As the District 67 Board of Education held its first regular meeting of the new year, President Justin Engelland said it felt “good to turn the page on 2020 and look forward to what lies ahead in 2021.”
President Engelland stated that meeting highlights would include updates from Superintendent Michael Simeck on students’ return after Winter Break and on the District’s approach to COVID-19 testing and vaccines.
He also said significant progress had been made on the District’s search for a new superintendent since the Board last met in December, including a decision to keep a single superintendent for both Districts 67 and 115 and preserving the Shared Services model. The Board voted later in the meeting to hire a search firm and expected to have a more detailed timeline on filling the superintendent’s role soon.
“We will need your help and engagement throughout this process,” President Engelland said to community members as he urged them to watch for upcoming surveys and other ways to provide feedback on the superintendent search.
Community members who addressed the Board offered suggestions on the search for a new superintendent and urged school officials to urgently seek ways to get District staff COVID-19 vaccinations.
Superintendent Simeck began his three-part report with an update on the return to school after Winter Break. There was “a lot of good news,” he said, such as word from the Illinois Department of Public Health that the state and region appear headed in a positive direction in terms of COVID-19 mitigation.
“With our return to school we have had far far fewer incidences of COVID-related issues,” he stated.
Dr. Michelle Shin, Director of Student Services and School Improvement, described the new weekly updates on the District’s COVID-19 Dashboard. The updates provided data in three areas including school-specific metrics. The District’s goal, Dr. Shinn said, was to keep schools open and safe and she emphasized the importance of District families’ continued vigilance on COVID-19 mitigation efforts.
Mr. Simeck then addressed COVID-19 testing, and said access to Abbott’s BinaxNOW rapid antigen test would allow the district to move to a weekly voluntary testing program with a lower cost per test. While continued testing was seen as an important tool to help keep schools open, concerns were raised including about the cost. Plans are now to offer voluntary testing through the end of the school year, with District officials continuing to monitor the effort.
The final element of the report centered on COVID-19 vaccinations. The state was nearing the full rollout of Phase 1B, in which K-12 education workers were eligible to get the vaccine. Mr. Simeck described how staffing adjustments would be made to ensure staff could get their Moderna shots, likely beginning early in February, and shared the Lake County vaccination sites designated for education workers. With news that some school districts were getting vaccines directly through a program with Walgreens, Superintendent Simeck was asked to explore if that was an option for Lake Forest staff. He was also to explore whether a return to a more normal school schedule would be possible once teachers and staff were vaccinated. Such a mid-year change, Superintendent Simeck said, would need a great deal of study to determine feasibility.
In an update to a report he gave at the December School Board meeting, Dr. Jeff McHugh, the District’s director of teaching and learning, shared data from the winter MAP test. The test was taken remotely by students in grades two through eight.
“True to form,” he said, “our students are performing well above the national average.”
With the pandemic causing learning loss for students nationally, especially in math, a key question was how students were performing in comparison with past years, he added. Dr. McHugh stated that reading scores were fairly similar to past years. Students did not perform as well in math, mirroring the national trend.
School leaders, he said, were using the test data to find ways to address the learning gaps, including with summer school options. Parents were currently being surveyed about what they would like to see offered in summer school.
Suzanne Sands, committee chair, reported that the committee met January 7. District Behavior Coach Stacey Weber gave the committee an overview of SAEBRS, the social emotional learning screener that the District would implement for the first time this year. The committee also heard from Dr. Jeff McHugh, who led a presentation about Instructional Coaching. The committee next meets on February 11.
Finance & Operations Committee
Rob Lemke, committee chair, reported that the committee met January 21 and focused on the audit, which received an unmodified clean opinion and would be up for a Board vote next month, and student fees. No fee changes were under consideration, he said, but transportation fees, which had been affected by the pandemic, were being examined. The committee meets next on April 22.
Jeff Folker, committee chair, reported that the committee met twice in January with its District 115 counterpart to review remaining policies from PRESS Issue 106 and to discuss two additional policies. One, Policy 2:140, was about communication to and from the Board of Education. Mr. Folker would follow up with legal counsel and school officials on topics including how emails from the community can be shared with the public. Policy 2:230 refered to public participation at Board of Education Meetings and Petitions to the Board with a recommendation that written correspondence from the community be entered into the meeting record but not read aloud.
Jeff Folker, committee chair, reported that the Joint District 67 and District 115 Compensation Committee met twice since the District 67 Board met last in December. Topics included a suggested name change for the committee to be renamed the Shared Service Optimization Committee, which better reflected the work it does. Since making a recommendation, which was adopted by both School Boards, to maintain the current Shared Service relationship between the two districts, the Committee’s primary work was finished. Additional work that could be tackled by the Committee was being considered.
North Suburban Special Education District (NSSED) Liaison
Suzanne Sands stated that NSSED had reported financial concerns for reasons that included it’s ineligibility for federal COVID-19 grants that individual school districts were able to apply for. The next Leadership Council Meeting is February 10.
Alice LeVert elaborated on the Board workshop held earlier in the evening, where District 115 Board member John Noble spoke about work he had started on legislative initiatives. A next step would be to draft a resolution to support District 115’s efforts.
Spirit of 67 Liaison
Richard Chun reported that the Spirit was ready to start the review process for its annual grant program. Since its founding in 1985, The Spirit of 67 had funded 700 grants totaling almost $5.7 million.
APT Executive Liaison
Suzanne Sands reported that January 21’s first district-wide Student Town Hall was a huge success with more than 180 participants tuning in.