Back in the Game
By Robert Schroeder
It's not exactly Michael Jordan returning to Chicago Stadium for a charity game post-retirement or Old-Timers Day at Yankee Stadium. But after a long hiatus, National Louis University assistant professor Linell Monson-Laswell, a retired assistant superintendent, is back in her old stomping grounds: working in school administration.
The Harlem School District in Rockford, Ill. named five new administrators in January. One hire was internal, creating an opening for an assistant superintendent for curriculum and instruction. Superintendent Julie Morris, a former colleague of Monson-Laswell's at the DeKalb School District, asked the professor to fill the role on an interim basis.
There probably won't be any standing ovations, but Monson-Laswell is excited to jump back into the fray.
"It's really helpful to catch up on the actual issues that are in front of districts right now," Monson-Laswell said. "Race to the Top funding and response intervention were just on the horizon in my former life, and now they are really important in the districts.
"It gives me some hands-on experience working with this stuff."
Yogi Berra and Don Larsen may creak their way around the base paths at the Yankees' annual heritage fest, but Monson-Laswell is entering her new role at a full sprint. Monson-Laswell will take over the long-range planning process at Harlem, evaluating the plan in its 5th year and guiding the committee forward. She has been asked to streamline operating systems in curriculum and instruction, uniting disparate groups towards collaboration and to begin evaluating the district's programs, including after-school tutoring, response intervention, academic-talent programs, fine arts and summer school.
Monson-Laswell hopes to turn her experience into a full-fledged partnership between the district and National Louis University and a channel to grow National Louis' presence in the mid-part of Illinois. Six National Louis University professors will be attending a learning conference hosted by the district on Feb. 25, and several district administrators are considering enrollment in National Louis' Doctor of Education program. The doctorate pushes students to study issues in their own districts and examine policy ramifications through data collection and assessment.
"There are lots of research opportunities in the district, "Monson-Laswell said. "They really get immersed in the issue, they collect data, and they design what they feel would be a good way to attack the issue."
The old timers can show young guns like Derek Jeter and Alex Rodriguez a trick or two. Monson-Laswell's bag of tricks is growing with each new experience she encounters, and the direct beneficiaries are her students. She is currently teaching a new course—Finance and Negotiations—and says her work trimming Harlem's budget and working with the teacher's union informs her teaching.
"I really believe you need to have a combination of theory and practice, so anytime you can add scenarios from your practice that you have seen or happen, it makes your classroom instruction stronger," Monson-Laswell said.
There will be no bronze statues or kiss at center court when Monson-Laswell finishes her interim term. She hopes to leave behind something a bit more interactive: a book detailing the positive steps the district has taken forward under Morris' leadership.
"She has [built] that rapport in this district," Monson-Laswell said. "She's doing it in a logical, slow manner, but still continually moving forward and creating what I think are really good environments for students."