Board Briefs: July 2021

Board Briefs: July 2021

The District 58 Board of Education held a Regular Business Meeting on Monday, July 12, 2021 at Downers Grove Village Hall and via YouTube livestream. View the agenda to access presentation links. The meeting video will be posted on the District 58 YouTube page later this week.

Superintendent’s Report 

Superintendent Dr. Kevin Russell verbally provided the Board a learning model update, as well as written updates, as summarized below.

Learning Model Update: Last Friday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH), and the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) issued COVID-19 guidance for schools. This guidance was released to school districts at the same time as the public, so District 58 could not plan ahead to provide immediate answers to the community’s questions. ISBE issued clarifying guidance on Saturday, but, unfortunately, the guidance contains contradictory information regarding indoor mask requirements. District 58 and neighboring districts will be working closely with the ISBE, IDPH, CDC and DuPage County Health Department to gather more concrete information to prepare for next school year.

Dr. Russell said he aims to offer the most normal school experience for students as possible, which could mean optional mask wearing layered with other mitigations. However, he said he cannot make a final recommendation until receiving more clarifying information from the agencies listed above, as well as the District’s legal counsel and insurance providers. When a final decision can be made, the District will promptly communicate it to families and staff.

Written Report:
Administrative Retreats: District 58’s administration conducts two in-District retreats each summer to reflect on the previous year, set goals for the upcoming year, align work, practice team-building and have fun. The first retreat took place July 12 with the central administrative team; the full admin team will participate in the second retreat at the end of the month.

Optimistic School Community: District 58 will embark on the Optimistic School Community this year to help all stakeholders feel fulfilled as they come out of the global pandemic. This work is based on Shawn Achor’s positive psychology. Achor’s work can be reviewed in books like the Happiness Advantage and the Orange Frog. This work will be ongoing and systematic. The desired outcomes of this work include, but are not limited to, increased stakeholder satisfaction, increased student achievement, higher employee retention rates, lower absenteeism for students and staff, and a positive impact on the cultures of each school and the District as a whole. You will likely see a lot of the color orange spread throughout District 58 in the coming months and years. Orange symbolizes this work and District 58 can’t wait to get started!

Summer School: District 58 concluded Summer School Session I on June 25, which was a first-ever opportunity for students who were deemed eligible for additional support based upon their performance or experience during this pandemic year. One-hundred seventy students experienced two additional weeks of instruction and support on current grade level standards in an effort to help regain some of the ground they may have lost as a result of the pandemic. This is a strong example of the use of federal ESSER grant dollars to address potential COVID-related learning loss.

The District’s other Summer School sessions include general education, enrichment and music classes. They are either in progress or will be starting soon. Before the end of the summer, nearly 900 students will have participated in District 58’s summer learning. This is a tremendous undertaking, and District 58 is grateful to its summer staff who make these learning experiences possible.  

Social Studies Adoption: District 58 was happy to have recommended the adoption of a new social studies resource for students in grades 6-8 at the Board meeting. District 58 is so grateful for the work of its teachers who piloted and reviewed all of the available options, and is excited to see these resources fully implemented in classrooms this fall. 

Finance: A team of independent auditors began the annual District 58 budget audit process the week of June 21, and they will return in September to finish their work. The final audit will likely be reviewed with the Board in November or December.

Facilities: The District 58 Citizen Task Force will meet on July 21 at 6 p.m. in a virtual format to accommodate members’ travel schedules. The meeting’s purpose is to resume work toward Goal 3 of the District’s Strategic Plan: Securing the Future.

Personnel: The District has hired 24 certified staff positions, and plans to hire an additional nine more staff in August.

Technology: Technology staff are inspecting, resetting and cleaning student devices in preparation for next school year. They are also ensuring District 58 is in compliance with the new Student Online Personal Protection Act, or SOPPA. Per this law, District 58 partnered with the Student Data Privacy Consortium to collect data privacy agreements for almost all of the District’s essential operators. This database of agreements is posted on the District 58 website. 

Student Services: Extended School Year (ESY) started last week at Indian Trail. About 60 students are enrolled and attending the full program daily with an additional 20 attending weekly to receive speech and language services. ESY’s goal is to support students with special needs to retain critical skills identified within their individualized education plan. 

Business Report 

Director of Buildings and Grounds Kevin Barto reported that the District’s summer construction projects are progressing well.

Assistant Superintendent for Business Todd Drafall reported that the 2020-21 fiscal year ended June 30, 2021. He noted that a property tax payment arrived late, after the 2020-21 fiscal year ended. In addition, District 58 plans to use federal ESSER-II funds to cover expenses incurred due to COVID-19. This funding was expected to arrive during the 2020-21 fiscal year, but it did not. Once the delayed property tax payment and the ESSER-II funds are accounted for, District 58 will modify its final 2020-21 budget as part of its audit process to include these funds, and it will reflect a budget that ended with a positive balance.

Drafall also reported that District 58 received one bid for the Longfellow Center sale, and it did not meet the minimum requirements, so the District did not accept it. Drafall shared that the District spoke with several interested buyers, who indicated that the price of land with building removal (including unknown asbestos abatement costs) was higher than the market would accept. Further, the sale required a rent-back period, which was too long for some developers. 

Drafall noted the Longfellow Center is a financial liability since its continued use will require financial resources to be diverted from schools to the property. Next month, the District plans to establish a new resolution with a lower sale price and additional information that addresses the potential buyers’ concerns. Also in August, the District plans to present an office space lease, any required agreements to ensure a move out of the Longfellow and ASC, and a bid for ASC renovation materials and supplies for approval. 

Discussion: E-Learning Plan

Last month, the Board of Education discussed the benefits and drawbacks of approving an official e-learning plan that could be used in lieu of emergency days. Such a plan could be used on days when school cannot be open in person, such as after a heavy snowfall. The Board had asked District 58 to put together a draft plan for their consideration.

Assistant Superintendent for Curriculum and Instruction Justin Sisul presented the draft e-learning plan. The draft plan calls for five hours of combined synchronous and asynchronous instruction, with modifications and supports for students with special needs. The plan also incorporates 1:1 devices for all students and print materials sent home in advance to ensure access for all students. He noted that even if the District approves an e-learning plan, it wouldn’t automatically be used in lieu of an emergency day. The decision regarding whether to use an e-learning day or use an emergency day (and add an additional instructional day in June) would be made on a case-by-case basis. He reminded the Board that e-learning days are not the same as remote learning; in fact, only five emergency days may be used during any given school year. 

The Board held a robust discussion, with members offering differing opinions. Board members  who supported the plan noted that having an e-learning plan on file gave the District flexibility and an additional option to consider during emergency situations. Supporters also noted that e-learning days would provide students with structure and continuity, especially in situations where multiple consecutive emergency days are needed.

Board members who opposed the plan noted that in-person learning provides students with more instructional time (particularly more synchronous time) and a better learning environment than e-learning. They also noted that, despite the District’s best efforts, e-learning isn’t equitable for all students, as some students may have family members at home with them to oversee their e-learning, while others might not. 

The administration will continue with the next steps toward submission of District 58’s e-learning plan to the Illinois State Board of Education for approval.  There will be a public hearing at the Aug. 9, 2021 Board meeting, after which the board members will be asked to vote to approve the e-learning plan for submission to the state.

During the Meeting, the Board Also:

  • Received three public comments regarding the Longfellow Center.
  • Approved minutes from the June 14 Regular Board Meeting.
  • Approved all items presented in the Consent Agenda.
  • Approved the purchase of the National Geographic Learning grade 6-8 social studies curriculum resource for a total cost of $310,028.46. 
  • Approved the purchase of two Dell PowerEdge R640 servers, a Dell EMC ME4024 Storage Array, three years of support, and configuration of the storage from Sentinel Technologies, Inc for a total cost of $26,916. 
  • Awarded a custodial supplies bid for the 2021-22 school year to Warehouse Direct. 

Upcoming Events

  • Friday, Aug. 6 at 7 a.m.: Financial Advisory Committee Meeting at the ASC
  • Monday, Aug. 9 at 7 p.m.: Regular Board Meeting at Downers Grove Village Hall

District 58 Board of Education members are: Darren Hughes, president; Gregory Harris, vice president; Kirat Doshi, Melissa Ellis, Emily Hanus, Steven Olczyk and Tracy Weiner, with Dr. Kevin Russell, superintendent; and Melissa Jerves, board secretary.