Dave Carson
Executive Director of College and Career Readiness, Rockford Public Schools
Incoming Assistant Superintendent for School Improvement, Belvidere School District
Alignment Rockford Operating Board Member
Career Awareness A-Team, Chair
College Readiness A-Team, Chair

Bio and Professional Experience

I am finishing my service as the Executive Director of College and Career Readiness for Rockford Public Schools. In this role, which I held for four years, I coordinated the district efforts to implement its wall-to-wall College and Career Academy model, provided leadership to the counseling department, and supported the Career and Technical Education teachers. Prior to this position in College and Career Readiness, I served as the curriculum coordinator for social studies in Rockford Public Schools.  My teaching experience includes six years at Jefferson High School, the start-up of a small charter high school in Oceanside, CA, a traditional high school in Chino, CA and experience in middle school with both 8th and 7th graders. 

As part of my ongoing education I am currently working toward my EdD and EdS through Northern Illinois University. I previously earned a Masters in Teaching from National University, completed a principal certification program through Lamar University, and earned a bachelor’s degree from Illinois State University. One of my proudest professional accomplishments was to earn recognition as a National Board Certified Teacher in 2006.

I am married to my wife of sixteen years, Jen (High School Counselor) and we have two children Daniel (10) and Nora (7). I enjoy fitness and outdoor activities (mountain biking, hiking, and downhill/cross-country skiing), travel, and cheering for Chicago sports teams. An experience I had of which many are not aware; is the time I spent in the Army Reserves as an Aviation Operations Specialist.


You spearheaded the high school redesign into Academies and have led nearly all Alignment Rockford teams at one point. Can you share one specific memory or experience that stands out the most?

The two that are most prominent for me at the moment are the night the school board voted to approve our move to implement the College and Career Academies of Rockford and the graduation ceremony for Jefferson High School four years later.  The Pathways Team (Committee) had been working for nearly two years to identity the wall-to-wall academy approach through research and engaging the community in a feedback process to determine the level of support for the approach.  After this extensive work, we were rewarded with a who’s who of Rockford’s business and civic leadership stepping up to the podium at the school board to voice their support for the change in our schools.  The result was a unanimous vote to support the proposal, an almost unheard of outcome at that time in the school board’s history.  At the other “book-end” of this journey was a stadium full of students, staff, and parents celebrating the first class of students who completed their high school experience as members of the College and Career Academies of Rockford at Jefferson High School.  Leading the ceremony was Dr. Ehren Jarrett as the superintendent, Mr. Don Rundall as the principal, and Mr. Bob Guirl as the speaker; it is because of these and MANY other people that we were able to honor many firsts these students got to experience: the seminar course, the Academy Expo, choosing an academy, business site visits, academy based projects and events, just to name a few.  I am excited that there are many other “firsts” to be added to the collective experiences of future graduates, rooted in the changes the community began with the class of 2016 from Jefferson High School.


In your opinion how has the high school redesign and Alignment Rockford changed Rockford?

High school redesign has strengthened and added to the connections which exist between students, educators, and community members.  College and Career Academies are structurally rooted in and designed to support collaboration, which has long been an approach that education has endorsed, but with traditional structures and foci, have lacked the ability to develop deep and broad connections which are possible through small learning communities.  As a result of these enhanced connections, in conjunction with the other great work occurring in Rockford, a spirit of trust, belief in human capacity, and a shared vision for a better future for the region is emerging and coming to fruition.  However, this is generational work and it must persist through the inevitable challenges and changes which are inherent in a city like Rockford.  The ongoing relationship between the school district and the community, facilitated by organizations like Alignment Rockford, is the structure necessary to continue and sustain the change. 


As you pass the torch on to another to guide college and career readiness within the Rockford Public Schools, how do you hope your successor will continue to guide this important work? How do you envision the future of the Academies and Alignment Rockford?

I feel that the College and Career Academies of Rockford are at a tipping point, where in the next three to five years they will demonstrate some significant results or they will stagnate and eventually collapse.  From my perspective, a key to the success of the model is maintaining a long-term view in which sufficient time and support is given to continue to enact the necessary changes to fully realize a system in which the way teachers teach and the way students learn is truly transformed.  This requires a continued redefining of roles and structures, and there are still many people (students, staff, and community members) who see academies as a program or a part of school and have not yet embraced that they are not a part of school, but rather how you “do” school.  This reformation must dig deep into the school system and grow roots which emerge in the experience of students in early childhood, elementary school, and middle school.  Conversely, relationships with post-secondary education/training programs and employers will need to take advantage and more fully integrate with the new structure of the high schools in Rockford if the true fruits of the system are to be experienced.


What are some of the lessons you have learned that will help you to bring the same successes to the Belvidere School District?

They are many of the same lessons I learned as child/student, just applied to a different context: be patient, listen more and talk less, love learning, trust in the good nature of others, surround yourself with great people, plan carefully but remain flexible, be kind, work hard, laugh a lot, and enjoy the moment.


Is there anything else you would like to add?

Thank you for the incredible journey, all of the support from so many people, and I wish nothing but the best.  I will always remember and cherish the great work which was done together and I look forward to seeing the return on investment which Rockford has not yet realized, when the graduates of the academies complete their education and/or training and assume their role in the community as “grownups.”