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In Judy Gustafson’s first teaching job, some of her students were the exact same age as she was. She was a young 21 year old graduate who was teaching developmental English. Jay Larson began his career in the financial sector. Nik Butenhoff was recognized as the Conference Coach of the Year for volleyball. And Chris Magee is not only a Nationally Board Certified Teacher, but coordinates the Robotics teams for the entire school district. What do these four people have in common? They are Academy Coaches for Rockford Public Schools.Judy Gustafson, JHS

With the guidance of Ford Next Generation Learning, the Rockford Public Schools and Alignment Rockford developed an Academies master plan that will enter its third year of implementation. The master plan maps out how to develop and sustain smaller learning communities and academies as a part of the overall umbrella of the College & Career Academies of Rockford. The Academy Coach facilitates the master academy plan at his/her high school. Each Coach is dedicated to one of our four comprehensive high schools where they work directly with Alignment Rockford and the business community to create, promote and maintain partnerships for the Academies in their school.

Jay Larson, AHS

Our four comprehensive high schools have gone “wall-to-wall” academies, meaning all students at Auburn, East, Guilford and Jefferson High Schools are in an academy. The Academies focus on an interest-based theme, and students learn in these smaller cohorts with the same students, counselor, teachers and Academy principal throughout their high school career. Additionally they take electives within their chosen pathway and focus on a specific area of interest, incorporating project based learning through community involvement.

Academy Coaches work with Alignment Rockford to maintain and sustain those business connections and provide value added Chris Magee, GHSinformation for business and community involvement. They work with us to facilitate job shadowing, student internships, teacher externships, guest speakers, field trips, and other engagements with learning outside of the classroom. They each serve on one of our Alignment work teams and we couldn’t do what we do without them. They are critical to strategy development and the solution design process because they are experts in understanding how their students and school operate.

The College and Career Academies of Rockford are gaining national recognition. We piloted the model in 2012 and 2013. Last year was our first year of full implementation throughout the four high schools. And while there have been minor bumps along the way, overall the model has been implemented quickly and seamlessly. Communities are visiting Rockford as an example of success. While we won’t see our first Academy graduates until May of 2016, we’ve already seen decreases in truancy, increases in attendance, and more freshmen on track to graduate.

Nik Butenhoff, EHS

Business and organization involvement in our schools is critical to continue an upward trajectory. Academy Support Teams, College & Career Readiness Councils, site visits for teachers and students, and the Academy Expo are just a few of the ways businessmen and women work with the schools, teachers and students to connect career to curriculum. The Academy Coaches ensure those connections are relevant to both the students and the participating business partners. Visit to find out how you can support the Rockford Public Schools.

Photos from top to bottom: Judy Gustafson, Jefferson High School; Jay Larson, Auburn High School; Chris Magee, Guilford High School; Nik Butenhoff, East High School

Photo of Chris Magee used with permission from Rockford Register Star and

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