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updated: 11/17/2010 11:57 AM

Community weighs in on District 15's future

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Palatine Township Elementary District 15 is at a crossroads of sorts.

Reserve funds holding steady right now are predicted to steadily drop in the next few years, while building improvements previously put on hold can no longer wait.

Meanwhile, the growing low-income and minority student populations in the 12,000-student district are presenting new challenges, and the pressure to stay on technology and curriculum's cutting edge is increasing.

With a pool of resources made all the more limited by the district's failed $27 million borrowing plan, school officials say prioritizing and deciding on a clear direction has become more than vital than ever.

On Tuesday, District 15 took its first steps toward carving that path by kicking off Navigate15, a series of six community engagement meetings aimed at gathering input and making recommendations on a strategic plan to the school board in August 2011.

"We cannot plan adequately for our mission and goals if we are not clearly aligned with our community's vision for our district's future," District 15 Assistant Superintendent Mary Zarr told an audience of about 150 staff members, parents, residents and business people gathered at Palatine's Winston Campus.

Navigate15 started as an idea by interim Superintendent Scott Thompson, who implemented a similar process when he led Antioch Elementary District 34. Future meetings will focus on more specific topics, but Tuesday's meeting provided an overview of District 15, including financial data showing increasing deficit spending and a minority population that's jumped from 25 percent to 51 percent in the last 15 years.

Attendees then took part in 20 different small group discussions to identify topics on which they'd like to learn more.

Recurring concerns presented to the larger group included inconsistent access to technology; retaining talented teachers and administrators; budget allocation; emulating other high-performing districts; coming up with a facilities plan; performance assessments; learning life skills; and before- and after-school opportunities.

Some also talked about the perception that the quality of education has declined in District 15 in recent years, and that one of Navigate15's purposes is to reverse that.

Joan Scovic, co-chair of Navigate15's facilitating team and mother of both a high school senior who's been through the district and a 15-month-old years off from entering it, said, "I want District 15 to stay as strong as it's always been."