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Aurora called ‘a model’ in educational collaboration

From left right West AurorSuperintendent James RydlAurorRegional Chamber Commerce President/CEO Joe Henning Executive Director SPARK Early Childhood CollaboratiTrish Rooney Waubonsee

From left to right, West Aurora Superintendent James Rydland, Aurora Regional Chamber of Commerce President/CEO Joe Henning, Executive Director of SPARK Early Childhood Collaboration Trish Rooney, Waubonsee Community College president Christine Sobek and Aurora Mayor Tom Weisner address the Illinois P-20 Council on the city's collaborative education efforts. | Jenette Sturges ~ Sun-Times Media

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Virtual Charter update

During the Wednesday meeting, Miguel del Valle also praised Aurora’s collaboration with local legislators, giving a nod to state Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia’s bill that would place a one-year moratorium on new virtual charter schools, like the proposed Virtual Learning Solutions at Fox Valley recently struck down by school boards across the Fox Valley.

“I don’t want virtual charters to become a dumping ground for kids the districts don’t want,” del Valle said.

The bill, House Bill 494, has passed the House and is working its way through the Senate.

Updated: May 29, 2013 6:37AM



If Aurora’s leaders, educators and businesses were looking for encouragement that they’re on the path to something good, they got it Wednesday, when a state educational group held its quarterly meeting in Aurora.

The group’s chairman, Miguel del Valle, called the city’s efforts “a model” for educational collaboration around the state and country.

“I am convinced that in Aurora they are already leading the way in Illinois,” Del Valle said. “They are putting the ‘career’ in ‘career and college readiness.’”

The group meeting was the Illinois P-20 Council, which was established by the General Assembly in 2009 to foster collaboration among state agencies, educational institutions, businesses and more in the hope of improving education throughout the state.

The Wednesday at Aurora University was held in part to let the group’s members hear about the city of Aurora’s collaborative education efforts that are in the pipeline.

“As a city, we’re working very hard to establish a cradle to career approach to education,” Mayor Tom Weisner said. “This is the only way Aurora will reach its full potential.”

That approach includes SPARK, the citywide initiative to improve access to quality preschool, as well as the Dunham Partnership School at AU that will educate 200 local students about science, technology, engineering and mathematics.

At the center of the plan, and several conversations Wednesday, however, was Pathways to Prosperity, the Harvard initiative to bring educators and local high-tech employers together to collaborate on curriculum and internship opportunities.

In return, the Aurora collaboration got a better look at the work of two of the state’s Pathways exchanges — large resource banks grouped by industry, from agriculture to manufacturing to research and development.

For example, the manufacturing exchange would offer online courses and tools for teachers and students, provide internships and mentors in manufacturing careers, support student organizations like robotics teams and sponsor competitions for students — all activities aimed at encouraging students to explore advanced manufacturing careers.

“We have been trying to hire competent tech employees for three years,” said Tamara Vincer, an engineer and manager at Aurora-based Cabot Microelectronics. “Though horrible economies, we have had jobs. We cannot find the people.”

The Aurora collaborations and the statewide exchanges presented at the Wednesday meeting aim to solve that problem: first by increasing student interest in science fields, then matching what students learn in school to what they need to know in the workforce. If it succeeds, the ripple effect would not just be to educate and employ students, but to strengthen the local and state economy by attracting new employers, proponents said.

Still, the citywide initiatives face significant hurdles. The schools, businesses and city hall have yet to announce an “intermediary” for the Pathways to Prosperity project, a central person or organization tasked with keeping the collaboration running smoothly.

Fundraising continues for the Dunham School, though in his address Wednesday Weisner hinted that the school is inching closer to its fundraising goal.

But there is statewide interest in just how much Aurora is able to accomplish.

“I want us to scale this up as fast as possible,” said del Valle. “Pathways has to be for everyone.”



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