop our students in the best, personalized manner we can.
  • “Persistence” should be a buzzword throughout the school.

Discovery comes in many forms, shapes, and sizes. Often the most rewarding discoveries are unexpected (as proved by this online book discussion with my staff).

April 1, 2016 - Today Matters

Walking a Mile in Someone Else's Shoes

It occurred to me that the best way to experience life in our schools from the viewpoint of students was to actually try to walk in their shoes for a day. Fortunately, I did not have to learn a new locker combination or try to squeeze my feet into an outgrown pair of gym shoes. 

However, I was amazed by the fusion of teaching and learning with technology in our district — an educational combination that changes and grows every day. I spent a day witnessing students and teachers engaged in the discovery process of learning, using a variety of tools, methods, and interactions. I found myself so engaged that I wanted to turn back time so I could experience elementary and middle school in this same dynamic way!

I invite you to walk along in my shoes as I share some experiences from the day:

Hille Middle School – Student Videographers in Action
At Hille Middle School, in Mr. Krol’s class, the students are involved in a project-based learning situation. The students are “employed” by a fictitious film production company. The students are navigating a reality-based project; one they may experience as adults in the workplace some day.

The scenario: Their company has been hired by a renewable energy company to produce a promotional video. This video will be played throughout the country in an effort to convince the public to move away from using fossil fuels as their primary energy source and start using alternative/renewable energy on a regular basis. A daunting task our students proved well-equipped to handle.

The students’ challenge: They may choose any approach they wish in the production of their film, but they must incorporate the idea(s) of fossil fuels being harmful to our planet, society, etc. They must also convey that renewable energy has a positive impact on our society, planet, etc. Additionally, the students must find a way to incorporate music into their production that will enhance the visual message.

The students’ process and outcome: Students spent several days researching fossil fuels and renewable energy prior to the production of the movies. While the videos were in-process as I viewed their work, it was clear that students combined quality research, used technology to put the information in visual form, and were developing high-quality, effective public service messages.

Today, middle school. Tomorrow a career in the film industry, renewable energy industry, or public service sector?

Foster Elementary School – The New Art of Storytelling
At Foster Elementary, 2nd grade students were creating their own iMovies using iPads. Along with developing the skill of storytelling utilizing technology, the students were able to creatively influence their projects with self-taken photographs and music. Mrs. Ramey is seen here working with her students to fine tune their final project.
Some of our youngest students are bringing stories to life through technology, enhancing their understanding of the story, reinforcing comprehension, and building 21st Century skills they will need for life.

Kerkstra Elementary School – A Teacher is Born
At Kerkstra Elementary in Mrs. Ironside's classroom, I was fortunate to learn from one of our youngest "teachers." An excited third grader utilized the ELMO Document Camera and projector to walk her classmates through a math problem. Being able to explain how to solve problems is a crucial skill and our students are gaining valuable experience in this area.

What captivated me about this second picture below was the look of pure joy and pride of our student "teacher." This is what school is all about!

School should be fun, engaging, and relevant. Learning happens by combining a variety of ever-changing elements. Most importantly, teachers get to know their students individually and as a group. Students get to know their teachers — understanding expectations but also learning through daily interaction that their teachers believe in them and their potential. Strong curriculum and interactive technology are another way to bring this potential to life.

Who knows? Perhaps the students pictured above will be leading classes, directing movies, or solving the world's energy problems of tomorrow; what's exciting is that they all got their start here. 

March 18, 2016 - Today Matters

State Finances and School Budgets: A Balancing Act

"The budget is not just a collection of numbers, but an expression of our values and aspirations."
Jack Lew, U.S. Secretary of the Treasury

Forest Ridge School District 142 (FRSD 142) values providing the highest-quality education for our students, while maintaining financial stability. We partner with parents, families and the greater community in supporting the aspirations of every child we serve. So, our school budget is more than just a spreadsheet, but a very real resource that translates into excellent teachers and certified service specialists, quality curriculum and instruction materials, essential technology for all, clean, fully-equipped, safe, and secure classrooms and buildings, bussing and food services, and so much more.

A school budget, per se, is not limited to the specific school year dates. Rather, planning for the next school year budget begins while we are in the active midst of teaching and learning. Much depends on a variety of external factors, including anticipated funding from the state. It is hard to fathom that the State of Illinois does not yet have a budget for this year, yet in order to be ready for next school year, maintaining the value of education in FRSD 142 (and prioritizing the aspirations of our students, families, and community), we are preparing now.  

We continue to pay very close attention to what is happening in Springfield as we plan for the 2016-2017 School Year. Many school districts in Illinois, reliant on state funding, are grappling with how to plan for uncertainty. Rather than focus on this uncertainty, FRSD 142, is actively employing best practices in order to begin the next school year on solid ground, with a full grasp and understanding of external issues that may affect our budget.

Over the past two years, we have adhered to a conservative fiscal plan — one that ensures that we maintain quality without exceeding our resources. Our plan: overestimate expenditures, underestimate revenues, and operate in ways that respect and protect taxpayers’ dollars. We have improved our overall financial position from a near multi-million dollar proposed budget deficit to a near balanced budget. This hard work has been done while keeping in mind the values and aspirations of our students, families, and community.

We subscribe to a methodology of putting children first in every decision we make, including financial decisions. We do this with active awareness, careful planning, and prudent operation of our school budget. As we continue to build a world-class school system for Oak Forest and plan for the financial future, rest assured that the children of this community will always be the top priority.

March 4, 2016 - Today Matters

Purposeful Simplicity

Sometimes the best way to bridge the distance between information and learning is to simplify the design. However, compressing the arc of learning need not diminish what is achieved. Teachers do this every day with students when they customize lesson plans to meet a child’s needs and learning style. 

Some students are visual learners; the teacher may adjust a lesson plan utilizing pictures, shapes, or charts to convey a math concept or to help a child arrange written responses. Another student may be a tactile learner and the teacher may utilize hands-on activities to convey the same math concept or use word tiles to help a student with sentence formation. In essence by simplifying or breaking down the elements of instruction, the learning window may expand and improve. The destination remains — learning — while the pathway design to get there may vary. 

I was reminded of this powerful concept of simplifying or breaking things down during a recent trip to Ridge Early Childhood Center. Along the Kindergarten hallway, a display of artwork shown here, by Piet Mondrian, stopped me in my tracks. Mondrian’s work and a biography, along with student work utilizing the artist’s influence and style were hanging on the wall. What an amazing discovery!

After Picasso’s cubism, there was a desire to break down the picture plane, further abstracting images. Mondrian’s work simplifies the picture into the primary colors and bold lines. In some regards, I think Mondrian and our kindergarteners had it right. We sometimes over-complicate things when it comes to education. Don’t get me wrong, educating 1,600 students is not easy work, but oftentimes there are simple obstacles that can be removed in order for a deeper, more relevant educational process to occur.

This process of breaking things down in order to build a solid foundation for learning and growth was successfully implemented in the design of the Blueprint Strategic Plan 2015-2020.* Recently formally adopted by the Forest Ridge District 142 Board of Education, the Blueprint Strategic Plan lays out a comprehensive plan to ensure the long-term success of our district’s students, families, and local community. If you haven’t done so, please look through the Blueprint Strategic Plan posted on the District website. This comprehensive plan breaks down district goals into five areas of concentration, each with a clear goal and well-defined action plans. 

If we follow and work at the Blueprint Strategic Plan as it was designed—bridging the distance between the complexity of a school system and the achievement of clear goals through defined steps—our entire school community will move forward. Like Mondrian and our Ridge Kindergarteners expressed, breaking down the picture plane of education expands the arc of learning to offer our students a place where their curiosity is nurtured and they discover things they never dreamed of.

I include another Mondrian image here called "Evening Red Tree." It exemplifies the idea that we all carry within us the complex and the simplified, and both pathways offer a valuable bridge to learning.   

Dr. Paul McDermott

*Click here to view/read the Blueprint Strategic Plan 2015-2020

February 19, 2016 - Today Matters

Everyday Moments of Genius

“Genius is one percent inspiration and ninety-nine percent perspiration.”
Thomas Edison

However “genius” is defined, like many things in life, it doesn’t happen on its own. “Genius” or “intelligence” or “giftedness” or “talent” needs nurturing. The entire education process could be described as nurturing; one part inspiration (children) and another part perspiration (parents, teachers, families, educational research and training, and communities). The joy and sometimes mystery of learning involves a fluid exchange of both inspiration and perspiration. A nurturing partnership is needed to help ensure that every child achieves to his or her fullest potential. And an equally nurturing partnership is necessary to help ensure parents have every resource needed to help their child succeed, educationally, emotionally, and socially.  

Every single day in our schools, I see this vital equation at work, moving back and forth in varying degrees and ways between teachers and students. No day or moment of learning is the same in terms of content, instruction, or practice. One constant is the nurturing and the practice to learn from struggles and build upon successes. Our classroom teachers and educational support staff will tell you that there are moments of “genius” every single day, and these are not limited to test scores alone. Data has its place in education, but nurturing the “genius” — defined differently for every child — supersedes this.

In a recent reading of the book, The Genius in All of Us by David Shenk, I was intrigued by many of the ideas about “genius” and “intelligence” and “nurturing” that were considered. You might say I was “inspired.” So much so that I left the reading feeling like I wanted to have a conversation about the contents with other people. The premise of the book is centered on intelligence and the role that heredity and environment play in the shaping of the mind. I offered the opportunity to every employee of the district to participate in an online book study, which will begin in a few weeks. Dozens of employees, including administrators, secretaries, paraprofessionals, district office staff, teachers, members of the special education cooperative staff, and more will sign in to the classroom I have created in Google. My Google Classroom entitled, “The Superintendent’s Bookshelf,” will enable me to engage members of the educational community here at District 142 in a conversation concerning intelligence. We will take our own look at “inspiration” and “perspiration,” create our own “back and forth,” and over several weeks learn about ourselves, each other as colleagues, and consider the fascinating nuances involved in learning.

Does heredity or environment dominate the effect? 

Optimally, it would be best if both worked together. In a school district where families are engaged within the educational process and where the schools reach out to support families, the best of best of both worlds collide for the betterment of our students. Whether intelligence comes from heredity or from the environment, if both support the education of the student, the students always win. In a district which lives by the motto, “Where Children Always Come First,” I think we’ve embraced the idea of a shared responsibility for educating children. Parents, educators, students; all working together to achieve to the fullest of each individual’s capacity, sounds like an “intelligent” plan.

February 5, 2016 - Today Matters

The Happy Dance of Learning

Are you this excited about learning? Take a moment to view the Kindergarten Science Dance video clip below:

Kindergarten Science Dance

The video above was filmed recently in our Kindergarten classroom. Teacher Sue Weber was actively engaging her students with a variety of hands-on science activities. As often happens in education, the students’ reactions proved invaluable in terms of the power of experiencing learning firsthand. And, in this case, learning inspired a happy dance.

Every moment, every day in the learning life of a child truly matters. Like the passing days of a school year, every interaction a teacher has with a student — no matter how seemingly small — adds up to a child moving forward, connecting experiences, growing, achieving, and ultimately mastering information. Education – like the penny small enough to fit between a Kindergartener’s fingertips in this video – affects surprising and delightful changes in the life of a child.

On recent visits to our schools, I was reminded about the importance of the joy of learning. As adults, we replace simple joys with crammed schedules, multi-tasking, stress, and more. This was a good reminder about how much fun it can be to learn something new and to experience something for the first time.

We have to carefully balance the academic rigor of school with the purposeful, intentional permission for students to enjoy the process of acquiring information (i.e., learning). As the pendulum swings between high stakes testing/accountability and the seemingly opposite view of educating the whole child; it’s appropriate to think that both have merit.

I can't imagine a joyless school system, or one filled with a lack of exposure to appropriate curriculum. I think there's a lot we can learn from kids, namely, to choose to find joy in the things we're doing, no matter the task and no matter our situation. 

January 15, 2016 - Today Matters

District 142 Blueprint Strategic Plan Nearing Completion!

According to Webster’s Dictionary, the definition of “blueprint” is as follows:

: a photographic print that shows how something (such as a building) will be made
: a detailed plan of how do something

When building a home, the roof shingles are the pieces that are laid on the top of the structure. Their placement relies on a solid foundation and a well-planned infrastructure that is put in place step by step, following a carefully measured and meaningful design. Only the highest-quality, exacting standards of blueprint development can ensure a structure will stand the test of time.

Ensuring the financial, academic, and community-based strength of a school district also begins with a comprehensive plan or a “blueprint.” Over the past three months, the Forest Ridge School District 142 Blueprint Strategic Planning Team has been working diligently to design a robust schematic for District 142’s future — taking us from 2015 to 2020. The Blueprint is built on the idea that creating a solid infrastructure lends itself to long-term success.

Excitedly, we are about to present the draft of the Blueprint Strategic Plan to the team who created it. To review, 50 people made up of key stakeholders (parents, community members, teachers, paraprofessionals, administrators, Board of Education members, etc.) met multiple times over the past two months. The brick and mortar and nuts and bolts of our Blueprint were carefully considered, discussed, and balanced with best educational practices. The Team focused on five key areas: 

  • Budget & Finance
  • Community Relations
  • Curriculum & Instruction
  • Operations & Maintenance
  • Professional Development/Human Resources

Our District 142 Blueprint Strategic Planning Team brainstormed, prioritized, and then finally created goals and action plans to help move the district forward in its relentless pursuit of excellence on behalf of our students. Each member of the Blueprint Strategic Planning Team volunteered their time, expertise, and commitment to District 142, for which I am very grateful.

After the
Blueprint strategic plan is vetted through the Strategic Planning Team, it will be brought forward for a reading and presentation at a future District 142 Board of Education meeting. This gives the Board of Education and guests, the opportunity to celebrate the Blueprint’s creation and commit to bringing the bold, progressive, innovative ideas on the paper to fruition.

This was our chance to think big, be creative, and plan for the best education possible for the students we serve. I look forward to the finalization of the plan and even more so to the work that is contained within. Once adopted, we will post the
Blueprint, in it’s entirety, on the District website for all to see.

Again, thank you to all the members of the Forest Ridge School District 142 Blueprint Strategic Planning Team. You will forever be a part of a critical design that leads to all District 142 students reaching their fullest potential.

Dr. Paul McDermott,

January 1, 2016 - Today Matters

At this time of the year, resolutions abound as we all look to make improvements in the New Year. Upon reflection, I thought, what do we resolve to do in 2016 in Forest Ridge School District 142? 

RESOLVE: To decide firmly on a course of action

“Keep your elbow up.” That’s one of the first pieces of advice I gave my son as he learned to swing a baseball bat in the back yard. The skill of swinging a baseball bat the correct way, raising the possibility that it will make contact with the baseball, is something that is taught. Regardless of natural talent, even the best athletes must continually learn and hone their technique in order to improve their play and their chances for success. 

This type of refinement of skill — which applies to any area of learning and mastery — often comes in stages. If my son’s elbow is up (if he’s mastered that stage), I move on to introducing another baseball batting skill. I shift my teaching to a new stage — one that will further improve his swing, his outcome, his performance. I want to help him not to just swing, but to “swing for the outfield fences.” Isn’t that how school should be?

If we know that our students know something —have mastered a stage—aren’t we obligated, morally obligated to a certain extent, to move forward with new information to help them grow? Mastering the alphabet moves to discovering phonics and letter blends and vowel sounds, to forming and recognizing words to reading words, understanding their definitions, to placing words together to form a coherent thought, to comprehension, critical thinking, writing, and self-expression in – thanks to technology – a multitude of forms. So many layers of growth are contained in 26 letters, so just like the keeping your elbow up can lead to a better swing, building skills during the stages of our children’s growth can help bring forth a child’s inherent curiosity and usher in growth to their fullest potential.

We RESOLVE ourselves to educate for the 21st century in Forest Ridge School District 142, guiding the students to ever improve their individual performance.

Because our students deserve to be provided a world-class education, for the good of their future, we RESOLVE to:

  • Approach education with a sense of urgency
  • Educate students with purpose
  • Continually refine student skills and move them forward as individuals
  • And help them to swing for the fences...

I wish the entire Forest Ridge District 142 community a positive, healthy New Year!  

Dr. Paul McDermott,

December 18, 2015 - Today Matters

Blueprint for the New Year

As we head out for winter break, I wish our families a healthy and happy season. 

Reflecting back on the first half of the school year, there have been so many tremendous successes. Our students continue to amaze me with their accomplishments, their energy, and their excitement for learning. Our teachers and staff continue to make me grateful as I witness their professional commitment and heartfelt service to our children and families.

It’s with this kind of pride that I extend an invitation to all – students, parents, teachers, staff, and community members – to come out and experience Forest Ridge School District 142 first hand. Perhaps, look at this as a New Year’s Resolution challenge—to become more engaged with District 142.

In the New Year, there will be athletic events, extracurricular competitions, plays, concerts, and more. We firmly believe that forming strong partnerships between school, parents, and the greater community, is beneficial for our students. Engaging in the school community strengthens our entire system and working together can most definitely bring satisfaction and enjoyment.

Consider attending and volunteering to help the PTA, attend a Board of Education Meeting, volunteer at your child’s school, etc. There are countless ways to actively participate and we welcome the opportunity work shoulder to shoulder with you as we prepare students for their futures.

Speaking of looking forward to the future, the Blueprint Strategic Planning Team, consisting of a variety of stakeholders throughout our school district and  community, has met for the second time. After brainstorming in the goal areas of Curriculum and Instruction, Budget and Finance, Community Relations, Operations and Maintenance, and Professional Development/Human Resources, this team of dedicated parents, teachers, Board of Education Members, administrators, and community members has drafted goals and action plans to help guide our school district over the next five years.

Creative, bold, progressive ideas have been suggested and the team is now working on a final draft of the Blueprint Strategic Plan. This will be vetted through the Blueprint Strategic Planning Team in January and then prepared for presentation to the full Board of Education in the spring. I am excited for what the future holds for District 142 as we relentlessly pursue excellence for our students.

Again, have a fantastic winter break and we’ll see you in 2016!

Dr. Paul McDermott,


December 4, 2015 - Today Matters

A Time for Community

It’s December already!

We’ve endured our first couple of snows, the end of the first trimester for our Ridge students, and now midterms for the second quarter for the resIt’s December already!

We’ve endured our first couple of snows, the end of the first trimester for our Ridge students, and now midterms for the second quarter for the rest of our students. We’ve watched our students grow from unsure 6th Graders on the first day of middle school, to more confident and engaged young men and women who navigate the hallways and multiple class changes at Hille with purpose and ease. We’ve experienced our students from Kindergarten to 5th Grade, expand their expressive skills with our dynamic and very kid-popular Calkins Writing Program.

Who knows? We may have a best-selling author in our midst! Or a scientist. Or a teacher. Or a nurse or doctor. Or a computer programmer. Or a professional musician at the Chicago Lyric Opera. Or a mechanic. Or an architect.

Or a future Veteran of our military. I am so proud to have witnessed each of our students, from Preschool to 8th Grade, honor our Veterans (some of whom are our students’ moms and dads in active duty). The Veterans Day assemblies at all four school buildings combined meaningful dialogue, touching visual imagery, genuine enthusiasm and understanding, and above all, respect — gratitude at its finest.

These types of all-school events, including Grandparents Day and even Parent-Teacher Conferences, provide a way for the District to come together as a community outside of the structured classroom and school calendar. The energy and collective pride is palpable and helps us remember what is important: that every community is built one child, one individual, one family at a time. This aligns with our school motto that “Children always come first.” Your children are first—the beginning of the Forest Ridge District 142 community and are the future of the greater local, national and global communities. In our District, our students mean the world to us.

I warmly invite you and your families to take part in a few upcoming “community” events. From annual Supper with Santa to our musical performances, showcasing of our many talented students — Forest Ridge School District 142 is bursting with excitement and pride. If you’ve never witnessed one of our concerts, this may be the year to come out and give it a try. The concerts are free of charge and a great way to ring in the winter season. Below is additional information about a few upcoming events.

12/8  -  Hille Choir Concert - 7:00 p.m.
12/9 -   Supper with Santa at Ridge Early Childhood Center - 4:00-6:00 p.m. 
12/10 - Hille Band Concert - 7:00 p.m. 

I wish the entire community a peaceful, safe and happy holiday season!

Dr. Paul McDermott,

November 20, 2015 - Today Matters

Parent Teacher Conferences

Those three words used to bring on a certain kind of dread. 

For students: “What is my teacher going to say about me? Am I in trouble?”

For parents: “What is the teacher going to say about my child? Should I be worried?"

For teachers: “What am I going to share about this student? Have I done my best?”

That kind of concern was common when there were fewer paths of communication between parents and teachers. Today, with the advent of ever-improving technology, parents and teachers have many ways to stay connected. A child’s journey through even one year of school — at its best — should resemble an ongoing conversation between parents, teachers, and students. Ideally, this conversation is not limited to a formal parent teacher conference.

Thinking back to when I was in school, my parents had to call the teacher to gain a peek into my school life: to determine if I was doing my homework, behaving appropriately, participating in class, and scoring well on tests. Today, parents have the ability to check grades online, which changes the conversation drastically when communicating with teachers. Instead of, “Is Paul doing his work?” it becomes: “What is Paul doing well? What is challenging? How can I support him?" Parents may still call teachers, but they can also email, sign on to parent portals, and gain information from the district web site, like calendar dates and important announcements.  

Still, parents and teachers have so much to gain by sitting down, face to face and having one of the most important conversations to be had in life — talking about your amazing child. It’s a safe time when you can ask questions or share information that perhaps is not as easily conveyed via a computer or a phone. It’s a quiet time, away from the distractions of work and home. As we head into parent teacher conferences next week, I encourage all parents, whether your child is doing well, or if school is challenging, to take advantage of the parent teacher conference. This time is carved out especially for you (and ultimately, for your child). These conversations are enlightening, as parents often come away with a fuller understanding of their child.

A healthy school-home relationship between parents and teachers can be the catalyst for better performance at school. Children become more engaged in school when they see the adults at home demonstrate that school is important to them as well! In Forest Ridge School District 142, the goal of the district is to help every single child grow to their full potential. The partnership between parents and the school is a vitally important factor in making this happen.

Hope to see you at the conferences!

Happy Thanksgiving!


Dr. Paul McDermott

November 6, 2015 - Today Matters

A Season of Gratitude 


We’ve turned the calendar page to November, signaling the end of the first quarter of school and also nearing two very important holidays. With a degree of reflection, Veterans’ Day and Thanksgiving can be linked together in their meaning and symbolism.

In this great country, the fact that we provide education to every child is something quite special. Our freedoms: the freedom to educate, the freedom to assemble, to express our opinions, to move freely about, are often taken for granted. It is imperative that we help our children understand that these freedoms are not commonplace around the world. America’s freedoms were won in hard fought struggles around the globe. Here in Forest Ridge School District 142, we will celebrate Veterans’ Day in each of our buildings, honoring the great personal sacrifices of our citizens who step forward, selflessly, to defend and protect American’s freedoms and the American way of life.

This train of thought easily leads to a sprit of thankfulness. Thanksgiving is a few short weeks away.  When making a list of things to be thankful for, our veterans should be remembered.

Taking the time to teach children to respect our nation and to be thankful for their citizenship and available opportunities in this country is paramount. As I reflect on all of the things that the children of Forest Ridge School District 142 need to know as they work toward graduation from our district and prepare for their future, atop the list is that they are good, decent, caring, respectful people; full of integrity and honesty. No matter where our students head in the future, these attributes will help them in all of their future endeavors. 

Happy Veterans’ Day ~ Happy Thanksgiving!

Dr. Paul McDermott,

October 16, 2015 - Today Matters

Embracing Diversity, Customizing Instruction, Growing Minds


Everyone is unique. Everyone is their own person.

Still, sometimes it's fun to dress up and pretend to be someone different. Perhaps wear a colorful costume. By pretending and imagining you can tap into something new, learn something you didn't know before. About a person (super heroes and princesses included), a culture, a sport, a place in the world, a poem, history, or simply discover the diversity that exists all around you every day.

At District 142, we view the diversity of our students as an incredible strength. A school district that celebrates diversity helps prepare students for a global society that will compete in later in life.

The uniqueness of each individual student at District 142 inspires our teachers and staff to customize instruction. We strive to ensure each child is being met with an education that is uniquely designed for them. Meeting students where they are and who they are translates into both good self-esteem and increased academic success. At District 142, we hope by embracing the diversity of our collective school community, yet tuning into the unique learning styles and strengths of each student, that this will set the stage for the flexibilty children will need as they grow.

The average employee will switch jobs multiple times in their working career, often including jobs that have yet to be created, yet in our current workforce. Our job as a school district is to equip students with knowledge and skills that are transferable, flexible, and appropriate for the future they will encounter.

Here are just a few stories our teachers shared when asked about their proudest moments with students last year. These are the unique stories that happen in our classrooms every day with your children, readying them for the future. The stories themselves are diverse in nature, with a common theme of success.

These success stories are our evidence that our students are educated as individuals and appreciated for exactly who they are:

  • "My students made iMovies explaining sophisticated poems. They did a great job with understanding/teaching the poems and had fun using the technology." 
  • "One of the most meaningful moments for me was when I tried a new format of debating in my classroom. Students were able to formulate thie own arguments on the topic of discussion, as well as accept others' viewpoints on the topic of discussion."
  • "The biggest accomplishment was getting students to not be afraid to take risks."
  • "I witnessed my students' ability to use technology to show new knowledge and share with peers. We created a stop motion movie of our butterfly lifecycle, wrote autobiographies in Book Creator, and shared research on a topic from a guided reader using our Pic Collage. We also did a video about our school's staff as we practiced our questioning strategies in our interviews. It created a very engaging, fun way to create and share what we'd learned."
  • "At the end of the year, seeing my students direct themselves at their reading stations and delving right into the grammar material and vowel focus of the week. They assisted each other when individuals had questions!"

I can't wait to hear and share the stories grow out of our students' unique learning experiences and perspectives during this school year.

Dr. Paul McDermott

October 2, 2015 - Today Matters

Kerkstra Elementary School ~ A 2015 National Blue Ribbon Award Recipient

On September 29, 2015, Kerkstra Elementary School was awarded one of the highest academic honors: The U.S. Department of Education’s National Blue Ribbon Award. Kerkstra Elementary is the only school in the Chicagoland South Suburbs and one of 335 schools nationwide (out of hundreds of thousands) to earn this distinction. National Blue Ribbon Schools are recognized for their exemplary high academic performance and/or achievement of bridging the learning gaps among student subgroups.

We are so proud of our Kerkstra teachers, staff and students. The National Blue Ribbon Award is a lifetime honor. Like the strides our students have made, their success can never be taken away.

Yet, this is just the beginning of the story. Where do we go from here?

The Blueprint 
The answer is that we share the things that make this school so successful, attempting to replicate the driving aspects so that a greater number of students are positively affected by their education. This is also the premise behind the Blueprint Strategic Plan we are working to develop with the help of a committee of the District 142 staff, parents, community members, municipal officials, and Board of Education members.

The Blueprint is intended to take us from where we are today – a district with a Blue Ribbon Award – to where we want to be in 2020. The Blueprint aims to build upon the lessons learned from the National Blue Ribbon, extending that lifelong, exemplary distinction, into everyday practice at all District 142 schools.

Gathering Information
At the end of the 2014-2015 school year, we surveyed the entire District 142 staff. The feedback we received was rich with insight, innovative thinking, and concrete goals — all infused with the excitement, wonder, and love for learning that we strive to instill in our students every day. From this first survey, themes emerged, which helped us group the information into possible subcommittee areas for the Blueprint process. We then surveyed our Board of Education, collecting thoughts from our elected leaders about the direction we should be heading as a district.

From this first round of surveys, we have identified five key areas for the Blueprint Committee to focus on:


  • Curriculum & Instruction
  • Budget & Finance
  • Operations & Maintenance
  • Community Relations
  • Professional Development/Human Resources


Parents: You Have a Voice
We want to hear from you — our parents — about your perceptions, your ideas, your concerns, and your vision for your child’s/children’s school experience. As parents you provide the most direct link and unique understanding of what your children (our students) need. Your input will help shape and offer insights into the direction that the Blueprint team will head.

A short, anonymous survey will be sent out to all District 142 parents on Friday, October 2, 2015. Please take this opportunity to let your voice be heard and help us continue to build upon the Blue Ribbon excellence.

Over the winter months ahead, meeting dates will be set and survey feedback will be reviewed, which will foster meaningful discussions and purposeful consideration. Priorities and goals will be identified and the Blueprint for District 142 will emerge.

The Blueprint Strategic Plan will be considered a living document that is shared, nurtured, referenced, and followed in order to achieve the goals we set forth over the next five years.

All of this work is based on the premise of “Children Always Come First.”


Dr. Paul McDermott

September 11, 2015 - Today Matters

Engaged Learning: Nurturing Learning Excitement

We’re almost a full month into the new school year! It’s hard to believe how far we’ve come from those first “new” moments (for students, parents, teachers, and staff) to a relatively consistent school routine.

To mark the occasion I took some time to walk through each of our schools this past week. I visited with students. I observed teachers working in their classrooms. As I immersed myself in the inner workings of teaching and learning, a few questions surfaced.

The first question — and most important — was, “Why do we do what we do? Moreover, do all of our educational activities - lessons, interaction, speaking, showing, listening, and guidance – add up to a purposeful difference for our students?”
The answer is found in the face of a child. As I was chatting with students, I sensed just how much they are filled with wonder and excitement, thrilled to experience new things, and eager to add to their knowledge base.

The second question then becomes, “Are we a school district that promotes this kind of engaged learning, giving our students what they really need?”
I look first to the thoroughness and immense care that goes into choosing one faculty or staff member for the district, out of thousands of applicants. I know that we promote that sense of engagement from day one. It is a quality – that translates into that wonder and excitement for our students – that we look for and find in the people chosen to serve our children. It is because of this commitment to quality, which includes continual professional staff development, I believe we are meeting the needs of our students.

The third question is, “How do we know that we are impacting the development (and on a greater scale, the lives) of our students?”
To come full circle, it takes a trip down the hallways of our schools to see children working cooperatively in groups and using hands-on materials to further master math concepts. I’ve heard teachers leading children in song to reinforce vocabulary and phonics. I’ve seen children screech to a halt to see caterpillar walk across their path on the playground, showing us that we have fostered that sense of curiosity, awareness, and discovery. I’ve listened in on healthy debate in our middle school classes as teachers and students thoroughly investigate topics. And, there are countless other examples of how our caring educational environment, which prides itself on being rigorous and challenging (with the right support), can help mold children into the very best of themselves.

We proudly partner with our parents in support of the Forest Ridge School District 142 students and their pathway to becoming their very best!


Dr. Paul McDermott

September 4, 2015 - Today Matters

Customizing Curriculum for Your Child

As we head into the Labor Day weekend, the furthest thing from students’ minds will be the upcoming Measures of Academic Progress (MAP) Testing. Despite this, it is vitally important that parents understand the purpose of this testing.

The MAP Test is a computer-based test that adjusts to the students’ correct or incorrect answers. The test can become easier or more complex, adjusting to the abilities of the individual student.

Forest Ridge School District 142 uses the MAP Test three times per year (fall, winter, and spring) to determine if students are growing and by how much. This information is critical as we strive to be a data-informed school district. The data captured by individual students is looked at and combined with other measurements to determine what specific content would be most beneficial to students in a particular class, grade level, etc. Essentially, MAP Testing allows us to customize curriculum and instruction to each student.

Our skilled teachers design curriculum with our students in mind. The recipe for a good educational experience is that teachers know their students well, and that lessons and activities are specifically chosen to maximize engagement and excitement for learning. The by-product of this recipe is improved student achievement for all learners.

When we create a good flow in our classrooms, students enjoy school and learn a tremendous amount.


Dr. Paul McDermott

August 21, 2015 - Today Matters

Welcome Back to the 2015-2016 School Year!

The floors are polished and gleaming, awaiting squeaky gym shoes.
Desks are lined up in perfect rows, waiting for students to call them home.
Crayons, markers, paper, paints, and glue sticks beckon for creative minds.
Up-to-date technology - iPads and computers – await discovery.
Locker combinations are practiced, waiting to be unlocked – like potential.
The school year is beginning, awaiting stories of learning and growing to be told.

The only thing missing? Your children. We can’t wait to greet them!

We are filled with anticipation and excitement as we prepare for the return of the students on Monday, August, 24. Our entire team has been working diligently to prepare for the students’ return and to ensure that your children have a wonderful experience in our Forest Ridge Schools. Research shows that the most impactful factor in a student’s growth in school is the classroom teacher, so we have assembled one of the finest staffs in the State of Illinois. You will encounter some new faces on the staff; however, these new members of the District 142 team applied and were offered positions from a pool of nearly 1,500 candidates. Each new staff member closely aligned with the philosophy that “children always come first.”

As we opened the school year with our Institute Days, a question was posed to the faculty and staff: “How many of you can remember the name of you kindergarten teacher?” First Grade? Second Grade? And so on. Typically, people remember their elementary school teachers due to the vast amount of dedication, care, compassion, nurturing, and support given. These are the characteristics of the staff members we ask to be a part of the District 142 teaching and support staff. We look forward to the continued partnership between parents, students and the school, all for the benefit of our students. Working together, we can accomplish amazing things!

For additional information, please view the district web site at, follow the Superintendent’s blog Today Matters (available on the district website) or look forward to the Forest Ridge School District 142 newsletter, Engage142, that will be coming out later this fall.

As always, if there is anything you need, please feel free to reach out to your child’s teacher or building administration. We are here to serve you as we help your child grow to their fullest potential.

Have a great school year!


Dr. Paul McDermott

August 7, 2015 - Today Matters

Back-to-School Support



As we prepare for students to return to school in a few short weeks, it’s time to ask the question, “What’s really important in our schools?” I think the answer is hidden in plain sight: it’s our children… the students!

In speaking with teachers, administrators, and Board of Education Members, there’s a growing excitement about the fact that the students are about to return. We see the activity in our schools as teachers are setting up their rooms, organizing materials, and preparing to engage students in the learning process.

Parents often ask, “What can we do to help our children prepare for the return to school?” Below are a few quick tips that may help with the transition: 

  • Return to a School-Year Daily Schedule: Begin to adjust bedtimes to be closer in alignment for when your children will need to get up for school. Begin the process of moving away from summer schedules of staying up late and getting up late to a school schedule. Based on research, a healthy child should get 10 hours of sleep per night.

  • Smiles and Support: Speak positively about school and the possibilities that will come from giving your best. Rather than focusing on grades, help your child focus on the act of learning and giving 100% of their effort, energy, and attention at school. Remind them of the support they will receive from teachers, teacher aides, and all school staff.  The more positive conversations that take place in the home about school the easier the transition will be back into school mode.

  • The Power of Questions: Encourage your children to ask questions, lots of questions, at school and at home. Some research indicates that small children can ask between 300 and 400 questions per day. This is how children figure out the world they live in, encourage them to ask away. If you’re unsure of the answer, ask us — District 142 Staff is here for your child and for you.

  • Listen and Learn: Listen to your children as they express their nervousness about heading back to school. Visiting the school website, playground, etc. may help alleviate some of the butterflies. Also, scheduling time for your child to play with other children from school is a good way to ensure there are some friendly, familiar faces that your child will know when they arrive back from summer.

Here’s to another great year in Forest Ridge School District 142, we look forward to seeing you

all soon!


Paul McDermott

July 3, 2015 - Today Matters

The Blueprint for Success


In a room full of people, if you ask the following two questions:

1. How many of you enjoyed school?, and

2. How many of you enjoy learning?

The response usually varies. Some people struggled as students, encountered a tough teacher, didn’t approach school with the seriousness that they probably should have or were not effectively engaged with dynamic curriculum and learning tools , etc. However, most people do enjoy learning. Usually they are learning something that is necessary—something that they need to know how to do, that will help them, engage them, excite them, interest them. Shouldn’t this be what school looks like?

This is the direction that Forest Ridge School District is heading and we are gearing up for the development of the Blueprint. Designed to be a 3-5 year strategic plan, the Blueprint will be the foundation for this plan. In order to create the kind of schools that our students need right now, we need a plan, a “blueprint” of how to build this type of system. In the coming months, we will assemble a team of Board of Education Members, administrators, teachers and staff members, parents, community members, and community leaders who will enter into a discussion about what we want education to look like in this school district. Realizing the future vision of a premiere school district – where children enjoy school and enjoy learning – starts with today.

The building blocks of any good structure matter a lot. If you could envision the Blueprint for District 142, what would it include?  More to follow...

Dr. Paul McDermott,

July 3, 2015 - Today Matters

Current ~ Moving in the Right Direction

In the life of students, especially students who are young and in elementary school, "today matters". In fact, every day matters. We have our students twice as long as they will attend high school and by the time they get to that point, the foundation of their educational experience will have already been built. So, today matters, a lot. 

During the 2014-2015 School Year, I talked to the staff about the idea of "current". The example given was from a swimming pool, which when organized with everyone pushing in the same direction, can create a whirlpool effect. In order for this to take place, it is important to point which direction to swim. Our Board of Education and Administrative Team led the way this past year, and our staff responded and moved ~ overwhelmingly and positively ~ in the same direction.  

A District 142 whirlpool – or current – was formed!

We created a deep sense of team, developing trust and respect for one another. This positive current allowed for us to support, encourage, and acknowledge the work that was being done in Forest Ridge School District 142 on behalf of our students. The guidance, direction, and work ~ all purposeful ~ has significantly moved our district forward in many areas. The question then became: "How do we intentionally ensure that the positive current reaches our students?"

Intentionality is a noun, meaning the act of being deliberate or purposeful. If we apply this to education, there becomes a certain flow to how we should organize experiences for students. 

Intentionality includes: 

  • teachers really knowing their students, then selecting learning activities and progressions specifically designed with them in mind;
  • choosing various learning tools for different children to help every child move forward in their education; and 
  • allowing children to help decide what activities will be included in the day's overall plan.
We have the opportunity to maximize the effect that education has on the children in our classrooms. Children learn more, are more engaged, enjoy school more, and in the end, are happier, better-educated people when we intentionally consider them when planning lessons. 

Intentionality, I suggest, is making sure that today matters.

Dr. Paul McDermott

July 1, 2015 

Today Matters: Launching of the Superintendent's Blog

Welcome to
Today Matters, an ongoing conversation with the Forest Ridge School District 142 community. This blog will be updated on the first and third Friday of each month throughout the year.

It will offer stories from our classrooms, progress of our district, details of the accomplishments of our students, and more.

In a purposeful, intentional, authentic desire to engage with all facets of the community in which our school system exists, the
Today Matters blog will try to capture this sentiment.

I look forward to our conversations.

Dr. Paul McDermott