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What Matters Most: Investing in Student Success

Academic Return on Investment graphic

As we strive to improve student outcomes, the most significant investment we can make is in our faculty and staff. However, we must ensure dollars spent in other academic areas have the largest possible impact.

That’s why we’ve begun a discipline of analysis in Rockford Public Schools called Academic Return on Investment or A-ROI.

With A-ROI, we ask: What works? For whom? And at what cost?

The point of A-ROI is to focus on what matters most. It works hand-in-hand with the heart of decision-making in our district, Plan-Do-Study-Act or PDSA. The two tools work together to answer these questions:

  • Which programs drive student achievement?
  • Which work for some students but not for others?
  • Which should be expanded? Fixed? Stopped?

Improvement initiatives in the district are assigned to one of three tiers. Tier 1 initiatives are managed at the department level. Tier 2 and 3 initiatives are higher-leverage items, and are evaluated by the School Board and Superintendent’s Cabinet.

Last year, the Board and Cabinet chose two initiatives and one position for the highest leverage (Tier 3) A-ROI studies: the Freshman Academy, Reading Horizons and Behavior Intervention Specialist. You may have already heard about these studies because they are extensive.

It’s not just about figuring numbers of students affected, but their key characteristics and demographics. It’s not just about figuring costs but fully loaded costs, such as staff hours, benefits and funding sources. And, of course, we study achievement data, which gets at our ultimate goal: helping students do better.

Among these three studies, we are furthest along with the Freshman Academy. Little we do is as important as getting students to the gate of graduation. Research shows support during the freshman year is critical to whether a student graduates. Our academies are designed to provide that support. Our A-ROI study will tell us how we are doing.

A-ROI applies the same analytical discipline to the Reading Horizons program, which builds foundational literacy skills. The design of that study was recently finished.

We hope to study the Behavior Intervention Specialist next year. As that position was modeled on in-person learning, we will wait until more students are back in our buildings to begin.

Why now? Why proceed with A-ROI during a pandemic, when so much is different and uncertain? The answer is simple. We need to forge ahead with the sense of urgency our students deserve.

Amid 1000s of items in our $450 million budget, we have limited time and limited resources. For the sake of our students and our staff, we need to focus on the things that matter the most.

Headshot of Ehren with flags

Superintendent Dr. Ehren Jarrett

Dr. Ehren Jarrett is in his eighth academic year leading the Rockford Public Schools. The Board of Education appointed him superintendent in July 2013. Jarrett joined the district's leadership team in June 2011 as an assistant superintendent. He earned a doctorate in Educational Leadership from Northern Illinois University, and the school's College of Education has honored him as Alumni of the Year. Dr. Jarrett also serves on the NIU Alumni Board. He is a member of the Alignment Rockford Governing Board, the Discovery Center Board of Directors and the Board of Directors for the Rockford Area Economic Development Council. He is a member of the Ford NGL Leadership Council and its Superintendent's Council. In addition, Dr. Jarrett is president of the Large Unit District Association, which represents school districts in Illinois that serve at least 3,500 students. He lives in Rockford with his wife, Christie, and their two children.

  • Academic Return on Investment