1984–1990 | 1991–1995 | 1996–2000 | 2001–Present
NCREL continued its mission to strengthen and support schools and communities so that all students achieve standards of educational excellence. NCREL was awarded its third OERI regional laboratory contract in 1996 with a designated specialty area in technology. Under separate funding from the Office of Elementary and Secondary Education (OESE), NCREL also operated the North Central Regional Technology in Education Consortium (NCRTEC), which uses advanced technologies in elementary, secondary, postsecondary, and adult learning to improve teaching and increase student achievement. NCREL continued to operate the Midwest Consortium for Mathematics and Science Education, which collaborates with other agencies to produce materials and provide technical assistance for schools, teachers, school districts, and administrators.
NCREL continued its solid track record of maximizing the impact of federal dollars, both through its approach to work and its ability to attract funding to stretch the federal investment. Among the foundations supporting activities that grew out of federally funded efforts were the Joyce Foundation, Annie E. Casey Foundation, and Annenberg/CPB. Under contract with Chicago Public Schools, NCREL provided training, technical assistance, and consultation to nine underperforming Chicago schools. NCREL also experimented with a fee-for-service approach with products whose field implementation was no longer supported under its federal contract or grants.
NCREL continued developing relationships with major networks and partners within the region and beyond to support schools and communities engaged in reform efforts. The use of advanced technologies was an integral part of NCREL's operations, as was the design of new strategies and tools to assist schools in going to scale with systemic reform efforts. NCREL's Learning With Technology course embodied both the strategy of working with partners and the use of advanced technologies.
The course—designed to help teachers make better use of the technology infrastructure that was a growing part of their schools and communities—generated considerable interest, both inside the region and nationally. Using a trainer-of-trainers approach, regional facilitators disseminated the training they received to teachers in their schools and districts. Early evaluation information indicated that after taking the course, teachers were genuinely equipped to integrate technological resources into their teaching.
Providing leadership development programs and products to school administrators was another focal point. The Regional Leadership Academy, an intensive five-day summer institute supplemented with follow-up electronic networking sessions for participants was offered. Designed to help principals and superintendents build strong instructional teams, create high-achieving learning environments, and use technology effectively, the academy featured respected scholars and leadership development activities.
A Gallup survey confirmed NCREL's foothold as a strong service provider in the region—a region that is home to 20 percent of the country's population with densely packed urban centers and isolated rural hamlets, pockets of affluence as well as indigence, scenic resort towns and desolate high-crime areas. An evaluation study revealed that test scores improved for students involved in the Strategic Teaching and Reading Project. Users said that the Pathways to School Improvement Internet sever was an excellent and relevant source, and NCREL's print and video products were recognized with national awards.
After a decade of service, Jerry Nowakowski stepped down as executive director and Gina Burkhardt became NCREL's new leader in June 1999. Prior to joining the NCREL staff in 1997, Burkhardt was the deputy director at Southeastern Regional Vision for Education (SERVE).