There was little sign of the tension that had embodied Community Unit District 300 in the past year, as thousands of teachers, support staff and administrators on Friday took over the Sears Centre in Hoffman Estates for an energetic and inspiring staff pep rally.
With the new school year starting Monday, the staff pep rally focused on unifying the district, which in recent months settled a charged labor dispute, overcame budget reductions and transitioned into new leadership.
"We are one district," said Colin Bokowy, a 15-year-old Jacobs High School 10th-grader who served as one of the event's emcees. "We need to stop thinking of ourselves as disconnected. It's time to think about how we fit together into the bigger picture."
Bokowy, who also performed during the morning, was one of a handful of students who joined the district's administration in leading the rally. Jeffrey Wojnarowski, a Lake in the Hills Elementary School first-grader, delighted the audience with his humor and slick dance moves.
Meanwhile, recent Dundee-Crown High School graduate Korvell Branch, who is the first person in his family to attend college, and Dundee Middle School eighth-grader Marla Kostesky, personified district success stories.
"You made it possible for not only myself, but for every student who walks into school on Monday morning to have the chance to be special," said Branch, who overcame a hearing impairment to twice become the Dundee Township Boys and Girls Club Youth of the Year. "I fit because of you, you fit because of us and we all fit together."
There were also marching bands, video presentations, Quantum Learning actions, door prizes and the unveiling of the new district logo.
Superintendent Michael Bregy addressed the professional and personal struggles he endured in the last year, particularly as the school board and teachers union were negotiating a new contract.
"I felt like I was working for a major corporation that didn't have any money but was still asking people to do more," said Bregy, who noted the rally was a way for staff to reconnect, recharge and refocus.
It was the first time the district had held a pep rally at Sears Centre, which donated the space to the district. Teachers, who all sported their school colors, responded positively to the rally. Many participated in activities, tooted vuvuzelas and cheered loudly for their peers.
"It was very effective," said Debra Geheb, a physical education teacher at Dundee-Crown. "People came out with a sense of new beginnings instead of dreading the first day of school."
Some said they were looking forward to not only the new school year, but also a new administration that has vocally expressed a desire to return to teaching and learning.
"I am excited to see what the future holds for District 300," said Melanie Katzbeck, a literacy coach at Golfview Elementary School. "As a graduate and teacher for 14 years, I see positive changes ahead under the direction of Mr. Bregy."