We re-imagined the annual Illinois 60 by 25 Network Conference for 2021, Forward Together – Navigating Uncertainty and Advancing to 60% by 2025. We offered the high-quality conference content you have counted on since 2014 over four days: February 22–25, 2021. There was no cost to attend the conference. 

To access session recordings and resources, click the tabs below or visit our YouTube playlist.

Sessions Archive

Welcome from the Network Organizers and Opening Plenary

A Conversation with State Education Leaders on the Impact of COVID-19 and Reaching 60% Postsecondary Attainment by 2025

The opening plenary will feature:

Juliana Stratton
Lieutenant Governor of Illinois
Dr. Carmen Ayala
State Superintendent of Education, Illinois State Board of Education
Dr. Brian Durham 
Executive Director of the Illinois Community College Board
Ginger Ostro 
Executive Director of the Illinois Board of Higher Education
Eric Zarnikow 
Executive Director of the Illinois Student Assistance Commission

Opening remarks will be offered from Lieutenant Governor Juliana Stratton, whose portfolio includes leading the Justice, Equity and Opportunity Initiative, and chairing the Illinois Council on Women and Girls, the Governor’s Rural Affairs Council, the Military Economic Development Council, and the Illinois River Coordinating Council. As a lifelong advocate for youth and creating safe spaces for our young people, the Lieutenant Governor’s remarks will highlight the importance of closing equity gaps for Illinois’ future.

Jonathan Furr, Executive Director of Education Systems Center at NIU, will host a conversation about how each of the State education agencies has shifted their work to better support students across the P-20 system in light of COVID-19. They will also discuss how they are implementing equity-focused plans developed in 2020 to ensure that Illinois continues to make progress as we work towards our 60% by 2025 postsecondary attainment goal.

In addition, the Illinois 60 by 25 Network Organizers will provide an overview of the Network, including current activities and future plans. If you’re a first-time attendee, this will help orient you to the Network. For returning attendees, don’t miss the Network updates!

Breakout Session

Exploring Strategies for Educators to Advance Racial Equity

Dr. Decoteau J. Irby
College of Education, University of Illinois at Chicago

This workshop will provide attendees with critical principles to curate white racial discomfort for anti-racist racial learning. Curated white racial discomfort refers to racially discomforting learning experiences that are continuous and thoughtfully planned to transform white educators’ personal and collective understandings of race and racism. When it comes to school-based racism, white educators’ psychological and emotional well-being is upheld at the expense of Black and Brown students’ well-being. Thus, an essential requirement for enacting racial equity change is to ensure that white educators continually experience levels of racial discomfort that ensure their continued learning and, by extension, the continued betterment of learning opportunities for Black and Brown students.

Breakout Session

Dual Credit Policy Recommendations and Developing Effective Dual Credit Partnerships

Rodrigo Lopez
Elgin Community College and Illinois Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships
Sarah Stashkiw
College of Lake County and Illinois Alliance of Concurrent Enrollment Partnerships
Aimee Galvin
Stand for Children
Heather Penczak
Education Systems Center at NIU

The first half of this session will provide background on the current state of dual credit in Illinois and review policy recommendations for continued improvement and increased access to dual credit. The second half of the session will cover the Model Partnership Agreement, including a community example and time for attendees to determine how it might help address their dual credit partnerships.

Breakout Session

Opportunities and Challenges of Virtual Learning

Bridget French
Rockford Public Schools
Dr. Patrick Hardy
Proviso East High School

In this session, participants will learn how two communities developed and are currently implementing virtual and remote learning, including key successes and ongoing challenges. Leaders from Rockford Public Schools will share their strategies for credit recovery and social-emotional learning. Proviso East High School, the first certified Marzano Academy High School for personalized competency-based education (PCBE) in the nation, will share how they have used PCBE to support continuity and mitigate learning loss. Both presenters will discuss how they ensure that equity is at the center of their approaches.

Breakout Session

Building Your Own Virtual Toolbox to Engage Students, Families, and Partners

Jasmine Jetton-Gonzales + Ana Moya
Illinois Student Assistance Commission

While the pandemic has shifted how we engage with students, families, and community partners, schools continue to support their students in guiding and preparing for life after high school. In this session, participants will gain information on useful virtual opportunities and resources to help them and their students navigate through their postsecondary pathways. If you are interested in widening your toolbox on how to virtually engage with students, families, and partners as students go through their postsecondary pathway, this is the session for you!


Socially Just Community Colleges: Beyond Espousing Diversity to Actualizing Equity

Dr. Eboni Zamani-Gallaher
Office of Community College Research and Leadership, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Community colleges occupy the intersection of social justice and educational change. They play a critical role in advancing opportunity and mass higher education with close to half of all undergraduates attending. As a centerpiece of American higher education institutional diversity, they are the chief postsecondary pathway for historically underrepresented, marginalized, and underserved students. Calling attention to the competing missions of the community college, Dr. Zamani-Gallaher will highlight postsecondary education as a collective public good while underscoring the work still needed in advancing equitable student experiences and outcomes in the two-year sector.

Breakout Session

Best Practices and Innovative Models for Virtual Work-Based Learning

Nikki James
Northeastern University
Heather Penczak
Education Systems Center at NIU

This presentation will focus on how virtual work-based learning can be designed for sustainability, equity, and long-term use. Moreover, we will discuss how virtual WBL helps break down common barriers like transportation, expands the type of partner sites and mentors that communities can engage with, and expands access, especially to students with limited social capital. The presentation provides sample activities, resources, and community models for ensuring authentic, high-quality WBL in a virtual setting.

Practera: Powering Experiential Learning

Practera is a customizable, technology enabled platform for structured virtual and hybrid work-based learning. Through a partnership with Practera, Illinois communities have free access to pilot Practera through SY21-22. Participation as a pilot site will include: professional development opportunities, regular community of practice sessions, and technical assistance throughout. To express interest and learn more about participating as a Practera pilot site please fill out the following form

Breakout Session

Social-Emotional Learning (SEL) as a Lever for Equity

Ruth Cross
Collaborative for Academic, Social, and Emotional Learning (CASEL)

This session will focus on Social and Emotional Learning (SEL) as a lever for equity. Participants will gain an understanding of an updated CASEL definition of SEL and explore the equity elaborations for each of CASEL’s five core competencies. We will review how to establish learning environments that feature collaborative relationships and empower adults and youth to co-create thriving schools that contribute to healthy, just and safe communities.

Breakout Session

Implementing Team-Based Challenges in College and Career Pathway Endorsements

Becky Goldberg + Emily Cooper
Illinois Science and Technology Institute
April Sonnefeldt + Dr. Nana Bonsu
Illinois Health Occupations Students of America
Juan Jose Gonzalez
Education Systems Center at NIU

Team-Based Challenges (TBC) are an integral component of the Work-Based Learning Continuum, but effective implementation can be a challenge given the emphasis on traditional internships or career exploration. However, districts don’t have to create opportunities for Team-Based Challenges from scratch. Learn how you can partner with existing programs to implement TBC through in-classroom and out-of-classroom opportunities. Speakers from Health Occupations Students of America (HOSA), a Career and Technical Student Organization, and the Illinois Science and Technology Institute’s (ISTI) Stem Challenge Program will share TBC examples and opportunities for partnership.

Breakout Session

Student Academic Achievement and COVID: How Far Our Students Are Behind and How We Can Catch Them Up

Dr. Shawn Bergman
Vela Institute and Appalachian State University
Austin Melzer
Appalachian State University
Sam Nelson
Illinois Student Assistance Commission

The impact of COVID-19 on students’ lives is well-documented. Extrapolations from previous research suggest a COVID academic impact, but the specific student-level implication has not been examined and is not fully understood. This interactive session will share how schools are using localized, student-level data to identify the specific circumstances for which students will experience more significant COVID learning disruptions and how those projections are being used to develop customized, evidence-based plans to remediate academic achievement. The session will allow attendees to share student academic struggles and explain how data analytics and evidence-based practices can guide plans to remediate COVID’s academic impact.

Student Voices

Puranjay Gupta
Rockford Auburn High School
Isaiah Haynes
East St. Louis Sr. High School
Makaela Johnson
Lindblom Math/Science Academy
Alex Medina
Mendota High School

Hear from students in the 60 by 25 Network’s Advisory Council about their experiences in navigating the education system as they consider their choices for life after high school.


The Role of Collective Impact in Advancing Equity

Jessica Pizarek
Dreama Gentry
Partners for Education at Berea College
Sondra Samuels
The Northside Achievement Zone
Edith Njuguna
Education Systems Center at NIU

Collective Impact provides an approach for key actors from different sectors to work together on a common agenda to solve complex social problems. In this session, attendees will learn about the key pillars of collective impact and hear from leaders that have implemented collective impact strategies with an equity lens to address both programmatic and systemic change in their communities. Speakers will discuss how challenges in the community are identified, who is invited to the problem-solving table, and how data are used for continuous improvement.

Breakout Session

Workshop on Strengthening Collaborative Data Capacity

Emily Rusca + Charlie Rosemond
Education Systems Center at NIU
Helen Zhang
Advance Illinois

This workshop will provide attendees with tools to figure out what data can help answer the questions they have about their community or work and what to do with the information once they obtain it. Attendees will learn about data resources available to them and easy-to-use data protocols that can inform their collective impact efforts. They will then practice adapting and using a protocol in a virtual context.

Breakout Session

Translating Parent, Student, & Practitioner Needs into Policy & Practice

Melissa Figueira + Jessica Ramos
Advance Illinois
Keisa Garrett
East St. Louis School District 189

Advance Illinois will highlight high-level findings and themes from its Learning Recovery Focus Group Report. A panel of community members will then share their experiences with COVID-19’s impact on their school communities, including the innovative solutions and best practices they rely on to support learning recovery both academically and social-emotionally.

Breakout Session

Innovations in Education Pathways During COVID-19

Kate Morris
Plainfield East High School
Steve Lamberti
Plainfield Central High School
Dr. Phil Pakowski
Plainfield South High School
Rasheeda Love
Carbondale Community High School
Heather Penczak
Education Systems Center at NIU

This session will highlight communities who found innovative ways to address challenges they ran into during COVID-19 and how they will move forward with those innovations to enhance and broaden access to Education pathways.

Breakout Session

Local Advisory Panels for Transitional Instruction: Promising Practices and Lessons Learned

Janis Jones
Sauk Valley Community College
Joe Bergman + Arnitria Shaw + Elizabeth Carrico
Illinois Central College
Dr. Ginger M. Reynolds
Education Systems Center at NIU

Panelists from 60 by 25 Network Leadership Communities will share insights, promising practices, and lessons learned about their Local Advisory Panels (LAP) for Transitional Instruction. Communities who have been coordinating LAPs for multiple years or who are just getting started will benefit from these conversations.

Breakout Session

Connecting Opportunity Youth With Jobs and Education

Carl Schneider
Chicago Public Schools
Caroline D’Andrea
Education Systems Center at NIU
Eddie Perez
Business and Career Services

To reach 60 by 25, we have to engage opportunity youth. This session will highlight the Career Development Experience Toolkit Companion, which identifies best practices and models for connecting opportunity youth with education and jobs. You will also hear from a practitioner who works with opportunity youth about his experiences and lessons learned.

Breakout Session

The Commerce Connection: Collaborating With Your Chamber of Commerce to Reach Local Employers

Jessica Linder Gallo
Aurora Regional Chamber of Commerce
Jancy Lafollete
McLean County Chamber of Commerce

This session will explore how working with your local chamber of commerce can support your community in advancing the 60 by 25 goal. Speakers will provide an overview of the role that their chambers of commerce play in communities, highlight current partnerships, and discuss effective strategies to engage employers.


Building a More Equitable Future: Rethinking the College Mobility Narrative & Local Efforts to Close Opportunity Gaps in the Workforce

Michael Collins
Adrian Esquivel
Chicagoland Workforce Funder Alliance
Emily Rusca
Education Systems Center at NIU

As Illinois and the U.S. continue to grapple with the impacts of Covid-19 and work to rebuild the economy, it is imperative to consider how existing systems, narratives, and practices serve to reinforce disparities across our communities. This session will include national research and a historical perspective on how postsecondary attainment efforts have failed to fully grapple with the legacy of structural racism, and will challenge participants to reconsider the college mobility narrative to better understand what is necessary to remove barriers to economic mobility for people of color. Participants will also learn about efforts in Chicagoland to understand and identify key equity gaps in the workforce, enhance college and career pathways systems and programs, and challenge employers to play a re-envisioned role to close equity gaps. The session will conclude with a discussion of implications for the field to address issues of social capital, skills, and the role each part of our education and training systems can play in creating a more equitable future.

Breakout Session

Affordability and Postsecondary Opportunities in Rural Communities

Dr. Kyle Westbrook
Partnership for College Completion
Dr. Jennifer Garrison
Vandalia Community Unit School District #203

This session will discuss the findings from the Partnership for College Completion’s 2019 report “Priced Out: Rural Students, On Illinois’ Disinvestment in Higher Education and What Can Be Done About It.” The report discusses unique challenges to accessing postsecondary options for rural students and local examples of how students and the communities are responding, particularly in Vandalia and the broader Fayette County.

Breakout Session

Community and School District Collaborations: Collective Impact Approach to Support Young Learners

John C. Borrero
The Collaboration for Early Childhood in Oak Park
Grace Araya
Illinois Action for Children
Trish Rooney
Fox Valley United Way
Mary Haley
Addison Early Childhood Collaborative

In this session, hear from three early childhood community collaborations whose work engages local school districts, early childhood providers, community organizations, business leaders, and higher education institutions to support young children and their families. Attendees will learn about gaps in opportunity that many preschool children encounter. We will discuss strategies for how community collaborations can inform preschool practice, support smooth transitions from community-based settings to schools, and ensure families receive comprehensive supports that enable children to enter kindergarten ready to thrive and succeed.


Building Currency in Education Pathways to Address the Teacher Shortage

Pam Witmer
Golden Apple Foundation
Alan Mather
Golden Apple Foundation
Juan Jose Gonzalez
Education Systems Center at NIU

Many organizations are creating teacher pathways and programs. However, ensuring there is currency for those programs and smooth transitions from secondary to postsecondary to job placement is still developing. In this session, you will learn about EdSystems’ new partnership with the Golden Apple Foundation, which offers unique opportunities for Pathway Endorsement earners in education. The Golden Apple Foundation will also discuss how they partner with postsecondary institutions and school districts to further students’ advancement.


We will come together one final time to reflect on four days of learning and how we will apply the learning to our work.