DeKALB – DeKalb School District 428 students performed below the state average in math, science and English language arts over the past school year, according to Illinois School Report Card data.
District 428 also had several schools receive overall high marks while others underachieved during the 2022-23 school year. Every year, the Illinois State Board of Education releases its Illinois School Report Card to give the public a gauge as to how the state’s schools stack up to one another.
DeKalb High School was one of three district schools that saw a setback, according to the report. The high school is now designated as a “targeted school” meaning that one or more student groups is performing at or below the level of the lowest performing 5% of schools. In the high school’s case, the targeted group needing more support is students with disabilities.
Superintendent Minerva Garcia-Sanchez said she’s not alarmed by this new development and what it’s meant for the school district.
“Commendable is a designation you want to visit quite often,” Garcia-Sanchez said. “But it’s not realistic to always want to live there. If we can, that’s great that there’s a consistency.”
DeKalb High School enrolled 1,954 students. More than half, or 55%, come from low-income backgrounds, according to the report.
Huntley Middle School was designated as “comprehensive”, which is a tier below “targeted” since some Huntley students still remain targeted after a full school year. Huntley Middle was listed among schools in Illinois where certain groups of students, in this case students with disabilities again, remain in need of greater support even after a full school improvement cycle. Huntley Middle students performed the best in science proficiency, data shows, at 34%, though still below the state average.
Bringing in high marks, or commendable summative designations as the report card states, were Jefferson, Littlejohn, Founders and Lincoln elementary schools.
“Our teacher retention is pretty high considering where the rest of the state is. There’s a lot of loyalty to DeKalb.”— Minerva Garcia-Sanchez, DeKalb superintendent
Garcia-Sanchez said that being an education official requires a measure of flexibility and nimbleness.
“I think that because we have been commendable before, the teachers that are there are doing their job,” she said. “Do we have to pivot [and] change because now we have a different type of student in front of us? Absolutely. … By giving us this data [and] by understanding that we’re not dealing with the same type of needs is a part of it. We’re noticing a lot more social-emotional needs [and] a lot more behavioral health needs.”
The district’s overall graduation rate was 79%, with an 18-to-1 student to teacher ratio for total of 445 full-time-equivalent teachers on staff. More than half of DeKalb’s 6,664 enrolled students across the district’s 12 schools, 64%, come from low-income backgrounds.
The district’s student population is more diverse than the state average. According to the report card, 34% of DeKalb students are white, 27.8% Black, 30.3% Hispanic, 1.1% Asian and fewer than 1% for American Indian, Pacific Islander or other.
By the numbers
DeKalb District 428 schools are performing below the state average in multiple areas of academia, according to the report. In some areas, however, DeKalb schools improved compared to district stats from the 2021-22 school year.
ELA, math and science
Overall, DeKalb students performed below the state average in math, science and English language arts (ELA), according to report card data.
Data showed 15.6% of District 428 students are proficient in English language arts compared to a state average of 34.6%. In math, 13% of DeKalb students were proficient compared to 26.9% state average. And in science, the district’s strongest scores, nearly 33% of DeKalb students are proficient compared to a state average of 51.8%.
The district’s Math Growth Percentile rose to 47.7% from 46.1% the prior year, according to the Illinois School Report Card website. The district’s English language arts (ELA) Growth Percentile dipped to 41.7% from 44.3% the year before.
“I’m proud of the fact that our trajectory is on the rise,” Garcia-Sanchez said.
Chronic absenteeism and truancy
The district’s chronic absenteeism fell to 31.5% from 36.8% the year before, according to Illinois School Report Card data. The district’s rate of truancy dropped slightly to 27.7% from 28.6% the prior year.
Overall DeKalb student attendance is high, at 90.6%, about in line with state averages, data shows.
Building leadership and teacher retention
The district has maintained a principal turnover of two over the past 6 years, according to the Illinois School Report Card website.
The district’s teacher retention rate is 90.7%, slightly above the state average of 90.2%.
Garcia-Sanchez said it bodes well for building morale and teacher retention when administrative staffing isn’t constantly in flux.
“We really haven’t had a lot of turnover,” she said. “I think people move on as they need to, but we always have our assistant principals or somebody else in the wings ready to move up so that we can stay consistent to the work. So, I definitely think that’s a plus. We have folks ready to lead. We don’t want to see people leave, but as they do, they make choices. Then we need to be ready. Our teacher retention is pretty high considering where the rest of the state is. There’s a lot of loyalty to DeKalb. The relationship is there. ... I think that’s a phenomenal thing. A lot of districts don’t have that benefit, which, I think, is something that’s really great about DeKalb.”
This story was updated at 9:50 p.m. Nov. 16, 2023 to correct an earlier version which misstated Huntley Middle School’s standing according to Illinois School Report Card data. The school is listed as “comprehensive” due to one of its student groups, students with disabilities, remaining targeted for more support for more than one school year.