Dr. Walters ushered in a new era of teaching and learning through participation in Competency-Based Learning, which shifts the focus from seat to time to mastery of 21st-century skills. Kankakee SD #111 was among 10 districts chosen in 2017 to participate in the state’s pilot program.
Since then, Kankakee SD #111’s “Learning Anywhere, Anytime” model of asynchronous learning has resulted in an increase to the four-year graduation rate and the number of students attending Kankakee Community College and the Kankakee Area Career Center.
As part of the shift in thinking, school buildings in Kankakee SD #111 are open from 9 a.m. to 9 p.m. The district also leverages a cadre of remote teachers to provide tutoring and virtual support to students beyond the normal school hours.
Career Exploration and Grade Level Instruction
Dr. Walters has infused academics with career exploration throughout the learning process. Kankakee SD #111 partnered with Defined Learning Projects to implement lesson plans that are centered around real-world examples, making them more relevant to students. Beginning at kindergarten, each grade level has a focus area tied to different careers.
In addition, the district partnered with The New Teacher Project (TNTP) in 2019 to evaluate the amount of instruction provided across the district at grade level.The partnership with TNTP boosted access to grade level assignments/instruction to 78 percent, up from 30 percent. As a result, Kankakee SD #111 has experienced significant growth on local assessment data.
Throughout her tenure, Dr. Walters has fostered community outreach efforts that have targeted food insecurity, technology access, violence prevention, mental health and clothing for needy students and families. Examples of community outreach efforts include:
- Purchased and renovated a Food Truck to provide mobile meals throughout the community. Also partnered with the Northern Illinois Food Bank for meals and local food banks to help with refrigeration of perishable foods.
- Provided hot spots for families lacking Wi-fi and started “Linked Up Days” where parents and families come to school to receive additional support with technology and software programs.
- Partnered with Kankakee State’s Attorney for community outreach and restorative justice positions. Also facilitated community meetings around gun violence and secured grant funding to install lighting around school buildings.
- Partnered with Project Sun to develop systems for supporting student mental health. Expanded home visits to support families with wellness, academic assistance, food delivery and technology.
- Partnered with Kiwanis, Telecom Pioneers and the teacher’s union to provide students with shoes and clothing.
During Dr. Walter’s tenure, the district has undergone massive renovations to facilities, including a transformation of Kankakee High School. The district is in the process of building a Community Center that will include learning spaces and offices for JROTC, childcare and the Youth Empowerment program. In addition, the space will feature four basketball courts and a 200-meter track. Furthermore, a new building for students with disabilities transitioning to adulthood will open in 2024. The building will feature a simulated living room, bedroom, kitchen, laundry room, manufacturing area of Kankakee gear and community store.
“On behalf of the Kankakee District 111 School Board, we are so very proud of Dr. Walters and congratulate her for earning this well deserved acknowledgment of her many accomplishments as our superintendent,” said Christopher Bohlen, School Board President of Kankakee SD #111. “This honor underscores her many accomplishments in our schools. During her tenure, we have restored fiscal integrity, rebuilt our high school, established and upgraded a transition center and assumed operation of our transportation system, all because of her leadership. But, of more significance, our students are offered opportunities for learning that did not exist before her return to Kankakee. The transition to Competency-Based Education has had profound effects on our approach to both learning and teaching. Dr. Walters has the battle scars to show that change is difficult and not always welcomed. But Dr. Walters’ tenure with our district has shown that change can bring profound results as we work to assure our students become competent adults.”
The Illinois Association of School Administrators (IASA) is the state’s premier advocacy organization for school administrators with nearly 1,750 members. Dr. Brent Clark, Executive Director of IASA, described Dr. Walters as an innovator who is never satisfied with the status quo.
“Dr. Walters recognized early on that the traditional approach to schooling would not meet the needs of students in Kankakee SD #111,” Clark said. “She has continuously thought outside the box and brought in programs and services focused on lifting up the whole child and setting them on a path to succeed as an adult. Her relentless passion to innovate and reach underserved students makes her deserving of being named Illinois Superintendent of the Year.”