Thursday, December 1, 2011

December Spotlight Staff Member

This month's spotlight staff member is a true Superstar! Strategic Learning Initiatives would like to send our congratulations to Cris Whitehead: Director of the SLI Parent Engagement Team! Cris is an outstanding, invaluable member of our staff and her dedication shows in all that she does!  We know that you will enjoy learning more about this fascinating team member!

  • Cris became involved in SLI when a program that involved a network of schools called, "The Learning and Sharing Connection" came to Maria Saucedo Scholastic Academy.  Her sons attended the school and Cris started volunteering with the program.

  • When asked about the biggest change in education that she'd like to see, Cris said, "I would like everyone to understand that All Children Can Succeed, and focus on making that happen!"

  • Cris is currently reading Cross Fire by James Patterson and 9th Judgement by James Patterson. She loves mysteries!

  • Several people have inspired Cris over the years.  In general, she is inspired by people that genuinely love to help others and people that are passionate about what they do.

  • Cris loves to spend time with her sons, reading, listening to music and dancing!

  • Cris' dream vacation would be in Hawaii.

  • Cris secretly would love to teach dancing. (And we think she should follow that dream!)

  • In 12 years from now, Cris would love to be retired! (But we hope she remains a part of SLI forever!)
Thank you, Cris, for your undevoted time and dedication to the mission of SLI. You are truly appreciated!

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

November SLI Spotlight on a Staff Member

Welcome to another installment of SLI Spotlight.  This month's spotlight is not on one of the regular, familiar faces seen around the SLI office.  This month we would like to recognize Board Member: Wally Winter. 

The SLI Board of Directors is an integral part of the organization.  Although you won't see them at workshops, or around the office on a daily basis, the board members make critical 'behind-the-scenes' decisions for the well-being of the entire organization.

Wally was kind enough to answer a few questions about himself, so we could get to know him a little better. Take a peak at this exclusive interview...

SLI: Wally, how did you become involved with SLI?
WW: John Simmons, a longtime friend, persuaded me that SLI was up to something exciting.

SLI: Why do you feel the work that SLI does is important?
WW: Because it mobilizes students, teachers, principals and parents to work together in new ways to achieve documented results that will help the students become productive global citizens.

SLI: What changes to education would you like to see happen in the future?
WW: I would like to see students truly engaged and excited about going to school and committed to be global citizens with a mission to save the planet from man made ruination.

SLI: Who inspires you, Wally?
WW: Aldo Leopold (an American author, scientist, ecologist, forester and environmentalist), Martin Luther King, Mahatma Ghandi, and William McKibben (author, educator, environmentalist).

SLI: What is your favorite hobby or past time?
WW: Canoeing; reading history, philosophy, biography; fly fishing

SLI: What are you currently reading?
WW: Moral ground - Ethical Action for a Planet in Peril, The Lemon Tree, Jerusalem

SLI: What type of music do you enjoy?
WW: Blues, Beethoven, Blue Grass

SLI: What is your favorite color and why?
WW: Blue because it reminds me of how precious and fragile Planet Earth looks from the arid landscape of the moon

SLI: Where do you see yourself in ten years?
WW: I see myself as a climate change activist, which is what I am now, but less wise than I will be in ten years.

Congratulations to Wally on being recognized as the SLI Spotlight Staff Member of the Month!!

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

October Spotlight on a Staff Member

Congratulations to the October Spotlight Staff Member of the Month: Frances Starks!!!

Fran took a few minutes from her busy schedule to let us get to know her a little better. Join us in reading about this fabulous woman!!

SLI: Fran, how did you become involved in our organization?
FS: Charlotte Blackman introduced me to SLI.

SLI: What is one of the biggest changes you'd like to see in schools in the future?
FS: Commitment to one initiative that is comprehensive in improving achievement.

SLI:What are you currently reading?
FS: Make a Joyful Noise. It is a history of gospel music, written by a friend, Kathy Kemp.

SLI: Who inspires you, Fran?
FS: God inspires me, and those with whom I work. They are such dedicated educators.

SLI: What are your favorite past times?
FS: Reading and playing with my grandchildren.

SLI:Where would your dream vacation take you?
FS: Tahiti or someplace tropical.

SLI: Can you share a secret about yourself with us?
FS: I am insecure in many ways.

SLI:Where do you see yourself ten years from now?
FS: I hope I'll still be around in ten years, vacationing three times a year.

Well, Fran, you certainly inspire us every day!! Congrats!

Friday, September 2, 2011


SLI is pleased to share the following press release from Para Los Ninos:

Increases at two schools are result of comprehensive focus on education, health and well-being of students

With improved Academic Performance Index (API) scores at both the Para Los Niños charter elementary school and middle school, there is growing optimism that the organization’s comprehensive focus on the education, health and well-being of its students is making a positive difference.

The middle school’s rise of 123 points, from 708 in 2010 to 831 in 2011, indicates that Para Los Niños sixth graders have surpassed the average increases at the Los Angeles Unified School District and across the State of California.

While the middle school sampling was small (only 43 sixth grade students), increases were also experienced at the Para Los Niños charter elementary school (K-5), where the API jumped 38 points for the 202 students tested, also outperforming the LAUSD and state averages.

Gisselle Acevedo, president and chief executive officer of Para Los Niños, was pleased with the newly announced results but emphasized that there is still much ground to cover. “I am very proud that all the hard work of our students and teachers this past year paid off, but in order to ensure that our students are competitive in the real world, we must do better and continue this upward trend.

“In our Para Los Niños schools we look at children in their entirety, responding to their physical, emotional, and academic needs in an integrated way. We know that our students are highly motivated to learn, and our parents feel connected in partnership with the school, yet over the past several years our students have not been as effectively demonstrating their knowledge on standardized testing as we would like. To counter that, we sought new supports, and I am cautiously optimistic today that our approach is moving us in the right direction.”

Last fall, Para Los Niños retained Strategic Learning Initiatives (SLI), headed by John Simmons, thanks to a grant from the Drown Foundation. Strategic Learning Initiatives is a Chicago-based nonprofit organization dedicated to accelerating student and adult learning that over the past 20 years has worked with more than 65 schools serving low-income children and families.
SLI puts into practice national research that reveals the qualities that must be found in a school in order for it to thrive and works with schools to ensure they are in place. It is a turnaround strategy that builds on and invests in the leadership and skills of the staff already working in the schools that has proven highly effective
This strategy, referred to as SLI’s Focused Instruction Process, includes five components: shared leadership, on-site professional development, rigorous instruction, parent engagement and a culture of trust and continuous improvement.
Para Los Niños administrators and teachers were enthusiastic about this new comprehensive methodology and embraced their opportunities for professional development. “This new approach really taught me how to better assess our students so that they may fully develop the skills they will need to be successful in life,” said 5th grade teacher Celeste Ruano.

“Reading and writing lessons were taught with a specific objective, in which academic skills were embedded. Through classroom-focused lessons, specific standards were reinforced and solidified. Children were able to then make connections to other academic areas, such as science and social studies. We knew at that point that the learnings were deeply rooted for long term application.”

Additional investments were also made by Para Los Niños last year to close the achievement gap. They bought a web-based instructional program focused on how teachers can support students in mastering state standards; brought in an exceptional new principal; and created a new position of Curriculum Coordinator, which will, among other objectives, analyze student data, and ensure a stronger academic continuum between the school day and the time students spend in the after-school program.

The results of the PLN approach specifically on the standardized API test, which is just one measurement of a student’s success, were promising:

PLN Charter Elementary School (202 low-income 2nd-5th grade students)
The growth target established for the Academic Performance Index (API) was 5 points; which was exceeded by actual growth of 38 points (from and API of 699 in 2010 to 737 in 2011).

The Charter Elementary School’s API of 737 outperformed the API for LAUSD of 728. Growth in API from 2010 to 2011 was more significant for the PLN CES than for LAUSD or the State as a whole (which grew by 38 points, 19 points, and 10 points respectively).

PLN Charter Middle School (43 low-income 6th grade students)
The growth target established for the Academic Performance Index (API) was 5 points; which was exceeded by actual growth of 123 points (from an API of 708 in 2010 to 831 in 2011).

The Charter Middle School’s API of 831 outperformed the API for LAUSD of 728 and that of the State of 778 (please note that this represents the performance of a single Grade level with a small number of students). Growth in API from 2010 to 2011 was more significant for the PLN CMS than for LAUSD or the State as a whole (which grew by 123 points, 19 points, and 10 points respectively).
# # #
Para Los Niños is a nonprofit organization that has worked for more than thirty years to support academic success and social well-being for children. Through early education centers, charter schools, and wellness centers, our high-quality education, integrated with family supports, mental health services, and community engagement opportunities, annually benefit 20,000 children and families living in at-risk neighborhoods in Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties. For more information visit

Thursday, September 1, 2011

September Spotlight Staff Member

SLI is pleased and proud to announce that the September Spotlight Staff Member of the month is none other than Kathy Berry!

Kathy is the Vice President of Operations and Director of the Professional Development Team at SLI, and an amazing asset to the organization!  Let's get to know a little more about Mrs. Berry...

SLI: How did you become involved in the organization, Kathy?

KB: When I was teaching at Johnson school, John (Simmons, President of SLI), was hired as a consultant to assist us with School Improvement planning and Looking at Student Work protocols.  When I left teaching to have children, I stayed in touch with John and began working as a consultant for SLI.

SLI: What is the biggest change you'd like to see in education in the future?

KB: The biggest change I would like to see is empowerment for principals, teachers, parents and students.  It is critical that the key stakeholders solve the issues and resolve the problems facing the schools.  They are an untapped resource and have the answers.  They just need to be heard and given the authority and the resources to act.

SLI: What are you currently reading?

KB: The Help by Kathryn Stockett and Focus by Mike Schmoker

SLI: Who inspires you?

KB: I am inspired by friends and family who are facing obstacles and are able to keep a positive mental outlook and treat each day as a blessing.

SLI: What is your favorite hobby?

KB: I enjoy singing and spending time with my family and friends.  I love to laugh and make others laugh as well.  Research shows we will live longer!

SLI: What would be your dream vacation?

KB: I would like to go to New York for an extended period of time and see every musical that is currently playing on Broadway at least once.

SLI: Tell us one secret about yourself...

KB: For those of you that know me I tend to share all my secrets, but one thing you may not know is that I do have a “shy” side when I am in new situations with new people.

SLI: Where do you see yourself in ten years?

KB: Just finishing seeing my daughters graduating from college and I see myself with a doctorate in education/human resources.  In the next ten years I would like to be working in a role that utilizes my expertise and talents in human resources and education.
Thanks for letting us get to know you, Kathy, and Congratulations on a job well done!! 

Monday, August 29, 2011

Help out your favorite non-profit organization

Did you know that you can shop online and help out your favorite non-profit organizations at the same time?
Here are the details: helps SLI earn a donation every time you shop at any of their 915 participating stores at no additional cost.

On top of that, if you make a purchase through iGive within 45 days of joining, they'll donate an EXTRA $5 to your favorite cause! With 915 stores in the iGive Mall, it's easy to find the things you need AND raise money for a SLI.

1. Join to support Strategic Learning Initiatives. It's free, safe, and easy to join. Use this link:

2. Shop through's online mall
The iGive Mall features over 900 trusted online retailers like, Staples, Nordstrom, JCPenney,, Barnes & Noble, QVC, & PETsMART to name just a few! You'll NEVER pay more when you reach these stores through And if you take advantage of the coupons and free shipping deals posted at iGive, you might even save a few bucks!

3. Watch the $$ roll in for Strategic Learning Initiatives!
Up to 26% of EACH purchase through iGive benefits your cause. Make that first purchase within 45 days and get a bonus $5 donation, too!
I hope to see you at soon!

P.S. would like you to know that all the causes at have been listed by members for their own and others' benefit. They don't endorse the causes, and the causes don't endorse them. But we DO! So, c'mon, click on that link above.

Monday, August 1, 2011

August Spotlight on a Staff Member

This month our spotlight Staff Member is Karen L. Morris.

Karen was kind enough to answer some of our questions for the blog, and here are her responses:

How did you become involved in SLI?
The Maria Saucedo Academy, where I served as the principal, was a partner with SLI in an Annenberg Grant.  I was impressed with the quality of the services provide.  When I retired from the principalship, I began to work with SLI.
What is the biggest change you’d like to see in schools in the future?
To continue to provide a quality education to ALL children during the current difficult economic times.  To support and develop educators in the current political climate.
What are you currently reading?
The Answer is in the Room - How Effective Schools Scale Up Student Success by: Alan M. Blankstein
Focus - Elevating the Essentials To Radically Improve Student Learning by: Mike Schmoker
And For Fun - Shoot-Don't Shoot by: J.A. Jance
Who inspires you?
God. My family.  The many outstanding educators who go to work daily, to provide "the best education possible" for young people.
What is your favorite past time?
 Spending time with family.  Travel.  Reading
If you could go on a dream vacation, where would you go?
Someplace with a white sandy beach where the temperature is 80 degrees year round.
What is one secret about yourself that you would like to reveal right now?    
I love to read James Patterson, Danielle Steele and Mary Higgins Clark books.
Where do you see yourself ten years from now?
 Being "really" retired!

Thank you to Karen Morris for being named SLI's August Spotlight Staff Member! Stay tuned for more spotlights in the upcoming months!

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Spotlight on an SLI Staff Member

Welcome to the first installment of spotlight on a staff member.

This month we'd like to introduce you to: Jill Heller

Jill is a former classroom teacher who was hired by SLI as a fundraising consultant.

The biggest change Jill would like to see happen in the future is that schools would have less red tape to deal with in order to provide better educational services.

Jill is currently reading a book called Maine.  She is constantly inspired by family and friends.  Her dream vacation would be to travel to Greece.  Ten years from now, Jill sees herself being retired.

Thanks for stopping by and meeting our newest staff member.  Stay tuned for more Spotlights on Staff Members!

Friday, July 1, 2011

Sharpen Student Reading Skills Over the Summer

Sharpen Student Reading Skills

 Over the Summer

Here are a few ideas to share with your children or students to keep them focused during the summer:

*     When you read billboards or signs in restaurants and stores, try to determine the author's purpose.

*     When eating dinner with your family, tell about your day in the correct sequence.  What happened first, next, and so forth.

*     Summarize someone else's story into a few sentences.

*     Tell the main idea of a movie you've seen or television show you’ve watched recently.

*     When you follow a recipe or map, be careful to follow the instructions carefully.

*     When sitting in a waiting room, notice the other people in the room.  What can you infer from their body language, their clothing, the words they use, etc.? 

*     Do the people you encounter remind you of a character in a book?  Who?  Why?

*     Practice making comparisons:  How are two people you know alike or different?  How were today’s events like yesterday?  How is your life similar to that of a famous person? 

*     Think about the lyrics in the music you like.  How does the writer use figurative language like a poet?

SLI hopes these skill based strategies will keep little minds sharp during the summer months! Enjoy!

Thursday, June 23, 2011

DePue High School-USD #103

DePue Middle and High School (Grades 6-12) began the Focused Instruction Process in December, 2010 and January, 2011 with a initial four day workshop for the school leadership team facilitated by Patricia Davenport, author of "Closing the Achievement Gap-No Excuses" and SLI staff members: Terezka Jirasek and Karen Morris. The workshop was designed to provide the school administration and teacher leaders the opportunity to become familiar with the 8-step process, develop an Action Plan for implementation, review school data, identify gaps in student achievement, design an instructional calendar based on the Illinois State and College Readiness Standards and select assessments that provide data on student mastery.

Click on the collage, for a larger view

Implementation of the Process began across the entire Middle and High School in late January 2011. Instructional Focus Lessons in English/Language Arts and Mathematics were taught on a daily basis, mini-assessments were administered on a scheduled basis and Success Time provided students with tutorials and enrichment on the skills they had been taught.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Focused Instruction Process

Please check out our new video about the Focused Instruction Process!
FIP: The Road to Success

Cardenas School - Early Childhood Workshops 2010-2011

Our first year of Early Childhood workshops at Cardenas School has come to an end. Everyone was sad to see this year end. We are hoping we will return next year!

We are pleased to announce that 5 parents had perfect attendance for the Early Childhood workshops at Cardenas school. They attended all 10 sessions.  They received a framed certificate and a goodie bag filled with educational items to use with their children.

7 parents at Cardenas attended 8 workshops and received The Grouchy Ladybug book and a CD with all of the songs that we learned this year.

We hope that the 2011-2012 year will be as successful as this year! Kudos!

Monday, June 13, 2011

Early Childhood Workshops at Cardenas School

One of our Early Childhood workshops focuses on environmental print. That’s print in everyday life: symbols, signs, numbers, colors, etc.Some resources are: billboards, newspapers, food packages, menus, catalogs, coupons, sales ads to name a few. It’s a great way to start teaching children to read and write.

Here’s a picture of parents at Cardenas school creating a “Baggie Book” using pictures from sale ads, magazines and clip art.

A finished product – “My Favorite Foods” book

We ask parents to bring the work that they created at home with their children to the next workshop.  Here are a few examples from Cardenas school.

In the first picture one family created a letter matching game using large letters from the newspaper.

In the second picture one family created a picture matching games using grocery store sale ads.

In the next picture one family created a memory matching game using newspaper sales ads.

Congratulations to all of the parents who came to the Early Childhood Workshops at Cardenas School! You are dedicated to helping your children succeed in school and in life!

Parent Workshop Video on You Tube

Check out this fascinating Parent Workshop that was recently featured on You Tube!

Thanks to the amazing Parent and Families Working Together team at SLI! Keep up the wonderful work!

Friday, June 10, 2011

Edwards' Center for Young Learners

The Edwards School Center for Young Learners and Strategic Learning Initiatives recently completed a fantastic year together!

11 parents had perfect attendance for the Early Childhood workshops at Edwards Center for New Learners. They received a framed certificate and a goodie bag filled with educational items to use with their children!

Everyone in attendance at the last workshop received The Grouchy Ladybug book, a book titled Look How We Did It! - that’s filled with creative ways that the parents extended the workshop activities and a packet of 18 additional Learning Games!

The principal of Edwards School, Judith Sauri, sent a cake congratulating the parents for completing the program.

Pictured above are a Mom and her son having fun learning number skills.

After the last workshop a small celebration ensued.  The parents planned a surprise “Pot Luck” to “Thank” the facilitators for sharing with them all of the fun-filled educational activities to do with their children. Everyone was sad to see the program end, but shared the many exciting things that they learned this year!!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Early Childhood Program at Cardenas and Edwards Schools

The Early Childhood Program for this school year is coming to a close at Cardenas School and Edwards School, both located in Chicago’s Latino communities. This was the second year in the Early Childhood Program for Edwards School.

The SLI team delivered a series of 10 fun filled, educational and interactive workshops at both schools for parents and caregivers with children 3-5 years of age. The workshops began in November of 2010 and will end in June 2011.

In this year's workshops parents/caregivers were focused on: helping their children learn skills with numbers, predicting with a sink and float activity, identifying colors through movement and singing, learning about environmental print, matching letters and sounds, learning concepts about print (CAP) and many more necessary skills to prepare their children to enter kindergarten.

In this picture a mom from Edwards is sharing how she implemented the activities that she learned in the workshop with her child at home.

Newly added this year is the“Train the Trainer” component. Volunteer parent facilitators were trained to facilitate the workshops. They facilitated 4 of the 10 workshops and did a tremendous job! Congratulations for a job well done to: Erika Cárdenas, Rosa Bahena, Rosa Díaz de Nava, Rosalba Martínez, Viviana Martínez, Llarene Romero, Marisol García and Yuridia Ramírez.

Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Pay Pal

You can now make purchases or donations to Strategic Learning Initiatives directly from the blog or the website using your Pay Pal account.

Please see the Pay Pal button located on the right sidebar of the blog, or visit our website at and click on the Contact Us bar at the top of the page to make your donation.

Thank you and feel free to call us with any questions.

The SLI Team

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

SLI Work in Los Angeles, California

In December Strategic Learning Initiatives started working with a charter school in downtown Los Angeles called Para Los Niños. The school is located in the skid row area of LA and there are about 400 students in grades K-6. SLI's work at the school has been focused on introducing, implementing and supporting the FIP 8-step instructional model for the purpose of improving student achievement. The teachers and students are committed to the process and as you can see from the pictures felt ready to beat the CST-California Standards Test.

                                                                              (Click on the collage for a larger view)

Notice the pinata that students used to literally "Beat the CST" (California's State Standardized Assessment!) You can see that teachers even had "Beat the CST" drawn on their faces. Classrooms created banners for their doors which illustrated supportive sayings for the students taking the test.

                                                                                 (Click on the collage for a larger view)
SLI wishes all of the students at the Para Los Ninos school tremendous success on the CST!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011


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Tuesday, May 3, 2011

A Word of Welcome

Welcome to Strategic Learning Initiatives' New Blog.

For many years the debate about school reform has focused on organization type, as if —charter, contract, performance, parochial, large, small, or traditional public--is what makes the difference in quality.  The simple fact is that regardless of type, some schools succeed while others do not.  It leads quickly to the conclusion that it is not the type of organization that makes the difference.

What does?

Starting 20 years ago, when school reform efforts in the city of Chicago began in earnest, research has been underway to try to untangle the question of what works in K-12 education from what is just another silver bullet solution.  This remarkable body of work provides a fresh perspective on school reform that lies at the heart of the work done by Strategic Learning Initiatives.

The research reveals that in every school, regardless of type of organization, certain qualities must be present in order for the school to succeed.

In other words, regardless of organization type, schools have one thing in common.  If the essential supports are in place, the school will succeed.  If they are not, the school will underperform.    Any school can be evaluated for how well it incorporates the essential supports.  Any school can be made stronger.  Failing schools can be turned around.  We know, because the leaders in schools we support have done it.
Strategic Learning Initiatives works with schools to evaluate whether or not the qualities for success are in place.  We work with our schools to build up those qualities that are not adequate [missing or less than they can be].

It is not easy, but when the school leadership team is committed to improve, change for the better can come rapidly.  Our program takes three to four  years, with significant change for the better, measured by student assessments, starting in the first months of year one.

We guarantee that the schools will improve their results on the State’s standardized tests, if they commit to implementing the process that had been successful in other schools.

Research is our guide to the qualities that must be present in a school in order for it to succeed.  Research is also our guide to greatly improving the quality of instruction—the heart of education.
Strategic Learning Initiatives brings from the business sector a deep understanding of continuous quality improvement and applies it to the classroom.  We believe that every child can learn.  We work with teachers and principals on strategies and tools for improving instruction, assessing to see if the student has learned, and then teaching again until the student reaches mastery.  We are data driven, but in our schools the data is gathered continuously and action based on that data is taken immediately.

Chicago has provided the field of K12 education with the finest body of long term research about what works and what doesn’t.   Strategic Learning Initiatives is the leader in bringing the lessons of research to the classroom.  Our results speak for themselves.

Whether your school is public, charter, private, or parochial, the essential supports for education must be in place to continuously improve both adult and student learning.  We can support your school and district leadership to ensure that they are, and your school will be better for it.

John Simmons
Strategic Learning Initiatives.